The Rev’d. Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
November 8, 2015, Pentecost 27
Consider, for a moment, that you are the owner of a large home, one with many rooms to which God could come and knock on our door, seeking a home for Christ, as a Father might look for a home for his Son. Rent is cheap, I say. But God says, I don’t want to rent. I want to buy. So, I reply, I’m not sure I want to sell, but you might come in and look around.
I think I will, says God. I reply, I might let you have a room or two. I like it, says God. I’ll take the two. You might decide to give me more some day. I can wait.
My next reply is a thoughtful one, I’d like to give you more, God, but it’s a bit difficult. I need some space for me. God’s reply is also thoughtful, I know, but I’ll wait. I like what I see.
I hear myself saying, Hmmm, maybe I can let you have another room. I really don’t need that much. And then God, Thanks, I’ll take it. I like what I see.
I’d like to give you the whole house… but I’m not sure. Think on it, says God. I wouldn’t put you out. Your house would be mine, and my Son would live in it. You’d have more space than you’ve ever had before.
I said, I don’t understand at all. God answered, I know, but I can’t tell you about that. You’ll have to discover for yourself. That can only happen if you let me have the whole house.
A bit risky, I say. Yes, says God, but try me. I’m not sure, I’ll let you know. I can wait, says God….I like what I see. (1)
I like what I see. I love that story. How very true it is. Certainly we all want to have God in our lives—just not too close sometimes. We want to be followers of Jesus—but exactly what would “follow” mean? Sure Jesus shared meals with outcasts, but me? Jesus gave his life to God—figuratively and literally. Maybe, if we’re honest with ourselves, that might be too literal, just a bit too real, for you, for me.
Yet, imagine having God, having Jesus dwell deep within us—for that is exactly what we Episcopalians believe. That Christ is within each of us. Dwelling within you and within every one of us. God is there.
This morning’s lessons bring us the stories of two widows. Certainly God was within each of them as well. They are fundamentally stories of poverty and hunger. These are two widows whose stories have moved and influenced Christians for centuries. They’re stories of need but also stories of hope.
It is important that these women were widows and therefore important that we understand widows in those cultures. Hebrew and Roman societies were male oriented, patriarchal societies. There were hundreds of years between the times when these stories were written down and the cultures were different. Yet, they had this patriarchal nature in common. Patriarchal means that some men rule over other men, all women, children and slaves. The male was considered the human norm, the female a deviation from that norm and of inferior value. The place of women in those societies was only in relation to men: as wife, mother, sister, or a problem to men. Woman who married were protected and supported by their husbands. It was especially important for a woman to have a son who would protect her if her husband chose to divorce her or left her a widow.
Again and again in Scripture we hear of the plight of widows. Poor or wealthy, all widows were a precarious situation because the male offered protection, offered identity. Life was especially precarious for widows with no sons or only young sons. They were often poverty stricken, without income, often only to feed themselves and families through prostitution. Both Jesus and St. Paul speak of caring for widows and orphans. To be Christian was to care for the neediest in their society.
First let’s consider the widow we have just heard about in the First Book of Kings. Have you ever lived in such poverty that there is only one more meal between life and death for you and your child? Can you imagine being that mother? For how long would you have hoarded and carefully used every morsel of food to be left with only a handful of meal? This man, Elijah, who came to you, wasn’t even from your region—he was a foreigner. Yet he asks you to give him all you have left in the world to sustain your life and the life of your child. Can you imagine trusting this man who tell you that there will be enough meal for a cake for him and for this last precious meal? Can you imagine this foreigner telling you that if you give, God will provide? What does it take to give all you have in trust like hers? Is God asking us for that level of trust?
Now, let’s move on to the second widow. Maybe it’s not so surprising that this story of the widow’s mite is planned for stewardship season. The story of this second widow, though, isn’t as simple as it might seem. Commentaries speak of two distinctly different interpretations. The first sees Jesus as praising the sacrificial giving of one who gives all they have to God, who entrusts herself fully to God. Who, in essence, has let God take over her life.
There is great power in sacrificial giving. Great power in that depth of commitment for us and for the cause to which we give. Power to the cause, to the program, to the place for which the gift is given. And power to our sense of who we are knowing we make a difference as we give up things important to us to make a greater gift.
That would be a good way, maybe, to preach a sermon at the end of our stewardship campaign. Today that would be the easy route. However, I’d be shirking my duty as a minister of the Gospel if I left this pulpit today having only said those words. For there is a second interpretation of this story. Did you find it surprising that Jesus never praises the widow? It’s been suggested that actually this story is linked to Jesus’ previous words about the scribes who worry only about appearances and power and who rob widows of their inheritances.
Jesus is, in fact, condemning the scribes because they haven’t helped this widow, who has so very little to give, so very little in her life to live on. Rather than praising this widow, he was pointing out that the temple and the social structures of that time allowed her to be so poor. It is the responsibility of those with the power, the access to money, the ability to change the laws which leave her in poverty, to make it possible for her to have an abundance from which to give.
What do Jesus’ words mean to you, and to me? We have the power to effect those changes in our culture. Jesus was revolutionary in his time and as followers of Jesus we walk in his footsteps. We are expected to be people who make change happen. It is essential in our Christian lives that as we see the poor as real people, we allow ourselves to feel and take on their pain. While we work to feed them today, we also work to change all that lets them have nothing.
Every one of us is called by God to discover the way to follow Jesus using our gifts and our power to serve others. To give ourselves as fully as possible to that ministry is to let God take over the house, who we are, what we do. Think of the blessing that would come to you, would come to me, if we used the power we have to lobby, to vote, to speak with others to address the imbalance of power, the imbalance of opportunity, jobs, education, medical care to ensure that the people in our culture like this widow had that portion of the abundance of life that is their right to have. What if Jesus were to look at our widows and those like her in our culture and be able to find her giving heartwarming rather than a sign of what we could be doing, of the way in which we could use the power we have for change?
No matter how we look at either story, the bottom line, the only conclusion is the same. Jesus reminds us of the responsibility that comes with power. Jesus tells us that the life lived in Christ’s love is found as we reach beyond who we think we are, what we think we can do and give.
So what do we do when it’s as if God has pulled up into our driveway with a U-Haul, ready to move in? Thanks, I’ll take it, God says, I like what I see…
(1) Unpublished material by Maragaret Halaska. Oliva, S. J., Max. God of Many Loves. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2001, pp. 37-38