Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
There is a huge difference between giving to charity and paying taxes. So, if you understand the widow’s gift as a tax imposed by the pharisees that drives people into poverty the whole tale changes. There is a huge difference between being taxed and giving freely as a part of a loving community. That was Jesus’ point, he was underlining the true joy of giving as opposed to being fined and taxed. Jesus wanted us to see that giving should be joyous. We give to help others directly.
We give as a part of a loving community. Giving out of guilt is not giving. Giving because we have been conned by some television preacher is not giving.
The widow’s mite is not so much about giving but about a wildly unjust tax system. A church tithe is not a tax but a freely given gift. You can give as much as you want you can increase it or decrease it at any time. Can you imagine how the IRS would greet such a payment scheme? However, there was nothing voluntary about what the widow was forced to do. She was forced into starvation. And there is nothing voluntary about the fines we are forced to pay to our state and local government, and there is certainly nothing voluntary about the taxes we pay to local, state and the Federal government.
Elijah and Jesus both called people throughout their lives to give deeply and fully of themselves and their possessions in service to God. This giving, however, was meant to be done in the context of a caring community, of people in covenant with one another and with God. One of the first acts of the post-Pentecost Christian community also involved widows. The disciples early on set up an organizational structure to ensure that the most vulnerable and needy in their community had what they needed to live. The vulnerable and needy do have gifts they can give to God, and they often are more generous in giving them than those who have much. God, who receives their gifts with joy, also calls the faithful on earth to make sure no one's house is devoured in the process of this generosity.
Today's church also is charged both with calling out of people gifts they did not know they had the power to give (as Elijah did for the widow of Zarephath) and with making sure those who are most vulnerable in society (like the poor widow at the Temple) are not exploited. The two tasks go hand very much in hand. Creating just communities requires us to see God as the ultimate giver, and to see ourselves as stewards of all those gifts given by a generous and imaginative Creator. The church is called to the task of finding givers and finding “needers”. Neither task is easy. How do you find those who can use your help while ignoring those who are only interested in a free ride? How do we encourage those who fearful that the money they give will be despised or misused? How do restore the joy of giving.
If ever there were a poster child for the dangers of proof-texting, the story of the "widow's mite" from Mark's gospel would certainly be it. Many of us have undoubtedly heard, and perhaps preached, sermons extolling this nameless, poverty-stricken woman as a model for how we should give to God's work. She has been held before us for centuries as the epitome of a selfless giver, willing to hold back nothing in service to God.
Of course, that only really works if we simply read verses 41-44. The context of this story is critical, which is why the lectionary compilers began at verse 38. The pericope begins with Jesus' frank and strong condemnation of the Pharisees. Jesus notes these religious leaders have all the possessions they need and more ("long robes") as well as more status and respect than anyone else in their society. Then he strikes at their ritual hypocrisy (they pray fancy prayers just to look holy) as well as at the practices they put in place that hurt the most vulnerable members of society. "They devour widows' houses."
Unlike the offering taken at the typical church, the offerings taken at the Temple in Jerusalem were not voluntary either in their frequency or their amount. The tradition, of which the Pharisees were architects and guardians, prescribed very specific offerings for all occasions. Jesus refers to this system after his healing of a leper in Mark's gospel (Mark 1:44).
So, the widow in the Temple that day may have given all she had out of an extravagant love for God. Perhaps, however, she was, quite literally, having her house devoured in a required offering. In the context of Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees, this event is seen as more proof of a religious system so corrupt and immoral that it required the poor to give everything to stay right with God while not providing for their care. This woman sought above all to be in right relationship with God, and her giving is rightly praised in that context. The Pharisees, however, insisted that the only way she could do so was by giving all the possessions she had. They then provided no community of caring to ensure her continued well-being.
What a contrast is the story from I Kings and the widow of Zarephath. Like the widow in Jerusalem, this woman heard a religious leader ask her to give him all she had. Elijah, however, did not devour her house. Indeed, he promised her that if she helped him, God would make sure that neither she nor her son starved, as they were about to do before he came along. The request to give came in the context of the creation of a community of caring between Elijah, the widow and her son, and God. This covenant community continued after the meal Elijah requested. In the verses following today's lection, Elijah heals her son who has fallen ill. Elijah believed that this woman had more to give than she thought she had, and he enabled her to give it in the context of a covenant of caring.
Giving is sometimes called a tithe but it never a tax. It is freely given and freely received. To even think for a minute as some have claimed that our taxes are voluntary is beyond ridiculous. (Check out the vehement denial on the IRS web site.) The widow’s mite was a tax just as we are taxed today. The heavy fines some of the poor must pay are a lot like the widow’s mite in modern day society. More than one traffic fine has driven people into a homeless existence.
