November 11, 2018
Is anyone braced for this story during the Stewardship season?
Starting to feel a little squirmy already, because you’ve heard this one before, and something always feels just a bit off?
Perhaps you’ve heard this story before, and a sermon that praises the faithful generosity of the widow who gave all she had to live on to the Temple. And that that, somehow, is also a corollary to our relationship with God. All in, right?
I come across this text, and making it out to be an uncritical praise of this widow’s offering, that which was everything she had, her whole life, doesn’t sit right.
We might ask, why did she give everything?
What happened to her?
Would anyone have noticed her if Jesus hadn’t?
There’s a few levels bigger than a simple story of uncomfortably generous giving.
Pull back a little more, and you can notice a critique of the systems that engender this uncomfortably generous giving.
Pull back a little more, and you can notice nuances of the critique—that Jesus is about showing us what a whole. life. looks like, and this institution is impeding the flow of that wholeness.
Sacrifice is only good if it is done with true agency, and advances fullness of life. If not, it’s just exploitation.
There is nothing to Jesus’ words on the page that suggest praising her actions as a model of devotion. Jesus doesn’t praise her; he doesn’t say her offering was the best one; he simply compares and says she gave more.
We bring the assessment that that’s a good thing.
But Jesus simply notices her, someone many people in his day were not likely to notice.
In fact, at the beginning of this passage, he is decrying the legal experts for exploiting and cheating widows out of their houses—literally, their livelihood.
Context-wise, it would seem more likely that Jesus is pointing out how this institution does not have adequate regard for the most vulnerable. In fact, immediately after, Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple will be leveled.
This is part of a larger narrative in Mark of a confrontation with the Temple authorities, and it is not an institution that is part of his vision of the Realm of God he is revealing.
in the chapter before, Jesus is driving the money-changers out of the Temple, and “The chief priests regarded him as dangerous, because the whole crowd was enthralled at his teachings.” People were energized to hear good news that sounded like an alternative to this system that had gotten calcified, and did not bridge them to God. They recognized that Jesus called them to fullness of life that resonated in their bones. Something that included the Temple, but was bigger than the Temple system.
And Jesus, in this larger section, reminds the chief priests and legal experts that the sacrificial system that the Temple upholds is not the ultimate point; the only thing that matters is love.
This text, and the way it sharpens our lens on what the fruits of our religious institutions are, invites us to consider what we’re starting with.
Do we start with the what, or the why?
Do we start with the medium, or the mission?
Think of Apple, Kodak, and photos that capture memories.
Apple begins with their why: here’s to the crazy ones. we’re about the dreamers. We’re about thinking differently, and believe in challenging the status quo. We do this through beautiful and easy design. We make phones, and an astonishing feature is the pictures they take. Want to buy one?
Kodak doubled down on, we make cameras.
Or, for a less-market-y, more soul-ful example, Martin Luther King didn’t influence people because he had a church everyone wanted to come to, or a great 12-point plan to gain liberation for non-white people in the US.
He had a dream. He started with a belief in a higher law than the laws of the land, and talked not about his plans but his belief in this dream.
So as we consider how we steward this church, do we start with “we give and partner to keep the church going”?
Or do we start with “we’re about transforming our hearts so that we can help transform the world for good. We do that by gathering, organizing, learning, and practicing together in the relationship of church. We’d love to invite you to contribute to and partner with that hope”?
The institutions that we love are as good as the faith they pass along. We pass along the teachings and practices and relationship formation that make way for divine love to keep in circulation.
What matters is not sustainability for the sheer sake of sustainability.
We try to steward the resources we do have so that we can keep supporting those who need food and shelter and saving grace the most. And so we can keep forming people who will go and do likewise.
The church as a whole is undergoing a seismic shift right now. I don’t know what it will look like in the future.
But I do trust that following in the way of Jesus and loving God by loving people, who we trust are God’s image, is not going anywhere.
The mission will remain;
the medium changes and shifts as our culture, and the ways people connect and make meaning and form community changes and shifts.
It’s normal, it’s natural, and it’s a sign of life, to be able to evolve. Even as it makes us feel uneasy, feel grief—it’s a sign of vitality to shift and grow and change.
But despite change, there is this constant to live into: that there is a story at the heart of what we do, and it is centered in Christ.
I see in this community people with the capacity to practice transformation. I notice your commitment and curiosity to grow in faith and adore God in worship.
I witness your commitment to working justice in our community and our world.
To nurturing our youngest.
To showing up for one another, tending to the small and great shifts in one another’s lives.
You get church in ways I haven’t seen too much.
You get that when you love one another, when you show up for one another and for others, something in our hearts is transformed as well in that love.
And so this church in particular is worth partnering with, because it is a collection of people practicing love, amplified together, and that care and compassion is covered in prayers of the whole. We practice how to love more fully together, with falling short and astonishing grace all wrapped up as a whole.
The widow, the text says, gave her whole life.
So our invitation from this text is not simply “give with the generosity of this widow”. Her role in this is a lot more complicated and challenging than that.
But challenges can open us to a deeper understanding. I see it as a disruption that invites us to take a deeper and longer look at what’s going on here, and so then an invitation, to clarify the heart of what we church together for.
Jesus was about, and we’re about, creating ways for all people to live in the flow of love, hope, mercy, and fullness of life.
Our invitation is to consider how we partner in the work of God, the way we make way for the Flow of Love, to lift up all people.
So may we remember the why at the heart of what we do.
May we live out of the love at the heart of who we are.
May we love one another, and love God, who are one and the same, with our whole lives.
 Sinek, Simon. “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” TED Talk