The Bold Trust of Widows

Sermon preached on November 8, Pledge Sunday, by Pastor Jay.

Readings: I Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.

Our texts are chock full of widows today. Actually, except for our reading from Hebrews, all of our texts talk about widows. The widow of Zarepheth, the widows and orphans of the psalmist, and even the now famous widow and her last mite. So, with all these widows, let’s talk a little bit about what biblical widowhood was like.

Widows in the age of the Bible were in a rough place. In fact, unless she remarried or had children to take care of her, she was nothing. You see, the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants is a covenant that is sealed through the males of society. Without getting too graphic, there were certain requirements of the covenant that only men could fulfill. Women and children were part of the covenant through their connection to men—first their father, then their husbands, and then if necessary their adult and married sons. But, and this is just conjecture, it is very probable that the women who are here called widows had none of those. They were outside of the covenant, they were left without someone to protect them, to provide and care for them. They were on their own.

Well, except. Except that society, the community in which these widows found themselves, was called upon to care for them. These widows depended on others—the kindness of strangers—for the care and protection they needed. And it seems they were both pretty disappointed in the kindness of strangers. Both of them had come to the end of their provisions, they were giving it all up. It seemed like they were embracing their place as the weakest and least of society and giving it all up.

And yet. And yet it seems that perhaps we have the most to learn from these widows. Perhaps they have the greatest teaching for us this morning. These widows show us bold trust in the care and love of God and God’s people.

In Zarapheth, Elijah the man of God, came to a widow and asked for some lunch. The widow says she would be happy to oblige him, but that she is actually just getting ready to make her final meal before she dies. Probably from starvation. And Elijah the man of God tells her to make her meal, but to bring him some too, because God would provide for her regardless of the drought, the famine, and her own need. Trusting God and God’s man Elijah, she makes him lunch and, indeed, her provisions do not run out.

And again, in the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples are people watching. And as he watching the priest come and go, the scribes, the well to do, putting their offerings into the collection for the temple, they watch a widow come and give her last mite to the Temple offering. Now, first we can question how Jesus knew this was her last mite, but let’s just assume it’s that Jesus telepathy that seems to show up around the New Testament in various places. But then we ask what Jesus does. Sadly, Jesus doesn’t jump up, rip the coins out of the collection and a few more to boot and give them back to the widow. Rather, Jesus using this as a teaching moment. This widow, Jesus says, has given more because she has given out of what little she had. Unlike the rich who Jesus tells us, really are giving the widow’s money as well. Did you catch that connection? Those who walk around in long robes and like respect—the rich and well to do—devour widows’ houses. They have what they have because they oppress and exploit the less fortunate. But this widow gives of what little possessions she still has—indeed, everything she still has—to the Temple offering.

That is an interesting juxtaposition that Jesus makes. The widows and those who devour their houses. Actually, when we look at all these texts together: those who trust others and those who trust in themselves. The rich and powerful give to the Temple offering. That’s for sure. And they may give vast sums. But since a lot of what they have is what they gained through the exploitation of the less fortunate, what is theirs is still theirs. They have reserves for themselves. They have possessions, money, respect, status, and position. They are able to take care of themselves and only out of their supposed generosity give what is necessary.

This widow in the Temple trusts others. She trusts the commands of God to care for her. She trusts that the people of God, society, the Temple will take care of her. She trusts that even if she gives the end of what she has she will know the abundance of life and love from God. She has to. There’s no other option for her. She cannot take care of herself. And if she is putting in her own money into the Temple offering, there is no one to take care of her—to give on her behalf to the Temple.

And that, I believe, is Jesus’ lesson for us. That when we give wholly, generously, and without regard of ourselves, there is abundance from God. Because when we all work together, there it is, the entirety of the body of Christ. When we are for each other the body of Christ, there is all we need. It is about us together giving what we can to the work of God in the world.

This is tough. Often it can seem like jumping into the void. Often it can seem like it will never work. Often it can seem like there is just not enough to go around. But it is in those moments that we are called to have the bold trust of these widows and trust in the abundance of God—even amidst the scarcity that surrounds us.

It is tough and it can be tiring. Working in God’s kingdom isn’t about sitting with harps on clouds for eternity. No. God’s kingdom is about showing for the love and life of God that we know. It is about sharing with the least of these. It is about hoping, trusting, living into the abundance of God even when that seems the least sensible thing to do. Those widows didn’t seem to care about what seemed sensible. They trusted on God and God’s people and together they lived into the amazing abundance of God that is ours even when it seems we are surrounded by nothing but scarcity.

Because that is our story. That is what God in Christ does for us continually. That is the Easter message. That God works in the world even when it seems unlikely, even when it seems impossible. That God brings abundance—abundance of love, of life, of gifts, of blessing—where there seems to be such scarcity. That’s the story of the Empty Tomb that we encounter every Sunday morning: God brings abundant life even where there is nothing but the stench of death.

And somehow, in their small, sacrificial, boldly reliant gestures, these widows have taught us everything that the past three months of readings have been trying to tell us: God works in the world and we are called to be a part of it. We are called to be a part of it because we are called to be part of a community. We are called to be part of a community that in care for one another shows forth the blessings of God in the world in generous, selfless, loving ways. And all of this, as we heard last week, is more than enough.

