Carolyn’s Sermon for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – 11/11/12

Sermon Pentecost 24

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we heard the story of the widow who gave her last two coins to the Temple treasury.  Jesus tells the disciples that she has contributed more than anyone else who has put money into the treasury.  She has given out of her poverty.  They gave out of their abundance.

If I were to preach a traditional sermon on this text, I would say that we should all try to be like that widow.  We should all trust God to take care of us.  We should remember that God has provided all that we have.  We should give it all back to God.

If I were to preach a traditional sermon on that text, I would talk about stewardship.  I would remind you that you and I are the wealthy ones.  We can afford to give more out of our abundance.

I would remind you that there are so many opportunities for mission and ministry in St. Paul and in the rest of the world.  I would encourage you to remember all that God has done for you. I would encourage you to give sacrificially.

But I am not going to preach a traditional sermon on that lesson today.  The first reason that I am not going to do that – is that I know you are already generous people.  You already know that the Lord loves a cheerful giver and you give from your hearts.  I am truly blessed to serve among you.

So I am not going with the traditional interpretation of the gospel lesson.  I am going to look at it a different way.

The second reason I want to look at it differently is that this story has always bothered me. First off, Jesus warns against the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and have the best seats.

The altar at St. Mark’s in Ordinary Time.

I like to walk around in long robes.  I have the seat of honor here up in front of everyone. I can rationalize that part though.  This is more a seat of service, than a seat of honor.  After all, I am fairly confident that most of you are not interested in sitting here.  And the long white robe I wear on Sundays represents our baptismal garments.

The thing that really bothers me about this story is the part about the widow giving all she had.  It bothers me because it seems wrong.  Why didn’t someone stop her?  Why didn’t someone tell her she didn’t need to do that?

I understand that Jesus commends her for her faith.  But he has also just condemned the scribes for devouring widow’s houses.  Isn’t that exactly what is happening here?

I believe that what Jesus is doing is calling out the system here. This widow is giving all she has to a system that is devouring her.

Both the Old and New Testament are full of passages that call on the people of God to take care of widows.  The law of Moses clearly states that widows, orphans, and strangers are to have their needs provided. They are to receive food, clothing and shelter.  All the people of God are responsible for their care.

The temple system was supposed to be arranged to provide for the needs of the widows, the orphans, and the strangers.

By strangers, they meant foreigners who were traveling through or who had now moved to live in their land.  They understood that immigration was done for economic reasons. They didn’t care about documentation.

The widow in this story represents all of those who cannot provide for themselves.  The temple system was corrupt.  It did not meet the needs of the people who depended on it.

Sure, rich people gave large sums of money, which they could well afford, but they did it for the recognition.  They were buying the best seats and the places of honor. The priests had to pay large sums to the occupying Roman government to keep their jobs.

But the poor gave all they had, and went unnoticed by the system that devoured them, the system that didn’t care if they were under water with their mortgages.

What systems devour us?  What are you giving everything you have to?  For many people it is their work.  They devote their time and energy to a company.  They sacrifice time with family to work harder to get ahead, hoping that will be the best for the family in the long run.  Then the company decides to save money and eliminates their jobs.

For some people the church is a system that devours them.  I am not speaking of the Church with a capital C, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  I am talking about the church as an institution.

We know we are all both saints and sinners, but often in the church, the sinner side of us gets the upper hand.  Someone can devote years to a particular ministry and then someone else can decide that they don’t like the way it has been done and take it away from them.

Or someone can make a mistake and be shunned instead of forgiven and welcomed back into the fold.

Or one or two can get together and stir things up and cause enough trouble that the rest just want to walk away. The system can devour us.

That sounds pretty bad, but there is good news in this story for us.  Jesus calls out the systems that devour us. He exposes the systems that devour the widows and orphans and strangers.  He calls us to expose those systems in our land as well.

We all listened to the election results this past week.  Sometimes we rejoiced and sometimes we felt devoured.   We are grateful for a peaceful election process, knowing that is not the case in many countries. However, we are appalled at the negativity and the incredible waste of money involved in the campaigns.

But systems that devour us will not have the last word. Jesus did not just try to expose the systems that devour us.  He participated in the system and it tried to devour him.  When that system thought he was finally gone, he over threw it ultimately and entirely.

All human systems are fallible.  All human systems will devour us and lead to our death.  But we need not fear. Our Lord Jesus has entered our human systems and overcome death.

God’s reign is the only system that will not devour us.  God’s reign is grace and love and mercy. God’s reign is forever. Amen.

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