The Widows Mite

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Tear B 2018

1 Kings 17:8-16
Mark 12:38-44

“The Widow’s mite”

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself’

I started out in ministry as a parish priest in two villages in the North of England – from which we came here. One of them was a little unusual. Certainly to folk who don’t know England well, it didn’t fit the picture postcard idea of an English village. Cut in half by a busy trunk road along which thousands of vehicles a day poured – there was a great deal of poverty there, including our share of drug dealing and other aspects of life which don’t fit notions of roses round the door and thatched cottages. If it was the Shire, it was the Shire after Sharkey’s mob had got hold or it.

In ancient times it had been a very small settlement in reasonably decent agricultural land. Then the railways came. Hellifield grew up dramatically around the rail junction which was also the sight of a large auction Market, from which stock were loaded directly onto the trains. Many of the houses were railway workers terraces. It wasn’t a place of much wealth, but a place where a few people made their wealth.

When roads and trucks supplanted railways, the auction mart ran down and the village went into decline. It’s children, sons and daughters of rail workers who’d moved out from the town found trade in what we used to call blue collar occupations. It was definitely working class. Good honest folk many of them, running the various village institutions including the church, but struggling. Then came the government with a promise to build a by pass. The few older pretty properties became targets for wealthy folk from the towns. They of course being wealthy were used to being in control and the village institutions were quietly taken over by the ‘managerially competent’, who saw that ‘we could make this a lot better’. The village however continued its decline.

Then just before we went there, the auction mart was sold and a new set of ‘executive style town houses were built. The properties were priced out of reach of most of the locals and attracted people wanting to live in the countryside. Early retirees and folk happy to commute for an hour to work in one of the big cities. This group of people largely supplanted the previous generation of incomers who by now were 20 years older and had less energy . . . again, the folk who had lived there entire lives there were largely overlooked as ‘managerial competence’ was the name of the day.

Folk who sat on boards and got awards for this that and the other. Found themselves seated at the table with honour, and who expected to be greeted with respect for their manifold ‘good works’, and of course to have these duly celebrated in the media.
Finding ways to raise money, all too often from the pockets of those further down the pecking order. The Important people – as the older poorer members of the community were largely overlooked and forgotten, except to be dragooned for this or that project . . .

Of course this is an old story. When the church was built in 1906 it was by public subscription. A list was published of the major donors, who gave out of their abundance large amounts of money - i found an old copy of it. The list only included those who had given more than about £80. it was a printed list. The top five donors all gave £100 and had their names recorded or posterity. over the printed list a new name was added, and written at the top - they gave 100 guineas . . . no one remembers those who scraped in their purses for a few bob . . . 

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and 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 appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

The widows mite . . . a few years before we went to Hellifield I was serving my curacy in a typical Northern English town. Mainly working class. The church decided it needed to re-order its building – architects were employed with their big fancy schemes coming in at $3million . . . we coughed, thanked them, and paid them handsomely for their time and thought again. Eventually we came up with something more modest – and then wondered how to raise $750 thousand.

Somebody placed a box at the back of church . . . and put a label on it ‘The Widow’s mite’. I’ve rarely felt more uncomfortable about something in a church than that box. Into it we were encouraged to put our small change – cupboards were emptied, purses searched, sofas were checked out for loose coins . . . and the box filled with coppers, many many pennies – out of our abundance. No one it must be said was running to count it – it was easier to count the £10 notes . . .

The widow’s mite wasn’t her loose change, it was ‘all she had, whatsoever, her whole livelihood’

Jesus you’ll note before he sits down to watch what’s going on in the Temple treasury tells folks to beware of the scribes . . . funnily enough he’d just commended a scribe – almost. You remember last week, the scribe asks Jesus ‘What is the first commandment?’ Jesus reply we should know by heart ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and a second is you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The scribe tells Jesus ‘you’re right!’ and recites both commandments. Jesus says ‘you’re not far from the Kingdom of God – not far. like the rich young man who stands facing Jesus . . . not far . . . but not there. “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” You need to give up on your need for human affirmation and seek that which comes from God, alone.

