Tuesday, November 10, 2009

23 Pentecost Yr B

What would it be like if any of us here were eating our last bite of food, or putting our last pennies into the collection plate? Those are the stories that we hear today, stories about widows, on their very last bit of hope, two widows who embrace the question of where will my next meal come from, where will my next penny be, and do not act out of fear, but instead act out of God’s abundance.

The Hebrew word for widow connotes one who is silent, one unable to speak. In a society in which males played the public role and in which women did not speak on their own behalf, the position of a widow, particularly if her eldest son was not yet married, was one of extreme vulnerability. If there were no sons, a widow might return to her father’s family if she could. Left out of the prospect of inheritance by Hebrew law, widows became the stereotypical symbol of the exploited and oppressed. Old Testament criticism of the harsh treatment of these women is prevalent, as well as texts that describe God’s special protection of widows.

These widows, though their voices were silenced in their own time, speak loudly to us today. These stories speak to us of our relationship with wealth, our treatment of money. I think they speak over and against the worship of money that we see and experience in our culture. We see many, many people treating money as it were a God; worshiping wealth and sacrificing themselves to wealth, and believing it can give them joy, make them whole, and ensure their security. But money cannot do any of those things.

Money begins as a morally and spiritually neutral medium of exchange. However, it becomes something morally positive or negative, and something spiritually liberating or destructive because of the ways we feel about it and use it.

What can the widows in these stories teach us? First they teach us the movement from fear to love and generosity. Over and over again we are taught fear; we are taught that if we don’t have enough money we will not be able to have what we belief we must have. We must invest or we will end up old and broke. If we don’t spend and buy the right stuff we will be inadequate or just unimportant. The widows teach us that when we share we will have plenty. God provides for all creation. When we live in joy and gratitude for what we have, and we share with others, that is the path of transformation, that is the path to wholeness. And we live this way because we are convinced that God’s grace and care for us moves us from fear to love.

The widows teach us that our money will be with what we care about most. We could ask ourselves the question, where do we spend our money? What Jesus tells us is that the ways we spend and invest our money can create obligations that may come to dominate our attention and energy, and in so doing draw our commitments and loyalties away from where we want them to be. Our hearts will follow our money. We become devoted to the things we spend our money on, rather than spending our money on that which we are devoted to. The question is, “Do we possess our things, or do our things possess us?”

And the widows teach us that wealth is about much more than money. Wealth is everything we are, everything God has given us, all of our gifts and talents, everything we have learned and will learn. How do we put all of that wealth into the mission of reconciling all people to God? How do we put all of that wealth into this counter cultural mission of love?

We live in a culture in which marketers spend more that $1000 per person per year for every man, woman, and child, that’s more that $250 billion to convince us that we should put all we possess, or at least a lot of it, into comfort, status, excitement, self-aggrandizement and a desperate search for security. Somehow we just do not see the same kind of advertising effort to convince us that the purpose for our lives is not possessing, but loving.

Where are we putting our treasure? Individually and as a people of faith. Where is wealth leading our hearts? If we look into our bank account registers, we can read the story. Here at St. Andrew’s I’d love to see a big chunk of our budget spent on Life-long faith formation and outreach. I’d like to see us budget for advertising in new and different ways, a revamp of our web page, a way to connect with people who don’t use the traditional means of reading the newspaper, so that we can let people know about this wonderful place where God is loved and where people can know that we are Christians by our love.

One way if testing whether our possessions have begun go possesses us would be to reflect on the fear we have of losing them. When we have a high level of fear at the thought of losing our stuff, it is likely that we are holding on to our stuff a little too tightly, refusing the open hand of generosity, thinking of ourselves as owners of our property rather than as stewards of God’s property. Today’s marketing preys upon our fear of losing what we have, on loving what we should not, on our caring more than we should about money, pleasure, and status.

I’d like us to move from fear, to continue to move from a stewardship of scarcity, to love, a stewardship of abundance. We have so much here, we have people with amazing gifts and talents, each one of us is wealthy in such a variety of ways. I’d like us to be like these widows, who gave out of love and abundance, not out of fear of not enough. There is so much more that we can do. God is busy in our world, and our job is to get on board with God. We need to move from fear to love; we need to be transformed as individuals and as a community of faith. We need to be about our mission of reconciling all people to Christ.

Go out and share God’s love with everyone you meet. Do not slave for things that are not live giving, but trust in God’s provision, and give generously of all you have.

The earth is the Lord’s for he made it: Come let us adore him.

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