Filed under: Sermons | Tags: Jesus, money, poverty, power, priviledge, systems, temple
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Over a decade ago, I was studying in India. While my focus was on the religions of the country, I clearly remember a visit to a school. My classmates and I were ushered in to a classroom, meeting children who were about 8. They welcomed us, and told us how they were learning about our country. They knew the name of our president, and how our government was structured. I was impressed- what smart little kids!
Then they asked us how much we knew about their country.
And we were unimpressive.
While I might assume that everyone in the world knows about the United States of America, and can name our president, I don’t often feel like I should know that much about other countries. That’s coming from a place of privilege, in which I’ve bought in to the image of America as a superpower, with influence over other nations, deserving of respect and honor and of being in the international curriculum of 3rd graders. Why would I need to know about another country- what effect could they have over me?
With globalization and terrorism, I think we have reason enough to recognize that people of every nation can have an effect on us, but my point is that many of us can exist in a world of privilege in which we don’t ever have to think about how someone else is living.
Our Gospel text is like that for me. I’ve never had only two pennies to my name. I don’t know what it is to be poor. So I read this story as a rich person, and I hear a rich person’s privilege in my reading.
Mark 12: The widow’s mite: an example of faithful giving, generosity, and selflessness. That’s the storyline I’ve always heard.
But this week, I was struck by something else. Jesus opens this scene with a rant against the Temple and the scribes. He declares, “they devour widow’s houses.” This scene is part of Jesus’ conflict with the way God’s people are living wrongly. It’s not a go and do likewise scene, it’s a stop the madness scene.
Scholar John Shea writes:
Throughout the Gospel Jesus has consistently championed human needs over the
hardened practices of the synagogue. Now he targets the Temple treasury. When he sits opposite the treasury, it symbolizes that he is opposed to the whole temple atmosphere around money. It is a public affair with the rich parading their large sums. But Jesus is not concerned with the rich. They are never exploited. They give to the temple out of their surplus. Piety will never carry them away. Like the scribes, the rich take care of themselves.
But the widow divests herself of all support. Her generosity plays into the devouring greed of the Temple. Those who are supposed to protect her leave her, literally, penniless. (John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: Eating with the Bridegroom (Mark – Year B)p. 267 http://girardianlectionary.net/year_b/proper27b.htm)
What sense of obligation or gratitude or faithfulness would have led this woman to give all she has? Walking past the scribes in their fine robes, looking around at the richness of the Temple, how does she reconcile God’s identity as the protector of the poor with God’s holy people and holy institution taking everything she has for itself, rather than serving her needs?
This text confronts me. Shea’s words hit me hard: “The rich… are never exploited.” When have I wanted to save my money without worrying about who will receive less money because of my thrift? When have I thought I can’t afford to give any more, or I don’t have anything extra to give, rather than wondering who can’t afford for me not to be generous? What systems do I live in that leave widows penniless while I am made more comfortable?
So often, I find myself in the powerful group. I wonder if many of you might be there, too. We operate in systems that benefit us, and we never really notice them, it’s just the way things are to us. But for others, the systems that benefit us don’t benefit them.
There’s another side to this text, beyond the surface level on which I’ve always accepted it. Sometimes, from where we are in life, we can’t hear the whole text, we can’t get the whole message of what God is saying to us. We need other voices around our table, people from different life experiences, to help us see what we cannot.
Our Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is a church that values
partnerships. Our core mission value is “accompaniment.” We walk alongside each other, as partners, brothers and sisters in Christ. This core value means that we seek out
diversity in the voices around our study and meal tables- and in our work to join God’s work in the world. We see everyone as being gifted with God’s spirit, revealing God’s fullness.
Accompaniment is the opposite of a white savior complex or the westernizing missions that we’ve tried to leave in the past. It starts with hearing each other’s stories. It starts with valuing the voice on the other side. It includes the hard work of being confronted with our assumptions about what is good and what is helpful and what might benefit us at the expense of another’s well being.
This means that as we prepare to travel to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, we go with eager hearts and hands to serve, ready to receive from the people who live on the
reservation just as much as we are ready to give. We look to their leadership for solutions that make sense in their world, rather than assuming the systems that work for us will also benefit them.
With our Mission Fest today, we celebrate our partnerships. Jesus has made us a part of a diverse community, his body, at work in the world. Not only can we do more together than we could independently, but we are better able to discover God’s word for us today when we join together.
Today, we highlight our partnership with Reformation Lutheran Church. Our brothers and sisters who live in the center of Milwaukee are affected by the systems of this world differently than we are. They can help us hear more of who God is through their witness. They can invite us in to questioning our assumptions about how the world works and what God intends for communities. They can invite us into joining the sacred work they are already doing.
Last week, I was blessed to have breakfast with the women clergy in Watertown. We were talking about our ministries and about things we might do together. Suddenly, one of the priests ended up sneezing her breakfast all over her shirt. We giggled like school-girls as we pointed out where she’d need to clean up.
A sign of a true friend is that they’ll tell you when you have egg on your face.
I’m not sure we’re quite there yet, because we let her talk to a parishioner for a few
moments before we had finished pointing out all the crumbs.
Sometimes, that’s really embarrassing. Especially if you’ve been going about your life ignorant of the state you’re in.
That’s the difficult delight of being in partnerships with people whose experiences are different than your own. Sometimes, things will be pointed out that don’t put you in the best light. It’s not comfortable to acknowledge our own ignorance or foolish assumptions. But without those realizations, we cannot grow. Life is richer, growth is possible, and community is truer to God’s intention when our partnerships are real and diverse.
People in all sorts of life circumstances reveal God. When we gather together in work and worship, we gain from each other a fuller sense of God, and we do things that make a
difference in the world. Our eyes are changed to begin to see each other as God sees us: each loved and valued.
Jesus isn’t pointing out this woman to call her a fool. He’s helping us notice her.
God sees those who are so often overlooked, those whose work and sacrifice aren’t
appreciated. God sees those whose lives are not what they should be, those who have fallen under the power of the systems that benefit the powerful, systems that have taken away their lives or kept them from living their fullest.
Jesus sees the widow giving away her life. Perhaps he recognizes himself in her. He is in Jerusalem to give away his life. He will give away his life as a victim to the systems that require violence, require a scapegoat on whom to put their anger and pain. Jesus’ life will be taken away. And God will give it back. All that destroys life, all that breaks down community, all that lifts up some at the expense of others does not have ultimate control. God has a new future in mind. God is making that future now. We glimpse this future best when we look for it together.
Thanks be to God for the unity we have with brothers and sisters down the street, in the city, and around the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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