Monday, February 18, 2019

All She Had to Live On

Luke 20:45-47; 21:1-4
February 17, 2019

I have to admit, my first impulse
wouldn’t be to honor this woman’s generosity.
My first impulse is to be worried for her.
Wonder if she’s making good decisions.
If she gave all she had,
what does she do afterwards?

I think mostly we think of widows as
older with grown children,  
but widows can be young too.
The Widow's Mite
Kathleen Peterson
She could have kids at home who
need to eat and be taken care of too.
She should be receiving donations, not giving them.
Some might have said that her gift was actually irresponsible.

But Jesus honors her.
He sees people putting in more money,
that money probably would buy more
and fund more for the temple.
But Jesus points out this woman’s gift
because he knows it’s everything she has.

Lots of stewardship sermons 
turn this into a
story about how it’s not about comparing
our gifts to other people’s gifts,
we should just be concerned that our
gift is a goodly portion of what we have.

But we shouldn’t cheapen this widow’s
gift by boiling it down to percentages.
Jesus says she put in everything she had.
Not a percent, or a tithe, but everything.
Everything she had to live on.
Her whole living, her whole life.
Why would she do this?
Why did she give everything?
She gave two copper coins, why didn’t she give just one?
And save the other for food or rent or heating?
Her gift almost seems foolish.

A pastor I don’t know from another
denomination on Facebook said that us
there was a woman in his congregation
who was older and alone and she wanted to liquidate
all of her considerable assets and give what she had to the
local homeless shelter, and she was
planning on living the rest of her life at
that homeless shelter and working  with the people there.

The pastor was writing because his congregation
was trying to get the pastor to talk the woman out of it.

I can understand the congregation’s apprehension
Her friends didn’t want to see her making a mistake
with the rest of her life and voluntarily living
someplace that most people don’t want to live.
It seems ridiculous to give up the independence,
comfort, and self-determination that money can give you,
even if it’s a small amount, just enough money to live on.

I think if I were her pastor, I might try to talk with her
and find out if she really wanted to do it.
See if she was making good decisions otherwise.
Maybe advise her take a couple of days and a couple aspirins
and see how she feel in the morning.
Because by most standards of this world, this is crazy.
Most people don’t things like that.
I would have lots of trouble doing it.
I’ve known many good, faithful Christians, but I’ve never known
anyone who’s done anything like what these two widows have done.
It seems foolish.  But maybe God is looking for foolish.

Isn’t there some element of foolishness to our faith?
Martin Luther King said that faith is taking the first step,
even though you can’t see the whole stair case.
That doesn’t sound wise, but it’s a good
description of what we’re asked to do as disciples.

We’re asked to believe in a God we cannot see but
we’re asked to build our lives around worship and service to this God,
to trust in God’s grace, and love and forgiveness
even when the world often shows us the contrary.
We’re asked to believe that we, together, are  the body of Christ
formed by our baptism.

We follow a savior, who by all accounts
did not succeed in this world,
his life ended with him arrested, dishonored, and crucified.

And this crucified man, this failure by the world’s standards ,
has asked us to take up our own cross and follow him.
We are asked to love and forgive beyond reason.
To switch all these world’s priorities around,
give up our race to the top and make it a race to the
lowliest and the least, put the first last and the last first,
to love our enemies and pray for those who would harm us.

Paul said that the message 
of the cross is foolish to everyone else,
but to us it’s the power of God.

This woman foolishly gives everything away.
And Jesus points it out, because out of all of those
people in that holy temple,
she is the one in the story who is reflecting God to the world.

As foolish an idea as it seems, God gives us everything, nothing held back.
God gives us all of creation,  all of our lives,
all of the riches of this universe that we can touch –
and see and things we can’t even touch or see.
We abuse it and misuse it. We value temporary things,
and ignore and throw away the stuff that God values.
But still, God still continues to give, and continues to love.

And in this poor widow and her gift of her whole life,
Jesus sees God.
And Jesus also sees the
embodiment of his own ministry.
This woman models Jesus’ own call.

Sitting in front of that temple,
that building raised to the worship of God,
Jesus sees what he needs to do,
he knows that he will soon give his whole living,
every last bit of his body and blood, his whole life
for this world and for each one of us.

God has bet everything on us
God is all in.
God has no plan B besides humanity.
And God gave us Jesus who
put everything on the line, and everything on the cross
to save each one of us.

Jesus honors the widow who foolishly gives everything to God.
Jesus is saying that the gifts that we give
Whether its two mites or a whole life,
are more than the sum of their small parts,
because once given, it becomes part of God.

