November 22, 2009

Sermon 11/08/09


Sermon for Proper 27 B
November 8, 2009
Michael Coffey



Foolish, foolish, foolish woman.
That’s what we might be tempted to think.
She dropped her bottom dollar
into the collection bucket
of the very institutions and groups
that allowed those with power and wealth
to consume widows’ houses.
Foolish woman,
unless she knows something they and we don’t know.

Look out for them, Jesus said.
Look out for those who like to walk around in long robes
and are used to being treated with respect
and who like to pray long prayers in public
and....
Wait a minute.
As one who is currently walking around in a long robe
and whose title is the respectful “reverend”
and who prays a lot in public,
and who gets the best seat in the sanctuary,
and who always has to eat first at potlucks...
the Gospel reading is not settling well with me.

Maybe it isn’t settling well with you.
Maybe not because you feel like a scribe
who uses wealth arrogantly
and profits from other’s misfortune.
Maybe it isn’t settling well
because Jesus chose to praise the one person
in the whole messy temple scene
who should have gone unnoticed.
But Jesus noticed her
and he noticed that she put in all she had.
And it’s unsettling
because it feels a lot like
an excuse for the preacher to tell us
to put all we have in our bank accounts into the offering plate,
and wouldn’t that be a very nice trick.

I admit,
this reading does not leave me feeling great.
Jesus points out how this woman’s clanging of change in the kettle
was more than everyone else, because it was all she had.
I don’t know about you,
but I go through the day failing Jesus’ admiration miserably.
I go to the gas station to buy a Coke,
and they ask if I want to give my change for children’s charities.
I don’t always want to.
I go to HEB and they ask if you want to add a dollar on to your bill
for the Salvation Army,
and when I see that I just spent $123 for what amounts to
one dinner, a snack, a six back of beer, and some ice cream,
I don’t really want to.
I get home from a long day of work
and my son brings a catalog of ridiculously expensive wrapping paper
and holiday goodies to raise money for the school,
and I don’t really want to buy that stuff.
And then I have to sit down and write a sermon
about Jesus’ amazement at a widow woman,
a woman who was either very foolish,
or knows something that I and we don’t,
or at least not a lot of the time.

So Jesus noticing this foolish woman
unsettles us, and makes us wonder what’s up.
Look at what Jesus said about her:
“She, out of her poverty, has put in everything she had,
all she had to live on."
Another way to say that is:
she put in her whole life,
she gave her whole self.

Now Jesus just happens to be a guru
on the issue of giving your whole self.
His whole project on earth
was to live in such a way
that his whole life was given away for God’s sake
and for the good of humanity.
So he knows what he’s talking about.

In fact, he has already instructed his disciples
to follow him this way,
to live by giving their whole selves away
for the sake of the good news of God.
But they aren’t quite there yet.
They are still struggling to figure it out.
And then Jesus sees this woman
and she is everything his disciples are meant to be.
Those men must have been a bit ashamed
by this widow woman.

She is either a foolish woman to do this,
or she knows something that the disciples
and the religious leaders
and maybe we ourselves don’t quite know:
She gave her whole self away,
because she knew she had a beloved self to give away.
While the disciples were still trying to hang on to their insecure selves
she was letting go of her beloved self.
While we are still trying to preserve and protect our fearful anxious lives,
she is there, with Jesus, letting go.

Jesus points her out because
she was giving her whole life in trust to God....
the money part is just a side effect,
a symptom,
a fringe benefit of having entrusted her whole life to God,
which means trusting your death to God,
and so living life fully and freely.
And that only happens
when you know you are a beloved self in God,
a son, a daughter of God,
you know that if God had a refrigerator
your picture would be on it.

You know widows are central biblical characters.
They are central partly because
they are vulnerable to society’s injustices,
with no property rights,
no form of income,
dependent on family and community.
But they are also central
because they possess the fierce boldness that women possess,
like the widow with Elijah,
seeking out what they need for themselves and family,
giving their love for others and God away powerfully.
Maybe they do that because they have already lost
most of what we think gives security in life.
Maybe they have learned to find their security in God
so deeply and powerfully that they know who they are
and what they have to give,
so they do that.

The tough lesson in this story
for church life,
and especially for those of us wearing long robes
and all the rest,
is that Jesus points this woman out
in the central place of religious practice,
right where everyone else seems to be acting so faithful.
So Jesus makes it painfully clear:
religious practice does not necessarily create surrender to God,
openness to the holy presence this fills up life,
security in God and our own belovedness in God.
Religious life may often create a means of feeling in control,
and grabbing onto power, in big or little ways,
and following just enough rules to make us feel a false security
in our insecure selves.

We’re in stewardship season in the church,
and I think it’s an important time each year
to grow in our own spiritual discipline of stewardship.
But this is not a good church stewardship sermon.
Oh, I think it’s a fine stewardship sermon.
But I don’t think it’s a good church stewardship sermon.
Because it’s not about what you give to the church.
It’s about how you give your whole self away,
your whole beloved self,
the self you are tempted to cling to and protect,
but somehow God moves you to stop hanging on, and let go.

Some of you may know that one of my hobbies
is to sit at the piano and compose music.
I’m not a musician or a performer,
but I really enjoy coming up with idea on the keyboard.
I decided a few years ago,
foolish man that I am,
to compose a setting of the eucharistic liturgy.
I sat at the piano, started messing around with ideas,
and within about two weeks,
I had all the ideas for the whole lituryg.
But I sat on it, didn’t know what to do with it,
and kept it to myself.
A few years later, I look a sabbatical.
I had three goals:
sleep a lot and rest,
write,
and finish arranging my liturgy composition.

I did finish it,
and then I decided to share it at Christ Lutheran Church.
We decided to use it for Lent.
That first Sunday of using it,
and hearing people sing what I wrote,
it just about killed me.
I almost couldn’t stand it.
But then I realized that I had to share this,
and give whatever I had to give,
and let go.

It is no coincidence for me
that I was able to do that
at the very same point in my life
that I was on a deliberate, necessary journey
of spiritual growth and renewal,
of finding my own beloved self in God
and then letting go.
in order to give yourself away, you need to have a self,
you need to know your own god-given identity,
your own belovedness as a son or daughter of God.
So you see, stewardship is really about deep spirituality
that roots us so strongly in God
that we have a beloved self to give away.

There’s this foolish woman,
who seems to have very little,
and puts even that into the collection.
But she is no fool,
she is the closest thing to Jesus in the whole story of Mark.
She knows deep in her soul
that you never have nothing,
because what you have to offer is your God-given self,
blessed to be exactly what you are,
and trusting God enough to live it and love it and give it away.

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