However, giving to the church is totally different. Giving in the church means that we give as a part of a loving community. Giving in the church means that we often know to whom the money is to help. Giving takes away hopelessness and helps those in poverty. Giving in the church is an intimate act of help, as opposed to the faceless and soulless taxes and fines paid by us all which often increases poverty and hopelessness.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Being poor in the United States generally involves having a portion of your limited funds slowly siphoned away through a multitude of surcharges and processing fees. It’s expensive to be without money; it means you’ve got to pay for every medical visit, pay to cash your checks, and frankly, pay to pay your overwhelming debts. It means that a good chunk of your wages will end up in the hands of the payday lender and the landlord. (It’s a perverse fact of economic life that for the same property, it often costs less to pay a mortgage and get a house at the end than to pay rent and end up with nothing. If I am wealthy, I get to pay $750 a month to own my home while my poorer neighbor pays $1,500 a month to own nothing.) It’s almost a law of being poor: the moment you get a bit of money, some kind of unexpected charge or expense will come up to take it away from you. Being poor often feels like being covered in tiny leeches, each draining a dollar here and a dollar there until you are left weak, exhausted, and broke.
One of the most insidious fine regimes comes from the government itself in the form of fines in criminal court, where monetary penalties are frequently used as punishment for common misdemeanors and ordinance violations. Courts have been criticized for increasingly imposing fines indiscriminately, in ways that turn judges into debt collectors and jails into debtors’ prisons. The Department of Justice found that fines and fees in certain courts were exacted in such a way as to force “individuals to confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.” A new report from PolicyLink confirms that “Wide swaths of low-income communities’ resources are being stripped away due to their inability to overcome the daunting financial burdens placed on them by state and local governments. There are countless stories of people being threatened with jail time for failing to pay fines for “offenses” like un-mowed lawns or cracked driveways.
Critics have targeted these fines because of the consequences they are having on poor communities. But it’s also important to note something further. The imposition of flat-rate fines and fees does not just have deleterious social consequences, but also fundamentally undermines the legitimacy of the criminal legal system. It cannot be justified – even in theory.
If fines are imposed at flat rates, poor people are being punished while rich people are not. If it’s true that wealthy defendants couldn’t care less about fines (and a millionaire with a $500 fine really couldn’t care less), then they’re not actually being deprived of anything in consequence of their violation of law. Punishment is supposed to serve the goals of retribution, deterrence, or rehabilitation. Leaving aside for the moment whether these are actually worthy goals, or whether criminal courts actually care about these goals, flat-rate fines don’t serve any of them when it comes to wealthy defendants. There’s no deterrence or rehabilitation, because if you can pay an insignificant fee to commit a crime, there’s no reason not to do it again. It’s wildly unclear how a negligibly consequential fine would deter a wealthy frat boy from continuing to urinate in public, whereas a person trying to escape homelessness might become very careful not to rack up any more fines. (https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/05/fines-and-fees-are-inherently-unjust)
Larry Merriweather runs a small business from Wichita Kansas in which he strips and waxes the floors of stores across Kansas. In 2008, when the recession hit, he said his income fell from $63,000 to $21,000 in one year. As a result, he couldn’t pay a speeding ticket, and his license was suspended. He couldn’t stop working, so he said every time he got pulled over, he would get additional fines and penalties, including having to pay bail when he was jailed for driving on a suspended license. He’s never had a DUI and hasn’t been in any accidents, he said. Merriweather said he now owes about $8,000 in back fines. “How can I make a living if I can’t get to my job?” Merriweather said. “I’m being treated like a criminal, and my crime is driving to work.”
As of November, more than 100,000 Kansans had their driver’s licenses suspended for not paying traffic tickets. That means there was about one suspended license for every 20 adults living in Kansas.
And this is a problem, according to Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a state senator who recently introduced legislation to help more people get restricted licenses, so they can drive to work.
For advocates like Goudeau, taking away someone’s driver’s license because they can’t pay a fine makes it harder for them to get jobs, get out of poverty and, for some, escape the criminal justice system.
Politicians and courts across the country are wrestling with whether the ability to drive can be taken away because of a person’s inability to pay.
Politicians in Florida have proposed capping court payments at 2 percent of a person’s income. And governors in Virginia and California have proposed eliminating the suspension of driver’s licenses for nondriving offenses and unpaid court fees.
The Justice Department in November supported a class action lawsuit in Virginia that alleges nearly a million residents lost their licenses largely because they were poor.
“Suspending the driver’s licenses of those who fail to pay fines or fees without inquiring into whether that failure to pay was willful or instead the result of an inability to pay,” the Justice Department wrote, “may result in penalizing indigent individuals solely because of their poverty.” (https://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/mcclatchys-america/article130323359.html)
Some taxpayers assert that they are not required to file federal tax returns because the filing of a tax return is voluntary. Proponents of this contention point to the fact that the IRS tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary. Additionally, these taxpayers frequently quote Flora v. United States, 362 U.S. 145, 176 (1960), for the proposition that "[o]ur system of taxation is based upon voluntary assessment and payment, not upon distraint."
