Sermon at St. Thomas, North Charleston
The 25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 11, 2018
Jesus continues to teach. At this stage of the chronology of Mark’s Gospel he is getting closer to the time of his execution in Jerusalem. There is a sense of urgency building as he addresses what it means to be one of his disciples. For us, it is about allowing today’s scriptures to shape our identity as a baptized person of Jesus.
We find Jesus today across from the treasury. Money, our resources and how we use them is front and center as a teaching tool about discipleship. Specifically he calls to account, pun intended, a group of people called the scribes. In case you’ve forgotten, they are a group of lawyers tasked with being interpreters of Old Testament law as it is to be applied in the circumstances of the day. One other part of their responsibility, crucial to understanding today’s Gospel, is that they were often appointed to be trustees of widow’s estates. Jesus takes the scribes to school.
Now, full stop. After the horrors of the mass slaying of people in worship at a Pittsburgh synagogue, and then the disgusting uptick of anti-Semitic rants on social media immediately thereafter, we need to be aware that too often the scriptures of the Christian faith have been used to contribute to anti-Semitism. Today’s Gospel and its parallel in Matthew are often used to denigrate all Jews and to substantiate prejudice against Jewish people. I hope it is clear to us that anti-Semitism of any kind, including crude jokes, is an abomination to God, contrary to Christ, himself a Jew lest we forget, and clearly sinful. The Christian Church must continue to repent for the ways it has historically contributed to this sin.
Jesus was not against Judaism and genuine Jewish piety. He did take to task any group of people who were not honoring God and the intent for which the Temple and synagogue existed. So today he is addressing one group of Jews who had forgotten who God called them to be. He’s not even addressing all scribes, and certainly not all Jews, just this one group of scribes who had gotten off track. Using them and the widow in comparison, his teaching goes right to the heart of why and how we live our faith as the Church, the Body of Christ.
When you and I walked into St. Thomas’ today, every single one of us brought all kinds of life history through those doors—our pain and brokenness as well as things to celebrate that bring us joy and reason to be grateful. You’ve walked in from a world that is changing so fast we can hardly keep up. We’ve had a mid-term election that pleased you or caused chagrin, or something in between. We had another mass slaying. Gun violence is a plague. Wildfires are raging in California. Incidences of hate and bigotry are on the rise. According to the FBI, domestic violence is a much greater threat to us than international terrorism. We all can add to the list.
It is in this context I ask why you are here. My hope is that you are here to celebrate and create new life, give mutual support for the journey that is too hard to do alone, find love and acceptance, and then be empowered to be Christ’s people in the world. This parish church, as well as our place in it, exists in Christ to prepare the table of welcome to all, to nurture the gift of hospitality where the stranger and fellow traveller of any description can find a place among us.
The scribes Jesus was addressing were not doing that. He was criticizing them for being oblivious to the plight of the socioeconomic poor: “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 widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Remember, they were to be trustees of the widow’s assets, not be profiting off of them! These ostentatious and hypocritical scribes were manifesting the exact opposite of discipleship. Giving out of their abundance so as not to be too inconvenienced and hold onto their wealth, they were content to give God a tip and line their own pockets.
The poor widow on the other hand gave the smallest denomination of coin that existed. That kind of sacrifice Jesus is holding up as true discipleship, the kind of attitude he is taking to the Cross very soon. She gave all that she had as will he. If we have any privileges on this earth, we are to use them in service to the widows among us, those most vulnerable, disrespected, marginalized or considered disposable, for Jesus is showing us they are our teachers.
The Gospel is telling us today that as we move through life, it is easy to get off track, like the scribes, and forget who we are and why we are here. We are to be about God’s justice as shown forth in Jesus, “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is in him we find our hope and why we are offering the laying on of hands today and renewing our baptismal vows, to claim once again our identity as the people of Jesus, our first loyalty beyond all other loyalties. We renounce everything that works against God’s love for all and to the destruction of God’s creation and its people. We affirm everything that brings love, life, hope, restoration, renewal.
Called by Jesus as disciples, we work tirelessly to participate in God’s vision for all people, no outcasts, no exceptions. We continue to seek to be God’s people out there in the world God has given us, looking for opportunities to offer a word of hope, a word of compassion, a word of reconciliation. All the while, we trust the promise of God that love wins, God prevails, even if we cannot always see how. God turned the widow’s limitations into abundance. If we offer what we have, no matter how small, God will do the same with us. The Way of Jesus teaches us nothing less.
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.