First Congregational Church
November 11, 2018
25th Sunday after Pentecost, Armistice Centennial
“Mite Vs. Might”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A few months ago, a request was brought to our Worship Committee, from the Benzie County Historical Museum, asking if we would participate in the centennial celebration of the great Armistice Day, held on November 11, 1918.
It has been recorded that, “On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent. After four years of bitter fighting, The Great War was finally over. The Armistice was signed at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. Six hours later, at 11am, the war ended.”
In honor of that day, and as close to the poetic time as we are able, let us take a moment to reflect on that day, that time, the telegraphs, the relief and sorrow of our forefathers and mothers and those who gave all they had to the cause of freedom - not just that day, but in all those times when veterans served us and this world.
So I was talking to my dad the other day, and as many of you know, I received my genetic propensity for the delight of fishing from him. In fact, the last couple of conversations I’ve had with him, he’s been talking about hoping to get his boat out one more time this year, because he hasn’t been able to catch a single walleye, and it is near killing him.
The fact that walleye have been allusive to most all Minnesotans has not bee a comfort, and the couple of days with no fish caught on my vacation in July hasn’t softened dad’s blow one little bit.
I am, however, thinking about connecting dad with a former student I’ve mentioned before; Quinten Larsin. Yesterday, Quintin posted a picture of his fishing boat and said, “Some say 16° out it’s too cold fish. Time to put the smack down on the walleyes.” If I could make it work, it just might be a connection made in heaven.
In regard to our scripture passage for today, it just might be one that’s a little uncomfortable - at least the first half, at least for some. Okay. For me. At least the first part.
It follows the passage from last week, the one when a lawyer of the day asked Jesus which one of God’s laws was the most important. For several weeks, the book of Mark has been giving us passages that center around a desire or knowledge of what or who is great. Last week, Jesus very pointedly said that to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, along with the second: to love our neighbors as ourselves, were the two most vital.
The writer of Mark doesn’t tell us whether today’s passage happened that same day or not, but Jesus is still on a teaching roll. Maybe he was doing a little topical cherry picking with his points as laid out by Mark. Maybe there were so many different teachers and scribes milling around in the temple, that Jesus was grabbing at object lessons as they strolled in front of him.
Mark 12:38-44 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, Mary Ann. Thank goodness I’ve given up those lengthy robes, if for no other reason that the potential to trip on them!
I think that for many ministers, preachers and pastors, the first part of today’s passage is one that is like a hidden road bomb. There have been and are some big names in our small part of Christendom of these contemporary United States: Henry Ward Beecher, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Tony Campolo, Frederick Buechner, Charles Stanley and William Willimon, just to name a few. But then there are these names: Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert and Jim and Tammy Baker. Anyone who’s been around for most any length of time has heard of some of the contention surrounding this second group of names.
I’m not making a judgement about any of these individuals, but it is good to take stock of religious leaders every now and again, because we are as tempted by what seems like power and influence as the next guy or gal. Whether it is teaching Sunday School, serving on or chairing a committee, within the church family or in the secular world, all of us have not only the responsibility to pray for those in leadership positions, but most especially those connected to the church. It might not seem like a big thing, prayers for these sorts of people, but your little mite of a prayer is much mightier than you might think. The first part of today’s passage is a reminder to all of us, that others watch us, looking to see if the living out of our personal sermons match our preaching.
The second part of this morning’s passage is one that is probably right up there in the top ten most well known in the world - within and without Christendom. With just a little imagination, it is such a vivid scene.
In an area of about 2.5 acres, the Court of the Gentiles was not a place for worship, but a place like a huge flea market; people selling and buying animals for sacrifices and changing money into that which the Romans found acceptable: shekels from the city of Tyre. Gentiles and Jews, men and women could all be in this space, so the sound was probably rather elevated, especially with no particular market rules and everyone trying to make the best deal possible.
And now, with pure speculation on my part, I’m guessing that the collection containers for the temple gifts were a clay or metal vessel of some sort, because when you drop metal in such containers, they make a sound. And more money means more sound and so your contribution would be “noticed,” if not by sight, then surely by sound. How unnoticeable the widow’s offering would have been that day. But Jesus noticed it.