You need to learn what it is to love God with all you have and all you are . . . like this widow here. The one everyone overlooked. A life devoted to God in its entirety is seldom seen in the world. Seldom noticed . . . like the little children whom Jesus continually places before us – what do they add to the world? Do they build fancy buildings or indulge in this or that or the other? Are they masters of ‘managerial competence’? Are the movers and shakers in the world we are focussed on?? No, but we train them up to be so . . . and all the while – not far from them is the one no one notices – wholly devoted to God. In her own way loving God with all she has and all she is . . .

As I started out by saying last week ‘The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.’ This thing that we gather together to do Sunday by Sunday is the beating heart of our life together, but more than that it is the very means by which God in Christ upholds all things. Hidden away from the gaze of the world – un-noticed, unregarded. We feed on the Word of God, which is our life – these scriptures – held in disrespect by the wider world – to their gaze irrelevant, out of date, not much use if we’re going to manage things . . .

We pray – we enter into conversation with God. Unknown to the world this love sustains all things

We then come to the Lord’s table. The place where as the body of Christ, we are in Jesus as he offers himself to the Father and the Father offers his life to us. We go away sustained by a crumb of bread, and a sip of wine. Not seen by the world, for we have learnt to live by faith in the things that are unseen, knowing as we do that the things that are seen are passing away

The Italian poet Dante takes us on a journey through the inferno, and purgatory to Paradise. Right at the very end he speaks of beholding God and understanding – my desire and will were moved already—
like a wheel revolving uniformly—by
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

When our eyes and heart are fixed on God in Christ – Loving him with all we have and all we are, we become fixed points in the Universe through which the life of God pours.

The wealthy put in large sums out of their abundance . . . and then went on to other things, to ‘Important’ occasions, in the glare of the media, making important speeches, unveiling plaques, leaving their mark – their lives full of ‘many things’.

The widow poured her whole being in – we don’t know her name – there’s no plaque. The Temple itself is no longer there – Yet it was through the widow that God moved the material universe – the love that moves the heaven and the stars.

Let those with ears to hear, hear

Of Love, and our loves . . . 23 after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, Year B, 2018

Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 12:28-34

‘How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead observances to worship the living God! ‘
Hebrews 9:14

‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ Ephesians 5:1,2

The Christian Life is from beginning to end a life of Worship of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, held in existences we are In each and every moment by the Love of God.
It is in God and through God that we have life, and our worship is the rational offering of ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’ to use the words of St Paul, offering that Life continually to God as He continually offers His Life to us. The Flow of Love from God and to God is the fullest meaning of our existence, revealed to us in Jesus, who only does what he sees the Father doing. His very Life lived as the dearly loved child.
This is the entirety of Life free from sin. Truly to Love is to worship. We find an echo of that in the old marriage service where the husband is called on to worship his wife. Worship is Love set free from the distortion of Sin.

Love of God in all through all and above all is our human vocation, and for many many years we knew this. It was the clearest vision of our life in the Church. After the Psalms the most preached book in the Scriptures was the Song of Songs. The Song of the Lover to the beloved and that Love returned.

Yet, sin above all, distorts our vision, and so distorts our Love. Sin fractures, breaks apart. The word diabolo, which we use for Devil means to throw apart, to separate out. Love is thus fractured. It is not One, it breaks up and turns Love into loves. It suggests as all things diabolic do, that love is a matter for our choice, or, for it is the same thing, our power.
Do I love this? or that? or the other? Will I? This is of course to understand oneself as separated from Love. Will I take up Love, will I walk in the way of Love, as if it were an option, rather than the very essence of Life, rather than its very Flow.

