A strange sort of miracle happened with yesterday's sermon. I actually liked it. I'm not sure how that happened. Usually, I'm terrified of my sermons after I preach them. But Sunday evening I found I actually wanted to listen to the recording. In four years of sermoning, I've never wanted to listen to a sermon EVER. And I have never listened to one on Sunday evening, let alone with delight.
Maybe it's because I really don't feel very responsible for this one. It came and found me. On Saturday night I had already written a sermon for Sunday, but at 7 PM - after I'd already put away a nice relaxing beer - the Holy Spirit downloaded this one into me. It was all right there. Boom. Impossible to be ignored. I wrote the whole thing down in maybe three hours, which is the least amount of time I've ever spent writing a sermon.
Working hard is important. And developing our skills and character in order that we will be able to offer our best gifts is important. But it is such a relief to remember that it's not always all on us. In creative endeavors I experience this Grace most powerfully. I set an intention to make something, I put in the work, but the final result is often something that was beyond my original imagining.
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The scripture reading this morning comes from Mark’s Gospel, chapter 12, verses 38-44. Let us now hear the Word of God.
While teaching, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then Jesus called the disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Will you please pray with me?
God, I offer myself to you – to build with me and to do with me as you will. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do your will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of your Power, your Love, your Way of life. Take these meager human words and transform them into something meaningful in the heart of this church. Amen.
I had another sermon all prepared for this morning. It was entitled, “The Last Squirrel.” But late last night after the new members meeting at my apartment, God gave me something else to preach. Thanks for the late notice! And I’m so, so sorry but this one doesn’t have any squirrels in it. For those of you horribly disappointed that you will never find out what happened to the last squirrel, I’ll throw it up on my blog for you or something.
Something about the scripture reading this morning has been bothering me all week as I prepared to preach, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until last night. The temple system that the poor widow gives all her life to was an unjust system – as Jesus knew. And I’ve preached lots of sermons around here about the corruption in the Temple in Jesus’ time and God says I’m not allowed to preach that one again today. Suffice it to say that the day before Jesus sees the widow in line to give her gift he cleanses the Temple with a whip calling it a den of thieves and immediately after commenting on the widows’ gift he predicts the Temple will be destroyed. Jesus wasn’t the temple authorities’ biggest fan and the temple authorities weren’t his. So what do we make of Jesus’ observation about the widow and her gift at the Temple?
Jesus wasn’t necessarily saying give to the Temple, he was saying that the gifts of widows and the poor, though smaller in quantity than the gifts of the rich and the powerful, are always more meaningful and more impressive. The widow’s act was selfless and maybe a little miraculous – while the gifts of the rich and the powerful were gaudy and banal.
We’re not used to thinking this way. We’re not used to thinking that the janitor is more important than the CEO. Or that the dish washer is mightier than the head chef. That LGBTQ asylum seekers are stronger than Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Or that governments should look to the poor for leadership. Or that parishioners, congregants, laypeople are more important than pastors.
You stand up here pastoring and you get a lot of attention. Some of it good, some of it bad. But I can tell you that I’m not up here for the attention. And that I’m not up here because I have more to give than you do. NO. NO WAY. NO. I’m standing up here because I am a sinner and one who is lost. Jesus was impressed with the widow’s gift as he watched her make her way through the long line to the treasury. In the end, she gave what little she had to give. And Jesus said, look at her! Sometimes I think I can hear Jesus laughing at me as I stand in line, shuffling slowly up to the front, fumbling in my wallet for a few crumpled up old bills, wondering if I’m giving enough, wondering if I’m in the wrong damn line. It’s not a mean laugh, at least. At least, he’s laughing. I hope that’s a good sign. I’m no saint and I obviously don’t have it all figured out at all. So, why am I standing up here?
When I first started hiking the Appalachian trail way back in 2004, I was a little overweight. I had been living a lousy stressed out life full of cigarettes, driving, Coca-Cola, and lunch at Chiles that added up to about 220 lbs. on the bathroom scale. I started out on the trail carrying a pack with 15 days’ worth of food in it. I had nine more identical food drops waiting for me along the trail – each with 15 days of food in it.
At the beginning of the hike I felt like I was carrying waaaay too much food! When I resupplied on day 15, I still had food leftover in my pack. I tried to give some away and the other hikers were like YOOOO no thanks, I’m not carrying your food for you! It’s heavy!
By the end of the hike I weighed less than 190 lbs. and was approaching 0% body fat. When I picked up my last food pack, 15 days before the end of the trail, I ate the entire pack of food, which was meant to last me 15 days, plus a bunch of other food I bought in town, in THREE days. I was hungry ALL THE TIME. I thought about food ALL THE TIME. And that’s when I ate the squirrel. NO, just kidding! I was serious; there are no squirrels in this sermon.
At the beginning of the trail, the food meant nothing to me – it was just weight in a pack – I was throwing it away and not feeling anything except relief. At the end of the trail, sharing food with a fellow hiker felt like a sacred act. It was so full of meaning because both the hiker giving and the hiker receiving finally knew the true value of that gift. And we would savor together the salty crumbs at the bottom of a bag of peanuts.
And I wonder, here at First Church, if we really know the value of what we are giving and if we really know the value of what those around us are offering to us. Maybe, at times, the attention the pastor gets at the front distracts us from really seeing and really savoring the meal this congregation is preparing.
Including this Sunday, we have 12 Sundays left with Rev. Molly Baskette as the lead pastor of our church.
We’re not used to thinking that a widow might have a gift for Jesus. Jesus was the one who went around offering the hope and the healing. She was just a broken down old lady – and poor. And probably a fool for giving that money to a corrupt temple. She put in everything she had, all she had to live on, Jesus says. In the original Greek Jesus’ words are even more forceful - she put in everything she had, HER WHOLE LIFE.
And there’s Jesus, also pretty poor, in just a few days he’ll also be abandoned by those who should have cared for him, the day after that he too will give his whole life. And maybe Jesus points the widow out because she reminds him that he’s not alone. Maybe her eyes meet his as she drops her two little pennies in the coffer. And maybe they savored that moment together, recognizing that they were kindred spirits. She was just a little ahead of him in line. And as they gazed on one another, perhaps they knew the value of the gift being given and received. And maybe in that moment Jesus felt hopeful. Or at least a little stronger.
Beloved, we are all being asked to give. And we are all being asked to recognize the true value of the gifts being given all around us. Your church needs your best gifts. GOD needs your best gifts. But first perhaps it will help to look around and recognize what is already being given – joining a klatch, signing up for Sunday school, attending a committee meeting, praying for the sick, organizing sandwiches for the Outdoor Church, cooking the books, getting us nametags with pronouns on them, hanging a black lives matter banner on the church, raising $7000 for lgbtq asylum seekers, raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Casa San Jose Orphanage – these things and so many others make up our church. You do these things. You give these things. Why?
Maybe Jesus was impressed with the widow’s gift not because she gave it to the Temple, but because in some miraculous way she gave it to him. She gave her two pennies to the Temple. But she gave what she was, her whole life, to Jesus. And he savored it. Amen.
Jesus the Imagination
Thoughts and dreams, musings and meditations