Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Trinity, Tear B 2018
1 Kings 17:8-16
“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