Through Sin, we love what we see, or we do not. We learn to love by sight and not by faith. So this or that or the other thing, this or that or the other person captures our gaze. Depending on our decisions. Of course we might blithely assert, I love everyone! Until that everyone become the person who suggests to you that love is something you can choose, and we choose not. Love in the General, doesn’t boil down of all in all and through all. We see, but we do not See, and thus we do not love.

As we remember last week, the consummate disciple is the blind man, Bartimaeus. The one who does not see as others see – but who Beholds God in Jesus Christ. He does not see a world of things which possess his sight, captivating his eye, and thus holding him back from this Life with Jesus.
But it is those who think they See who have the problem – for our eyes are captivated by many things – we are like Martha distracted by them. They hold our attention, and thus we are held by them. Like Martha we are divided, pulled apart – the literal meaning of distracted. But this is not the Love of God. For this Love is the Love of pure freedom, Love itself Free. The One Thing Necessary.

Love’s best visible examples as so often, because of course it points us in the direction of the deepest truth, is the love of a parent for a child which becomes the free love of the child for the parent. This reveals to us the deep reality before Sin gets in the way of our Life, first loved by the Father, and then ‘loving because He loves us. In those early days before Sin distorts the picture and from time to time makes love a matter of will or choice – of our power.

Just at the moment, one of our daughters’ is learning just how Lovely she is, as our grand daughter loves nothing better than to gaze at her mum, at EVERY hour of the day and night!
How has she learnt this loving gaze? Well of course the is returning the gaze of love which she has received since the hour of her birth. As St Paul puts it, ‘there is no compulsion in Love’. Love cannot be demanded. Worship, Love is the return of that gaze of Love of the Father

In a deep sense this is why God comes to us in such unlovely form. His Love manifested in the crucified One, of whom the prophet says ‘there was nothing in him that we might desire him’ God does not compel us to love him, so when he appears it is in a form which we may miss. We are to Love by faith, not our distorted sight.
Thus he reveals the true nature of Love – it has nothing to do with things that are seen, but those which are unseen. ‘You did not choose me, I chose you’ Says Jesus.

Throughout Mark’s gospel to date we have noticed how over and again, the disciples fail to see for their eyes are fixed on things seen, that are passing away, not on the Eternal One. They fail to see the hidden unseen way of Jesus, and in truth fail to see Him for who he is, except very occasionally.
Finally it is the Blind Bartimaeus who reveals the nature of true discipleship, going to be with Jesus, as Jesus fills his vision, his imaginative world. The Eye of his Heart is pure and clear, and thus he is in a sense safe to see.

So they come up to Jerusalem and we have skipped a little bit of the story – Jesus has cleansed the Temple, causing a bit of a ruckus. And then he is asked a series of questions. our gospel reading is the last of those questions. As the story of Bartimaeus brings to an end the quest to reveal the true nature of the disciple, so this last question puts an end to the questions.

Briefly the other two questions, for the illuminate the final question.

First term is the familiar question of taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees ask this. There lives are tangled up in a sensitive relationship with the Roman authorities. They depend on Rome for their power and influence in Palestine, most notably in Jerusalem. They are wary of upsetting this relationship – it fills their view. We might consider this like those who spend their time on the internet, troubled by the state of the world, constantly worrying that this or that or the other will cause things to fall apart. Living in fear.

Of course the question is also a trap, but Jesus handles it with ease, for Caesar does not fill his vision. The Pharisees do not love God – they are terrified of Caesar. Yet Jesus reduces him to his place, a two bit tyrant who feels the need to stamp his image on bits of metal . . . whose image is this? What do you see? Of course the Pharisees notoriously, like us, love money. Money gives you power, you can choose how you use it – you can giver it away, or you can keep it for yourself . . . this of course is how we think of it as well. And like the Pharisees, taxes and Caesar’s loom large in our mind. We give ourselves in devotion to them out of fear . . . better get the right government, or it will all turn to custard. We are careful with our money . . . we worship it, we love it. God disappears and our neighbour disappears – we carry devices which tell us moment by moment how much money we have . . . For our vision is fragmented, we see many things, but one thing is necessary. ‘You do not love God’

