Martin Luther described the Holy Bible as the "cradle of Christ"...in other words: The Manger.
Not only at the Christmas stable, but all year-round,
God's people are fed at this Holy Cradle.
We are nourished at this Holy Table.
We are watered at this Holy Font.

This blog is a virtual gathering space where sermons from Bethlehem Lutheran Church (ELCA) and conversation around those weekly Scripture texts may be shared.

We use the Revised Common Lectionary so you can see what readings will be coming up, and know that we are joining with Christians around the globe "eating" the same texts each Sunday.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 11 -- 25th after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace…

“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.”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, I would venture to say that none of us can truly put ourselves in the shoes of the widow.  I could be wrong about that, and if you offered your last two coins to God recently, I stand corrected.  But I would venture to say that all of us — even the most trusting-in-God among us — contribute, as Jesus pointed out, from our abundance.  

I even wrote those silly lyrics in the giving song we sang for the last month.  “So if you got 10, give 1 to God and keep the rest.  How ‘bout 30?  Well that 3 for JC, 27 for me!  And a 1000...dollars, well that’s 100, you could, you’re still looking pretty good.  You see offering is fun, in thanks for God’s lovin’ everyone…”  But the widow doesn’t have 10 or 30 or 1000, she’s got 2 and she offers those last 2 up to God.  

So where’s that leave us?  It leaves us with a challenge.  It leaves us on a journey.  It leaves us with Christ watching.  

I actually like that.  Jesus is watching us: what we do, what we say, and what we give — not ready to punish us or pounce, like some kind of angry God.  No we confess that God is a God of grace.  And so this Jesus “sitting opposite the treasury” is a loving God.  What do we say to our kids — most of us — when or if they’re getting frantic and anxious about being perfect or winning it all or performing seamlessly?  “Honey, I just want you to do your best, and I’ll love you no matter what.”

That’s what we’re dealing with here today.  Are we doing our best?  Giving our all?

Are we “leaving it all on the field,” as a good coach would say?  And I hope you know I’m not just talking about money.  Our relationship to money is very important to God, we can’t deny that.  Money can help identify our own personal and collective idols, and releasing it in church, with no strings attached, has been called an ‘exorcism’!  But this is about our actions and our words and our thoughts — our time and our talents, too.  Are we “leaving it all on the field”?

What does it look like to “put in everything [we] have, all [we] have to live on”?  

This isn’t a guilt thing!  Please, hear me.  This text is an invitation, a chance to re-evaluate and recommit.  I know the world doesn’t hit the new year’s reset button until January, but the Christian calendar is actually about to turn over on December 2, with a new liturgical year, First Sunday of Advent.  And what a gift a new year can be.  

What does Christ see, sitting across from you...and me...as we bring our whole selves forward to the altar?  Is there some resetting that we might do?  A little more we might offer?  A confession we might need to shed and entrust to God’s forgiving grace?  “Honey, I just want you to do your best.” 

Jesus sees us, friends.  He is looking at us, and that’s a good thing.  You don’t watch what you don’t like; you watch what you love!  Christ watches us...and therefore loves us into lives of deeper commitment, fuller generosity, bolder action, and more expansive welcome.  What a blessing to even start to live that way, to even take steps in that direction...this new year!
On the other hand, when we toss out just a bit out from our stashes, our gross abundance, we are ultimately missing out.  I sense a tone of mourning in Jesus’ voice, as he looks at those who aren’t giving in a deeper, more prayerful and trusting way.  They’re still “in control,” and yet there’s pain in that failing to offer their whole selves back to God.

My dad graphically likes to say: “Not giving [regularly, freely, joyfully] is spiritual constipation.  We get backed up.”  When we hang on to what we have so tightly, it stops being a gift.  Remember when we did that exercise with our hands — clenching vs. open?  If not giving is getting backed up, then giving...is a healthy, easy, joyful “movement.”  And there’s nothing better than that!

True story:  pastor friend back in California, who was making house calls during stewardship season.  (Ever happened here?  I’ve never.)  He was going around...and next on his list to visit, was dear old Doris, who had been a member for years, tithed generously all that time.  They visited for a while...

“Pastor, aren’t you going to talk to me about money?”
“Oh Doris, you’re good…we don’t need to go there.”
“Don’t you do that, Pastor.  Don’t let me off the hook, don’t deprive me from the gift of trusting in God more!”

None of us is truly the widow in this text, I’m guessing.  And that’s ok.  What Jesus is inviting us into — always — is better digestion!  Grace comes freely.  Time, talents, treasures shower our lives, our church, our souls.  We enjoy it all, we revel and frolic in God’s abundance.  And then we let it go freely and joyfully.  

That movement is what discipleship looks like.  And everyone should get that chance.  That’s what discipleship looks like.

The poor widow got it.  The others were suffering.

Now there are all kinds of justice issues we can talking about — why she’s poor, what kinds of systems of discrimination and  oppression and greed and just plain tragedy in her life might have forced her into that place of poverty...  
But this is about faithful discipleship!

It’s all the more powerful, actually, that even with all that, she still gets discipleship, she’s not deprived of that!  Nothing — not tragedy, not poverty, not injustice (not even constipation) can exclude us from following Jesus!

This is what Christ longs for, for us:  Peace in our hearts.  Trust in grace to abound.  Joy and hope in knowing that we can bring our whole lives forward, offer our whole selves to God, rich or poor, young or old, with all our blemishes and brokenness…

Friends, God takes us as we are.  God forgives our faults — even and especially the big ones.  God longs for us to stop clenching, and open our hands to this bread of life, this cup of mercy.  It is shed for you and for all...so that a new day, a new year might begin, even right now!  

There is no poverty in God’s grace and peace and welcome!  It is abundant, it is for everyone!  It is for you, this day and always.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

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