November 11, 2018 Hope Lutheran Church Riverside, CA
Welcome to the time of year in most churches when we talk at the table about impolite things, like caring for the immigrant, feeding the poor, or welcoming the stranger, also know politely as politics, or money and time commitment, also known as Stewardship. Welcome to a Stewardship Sunday- which is about all of the gifts God gives us and how we manage them- except it often feels a little dirty because for a few weeks a year, we really mostly mean money and then we use a pretty word like stewardship to dress it up. It is a weird thing and I want to name it. It is our reality, that once a year we need to talk about the things that make our spaces and ministry real and relevant in the world- and money is the currency upon which we are built. While it works in other places which we lift up through ELCA Good Gifts, here in Riverside, we simply cannot pay the electric bill with chickens.
All around the nation, pastors are deciding whether to climb the ant hill and preach openly and honestly about an area many don’t want us to speak about in church. Our own council is torn on me speaking about this topic. While it may seem uncomfortable to hear a sermon on money, just as it does about politics, the reality is, as a preacher, I follow Jesus footsteps and preach on what he preached and teaching what he taught, (I hope). Every aspect of our lives matters to God and Jesus gave us lessons on all of them, including and sometimes especially, the dangerously saucy topics of sex, politics, and money. Here is that sermon in one sentence and then I am reclaiming the rest of my time to speak on bigger matters by leaving the money talk to the finance people of our congregation. Here it is: ready? Shortest sermon on money:
You can’t take it with you- so how will you make a change for better in the world? Amen.
I want to talk about what we are doing with our stewardship of our lives and the lives of those around us. We just read of a widowed, resourceless woman who had nothing left to give while the religious leaders who left her in that poverty around her had plenty. If you want to connect my sermons with money- you do that or don’t. This passage is about human stewardship. Human life is the most precious gift we are given outside of salvation from sin. This passage is not about Jesus honoring a woman for giving her last item of value for the temple. It is about the religious leaders who left her to be impoverished and hungry. It is about the people of her community who did not surround her after her husband’s death, taking her in and caring for her when she could not care for herself. It is about a woman who is on the brink of death and starvation and the ones around her asking her to give up the coin which could keep her alive a little longer- it is about their failure to see and steward the most precious gift: life.
This passage riles up a lot of people who work with the hungry and poor. We get angry because there was a treasury box, likely overflowing, and wealthy people around her in rich clothes with full stomachs. They should have told her to keep her money. They should have opened up the box, taken out coins, bought her food, and given her credits among the sellers so that she would not be without. They should have taken her into their own homes, adopting her to be one of their family and providing for her. This passage is not about how being faithful is about giving your last coin and dying a hungry, purposeless death. This passage is about the inherent value she brings that no one but Jesus saw. It is about realizing every one of us have something of great value to offer to the world in who we are and our natural gifts.
Joanne had just gotten a divorce, was on government aid, and could barely afford to feed her baby in 1994. She thought she had nothing to offer the world. But she had a typewriter and a story to tell. She was so poor that after typing out the draft, she couldn’t afford to copy it, so she typed out each 90,000 word copy she sent to publishers. It was rejected dozens of times. The pharisees of the publishing world denied her offering. Finally Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, gave it a second chance after the CEO’s eight year-old daughter fell in love with it as would millions of children and adults around the world. That manuscript became a best seller, and a whole generation of young people do not know the world without Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling.
She had a gift. She had an offering that did not cost her to share- but made the world a better place. When our guest chefs craft a meal, they do it with ease and joy just as she wrote with ease and joy. It is not hard for them to cook, they love it. It is their gift- it comes naturally and without leaving them empty at the end. Our stained glass, a gift from members of the congregation is of great value because most of us could not produce such a gift. It is not ours to give. And neither was that talent the widow put in the basket. That coin was hers to keep and use to sustain her life. She had something else of value to give- her life, her presence, her experience, her smile. Stewardship is not as much about giving what we have no way of replenishing, but about giving from the endless well of who and whose we are. If you have money, yeah, give that. But if you have time, if you have talent, if you have patience, or a smile, give those. Because in all honesty, a smile goes a long way in the aching world.
Yesterday I spent the whole day in Los Angeles, caring for evacuees. We don’t ask them for more when so much has already been taken from them.
A smile goes a really long way. A bottle of water donated goes a long way. Caring for others in a moment of crisis is priceless, but so is just seeing them in the first place. God gave us each other first. God said it is not good for a human to be alone- and made a mate. We are meant to see each other first. To care for each other- to minister to the poor, the lonely, the hurting, and hungry; looking in their eyes and seeing them as we wrap them in love, in blankets, in warm food, and sharing a moment of time to express wordlessly that they matter. That is what we do as followers of Christ. We steward the gifts that God has given us- to care for the world- not asking or expecting the ones without to give up their last chance at life, but instead to offer faith, love, and hope.
Sometimes that means we do it here at our Hope Campus and office. Sometimes it is done at Pathways, or the riverbed, or a hospital room, or your own living room. The point is, our ministry is more than what we do on Sunday mornings, because this is time to worship God, give thanks, and be nourished to go out and care for the world with our gifts. What is it that you find you can replenish easily? That is your gift. How do you manage it? That is stewardship. What do the ones around you offer you? Does it cost them their last ounce of strength, life, or finance? How can you help them to keep that which they cannot replenish and support them? That is stewardship. How can we give back the widow’s mite and offer her more, a family, a meal, a home, a promise of life? That is stewardship of human life and that is the point of this lesson today.
Jesus isn’t telling us to give up what we have no way to replenish- even in giving up our life for Christ, we gain a new one. He isn’t lifting up the widow’s poverty as admirable. He is admonishing those who let it happen and reminding us that seeing each other in this world matters. Today is the 100th remembrance of Armistice Day- the end of the War to End All Wars. Millions died in service. millions more served and came home wounded mentally or physically. They didn’t have to give like that if we had valued life and each other in the world first. Some gave all, but they didn’t give their lives up to die, they game them up to live- to live in peace, to live in joy, to live for every life, for every precious human created by God. We honor their lives, the life of every Veteran the world over, because every life, every smile, every tear, every one of us matters. And some shouldn’t have to give all when we can prevent it. That is ministry. That is stewardship That is following Jesus Christ, our saviour, our teacher, our redeemer, our gift who keeps on giving and renewing us day in and out.