Then the question from the Saducees, not seven brides for seven brothers but one bride for a succession of seven brothers . . . They do not believe in the Resurrection – Jesus tells them, ‘you do not believe in the power of God! God doesn’t fill your view! You do not Love God!
As St Paul puts it again when he is being tried ‘Why would anyone think it extraordinary that God raises the dead?’ Of course if your eyes are not on God, then it Is extraordinary. In the same way that the rich man acted in accordance with what he saw, but acted wrongly – so the belief in the Resurrection depends on whether you See the One God! But their vision is fragmented! Seven to choose from. Whom will she love?

In the same way that Bartimaeus receives the sight that in a sense he already has – his faith reveals his Sight – so the Resurrection is also Seen, by those who See God – for to See God IS Resurrection life. Barnabas, although he is blind Sees! He leaps up – he Comes to Jesus, he Comes to Life with Jesus, he throws away his funeral shroud cloak, and sets out into Life

So Jesus rebukes the Saducees – you do not know the power of God – you do not see him – you see your thorny metaphysical and theological problems – they fill your view. We could say a great deal a this juncture about the church and her obsession with this or that or the other – no Vision of God . . .

The Pharisees see Caesar – they do not See God, the Saducees see problems, they do not See God. There are so many things, so many many things which obscure our vision – holding it captive. In the church we get consumed by issues – it is as if they hold our vision – not God.
This is what it is to give up on worship, and thus our giving up on Life itself. We invest heart, soul mind and strength in this aspect of church life, or that campaign – we are consumed by it . . . when we are called to invest our all in God. To Love him with all we are – ‘that my whole being may proclaim, his being and his ways’ It is to live The Life which is from God and for god and Too God.

So the question in todays gospel is The Question. And here we find something most remarkable – Jesus is commended for his answer by the Scribe and in a sense reveals himself to be a disciple in repeating Jesus’ answer to him – revealing that he is not far from the Kingdom of God

BUT . . . it seems to us perhaps that there is a problem. The first one is simply this – we might be tempted to think that Jesus adds to the Great Commandment. That Love of Neighbour is an additional command, to Love of God. We might say ‘well the Pharisees or the Scribes were very religious but not lovers of neighbour’. Yet the two earlier questions rule that out – their problem is that they don’t love God – they fear Caesar – they do not believe that God can raise the dead. God is Small in their eyes! In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, their religion is dead observances. They observe correctly all the feasts, but their heart, soul, mind and strength are not focussed on God. They do not Love God

It’s like putting all your effort into Christmas for the sake of Christmas and not for the sake of God himself! Dead observances

But the second problem is more worth considering – ‘if I love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, what is left over for my neighbour?’

We come back to what it is this Christian Life – it is the worship of God – it is the Life of God flowing out and returning – it is that Love which moves the stars, that Love which calls everything into being and sustains them – it is the totality of Love. To Know that Love of God, to return it, is to live in Love as St John puts it, to begin to Know Love as existence and Love as something which can only be shared. We are not held captive by it, it flows – it is like a might river flowing, we share in it – as does everything and everyone else! To Know Life, to Know Love is to Know that our life is with our neighbour. For that very Love and Life which by the grace of God Is our Very Existence, is also our neighbours. My brothers Life is my Life!

To See clearly is to See the same Life in our neighbour as is in us – ‘it is to See our neighbour as ourself’, a vision made possible by the Love of God, by the Life of Worship. It is no longer to love by choice, by an effort of will – it is to become that which we love – which is the End for all of us.

We become what we love. If we love things that are passing away, we will too pass away, but if we set our hearts and minds and souls and strength on God who IS Love, we by Grace Become Love also, and thus the love of neighbour is the most natural thing in the Universe, which is how it is Created to be

Amen