<If you listen along you can hear the laughs and the awkward pauses…click here to hear it all.>
38As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Unlikely Prophets and God’s Two Cents Worth…
Today we ask for your two cents worth
But we ask that you give it with a good dose
Ok, folks, you wouldn’t know it, but at one time my hair was glorious.
No, seriously. Like remember those Herbal Essence commercials? Like that kind of glorious.
My college roommate is here today, he can testify.
But I remember one day my senior year of college noticing like a good bit of thinning going on. And I remember this, which is a total testament to my humility, right? I remember looking at this thinning hair and going, “Nah…it’s not real…”
It’s like, if I don’t pay attention to it, it’s not real. Because, I mean, I was afraid, right? Afraid of losing my hair. Afraid that I’d wasted my money on gobs of gel and brushes and haircuts…
I mean, if that hairline was a sermon, then it wasn’t for me, right?
Funny thing about sermons…the hard ones are never for us, right? Usually because we’re kind of afraid they are.
But my receding hairline was a prophet, my friends. A prophetic sermon about the truth of my follical warehouse. And like most prophets, it brought unwelcome truth.
And I mean, that’s the definition of a prophet in the Biblical sense, btw.
I think we often associate prophets with those kooky street corner folks yelling on soap boxes telling us that, “The end is near!” except they told us that last week, too, and last year, and “the end” always is near but never arrives. I think we assume that prophets tell the future, but that’s not true.
And you’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it for as long as I’m a preacher, prophets, Beloved, don’t tell you the truth about the future. No, prophets tell you, tell me, tell us the truth about the present. And we have unlikely prophets all around.
Often unwelcome, but usually needed, truths. Truths to people who too often live in fear of the truth. Prophets give their two-cents worth to us all the time, whether we like it or not, we just usually don’t pay much attention because it’s better to ignore the prophets than face reality.
My sons are prophets. They continually tell me the truth about my lack of patience.
I mean, you’ve heard of people who mosey, but I tell you that my kids have perfected it. They are the model, the picture definition. But they often mosey because they are in awe of something on the ground: a flower, a bug, a worm, a pine cone.
They tell me the truth about my inattention to the world so often. “How did they see that?” I wonder. I too often fear being late, or wasting time, and my sons tell me the truth on that.
My friend is a prophet to me. She reveals to me the truth of her experience as a woman, the way that her body is talked about, the way that makes her talk to herself in the mirror, the way that people fear a strong woman because they think it makes men weak. And what she reveals to me is how easily I can slip into that way of talking and thinking, too, if I’m not mindful.
That a prophecy that we don’t like to pay attention too because it makes us men feel uncomfortable, and even guilty, but that fact doesn’t make it less true.
My checkbook is an unlikely prophet, my friends. It often tells me an unwelcome truth, and that’s usually not associate with the bottom line, Beloved, but the unwelcome truth it so often reveals to me is that the distance between where I say my heart is and where my heart actually is, is really far apart. Really far. I cling to my money because I’m afraid of losing it, and I cling to my false idea that I usually spend my money well because I’m afraid of being the kind of person who doesn’t.
Honestly: I don’t.
Jesus says, in his prophetic voice, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.” And it’s no surprise that my heart is often at the coffee shop. Or at the store. Or at that indulgence that I think is good to me, but is not good for me.
Our checkbooks are prophets, friends, and we’re in stewardship season here, but we’re also about to head into gift-giving-to-the-point-of-debt season, and here’s a stark question that we can ask this morning, in light of both of those seasons and our Gospel text for today: what do you want that prophetic text to say? What truth do you want to be revealed? Do you want it to speak to glorious ideals now dashed on the shores of consumerism, or something else?
Unlikely prophets are often uncomfortable and force us to see hard truths and ask hard questions.
And there are some prophecies I carry on me that I’m afraid to show you.
Scars that speak truths about my pain, accidents, and even intentional actions that are painful. Scars you can see and some you can’t. We all have them, if we’re telling the truth. Scars are unlikely prophets if we listen…they speak to our fear of living, of dying, of the truth of our inattention to our bodies and our questionable choices.
You know, this morning’s Gospel text this morning is a prophecy, though it may not sound like it at first hearing. And the prophet is not even Jesus, my friends.
It is the widow. Jesus sits back and lets her life speak its prophetic word of uncomfortable truth.
It sounds like we have two stories this morning. It sounds like a warning about the trappings of power, and then a story of praise for this widow who, despite her poverty, gives back to God.
But that is the story that is told when we don’t want to face the truth of the prophecy, Beloved.
Because this is one story, one prophecy, and it is uncomfortable.
Because we forget that the ancient world was one that called for those in long robes to watch out for and take care of others, especially widows and orphans. The religious laws of the times demanded that the vulnerable be cared for most of all.
And so when Jesus talks about the scribes, who were wealthy and respected and liked being wealthy and respected, looking out only for themselves, even as they gave large sums to the treasury. He said, “They devour widow’s houses…” you can even imagine the disciples coming back and going, “Oh, c’mon Jesus. Things aren’t that bad. They’re not that bad. What’s wrong with wealth and respect?”
Jesus then points to this widow, the one who is supposed to be protected by the powerful, the religious, the law makers, and says in effect, “She just gave everything she had into the treasury. Why is that all she has? Why aren’t these other people watching out for her? She should have more than that, by God…”
Her house was devoured.
The woman is a prophet, telling the truth with her body about an economic and religious system that cares more about making money and being respected and individuality and honor and appearances than it does about community, about the vulnerable, about “the least of these.”
I dare say Jesus is pointing less to her sacrificial giving as a model of faith and more to the injustice of a system that requires someone to give all they have to live on…
The widow in the story gives religion, gives the political system, God’s two-cents worth.
Literally. And Jesus points it out.
It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by the beautifully bald prophetic pastor from Riverside Church in New York City, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, who once said that, “Those who fear disorder more than injustice will invariably create more of both.”
These scribes, in their well-ordered religious, political, and economic system, have done just that…
The prophetic truth this morning is that we still do that.
For my friends who feel as if they can’t get out from under the system, today’s prophecy is that the God known in Jesus Christ sees you, and makes his disciples see you, too.
And it is into the middle of all the messiness of our human systems, the ones we suffer from and the ones we participate in, that God gives God’s two-cents. Except instead of giving humanity a piece of God’s mind, God in Jesus will give humanity a glimpse of God’s heart.
A prophetic reminder that God would rather die than play in our systems, to show us that God’s love can’t be stopped by the powers of this world that try to keep it silent.
Here’s the thing: in the end Jesus becomes the widow, giving everything he has to prove God’s love to a people trapped in and under these ways we lord over one another and hurt one another.
Because the prophetic truth is that we cling to money, power, and esteem at the expense of others because we’re afraid that that’s how we have to get ahead in this life.
Jesus tells us, with his own life, a different prophecy, a different truth.
So, for all the systems that take advantage of us, and even the ones we participate in, God gives God’s two-cents so that we might know just how far God will go to be with us. So that we might know just how unjust we make things sometimes, and that God knows that our systems shouldn’t work this way, and desires something different for humanity.
Jesus gives all he has to show us this…
This sermon’s not for us, right?
It’s just God’s two-cents worth.