a homily for Proper 28C
Text: Luke 21:5-19
Encountering Jesus’s Mission
Jesus ends the teaching at the Temple and begins to leave with his closest followers by saying some pretty tough words. Listen:
In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Jesus is saying all of this to his followers loud enough that He can be heard by everybody. The whole crowd can hear Jesus call the scribes self-absorbed elitist pigs who become rich on the backs of the poor and the weak—the widow, once again, appears as a stand-in for the penniless and powerless.
Then the story continues with the first verses of 21:
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
Again we have the visual of the wealthy giving in one way and that poor widow giving in another. Then:
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Notice the thread that runs through this story, as Jesus teaches the disciples about how the scribes and the rich treat the poor, how the poor give sacrificially to the glory of GOD, and how all this wealth that surrounds us will not only crumble, but it will be knocked down and destroyed.
“Bad Times Ahead”
It sounds like that’s the headline to the story Jesus is telling this morning. But don’t worry because He has a 3-point plan for us. Ready?
- Don’t be afraid as the world crumbles around you.
- Don’t plan your testimony ahead for when you are arrested.
- Some aren’t going to survive.
As inspiring moments go, this certainly would make no one’s top 10 list. Thanks, Jesus.
We know that all Jesus predicts here would come true—the Temple was destroyed 40 years later and many apostles were martyred. As much as we are inclined to see this in the past, however, we know that it speaks in a different way to us. If we see this as less historical-predicting-of-a-specific-future and more a Jesus-is-saying-something-that-still-scares-people-about-GOD sort of thing, we can make better sense of it.
As much as Jesus’s concern for the widow and predicting the collapse of the Temple, arrests, and martyring sounds scary to us, perhaps the scariest part in Jesus’s 3-point plan is not the fear for physical safety or even the dying, but the part about the testimony. It says:
So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you the words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
Decide to not prepare. Don’t seek the advice of a lawyer; don’t even hire one. Don’t plan a strategy. I’ve got this, Jesus says. I’ve got it. I’ll give you the words.
That’s the scariest part, isn’t it?
All we need for Stewardship
Considering so much of their journey to Jerusalem involved teaching about the dangers of wealth, how strange then, that the disciples find themselves in awe of the Temple decorations: “how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God”. Even these will pass away. Nothing we give to the glory of GOD will persist forever. These beauties around us here are as chalk on the pavement—a picture of pink hearts and yellow flowers adorning the words “love, faith, give” on the walk. As permanent as the next rainfall.
We aren’t giving to something that is intended to be around forever. We are giving to the glory of GOD and to GOD’s mission in the world.
Which is why this gospel isn’t a knock on the rich as people—but on a sense of giving that begets power and influence. Giving that makes us feel good and worthy. Giving that makes us feel like we are hot stuff—the kind of people who give.
GOD doesn’t want us to be “the kind of people who give,” GOD wants us to be “people who give”. The problem isn’t that the wealthy have abundance, but that power seems to come with it. The power to oppress, divide, conquer, control.
This little light of mine
We generally avoid talking about money and service—which is what we do this time every year with a sense of dread and irritation. Perhaps with guilt or pride. I don’t relish the opportunity to preach about it. In fact, I feel quite queezy about it.
But I would feel much more uncomfortable avoiding it. And worse, allowing us to think of our giving to the mission of Christ as if it were simply charity—some spare change thrown in a bucket. And my sense of vocation would be in tatters if I didn’t give us all the opportunity to let the Spirit guide our decisions. For many of us here, we like to make the decisions. It is about reflection and confronting our priorities and making hard decisions. Decisions that allow us, as the widow, to give out of our poverty.
This season, I’ve been asking us to think about giving of ourselves—our whole selves. In the coming months, we’ll have some new opportunities to engage with how we might do that. In the season after the Epiphany, we’ll be doing a program that is engaging, conversational, and has been getting rave reviews called Animate. In Lent, we’ll be doing a weekly gifts discernment workshop that will help us better understand what GOD is calling us to do.
But today, we’re focusing on giving of ourselves financially. Giving that is not only to keep the doors open and the lights on or keep the beauty that surrounds us from being knocked over. Giving with a much bigger purpose: to sustain and grow the ministry of St. Paul’s and our work in the wider community.
We may love our liturgy, our font, our windows, our communion vessels. Family members may have donated animals for the creche, renovations in the kitchen, or the purchase of fine vestments like these. These things are idols that draw us away from the true reason we’re called here: that we have all been called to ministry by GOD.
In baptism and in confirmation, we promise to do something incredible and powerful. In serving at the altar on the altar guild, as an acolyte, a reader, or Eucharistic minister. In serving the community as a leader on the vestry, as an usher, a member of Buildings & Grounds, Care/Share, or the Thrift Shop. Many of us are serving and many have had their sabbaticals from service and are discerning how to jump back in. And some are continuously looking for how they fit in—where their ministry is here.
The real reason to give comes from what Jesus says “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance” for Jesus will guide you. This isn’t simply about words. We are promised that Christ will be with us. That Christ is in us. That we bear the light of Christ.
Our work is to bear the light of Christ to this whole community. He says to us: Don’t be afraid. Jesus is with you. You’ve got that little light to take with you all over St. Clair.
That’s why we sing
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…
Ev’rywhere I go,
Jesus gave it to me,
[for more, check out my current stewardship thoughts here]