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
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.