All we have are Jesus words; no clues about how he said them, or his body language, except that he was sitting, so that meant he was in a teaching mode. For a long time, pastors, preachers and theologians have thought Jesus’ words were those of appreciation and admiration. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Given all the previous challenges and questions in Mark about greatness, perhaps Jesus’ commentary on the woman’s offering was not one so much of admiration, but one that has more to say about a remorse - that she felt compelled to give away the little tiny bit she had left, even if the legal experts overlooked her gift as too small with which to bother. Maybe Jesus noted the woman’s gift, and the hypocrisy and corruption of the legal experts, with sadness, because you, know, there were no iron-clad guidelines and rules about how much could be asked of anyone back in those days. And apparently, it didn’t matter that the powerful could literally take away a person’s home, for whatever reasons.
It’s also interesting that Jesus doesn’t explicitly tell us to imitate the widow by giving our every last cent. Okay, you all can breathe again. But he is giving this lesson against the backdrop of his eventual death and crucifixion, the giving of his all.
Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN has this thought. “I think this story tells a truth about God. God sees right through our self-attentive ways, our tendency for self-preservation, our constant leaning toward the lure of all that might build up the self, especially at the expense of those who need our help the most. We are not fooling anybody, especially God, if we think that any acts of philanthropy are truly extensions of the Kingdom of God if we don’t remember where Jesus ended up.”
Maybe there is some other-worldly irony in this day being Veteran’s Day, a commemoration of those who gave not only their might, but the last mite they had - and this passage - of the mite of this woman, played against the cinematic background of Jesus on the cross, saying “It is finished.”
Maybe the reflection of these passages is one that comes back onto us, as Karoline Lewis also said, “Because the widow’s might is God’s might -- a might known in love and loyalty. In giving and grace. And in dependence and dedication.
David Lose, of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis joined in this idea of deeper sight. "Because this God cares about this woman and her sacrifice. This God sees her plight and recognizes her affliction.” God has seen the plight of all God’s people, throughout the course of time, and recognizes our afflictions, our sorrows, our joys and all our interactions with the world - each and every one of you. Amid all the vast coins of the ages, God sees our might and our mites and God believes in them enough to use them to make a difference. So let us pray.
Gracious and Attentive God, thank you for seeing each of us as if we were your most beloved, and for honoring those gifts we offer you - in whatever ways we may offer them. Help each of us to stretch where we can - in offering ourselves to this world - most especially when we feel we may have so little to give or feel least like giving. Thank you for all those who have given their all - across the centuries - for those they would never know, but in the noble pursuits of honor and protection. Help those hearts that may be grieving or broken to heal, that we all might be the best you see of us and in us. For the blessing of using our might and our mite, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
November 4, 2018
All Saints Sunday
“The Kingdom of God Is”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It has been said that Maria Fedorovna, Empress of Russia and wife of Tsar Alexander III, was known for her charitable works. In fact, she once saved a condemned man from exile in Siberia by changing a single comma in the warrant signed by her husband. Instead of reading: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia," she changed the document to read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia." That man’s little kingdom was much different than what it might have been in Siberia.
A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.” His son asked, "What happened to the flea?” (…take his wife and flee out of the city…) The young son’s kingdom is attentive.
I read of a Sunday School teacher describing the time when Lot's wife looked back at Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt, when Bobby interrupted. "My mommy looked back once while she was driving," he announced, "and she turned into a telephone pole.” Bobby’s kingdom is sweetly graphic and real.
This morning’s scripture passage talks about the Kingdom of God, and it follows a number of passages, over several chapters, where a person goes to Jesus and asks him a pointed question about being “great.” This morning’s question comes from a scribe — a teacher of the law - one who had to have at least a working knowledge of the law.
Mark 12:28-34 The Greatest Commandment
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Thank you, Marti. Garrison Keillor probably wouldn’t have described this past week as a quiet one in Lake Wobegone. Might not necessarily anticipate a quiet one in the week to come, either. National dis-ease, thousands of deaths of all kinds, and yet, we have taken time aside from it all, to worship God and honor the gift of the circle of life. Keeping all those things in mind, and holding the morning’s passage in heart, I was a little curious what God would have to say this week. I am still waiting….
Scott Simon was interviewing former Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, on her new collection of poems called Monument. In talking about the general topic of poetry, and its role today, Natasha said, “Poetry asks, it demands of us in many ways, that we slow down. That we engage with language that isn't soundbites and uncivil, language that allows us to see ourselves in the intimate experience of others.”
Even though poetry isn’t really my thing, I got a little excited because I’d stuck away a couple of things earlier in the week, from my daily poem sender-outer, Steven Garnaas-Holmes. Mr. Garnaas-Holmes has a way of using words and ordering them in arrangements that are so much better than what I could do - I think. And isn’t that part of what we celebrate on this particular day; the special gifts that each of us are given - some gifts that are yet to be discovered and some gifts remembered?
