St. PAUL’S CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
NOVEMBER 14, 2021 – Proper 27B
1 Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12: 38-44
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
28 years ago today I was ordained in my home church in Farmington, Connecticut – surrounded by my family – my brother actually preached the ordination sermon – surrounded by childhood friends, seminary classmates, and colleagues from the bank where I’d worked for 25 years before answering God’s call to ordained ministry – people from every arena of my life up to that point. It was a truly awesome experience and as I approach retirement I’ve been reflecting on this journey, remembering the highs and the lows, feeling deep gratitude for the honor of sharing the faith and the honor of walking with people through the highest highs and the deepest lows life brings to all of us – and always grateful for God’s presence through it all. The words of Isaiah spoken that day still ring in my ears and have come to define my ministry priorities: The Spirit of God is upon me because the Holy One has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to those who are bound. And the words of Elijah: Here I am, Lord – send me.
Our scripture lessons today have always profoundly touched me – the story of the unnamed widow called by Elijah to share the last of her oil, the last of her meal to make a cake to feed him – with the promise that there would always be enough to feed herself and her son. And so it was.
And the story of the again unnamed widow who amidst the rich people who gave to the treasury large sums, quietly put her last two copper coins in the treasury – Jesus saw this and spoke to his disciples: 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.”
And I’ve been thinking about other stories that have informed my ministry – you may have heard some of them before:
One from Jonathan Kozol: Once upon a time, a poor young boy in the South Bronx was sent by his mother to buy three slices of pizza - one for him, one for her, and one for his father. On the way back home, he saw a homeless man who asked for something to eat.
“What did you do?” asked his friend.
“I gave him some!”
“Were your parents mad at you?”
“Why would they be mad? God told us, “Share!”
And I’ve been remembering one night when I was at the Soup Kitchen in Bloomfield – it was the busiest I’d ever seen in my many years of going there. People kept coming! Men, women, children, families, senior citizens – the lines were long – we would run out of food, raid the pantry for more vegetables, potatoes – every piece of cake, brownie, cookies that we’d brought with us went that night. The staff gave out 55 bags of food to hungry families – it was crazy busy. When there was a short break in the action, a man came to the serving window – his clothes were tattered but he had one of the biggest smiles in the room – he said, “You all are such a blessing – thank you so much.” And he put a folded dollar bill in the jar that’s always on the counter. We don’t ask for a donation – the guests just do it. Truly, we were the ones blessed that night.
Then there’s the woman I met at the Food Pantry here at our own church when we housed the pantry for a year – never did get her name – but because we hosted the food pantry, she was able to use our elevator and pick out her own food for the first time – her eyes dripped tears as she chose produce, meat, canned goods, bread, eggs for herself. Her words, “Thank you so much for the chance to choose my own groceries – I haven’t been able to do that in so long – I can’t get around very well – and there are people who help me but to be able to do this myself – I can’t tell you what that means to me.” My eyes dripped tears that day too. What a gift we here at St. Paul’s gave so many people during that year. Here we are, Lord. Send us.
Susan Jones wrote this poem about the Widow in the Temple:
Widow - A word to strike fear
Into the heart of every Jewish woman
Widow - A hard word synonym for defenseless
For in your world you were nothing without a man
Only father, husband, brother or son
Gave you validation
For you, the fear has come true and here you are
One of the poor ones
Life hanging by a slender thread
A tissue-thin connection
Between you and hunger
Between life and death
Nothing on which to come and go
Just two small coins in your hand
Enough for the next meal, perhaps
Make your way bravely to the Temple treasury
Ringing with the noise of many coins
Thrown ostentatiously into brass trumpets.
Quietly you slip between the crowd
And drop in
Did you wonder whether anyone would notice?
Whether your two small coins would make any difference?
Someone did see
One who rated your two coins more highly
Than all the clattering money thrown in that day by scribes
Who make stripping widow's assets an occupation.
And down the years
Your act tugs at our heartstrings
And makes our overloaded purses
Heavy with shame
And any time we offer something small
We commemorate your gift as we say
"It's just a widow's mite."
Thank you, widow woman
For daring to come out of the obscurity
Of your status-less life
Refusing to let poverty restrict you
Refusing to be a nobody
Daring to be one
Who gave the most priceless gift of all
All she had.
Where’s the Good News in this story? It’s there but we might have missed it – it was in that line in the poem: “Someone did see.”
Jesus did see. And called her to the attention of his disciples, those disciples then and now. Disciples like us.
The good news comes in what it says about the God we worship – the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ: this God cares about this woman and her sacrifice. This God sees her. This God cares about her. Jesus’ eyes are always on the small, the seemingly insignificant, the hidden.
And the good news is also that God sees us. God cares about us – and is calling us out to look around and see each other, those in our community we know and those we don’t. And I mean to really see each other – the pain of those who are discriminated against, the desolation of those who can’t find work and have been abandoned to fend for themselves, the despair of those who have given up and have lost hope. God is inviting us, calling on us, to see them, to care for them, and to advocate for a system that does not leave anyone behind.
We are at a crossroads here at St. Paul’s – a time, an opportunity, painful as it may be, to really figure out, imagine, with God’s help, what our future ministry will be. An invitation to share ourselves fully – with our eyes and ears and hands and feet - not with just our money but with our time and talents, our very selves. An invitation to share ourselves out of all that we have been given – to share ourselves with those in deep need, with those who have lost hope, with those who need to be seen! All the unseen, all the “other” in our world, including right here at home, those right in front of us.
God knows that we all have something to contribute, that we can make a difference, that our words and actions can bring more fully to fruition the realm Jesus proclaimed and embodied. Isn’t this an invitation to trust in the power of the living God who can do more with us than we can hope for or even imagine? Isn’t this the good news?
God sees us. God gives us the ability to see others. God sees what we too often overlook. We are called to make a difference as individuals and as a church! We are called to step up and support each other in our efforts. We’re called to take risks – like both of those nameless widows did. That’s what being the Body of Christ is all about!
What risks are we willing to take?
To what do we give ourselves?
To what do we give our all?
What are we holding on to? To the past? Fear of the future? When do we let go and submit to God’s love and mercy?
There’s no telling what God will ask of us, is there? It’s scary! It might be a little crazy, not like we see ourselves at all! Are we willing to hear it? And then to act on it? The widow in the gospel could have at least saved one of her coins. But she didn’t. She gave it all. A quiet, matter-of-course, act of giving that does not make a fuss. She didn’t tell anyone what she’d done. She didn’t make an example of herself. The people around her probably didn’t even notice. But Jesus did. Jesus saw, noticed that quiet act of letting go, her confidence in God’s love and mercy.
The challenge for us: the call for us too: is to recognize that we are all called to ministry – not just the ordained! We are called to be imitators of Christ. To lay down our lives for our friends, family, community, strangers. To be willing to disturb and be disturbed. To let go and allow ourselves to be risk takers, confident of God’s presence, love, and mercy. Just because that’s what Jesus tells us to do. As that little boy said, God tells us to share. How will we respond in the days to come? Boldly, confidently, even through our fears. So may it be. Amen.