First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
September 30, 2018
Scripture: Mark 12:41-44
I chose this passage from the Gospel of Mark because this is a favorite of the stewardship season in the church. While, technically it was not slated in the Lectionary order until November I moved it up for purpose of the sequence of what I want to say this time of year.
Yes, it is stewardship season in the church. It is that time of year when we turn our thoughts and dreams to the coming year and what the future might hold for us in terms of resources and money. Money… one of my least favorite sermon topics, and yet, Jesus according to our stories talked quite a lot about money. It is one of those topics in the contemporary church that a preacher can preach 1, 2, or 3 sermons on per year and get feedback that it is all she or he talks about. It can be a difficult path to tread.
But, here we are . And I chose to talk about a singular person this morning in the text. The story Jesus tells about the widow and her generosity. Many of you have heard it before, about the poor widow who put in the offering everything she had… two copper coins worth about a penny. All she had to live on. He contrasts that gift with many rich people who put in large sums, but her gift was more than all of them because they contributed out of their abundance and she out of her poverty. The story will preach. It is simple and to the point.
One thing I noticed in the story again as I prepared was that Jesus did not criticize the rich folks or even praise, necessarily, the widow… he just reports what he sees. They gave. She gave. And proportionately her gift was more. This one person made a difference… for the temple, for the faith, for herself. Go and do likewise. Amen…
But, wait a minute… Jesus didn’t even say that… “Go and do likewise,” it is like he brought the disciples over, pointed out this poor widow and what she did, pointed out the rich ones and what they did, handed them… or us… the story and said, “Here, you figure it out.”
I have been wrestling with this text. Less in the context of figuring it out in regards to stewardship, though that is a part of it obviously as we begin this season in preparation for our 2019 Budget… and more in what does this story have for us today? I confess I have had a difficult time with this story as I sat with it this week with all that is going on and all that continues to go on in the church as a whole, in our UM Church, in our city, and in our country.
So, I have a few questions of the author of Mark. Why did the author tell this story and why was it placed where it is placed in the text? Mark has sandwiched this story of giving between Jesus’ critique of the scribes with their long robes, long prayers, best seats, and wanting to be noticed… and the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ last days. I don’t think that was an accident. Jesus is critiquing a religious system that masks ego and greed. Rodger Nishioka in his commentary on this passage writes, “We should be outraged by any system that appropriates the property of the poor and the near destitution in order to perpetuate wealth for the elite.” Jesus’ critique sets up the story of the giving to the temple treasury… but he does not directly implicate the scribes… though we might imply critique. It is interesting too, as I read, the giving of the widow elicits no comment from Jesus of her contributing to a dying institution that in the next passages he says will be laid waste.
As I read Nishioka’s commentary stinging words set in as he cited Charles Campbell who wrote in The Word before the Powers about “the challenge for the church, particularly the predominantly white, wealthy, mainline church, to recognize how it enjoys enormous privilege and status and calls for an ethic of nonviolent resistance in preaching and reminds us that human beings tend to preserve the systems from which we benefit.” In the literary context of the passage from Mark is a scathing critique of a church that feigns humility, powerlessness, and oppression in the face of the powers that be all the while risking none of its privilege or status.
In this sense, I find so much parallelism with the church and the current state of our culture, society, and government. So much money, power, privilege, and arrogance posturing itself for status and influence they, as Jesus says, devour widows [the most vulnerable] all for the sake of appearance.
The image came to mind as I continue to read and learn about the Yale Apartments and those who are most vulnerable and the resistance or at least slow grinding gears of power and bureaucracy at the expense of the most vulnerable.
It is an image that comes to mind as I watched and listened to the spectacle of power and privilege this past week in the halls of our government. The powerful who sat in indignation feigning concern and compassion all the while parading words and actions masked with concern, claiming tied hands, deadlines, and entitlement… risking nothing for the common good of all while diminishing, refusing to hear, ignoring, and dismissing the voice of vulnerability, and a story of abuse and pain. Rending invisible ones who find themselves displaced and at the mercy of someone else… Ones who risked much more than any others in the hearing room that day.
Let me just state again, as I shared on our FUMC social media page this week… For those in our community of faith at FUMC, and our community of Omaha, who are triggered and struggling with this latest display of patriarchal abuse and power, FUMC is a safe place to be you, to tell your story, and to know you are not alone. We stand with you, we will walk alongside you, we appreciate you, we will be an advocate, we believe you, we care.
I look in the face of the one who faced all of those senators this week and risked it all, who was there, as she said, not to make the decision for them or to play partisan politics, but to tell the truth. Someone who I have to believe down deep inside still believes there is good left in this messed up political government of ours… that there is something worth saving… who still believes there are good and trustworthy people out there who will believe the truth.
I look in the faces of those who are displaced, placed at the mercy of others, who believed in this country enough to risk it all and come here… who believe deep down inside this is a good and honorable place…and there is hope here in Omaha.
So, I may hear you ask, what does this all this have to do with money? I look in the face of the vulnerable widow… who is used to being invisible, who is used to not being seen by those in power, who is used to being taken advantage of… this widow… who for whatever reason still believes. She still believes in the good of the institution, who still believes there are good and trustworthy people out there… even in power… who still believes it enough she is willing to give her last penny to save its soul.
I suspect we too still believe. We still believe we can make a difference. We still believe in the good of the church. We still believe we can see and advocate for those who feel invisible, we still believe there are good and trustworthy people out there… even in the highest levels of our church and our government… I suspect we still believe in empowering the most vulnerable of God’s people. We still believe in the truth.
And that is why we give. That is why we support FUMC, that is why we pledge what we are able… because we believe in what we do.
May it be so. May it be so. Amen.
Nishioka, Rodger, (2009). Feasting on the Word, Mark 12:38-44, Pastoral Perspective, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.