First Congregational Church
November 7, 2021
24th Sunday after Pentecost, All Saints Sunday and Veteran’s Day Sunday
“The Prints that We Leave”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I recently read that in order to be born, a person needs 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 second great-grandparents, 32 third great-grandparents, 64 fourth great-grandparents, on down to 2,048 ninth great-grandparents. That’s just 4,094 individuals covering twelve generations, which means the early 1600’s. There wasn’t enough time to figure out the exponentials all the way back to two million years ago to our earliest human ancestors. But it is quite the brain exercise.
I also read the section “100 Years Ago” in the Record Patriot this week. Even as a teenager I’ve been drawn to those little glimpses into history. The one from this week’s paper comes from the hand of L.P. Judson, Editor of the Benzie Record-Banner, with the title, “A cross country motor trip in 1921”. (pg.5)
As many of our friends were anxious to hear from us I take this way to let them know we arrived here in Fresno safe Saturday evening the 15th as many of you know, we drove to Ludington September 8, took the boat to Milwaukee, and drove to Madison, Wisconsin, is it there until the 19th, then started on the long trip. Most of the day had paved roads. Oh the next day in Iowa encountered mud; the third day did not drive.
From then on no more mud and rain until crossing the last range of mountains, after leaving Lake Idaho. About 11 o'clock just as we reached the summit it began to rain, but not enough to hinder as much. We left the Lincoln Highway at Mount Vernon, Iowa, and came by Iowa city, and Grinell country quite rolling but very good dirt roads to Council Bluffs. Cross the river and camped and campgrounds in Omaha over Sunday.
Found very good dirt roads most of the way through Nebraska and Wyoming, but in Utah often very bad roads and extremely rough, Nevada whenever we found alkali in the valleys the trail (for you can hardly call them roads) we're very bad, but we came through them without mishap and reached here somewhat tired but feeling well, finding our friends well, and we are enjoying the pleasant sunshine.”
Even if I’m not sure about the article’s sequencing and travel route, out of all that happened in the world in 1921, this little glimpse gives us a sense that we wouldn’t know without it.
Somewhere in my homework for this message, our passage for this morning transformed itself from a “holy scripture,” “far away” and perhaps rather austere episode into a rather newsy and informative glimpse, and maybe it might be so with you, too.
Continuing from last week’s passage where Jesus and a religious teacher were having a discussion in front of the Sadducees, the question was posed regarding the greatest of the commandments. These two a good many of us know: to love God and to love one another.
Warning Against the Teachers of the Law
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Thank you, Dale. For a very long time, my guess is that the teachers of the law, back then, walking around in flowing robes and lengthy prayers, have been treated as sinister fellows, rather than descriptions, like “very bad and rough roads” in Utah. And I will admit that I’m probably as guilty as the next one is such pointing and deflecting and blaming them. The poor and widows and orphans and slaves and children certainly had a rough time of it back then, but then again, some advancements have not been as quick as others.
And just as off-sided as the teachers, I’m guessing that the focus, has at times, been too restricted, narrowing in to the woman and her two copper coins, rather than on the idea of her being able to add her two cents and the fact that she is still remembered 2,000 years later, even if we don’t know her name.
The Methodist preacher, William H. Willimon put it out there that on most weeks, “As we preachers prepare for Sunday, we are busying ourselves with preparations required to listen to the saints. Sunday is that day of the week when we take time to talk with the dead,” and that this particular Sunday, we pay more attention to “those who have walked the path before us, as well as those who will come after us.”
Willimon also pointed out that by being reminded of the gift of the saints, “the peculiar wonder of a community (the church) that moves forward by looking back, lives through talk with the dead. We do not have to make up our faith as we go. There are trustworthy guides who have walked before us” - people like Moses, the writer of Mark, the poor widow, as well as our resurrected guide, Jesus Christ.
Willimon ended with an unidentified quote, “History is a fine teacher with no students.” “All Saints is a reminder “that we believe that God speaks to us through history and from history. Let us therefore submit ourselves to the wisdom of the saints. Let us forgo our arrogance to think that our time is so different, our problems and challenges are so special, that we have nothing to learn from those of the past.”
That’s why it’s important to hear the stories of faith, that we can not only embrace their veracity for ourselves, but that we, by our faithfulness, point a way for those who follow us, that they can travel in wisdom and grace. Whether it is through our footprints, fingerprints, news print or heart prints, our job in this life is important and holy and regardless of the state of our hearts, we can face the future with confidence, knowing that our paths are sacred and rich and significant.
Episcopalian theologian author and professor, Ruele Howe tells about growing up with his parents in the country. When he was 15 years old, the house caught on fire. They escaped with only the clothes on their backs. There were no close neighbors to help so he and his father walked to a distant village to get supplies. As they returned they saw something that stayed with Ruele Howe all those years.
Beside the charred remains of what had been their house, his mother had laid out lunch on a log. She had placed a tin can filled with wildflowers on the log. It was a symbol of hope in the midst of tragedy.
Such commitment to beauty and hope and determination is a big part of Christian faith, isn't it? Howe’s mother didn't try to cover up the disaster with flowers, but in the midst of that gloomy scene she had brought in a symbol of hope. The two coins that the widow placed in the temple treasury were her wildflowers. They were her symbol, her way of saying I know God will provide. So let us pray.
Holy and Life-Affirming God, we thank you for this day, of remembering and honoring, of avowing and re-avowing to be the best we can be, as ambassadors of life in you. May all the prints we leave behind be good and inspiring. When our prints are less than affirming, forgive us and absolve us that we might continue to point to you for all we’re worth. Thank you, too, for those who have gone before us and those who will come after us, that we will know our work here is good and valuable. We hold all these things in our hearts as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.