Now, we might not be as foolish as this widow,
we might not have the courage to give everything away,
but whenever we give away ourselves,
whether it’s our money, our time, our love, or our hearts
whenever we taking first step down
that staircase we can’t see the end of,
we become part of God’s foolish and
generous gift to this world.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Generosity in the Face of Corruption

Luke 20:45-47; 21:1-4
February 10, 2019

Jesus was teaching disciples in the temple,
people were walking by doing what they usually did
and he was using them as object lessons.
It says that he was doing this loud enough
so that everyone that was around them could hear.
The scribes and Pharisees had just finished up
a conversation with Jesus and were walking away.

And he Jesus out loud “Beware the scribes”
Watch out for those guys we were just talking with.
They like the accolades of being leaders,
they like the notoriety and respect,
but they devour widow’s houses.

Scribes were not just people that transcribed things.
They were the interpreters of religious law
and they were the record keepers for the temple.

Historians now, don’t seem to be in agreement about
what set of shenanigans these scribes did that would
devour widows houses and what Jesus was referring to
but the best guess is that it involved the temple tax,
the fee that Jewish people were
obligated to pay for the upkeep of the temple.
The tax was one half shekel, or about two days wages,
every year for every Jewish male over 20.

The most likely scenario, is that in interpreting the law,
and keeping the records, a scribe could have
determined, truthfully or not,  that a woman’s
deceased husband was in arrears on their temple taxes,
and demanded that the widow give everything
she had left to the temple, thus devouring their houses.
And the scribes might get a percentage of the collection.
The Widow's Mite
Louis Glanzman
So Jesus was saying that the scribes were
taking advantage of their position .
Jesus is describing corruption.
The definition is simple enough:
 “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those
entrusted to a position of power.”
People taking advantage of the positions
they’ve been given for their own gain.

The fact that many of them were corrupt
seemed to be common knowledge that was
just not said out loud very often.

But on this backdrop of corruption,
of Scribes walking around in long robes
wanting seats of honor, and devouring widows houses,
an obviously poor widow comes into Jesus field of view.

Now widows were not compelled to give to the temple tax.
Women couldn’t work, and people with no earnings
were not legally obligated to give.
This woman didn’t have to give anything.
But she still gave what she had -- to God.

Remember in this time there was only one temple.
Only one way for Jews to worship,
only one place that was interpreting the word,
and keeping God present in people’s lives.

There wasn’t another one across town for her to go to,
there wasn’t even another non-profit, social service agency
to support and give to. The temple was it.
If she wanted to give to God, this was the option.
And still in the face of the corruption of some
of its leaders, the widow gave.

We don’t know why she gave.
Her gift was generous considering how little she had,
and her gift was also bold hopefulness.
It showed that she believed that God’s justice would prevail.
Maybe we think that corruption in religion
started with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
and Jimmy Swaggart and other televangelists
in the 1980’s, but this is an age old problem.
As long as people have realized the power of God
people have tried to use it for their own benefit.

And religious power isn’t the only power people
use for their own gain.
Our world today seems awash in corruption.

Here is a disturbing map I discovered.
The Corruption Perception Index.
The perception is according to 
experts and business people.
Bright yellow is the least corrupt 
to dark red the most.
The score go from zero to 100, 
100 being the most corrupt.
The US is number 22 on the list of 180
with a rating of 71 –  
a C minus in other words.
The best we’ve got in the world is Denmark with a score of 88, a B+.
And 2/3rd of the world scored under 50,
not a terrific grade.

It is easy to get cynical in this environment.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed with suspicion
about every institution and organization and system.
To say that everyone is out for number one,
so I’m going to be only out for myself too.
To keep my money, my time, and more importantly,
my heart to myself and not give anything away.

But our calling as Christians is to be like that widow,
to show stubborn hope in the face of
the corruption that is in this world.

I’m not saying that we should keep giving to corrupt churches,
or we shouldn’t pay attention to what’s happening in the world,
or that we shouldn’t keep leaders feet to the fire and demand justice
and righteousness, or that we shouldn’t be outraged by corruption.
But bowing out completely is not an option for us.

This is the only world we have, corrupt or not.
Like that widow, we are called to a different
path in spite of those who take for themselves,
those who use their power for their own gain,
In the face of corruption and greed,
we are called to live generously.
Our gifts and the devotion of our hearts
are signs of hope in a sometimes hopeless world.

It might seem like corruption and greed always
has the podium in this world.
That leaders with long robes who want the seats of
honor will always have the loudest voices
and drown everyone out.

But those scribes with long robes are long gone,
and their acts are forgotten.
And two thousand years later, we’re still honoring
that widow and her two mites.

Jesus is showing us that our small gifts,
our signs of hope will drown out the
selfishness, sin, and evil.
Our acts of generosity will not go unnoticed.