Today, I’d rather not dress up like this – chasuble, long robe, stole. I’d like to sit with you in the pews, not up front in a comfortable seat. Did you catch Jesus’ words? I feel like I’m on the wrong side. He’s talking about religious authorities like me – wear long robes, push our way to the front at potlucks, take the cushy, prominent seats, grab power, expect adoration and be addressed properly, and devour widows – well, maybe not that one.
Scribes are still with us. I’ve even seen a few in the Episcopal Church – and not all parade around in long robes. They still presume the head table is for them. They lust after power and status, and will step on people to get it. They bore people, with more than long prayers. Others even cause “Post Traumatic Church Syndrome.” Some notice another’s shortcomings, but can’t locate their own. Hold this: Scene one.
Scene two: Jesus has his eye on the Temple offering box. A scribe calls out: “Attention! My $20,000 offering – here it goes. Thank me later.” And who does Jesus notice? A shriveled up little old woman no one else sees. She quietly drops two coins in – about a penny – not enough for a down payment on a Snickers bar. Her gift lands quietly on piles of cash and checks. Jesus calls out: “Hey disciples. Come over here. See this widow woman. She has put more in than anyone. In heaven I just heard a big ‘ka-ching.’ The others give from what’s left after expenses. She’s given everything she has.” That’s some serious proportional giving.
What a contrast – Scribes, religious authorities, TAKE advantage of widows. They GIVE long-winded public prayers, but keep their empathy and compassion for themselves. The widow TAKES nothing; no asks, begs, handouts from anyone. She doesn’t whine or pass out “poor me” cards. She GIVES all that’s left after she’s been fleeced by the scribes. Jesus never says why she does this. Her gift certainly won’t help meet the budget.
I would love to say: “Do as the widow does on Commitment Sunday when your pledge cards are due.” I would be wasting my breath and wrong to say that. Jesus isn’t contrasting those who pledge and those who don’t – people whose gratitude is real versus those who put on airs to impress you. God doesn’t want it all, if that’s what some of you may think. God already has it all – Owns it all. Remember we say, “All things come of you O Lord.” Do you listen to what you say back?
God does care how we manage the time, talents and treasure God entrusts to us, for which we are responsible. We tend to forget we’re managers, not owners of our possessions. I hope you’re not are counting on taking it with you.
I think Jesus wants us to see what religion acting badly looks like. It’s a far cry from what Jesus teaches: “Follow me – deny yourself. Take up a cross. Be a servant. Wash feet. The greatest among you is the least.” Jesus calls our attention and compassion for those the church doesn’t notice – widows, outcasts, the rejected. Compassion awakens us to notice – to listen to their stories and hopes, to dare feel what it’s like to live in their skin – to realize, “I can’t be at peace or have joy until you are, too.” Starting with Abraham, meaning Jews, Muslims and Christians, God continually calls us to do one thing – be a blessing to the world – that’s all. And the world would be our neighbors, people who live and work around St. Paul’s, people who have no use for the church or Jesus, people we pass on the streets. Relationship, compassion, noticing, loving, forgiving, being with us – that’s what God is all about. That’s how we bless the world on God’s behalf.
This past week, in addressing the Episcopal Church at large for the first time as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry urges us to get out; go beyond these walls. Don’t expect people to come to us. Chances are overwhelming they won’t. In case you fail to notice, waiting to see if they’ll come because we have pretty windows, a fine organ and an outstanding choir is a strategy that’s not working so well. Bishop Curry says, “Now is our time to go into the world to share the good news of God and Jesus Christ. To go into the world and be agents and instruments of God’s reconciliation. To go into the world, let the world know that there is a God who loves us, a God who will not let us go, and that love can set us all free.” Remember whose you are and why we are here – not for our entertainment and amusement, but to be formed and sent to bless the world with divine love.
God’s not as interested in our rituals and prayers as we are and if we get them right, or who sits in our pew, what someone wears, who notices us – who gets on our last nerve. God cares who we notice – and if we are blessing or burden to others. Doing and being church begins when we leave here – after we worship. The church, God’s people was never formed to serve ourselves – but for people out there – notice, be present – give everything to be a blessing. We are a movement for God – building God’s kingdom, and in the process we will grow a church.
What’s wrong with the church these days? We tend to arrange the world into opposites: those worthy, those not. What’s wrong with the church today? It’s who we fail to notice, get to know, and bless. Come over here – look at this widow says Jesus. Then look inside. Does she anything at all to teach us?