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Sunday, November 08, 2009


Mark 12: 38-44 November 8, 2009
As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his 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. 44For 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."

See, here’s the thing. Congregations and their pastors make this unwritten, unspoken pact: “Pastor if you never preach about money, we’ll never ask you to.” People get squeamish, uncomfortable and sometime even indignant when the subject of money comes from the pulpit. The problem, of course, is that Jesus talks about money. Talks about it a lot. Talks about the significance of what we choose to do with it. Tells parables that remind us that all that we have in life has been entrusted to us by God – that it is all God’s and we are stewards of it. Caretakers, if you will. We have barely gotten started and we find ourselves at this roadblock. At the first serious meeting about finances here I nearly a decade ago, I am standing before a group of concerned parishoners saying this very thing. Stewardship is about what we choose to do with what God has entrusted to us and a gentlemen points out that the money that he has he made and that it is his and he has no idea why I keep referring to what we have as coming from God since he earned it by the sweat of his own brow and his own smarts. “It’s my money,” he declare. “I made it.” See this is why folks like me need to be preaching about money, finances and stewardship as much as Jesus did, and folks everywhere in the parish need to be talking about money, finances and stewardship not just of the church but in our own households, because someone if one person has made it to age 50 growing up in the church and believes that what they have is theirs, not God’s and the idea that all we have has been entrusted to us by God for us to steward on God’s behalf and that how we steward is a matter of faith is a bunch of hooey – if one person who grew up in the church believes that – than undoubtedly many more do as well.

Why? Because of the unwritten unspoken secret pact that congregations and pastors make with one another: Pastor if you never preach about money, we’ll never ask you to.”

While I was in Baltimore there was an article in the paper one Saturday – that’s the day that the articles on religious things tended to show up. This particular Saturday the article concerned a pastor of an independent downtown congregation and his closet. It made the front page of the local section in full color – this huge walk in closet filled with custom-made suits. Not ordinary suits of various shades of grey and black, but suits of blue and yellow; loud audacious suits. Snazzy, I suppose, knowing absolutely nothing about suits myself. The article seemed to be captivated with the idea that this pastor who could wear a different custom made suit every day for a month felt that he was called to project success to his congregation. That the more successful he appeared to them with new suits, jewelry, and a nice car, and so forth, that the better that they felt about themselves. At least that is what he said. His calling as a pastor was to embody success, so the congregation would feel that they could be successful too, just like him. In the photo he had this big grin his arms spread open inviting all of us to admire his closet of suits. God wants him to be a success he said. God wants us to be successful, too. And have nice things in abundance and feel good about it because we deserve them .

The problem for me is that I am not that sure God is overly concerned with whether or not we project success or make others feel good about our own success as a form of encouragement. God, I think, is very concerned with what we do with what God has entrusted to us. That’s at the heart of the gospel. Full walk in closets and the preaching of prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing – you do for God and God will do for you in abundance - these are not at the heart of any Gospel that I have read, but folks eat them up Tiramisu with a good cup of coffee.

So Jesus and his disciples were hanging out at the Temple watching people bring their offerings. People watching became a teachable moment when the many rich folks who deposited large sums were followed by a poor widow who drops few coins worth in the box, perhaps a penny. Which offering, do you suppose impressed them more? These being the same disciples who argued over who was the greatest among them; who would get the seat of honor in the Kingdom; and what was their reward for giving up everything to follow Jesus. Who would they notice more – who would garner their attention? Would they notice the old woman dropping a few coins that most folks wouldn’t even bend over to pick up from the ground or the rich and successful folks dropping bags of cash from hands whose fingers each had a gold ring and whose fingernails hadn’t seen a speck of dirt in their lifetime? The one in the plain rags or the ones in the clean stylish clothing and new sandals?

We associate money with power and privilege. The teaching that Jesus gives concerning the scribes is the story of folks with that same view. They love to be important, in the public eye, invited to the best houses where they are served the best meals, to have folks look up to them, point them out to their children and so on. It is no great stretch to believe that the disciples were following the rich folks dropping their huge offerings in the collection plate at the temple with their eyes wide. The disciples and Jesus were dependent upon the kindness and generosity of rich widows and others to provide for their means. And here in the Temple one supposes that those same disciples saw more money than they could ever imagine. Jesus watches their eyes watching the money or knows their thoughts – either way – it is time to teach.

The widow in the gospel like the widow of Zarephath from our first reading is not a person of means, but a person of strong faith. Is their god the God of fine appearances and a magnitude of possessions? No. Both of these widows have essentially nothing to speak of, but what little they have they choose to share and that is an act of faith that Jesus lifts up for blessing. They share from their own poverty which is not a safe thing to do, but an act of such trust and spiritual courage that God blesses the widow and Jesus lifts up this unnamed widow whose penny worth of copper coins continues to teach us something that no school offering an MBA in this country can match.

There was a guy, let’s call him Bob, who attended here years back. A quiet guy, humble. Not too many folks knew him and probably no one knew him well. One Sunday I received a note in the offering plate – sealed in an envelope to my attention. Bob needed for me to know why he had only given whatever change was in his pocket in the plate that day. It probably didn’t amount to much, but it was all that he had since his personal financial situation had gone down the toilet. Lost his job. Owed money. We have heard stories like his multiplied over and over again in the last few years. So I am in the office, tears welling up in my eyes because here is a grown man apologizing to me for having to agonize over his stewardship of what God has entrusted to him and feeling terrible that all he had for God was a handful of pocket change while far too many folks never thought about what they gave at all. As Jesus said of the widow I say of him: He put in more that day then all, because he gave out of his poverty. He gave all that he had.

Stewardship is always about what we choose to do with what God has entrusted to us – it is like the parable of the Talents – God gives to each of us according to our ability and then expects great things from us. Some people get all caught up in what it can do for them power, privilege, better, best. The news especially of late is full of people who have made money their god and have hurt countless people in their journey of selfish self-destruction. But we are people of the cross and of the Kingdom and Christ did not die to fill our closets but to free us to serve and love our neighbor or as we put it in our mission statement: Share Christ, Live by Loving, Care by Serving and see Christ in all. Christ did not die for our hearts to cling to gods that cannot save us, the gods of money and power and privileged, but so that the Lord our God might rule in our hearts and minds and souls forever to eternal glory.
Amen.


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