25th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Kings 17:8-16
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one for whom we eagerly await. Amen
Contrary to popular belief,
our gospel text for today is not a stewardship text.
At least not directly.
Jesus observes this poor widow
giving her last to coins to treasury
and points her out to his disciples.
Throughout history this act has been lauded
as a great act of faith,
and held up as an example for faithful giving
but I don’t think that’s entirely what Jesus was pointing out.
You see, before sitting down to observe people giving
Jesus warns against doing things just for the sake of appearances,
then he sits down opposite the treasury
and watches people giving their offerings to the temple,
for the sake of appearances.
This is out in the open,
there is no check folded in half and slipped into the offering plate,
many rich people come and make a scene
putting in large sums,
and they do this because they know that people will see their large sum
and they will honor them for their big gift
and it will increase their standing in the community
and so they’re really doing this for their own benefit.
And Jesus knows their motives,
which is why he points out someone entirely different to the disciples,
the poor widow who comes and gives her last two coins to the temple,
her act of giving is an act of contributing to something bigger than herself,
not to build herself up,
indeed she gives all she has to live on,
and yes this is an act of faith
but what if, included in this act of faith is desperation.
She had two pennies left,
that wasn’t going to get her very far,
just like the widow who Elijah encounters,
who when he asks for something to eat says to him
“I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
She ends up feeding Elijah,
he promises her that the meal and oil will not run out
which seems unlikely but what’s the harm in trying?
She and her son are going to die anyway,
if she feeds Elijah and his promise doesn’t pan out
they’ll just die a little sooner.
I imagine the widow Jesus points out to the disciples
is in a similar situation,
opening her purse and seeing two coins that won’t get her too far
and her saying, well I will give these to the temple
and then I will go die.
And that’s what she does,
in the presence of those who by law
are supposed to be taking care of her,
and nobody but Jesus notices.
Why is the widow down to her last two pennies?
Because nobody notices her,
All throughout the laws given to the people of Israel
by God through Moses
are injunctions to care for widow and orphan
and she is clearly not taken care of,
because to take care of someone
you have to know that they exist,
you have to notice the people around you
and take an interest in their lives,
pay attention to someone other than yourself.
And the truth of the world is
that the people we pay attention to
are the ones with power,
the ones giving the big gifts,
because we want to be like them,
and we don’t pay attention to those who are on their last dime
who are without power
and we hesitate to give to them
because we have falsely equated morality and success with money
which means in the back of our minds
we think if someone is poor or struggling
it is because they have done something to deserve it.
That is sin,
breaking us apart into smaller and smaller divisions,
pitting us against ourselves.
So what are we to do?
In the grand scheme of things
We can’t do anything,
which is why we need Jesus.
Our second reading from Hebrews lays it out nice and succinctly,
Jesus came once, for all,
to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.
He’s done that, past tense completed action.
The preacher of Hebrews makes sure we recognize that this was a one time deal,
God didn’t require or request that Jesus suffer more than once.
Now Jesus is in heaven
to appear in the presence of God on our behalf
and Jesus has promised to come a second time-
not to take care of sin, that’s already settled,
but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Once again we are faced with our place in the middle
of the already and not yet.
We are thankful that Jesus has already taken care of our sin
but still we wait
surrounded by the imperfections of the world,
waiting for Jesus to come again,
and save us from the brokenness of the world.
And here’s the kicker we are not just to wait,
but to eagerly wait for Jesus.
How do we eagerly wait?
The first image of eager waiting that comes to my mind
is of a child waiting for Christmas.
They too are stuck in the middle,
the tree is already up,
and presents have begun to accumulate
and on the shiny package is the little tag that says this gift is for Timmy.
Timmy knows that he has been given a gift,
but it is not yet time to open it and fully enjoy it.
So he waits.
Maybe he shakes the box,
attempts to figure out what is inside,
perhaps he rushes home from school to double check that it’s still under the tree,
and he has trouble falling asleep at night
because he’s imagining what it might be like to open the package
and behold what is inside and how his life will never be the same.
And maybe Timmy’s mom tries to redirect some of his eager energy,
and sets him up with paper and crayons to make Christmas cards
to share the joy of his waiting with others,
possibly others who don’t have a tree
or shiny packages with their name on them
but who are also waiting Christmas
and Timmy realizes that when he gives out those cards
it’s almost like a little Christmas morning
and that’s exciting too,
he’s still waiting
but he’s making something happen while he waits.
We are all Timmy
- we have been given a gift, our name is on it, it’s ours,
we claim it, but still we wait for that moment
when the world is transformed fully by the opening of the gift.
But unlike Timmy we’ve been waiting a long time,
a couple thousand years,
and it’s hard to stay pre-christmas excited for that long
so we find ways to wait that, like those christmas cards
Timmy’s mom had him write,
approximate what we’re waiting for
creating for a moment the reality for which we wait.