These widows were part of a community that was called to care for them. And even when it seemed hopeless and impossible that anyone could care for them, they gave wholly and completely of themselves and trusted the community of God’s people to share the richest blessings God has to offer. And through them—through Elijah, the man of God, through Jesus our God in the flesh, through the disciples, and through us Christ’s church—the widows and orphans are cared for, the community is uplifted, and God’s work in the world continues.

For that and for our part in it. Thanks be to God. Amen.

More Than Enough

Sermon by Pastor Jay on the Feast of All Saints’

For the audio of this sermon, click here: All Saints’ Audio

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44

Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

So declares Auntie Mame. In 1920s Manhattan, Auntie Mame takes in her orphaned nephew, Patrick Dennis. And together they explore the fascinating world of Manhattan society. And between gin soaked parties and making lists of words to ask about later, Auntie Mame has one refrain: Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Mame isn’t being callous. She isn’t forgetting about the lower rungs of pre-Depression society. She isn’t closing her eyes to those around her. Rather, Mame recognizes that there is more than enough to go around. There is more than enough for everyone to feast and to feast well. But only if they can recognize that.

That is what Isaiah is prophesying to the people. The Feast on the Mountain of the Lord. This is not just a meal, it isn’t even just a feast. This is an abundant, overflowing, gluttonous feast of the best stuff. And we are all invited. You are invited to feast on the Mountain of the Lord, to feast well, to satiate not just your hunger but your palate. You are invited to the banquet of life.

Too often the world seems like there just isn’t enough. There isn’t enough food. There aren’t enough resources. There aren’t enough seats at the table. You are not invited unless otherwise notified. Just assume it’s not for you. Isn’t that the message we hear most from our self-centered society? There isn’t enough so hoard what you have. What mine is mine and if I can have some of yours so much the better. Look out for yourself because if you don’t pay attention, you might not have enough.

And there is Isaiah, like Auntie Mame, shouting Wait! Not only is there more than enough, more than you can imagine, more than you deserve, and more than you can ever desire, there is more than enough of the best. God spreads the banquet table full of the best. Come. You are invited. And squench over, there’s room enough around the Table.

But too often we just cannot believe that. It just doesn’t seem like it. No matter where you look, it seems like there just is not enough. Not enough food. Not enough money. Not enough love. Not enough to go around. So you better hold on to what you got. You better only share with people you think are worthy. You better not squander that on who knows what—or who knows who. Just hold on to what you got and be happy you have that.

And there is Isaiah, like Auntie Mame, shouting Wait! There is more than enough to go around. Be generous, share, show forth the abundant love and life of God with those around you. Invite them to the banquet of life! Heap their plates full—as full as your own!

It is easy to get beaten down when we look around us and see children being dragged out of classrooms with brute force because there is not enough patience to go around; when we see people killed for the color of their skin because there is not enough respect to go around; when we see people denied the ability to create a family of love because of genders because there is certainly not enough love to go around; when we see children going to bed with the sound of bombs as their only lullaby because there is just not enough; when we see people shredding their own bodies with barbed wire to escape life-threatening conditions and hoping, praying, pleading that there is more than enough. It’s easy to get beaten down and wonder where this abundant love and life of God is. Are you sure, Isaiah, that there is enough? Because the world certainly doesn’t act like it.

And then, we realize that it is us. It is we who are called to share the abundant love and life of God with all. It is we who are called to set another place at the table. It is we who are to show the generosity, the abundance, the more than enough of the best that we have been given to the world. The generosity of God is apparent here. In water, wine, wheat, and word we see God come to us time and again. In ordinary things turned extraordinary, we are again and again claimed by God. In a sumptuous feast of but mere scraps of bread and sips of wine, we are touched by God, and sealed and strengthened again to go out and share the abundance of God. At this table, at this banquet of life, where God is no further away than bread in our mouths and wine on our lips, at this table we know whose we are and that there is more than enough—and more than enough of the best stuff—for all.

Even when it doesn’t seem it. Even when the world wants us to believe there is such scarcity that we should be sure to hoard what we have and take whenever possible. We should not share with those who fight with their whole lives to feed their children; we should not care about those who have to make the difficult decision of paying the heating bill or buying their children a warm coat; it is a waste for us to give to organizations that help others to find housing and employment and necessary comforts. What a waste of precious resources. Yet there is Isaiah, like Auntie Mame, screaming that this is Just. Not. So.

The Feast is spread and we are invited. And you are called to invite others. To share the abundance. To shun the self-centeredness of the society in which we live and recognize that we are called into the community of God’s faithful to dance in the resurrection dawn and share of the abundant life and love of God. Today, we surround ourselves with the names of those whose lives and witness have shaped us and made us who we are. These persons are surely seated at the Banquet of Life, the Feast on the Mountain of the Lord. And they are setting a place for us. These persons have shown forth that there is not only enough but more than enough and not only more than enough but more than enough of the best. And all are invited to be a part of this feast. You are invited to be part of this feast.

In Christ we know the love of God. And in the lives of all those in our Great Cloud of Witnesses, we are reminded of the abundance of God’s love. That it is for us. And it is for all our wounded world. And it is more than enough.

Life’s a banquet and no one should be starving.

For that invitation and the privilege of sharing it, thanks be to God. Amen.