Sunday, November 8, 2015

Long Flowing Robes, Mark 12:38-44, 1 Kings 17:8-16

Mark 12:38-44;
Commerce Presbyterian Church
Nov. 8, 2015
On Nov 22 we are going to have fun. Pizza and other good food will be served.
We’ll give thanks for all our many blessings;
We’re going to hang the greens.  Donna and Eddie, I warned you not to do it!
And most fun of all, we are going to turn in our pledge cards.  
That’s fun right?
Of course it is!
Turning in pledge cards is one of the most significant acts of faith that we do in our lives...
we give on faith.
And research that I’ll share with you more in upcoming weeks, confirms what the bible has already said, it is more fun – that’s right—fun, to give than to receive.
Yes, that is my translation of the greek word, Makarios--usually translated blessed...but I’m translating fun.
We are in a seasons of thanksgiving. A season of "stewardship." Giving thanks for what we have received and we are ensuring the care of these gifts as good stewards.
Good stewards taking care of what’s been entrusted to us—
through the offering of our time, our talent, and our treasure, we take care of the church and live out its mission;
And when we talk about stewardship, honestly, honestly, it means money…
it means we fill out a slip and try to make a go out of church and ministry for another year.
We can dream big and set a big budget and think of all the wonderful ways we can be church and dream about fixing leaky roofs and broken HVAC systems.
This is coming Nov 22,
Today is Nov 8.
So we have a few weeks to start thinking and praying about what kind of commitment each of us might be able to make.
The two stories we have from scripture speak to this topic of giving.
These two widows may teach us a little about stewardship this morning.
The first widow we find in 1st kings. The Widow of Zarephath.
She’s faced with a dilemma.
A crazy person[1]—the prophet Elijah—is challenging her code of hospitality--which in that culture, similar to ours, when someone comes asking for food and drink we are obliged to provide.
First he requests a little water. "Okay, sure."
Then, then he requests a little food, just a small morsel of bread…but it’s the last of what she has. She gives in to the cultural custom to oblige even if it may mean the end of her.  But she let’s him know what’s up, “ I'm gonna cook what I’ve got for me and my son, so we can eat it and die”....uff.,  Gloomy situation.
But, real life. Just as she faced this difficult dilemma back then, too many mothers face this reality of not enough food for themselves or their children today.
What would you do when the cupboard is bare...there is nothing to eat!?   nothing left?
What would be your response to God?  Or to a stranger who comes asking for food in GOd’s name? God will give you a blessing if you give, says this person claiming they are from God.
Would you Give away? Give up?  
Elijah assures, Trust me, dear. your jar will be filled….
He trusts. She trusts, gives Elijah some bread,
And the promise is fulfilled.
While less people are giving to church, the church as an institution still has tremendous success in raising funds, getting into our pockets. The majority of the giving goes to religious institutions.  The message is still quite compelling, Give when God is demanding it from us :).
The cool thing this story seems to illustrate is that this was something God wanted. The widow and Elijah were blessed through the exchange.
But this is an act we shouldn’t just do blindly, when we are down to our last morsel of bread.  And the church comes a knockin’
Mark’s story about Jesus paints a different picture about giving.
And suggests we need to be careful as a religious institution if we are going to be asking for gifts from the goodwill of the people.
We encounter our second widow--nameless just like the first.
The widow who gives from the small amount she has.
How have you heard this passage before? Or how do you read it, now?
Often, she is lifted up as a fine example of how we should give.
what faith!  I’ve heard it translated like that before …
But, is Jesus really lifting her up as a positive example? or is something else going on?
I’ve always assumed that Jesus was applauding her actions, setting her up as an example for the disciples and for us…teaching those of who are more well to do than her, to not be so stingy, that’s how I’ve heard it taught before.
Then I got to thinking about folks at the homeless shelter.
Would Jesus expect them to give up the last of what they’ve got for the church?
pass a plate saying, “give it up fellas, whatever you got, we need to support our church’s treasury, got a pastor to pay, our roof leaking.”
We know this wouldn't be right…
plus how many would give their money?