The reality for which we wait
is one where there is no more hunger, or poverty, pain or suffering,
no more poor widows going unnoticed
no more war and all creation lives in harmony
we’ve been given a vision of what the world will be
and even as we wait
we seek to make it happen right now
and one way we do that is to give,
often to organizations who work to address hunger or poverty,
pain and suffering,
sometimes we give directly to people,
those who are facing enormous health care bills
and in these moments the reign of God is realized
and our eagerness is renewed. Amen
2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who came to serve. Amen
The disciples in the gospel of Mark,
bless their hearts,
are particularly dense
and I’ve got to say I love them for that
because as exasperating as it is
to watch them throughout the gospel
stumbling along as they follow Jesus,
never quite fully understanding his teaching,
often turning around
to do the opposite of what Jesus just told them to do
what we are witnessing is the disciples’ humanity,
a humanity that mirrors our own.
how many times in following Jesus
have we never quite fully understood his teaching?
And how many times do we hear Jesus say one thing
and turn around and go do the exact opposite?
More often than we’d like to admit.
The gift of the disciples’ humanity in the gospel
is that we get to see how Jesus responds to them,
in all their density and contrariness,
giving us an idea of how Jesus will respond to us
in all of our density and contrariness.
Actually we should probably give the disciples a break
because in Jesus they are encountering not only new teachings
but a way of looking at the world
that is completely counter to the way they are used to.
The Kingdom of God is very unlike the world,
and the way the kingdom of God comes about
often runs against the common sense of the world.
Take for example what it means to be a savior.
According to the world
a savior is someone who is heroic,
one who is more powerful than average
and who uses that power to defend the little guy
against some other powerful force,
which generally increases the power of the hero.
And yet, according to the kingdom of God,
a savior is one, the one, who serves others in suffering.
We heard in our first reading from Isaiah
part of the suffering servant passage
that we as Christians view as a prophetic description of Jesus
and it is not pleasant,
struck down, afflicted,
wounded, crushed, oppressed
and yet God says “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous.”
This is how God has chosen to save,
and we wonder at that,
why is suffering necessary? we ask
we are confused because suffering on behalf of others
goes against the common sense of the world,
the sense that says we protect ourselves and honor the strong,
common sense that tells us to avoid suffering at all costs.
But Jesus doesn’t live by the way of the world,
had Jesus lived according to common sense
he would have tried to befriend the most powerful rather than the lowly,
if he had lived according to common sense
he would have avoided the sick and the poor,
he wouldn’t have touched lepers
or eaten with tax collectors
and he certainly wouldn’t have talked about a kingdom of God
more powerful than the kingdom of Rome.
but Jesus did all those things,
Jesus lives by un-common sense,
and his un-common sense leads right to the cross
because the world moves swiftly
to remove anything that upsets the way things are
Jesus knows this,
and he’s tried to teach his disciples this,
by the time we get to our gospel for today
Jesus has already made all his passion predictions to his followers,
he’s sat them down and told them look:
this is what is going to happen,
I’m going to be arrested, put on trial and crucified.
And three days after that I will rise again.
And he heads toward Jerusalem.
the disciples continue to follow him
but they don’t understand,
today James and John come up to Jesus
and ask him to treat them according to the ways of the world.
They understand that something is going to happen soon
and they believe Jesus to be great, the messiah even
and they want to assure their places in the new order,
and so they make their request,
They want to sit in the highest worldly places of honor
when Jesus comes into his glory.
And Jesus looks at them and says
“You do not know what you are asking.”
because Jesus’ glory is the cross
“are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” He asks them,
referring to his suffering,
and they with all the confidence of ignorance reply
“we are able”
and Jesus grants them what they ask
“The cup that I drink you will drink and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Jesus tells them,
but the positions of honor at the right and the left are not Jesus’ to give out,
that is determined by God
and those places will be filled by the two thieves
who will be crucified on either side of Jesus.
And while we might wonder at Jesus
granting James and John’s request
without their understanding,
what Jesus is doing in that granting
is offering a moment of grace,
what they will understand later
and what we as listeners hear
is that the moments of failure in the lives of the disciples
do not determine the final outcome.
Yes, James and John don’t understand,
but they are earnest in wanting to follow Jesus,
yes they along with the rest of the group will run away
when Jesus is arrested,
but we know, as Mark’s audience knows
that they went on to play vital
roles in the spread of the message of the good news of Jesus Christ,
Acts 12:2 tells us that James is martyred,
killed because of his witness for Jesus.
James and John spoke the truth,
they were able to follow Jesus in his glory.
To be dense, confused, contrary and fail is to be human,
to not let it get in the way,
that is the way of God,
our reading from Hebrews this morning
in speaking of Jesus says
“He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness”
Jesus, son of God,
knows what it’s like to be human
since he himself is human,
he understands suffering
because he has experienced it,
he knows how we mess up
even with good intentions,
he knows common sense would say
do not to rely too heavily on humans to get things done,
and yet Jesus with his un-common sense,
calls us, humans,
to be his disciples,
to live in the world according to the way of the kingdom of God.
We are to love and forgive our enemies
and those who hurt us,
befriend those cast out by society,
share our food and resources
so that all have enough,
speak truth to power
even and especially when that truth is not what power wants to hear.
and yes living in this way
will probably result in some suffering,
but it will also make the world a better place,
more like the kingdom of God brought near in Jesus.
and yes we will make mistakes
and fall back on common sense,
and that is when Jesus brings us to the table,
to share in his cup,
the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins
poured out by Jesus on the cross
as he gave his life so that we could be righteous
and could dare to live un-common lives. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.