Sermon of the Week
No Insignificant Question: Privilege and the Gospel.
Keywords: privilege, widow’s mite, kenotic hymn, seat at the table, to whom much is given, not to be served but to serve, step aside.
There are a couple of different versions of a story,
but the general outlines are the same:
there’s a teacher lecturing in a public place—
the main school and civic building in the city
and the teacher has become famous.
He’s provocative, and edgy, and iconoclastic.
The teacher is talking about their country
their congregations and their communities.
He’s upset that people take advantage of one another,
using their positions of authority and responsibility to profit from them
instead of using that authority and that responsibility
to make the lives of ordinary people better.
How dare they? That’s not right.
That’s not what our rules, our laws say is supposed to happen.
It is not okay to take advantage of people.
It’s enough to make any preacher jealous. Know what I mean?
And some other people too, apparently, were jealous, too,
those very people in positions of authority and responsibility.
They were not happy,
so they come up to him and started challenging him.
What gives you the right, man?
Who said you could come in here and talk about us like that…
And, so the story goes,
the teacher didn’t blink an eye.
He fends them off.
He says he’ll answer their questions if they can answer one of his first:
John, you know, that guy who baptized all those people in the desert,
was John doing that because God was with him, guiding him, empowering him,
or was he doing all that on his own…?
And they really couldn’t answer him,
because this was a public spectacle by now.
The bystanders all had their cell phones out
and they were recording video, ready to upload to facebook and twitter and insta
and the accusers were worried,
because the crowds loved John.
They loved him.
Dude lived in the desert and ate locusts and wild honey
and sought to serve people, love people, heal people, point them to God
and if they answered the way they truly felt
they didn’t like John, and didn’t think God was on HIS side, come on, really?
if they answered that way the crowds would turn on them for sure.
So they didn’t answer. They were silent.
And the teacher kind of smiled at that,
and told the crowds a little story
and kept right on teaching.
They tried again: they sent people to try to trap him in the same sort of question—
Hey Jesus, you teach the way of God and the truth.
Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?
They figured, hey, the people with their cell phones recording all this
they hate taxes, they hate the emperor,
the Romans are making their lives miserable
so we got him, just like he tried to get us with that painful question about John.
And the teacher reached for a coin,
and asked those around him: “Whose picture is on this thing”
“The Emperor’s mug is on that coin”, the crowd answered.
Give to the emperor what is the emperor.
Give to God what is God’s…
Oh, snap. Goes the crowd.
Did you see that?
And you can see why they were delighted by all of this.
And those people who tried to trap him,
the stories all say, they fell silent.
They didn’t try anything more after that,
not for a little while at least.
And the teacher kept on teaching…
and started digging in a bit more
on those people of power and authority
going so far, once, to say this:
“In the hearing of all the people, Jesus 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 appearances say long prayers.
They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Which was a quite astonishing thing to say
about the scribes, who were well respected
essential in everyday society
without whom business and education and daily life would kind of grind to a halt.
Most people didn’t know how to write, after all,
and the scribes kept the whole economy going.
And apparently, they knew it.
Or at least felt that they deserved to be treated well because of it.
And then the teacher is done, and he sits down,
over by the treasury,
where there is a large crowd just sitting there
and everyone is watching people come up and
make their tithes and offerings to the temple.
Can you imagine it?
Everyone sitting around for sport, watching the gifts that people make to charity?
And the story ends
with Jesus looking up
and seeing rich people striding up with their gifts,
proud and pretentious and loving it,
one by one by one.
But look, here is something different.
It is a widow. She looks, well, poor.
Her clothes, her gait, everything about her shows she’s out of place.
But she’s determined.
She walks up, and places two copper coins in the box
and they rattle around in there with a loud noise
like they don’t quite fit.
And the teacher is astonished.
Look! He says.
Truly, this poor widow has put in more than all of them;
for they have contributed out of their abundance,
but she out of poverty has put in all she had to live on…”
Some people call that last part of the story the Lesson of the Widow’s mite.
It is found in the Gospels of Mark and of Luke,
the end of a full day of teaching by Jesus.
A mite was the name of the coin that she put into the treasury box.
It was the smallest coin,
“the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Judea,
worth about six minutes of an average daily wage…”
That was all that she had to live on…
We refer to it sometimes when we sing the song Take my life and let it Be,
with the lyric: Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold
Take my intellect and use, every Power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose…
Take my love, my Lord, I pour
at Thy feet it’s Treasure Store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever Only All for Thee. Ever Only All for Thee…
One of the things that got Jesus into trouble
was how he was not afraid to take on powerful people,
their pride and their hubris
and their use of power to get what they want, at the expense of others..
But Jesus was an equal opportunity critic, it seems to me,
when you look more deeply into it.
It wasn’t just those scribes, or the pharisees,
or the wealthy who were watching each other’s charitable donations for sport.
Jesus also turned his flashlight to examine the hearts of those closest to him.
Karen read a story today about the disciples jockeying for power.
Worried about their seats at the table
wanting to sit at the right and the left hand of their beloved leader Jesus. [Read more…]