Sunday, November 08, 2015

Sermon; 24 Pentecost, Proper 27B; Mark 12:38-44

It's pledge season, not only here at St. Luke's, but at pretty much every church in the country.  This is the time you are asked to evaluate your budget, where the church ranks in importance to everything else you spend money on, and then prayerfully decide what part of your budget you will give to the mission of God as expressed in this particular arm of the Church.  In turn, the finance committee and vestry do their best to work up a budget for the coming year.

It also seems that around this time of year we get readings that have to do with money, stewardship, or something that makes us think about our pledge.  I’m not sure if that's actually the case, but it sure seems that way; especially when today's gospel story is often referred to as The Widow's Mite, The Poor Widow's Offering, Faithful Giving, or something else along those lines.

We have become so used to seeing this story about the giving of the widow that we miss other aspects of the story.  We have become so used to people holding up this widow giving her last two cents as a virtue we should try to emulate in our own pledging, that we miss other points of the story.

First, let me be clear about this: I would never advocate a person pledging in such a way as to be irresponsible or harmful.  Turning off your lights, turning down your thermostat, using less water, and passing those savings onto the church is one thing.  Turning off your heat, cutting your food purchases in half, or not filling your prescriptions is something else entirely, and totally unacceptable.

And of course we could “spiritualize” this and say that it isn't really about giving our last two cents, but that it is an allegory about giving our all for Christ and the mission of the Church.  But that focuses yet again on the giving of the widow and our own giving.  And in focusing on that, we miss other important points of the story.

Another point of this story just as important as the widow, maybe more so, is the financial system that put the widow in a place of hardship in the first place; a financial system that caused the widow to have nothing but two cents left to her name.  Jesus told his disciples to beware of the scribes who want all the best stuff, but devour widows' houses.  In other words, watch out for those who increase their own wealth and status at the expense of those who can least afford it.

We live in similar times.  Corporations have been classified as people in order to gain certain protections and avoid certain restrictions.  Payday lenders prey upon those poor who get caught in a financial whirlpool, getting sucked down further into poverty.  Banks use predatory lending practices with no concern for the welfare of their clients.  And the New York Times reported last week that corporations have begun inserting arbitration clauses in the fine print of contracts as a way to protect themselves from class-action lawsuits, basically allowing them to endanger people at will.

Recently Takata, V.W., and G.M. have been found guilty of concealing defects that have killed people, or of hiding systems designed to harm the environment.  In Montana, W.R. Grace mined and processed vermiculite, the key mineral in asbestos, and hid or destroyed findings that that product caused cancer, while lobbying for the safety of the product; even to the extent that they lined school playgrounds with it.

These are things we need to be thinking about as people who follow Jesus.  These are things we need to think about as we elect public officials, looking to find where their loyalties lie – with the scribes who devour widows' houses, or with the widows themselves.  These are things we need to think about as we pray, “Thy kingdom come.”

Unfortunately, amid all this thinking, I don't have a solution to any of this.  I don't know how to get corporations to lessen the pay gap between their board of directors and the people who work for them so people don't have to visit payday lenders.  I don't know how to get those payday loan companies to quit charging anywhere between 300 and 600 percent annual interest.  I don't know how to get corporations to care more for the widow than for their bottom line.

As much as it may sound like it, this is not a rallying cry to take to the streets with pitchforks in hand demanding a change to the system.  Don't get me wrong, a change to the system would be good; but maybe that change comes from the example of the widow.

Notice something about the scribes who devour widows' houses, the situations I named, and the widow.  The former are based on systems of greed, hypocritically hiding behind veneers of religiosity or slick P.R. campaigns.  They are intentionally misleading and are less-than-truthful, if not outright dishonest.

The widow, on the other hand, lived faithfully and honestly.  She was faithful to God and the temple, regardless of where she found herself in life.  She was honest with God about her position in life.

We may not be able to take on corporations and systems that devour the homes of those on the margins, but we can be faithful and honest in our dealings with God, the Church, and others.  And maybe it will be through that widow-like behavior that we will change the world.

Because, really, I’ll take faithful and honest over greedy and hypocritical any day, no matter how much it hurts.



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