Long about Tuesday or so, Mr. Garnaas-Holmes wrote this - which I warn - has the potential to unsettle - unless you listen all the way to the end.
Sitting with Jewish neighbors
at their temple in shock and fear
after a synagogue shooting,
feeling their heartbreak and vulnerability,
I confess: for a moment I felt safe.
I am, after all, not one of them.
I will never be shot for being black,
never be murdered for being Jewish or gay.
I am a white, male, well-educated,
middle class, able-bodied Christian.
I'm not the one they'll kill for being myself.
I'm glad that danger is not mine.
That, I confess, is my violence.
When I am glad of my safety,
when I hide behind my privilege
and separate myself from them,
when I think “them” and not “us,”
pretend I am not them
to feel safe—that itself is the violence.
We are one.
Our wholeness includes each other.
I do violence to my own being
when I separate myself,
when I welcome the safety of my privilege
and sever those I think are not part of me.
I am not free until all of us are free.
My only safety is to risk
for the sake of the safety of all.
My only way to be whole
is to be broken with the broken-hearted.
My only salvation is not to be safe.
Today we sit with some of those who are broken-hearted. I think that is part of how we do what Jesus says, about loving neighbors as ourselves. There are no medals or trophies or even kudos for sitting with those who are broken, or broken-hearted, mourning, and even weary. But it is part of how we stay alive - how we “be” alive - when we deal with the hard places and times of life, rather than running from those times and places.
It’s been said before and I’m sure it will be said again, that we find our faith in the hard places. The redeeming part of sitting with those who grieve, or going through grief ourselves is that when we come out the other side of that valley, when we’ve allowed our hearts to heal well, joy is fuller, richer and deeper.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves brings dignity and honor and respect, words that came from the Benzie Area Christian Neighbor’s Communique (newsletter) this week. Part of the article spoke about the trust that is needed that neighbors will be treated with dignity and respect - and the trust that is developed with other groups that resources will be used well. Within the Kingdom of God, the importance of trust and dignity and respect are sometimes overlooked. As God treats each of us in such manner, it only makes sense to pass such gifts on to those around us - regardless of status, financial portfolio or even age.
Simply celebrating the passing on of those who have gone before us is not fully living in the Kingdom of God, because there are those who have just entered this realm, and so we celebrate sorrow and joy today. Out of that loop of sorrow and joy, hope is spun, and while hope can be a dangerous thing, it can also be one of great comfort and promise.
For those of you unable to be here this past Wednesday, the kingdom of God was shining all over the place, first and fore mostly in the young people of the day. From little kids dressed as kittens offering their most innocent and sweet, high-pitched mews, to middle school aged students hurrying into the warmth of the church - stopping their tracks and inviting older people to enter before them, the kingdom of God is all around us, if we just look for it.
This year I was finally able to put together the time and box that became a costume I’ve been wanting to do since my college days - that of a die - a natural play on my name, but a simple hand-painted, get-up. I can’t tell you how many kids came around the corner of the sidewalk, saw my costume, pointed at it and with joy in their voices, said “A dice!” Sad to say, I had to remind myself that they were inviting me to play with them, and once I caught on, I would respond with “A pirate,” or “A ghost!”
The kingdom of God is just waiting for us to realize it and/or enter into it, once we put down the stuff we think is so important that is actually blocking our interchanges with the delight of this world. I am well aware that the woes of the world these days can drag on our hearts like an anchor in a weed-patch on a lake in July. Regardless of political affiliations, our season of mourning or celebrating, our first job is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Taking the moments we need to remind ourselves of God's goodness and grace and joy are vital to the nourishment of our souls - now and for the long haul.
For those of you who don’t know the term “thin places,” the ancient Celtic people used it to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona (now part of Scotland) or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.
In this time apart today, perhaps we have entered a thin place, sharing it with each other, seeing the world in ways that are a bit of a stretch, but none-the-less holy. Let us be mindful of those who have gone before us, along with the angels and host of heaven filling every nook and cranny of this place as we pray.
Heavenly and eternal God, thank you. Thank you for those you have given us - all of them making all of us whole. Thank you for the circle of life that displays itself over and over and over - in the falling leaves and in the innocence of young life. Help each of us to realize more poignantly our place in that circle this week - regardless of where any of us might be. Help us know how we can “sit” with those who are broken and broken-hearted and how we can enter into your kingdom more often and more fully. Help all of us be sensitive to those we may unintentionally hurt - by our words or our silence.
To love you with all your heart, understanding, strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” For all the blessings of life, before us, in us and through us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.