…we’d probably have to demand it from them…it’s for the Lord after all.
So, with this widow, was this money being demanded of her?
Before the widow’s gift, Jesus has some choice words for those who represent the institution.
Those long robe wearing….
respect from the masses getting’…
best seats in the church takin’…
widow’s house devourin’—dudes,
aka the scribes.
"The longer their prayers, the worse they get."[2].
Those who are supposed to be leading the people of God in their holy spiritual walk, are full of it!  It seems he’s saying.
How public was giving to the treasury? Not a discrete plate passing through the pews huh.
I wonder if someone was there counting and recording the given amounts:
100, very good,  200 hundred, even better.
2 mites!  What is this?
Jesus sees how much the widow gives and says...
“this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
So that long robes can get longer.
And oppression can continue.
For Jesus, the widow’s mite incriminates an already corrupt system
instead of setting her free, and loosening her bonds… as the people of God are to do as written in Isaiah 58
she is a perfect example of how the institution representing God has lost its way.
She’s given all she has... all that she has to live on.
Two widows asked to give out of their poverty. In one instance, God is glorified. In another. God is insulted.
Beware of the scribes…those who represent religious institutions!
Really this is a warning for yall to keep your eyes on me before you give your last dime.
We don’t have to stretch our imaginations too much to think of when the church and those who represent the church have gone the way of demanding the last few coins from the widow, and God was insulted.
There are many in our communities who teach what’s called prosperity Gospel.
Saying give to my ministry, and you will get more than you’ve given,
and in the meantime they drive fancier cars, wear fancier clothes and build bigger buildings, and say look what God has done!  Sounds like some robes are getting longer!
Meanwhile the poor widow has given up her last two coins and stands as vulnerable as ever.
In Atlanta the archbishop of the Atlanta Diosese was under a bit of pressure when the public became more aware of the home he was housed in.  This man who took a vow of poverty when entering the priesthood, and of course is single, was housed in a “house” in buckhead worth $2.6 million.
However, another, now more influential man is setting a tone for an experience more like Elijah. Father Bergoglio, had a history of rejecting the tendency of longer flowing robes and the finest seats in the house in order to be on the side of the poor. When he was elected bishop for his region, instead of living in the bishops nice home in the suburbs, he elected to live in a small apartment; he took public transportation to get around.  Now, this man is the Pope in Rome. Frances, and he continues similar patterns.
He does not reside in the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors, instead he lives in the guest house. And we saw on his visit to the united states instead of the traditional limousine, he rode in a fiat.  The same car as some folks drive in this church!
As a result of his influence, our Archbishop in Atlanta has moved into a more modest home in Smyrna….
There are many examples reminding the church, and those who represent the church, we are to be on the side of the poor widows and to never extort them or any who are poor and vulnerable.
So as we approach stewardship day—Nov 22—
the day we bring our offerings to the Lord. We have to be very careful as an institution, to ensure the way we are using what people give, is to always glorify God.
How can you tell?
In chapter 3 of The Book of Order (G-3.0200-3.0400), it says:
"The Church is called to be a sign in and for the world of the new reality which God has made available to people in Jesus Christ."  How will it be a sign? By:
"Healing and reconciling and binding up wounds,...
ministering to the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the powerless,...
engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice,....
giving itself and its substance to the service of those who suffer,....
sharing with Christ and the establishing of his just, peaceable, and loving rule in the world.
The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life.[4]
So long as we are carrying out that mission…
support the efforts of this place, with generosity,
with the faith and trust of the first widow, who gave her bread to Elijah, …her jar was kept full.
But once you see my robe getting a little longer,
or I start praying really really long prayers......
once you see a community that seeks its own best interest,
and forgets the poor widows, the street children, the homeless men, the sick and the needy,
let's go ahead and close our doors...
LEt's tear down the whole building.  And get back to following Jesus.
Because if we don't, tear it down…we know that God will…see that leaky roof?
But, how often out of destroyed walls, desperate situations, and broken people, does Christ’s light shine the brightest.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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