The Law: The word “voluntary,” as used in Flora and in IRS publications, refers to our system of allowing taxpayers initially to determine the correct amount of tax and complete the appropriate returns, rather than have the government determine tax for them from the outset. The requirement to file an income tax return is not voluntary and is clearly set forth in sections 6011(a), 6012(a), et seq., and 6072(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. See also Treas. Reg. § 1.6011-1(a).
Any taxpayer who has received more than a statutorily determined amount of gross income in a given tax year is obligated to file a return for that tax year. Failure to file a tax return could subject the non-compliant individual to civil and/or criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
In a similar vein, some argue that they are not required to pay federal taxes because the payment of federal taxes is voluntary. Proponents of this position argue that our system of taxation is based upon voluntary assessment and payment. They frequently claim that there is no provision in the Internal Revenue Code or any other federal statute that requires them to pay or makes them liable for income taxes, and they demand that the IRS show them the law that imposes tax on their income. They argue that, until the IRS can prove to these taxpayers’ satisfaction the existence and applicability of the income tax laws, they will not report or pay income taxes. These individuals or groups reflexively dismiss any attempt by the IRS to identify the laws, thereby continuing the cycle. The IRS discussed this frivolous position at length and warned taxpayers of the consequences of asserting it in Rev. Rul. 2007-20, 2007-1 C.B. 863 and in Notice 2010-33, 2010-17 I.R.B. 609.
The Law: The requirement to pay taxes is not voluntary. Section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code clearly imposes a tax on the taxable income of individuals, estates, and trusts, as determined by the tables set forth in that section. (Section 11 imposes a tax on corporations’ taxable income.)
Furthermore, the obligation to pay tax is described in section 6151, which requires taxpayers to submit payment with their tax returns. Failure to pay taxes could subject the non-complying individual to criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment, as well as civil penalties. (https://www.irs.gov/privacy-disclosure/the-truth-about-frivolous-tax-arguments-section-i-a-to-c)
In every church I have served as pastor, some people have told me they do not pledge because they are afraid they will not be able to meet the pledge if something happens to their finances during the year. The widow at Zarephath essentially told Elijah the same thing. He encouraged her to give anyway, and she did because she trusted him. Why do church members have so little trust in the caring of their churches that they would fear to give for this reason?
In many churches there are groups of women (and sometimes men) who meet regularly to do fundraising projects to help the church budget. In my church, for example, it is the shoofly pie bakers who come for three days once a month to bake over 600 pies to raise funds. They are mostly older women, many widows, and they work hard and, in the heat, not just to raise money, but because they have created a community with one another in which they share support and love. The giving and the caring community go hand in hand.
"The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, New York: Harper and Row, 1954, p. 19.)
The Hebrew prophets made clear that the worship that was acceptable to God was carried out in the context of a just community. Both the "rich people" and the widow in giving their offerings were participating in an act of worship. The message here is not how worthy the widow's offering was, but how God would see the "rich people's" offering as unacceptable because they were not working for the creation of a just society.
I once served a congregation that did a good job of creating a community of caring that allowed one special family to give extravagantly. This congregation included many wealthy and upper-middle-class families. It also included a family that always lived on the edge. Both parents worked, but they had low wage jobs and in the midst of numerous medical problems. They had three children, but as well as an extended family with many financial, medical and emotional problems. This church family often took in children and adults from their extended family to care for. Although their finances were limited, the church folk supported them in many ways that allowed them to give all they had in service to God and other people. Though they had little, they were extravagant in giving to their family, their community and their church, and they had the resources and confidence to be generous because of the support of their church community.
"The strength of the pack is the wolf; the strength of the wolf is the pack." Rudyard Kipling
"Power in organizations is the capacity generated by relationships." (Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1994, pp. 38-39.)
Elsewhere in Mark's gospel, Jesus himself connects selfless giving with the creation of a covenant community. In Mark 10:23-31, Jesus discusses how difficult it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom. When Peter says he and his comrades have left everything to follow, Jesus responds that all who leave family and possessions will receive even more both in this world and in the next.
An old truism reminds us that if you want something done, ask someone who is already busy, and it will surely be accomplished. People who are in the habit of doing, especially those in the habit of doing for others, seem to find a continual source of time and energy, like the jar of oil and meal that do not fail. Many of them, when asked, will tell you that it is the giving itself that renews their energy and joy.
As the old saying goes, you can't judge a book by its cover. The true value of an item is not always immediately obvious based on outward appearances. Sometime ago a man purchased a brooch for $14 at an antique shop in Newport, Rhode Island. Later he discovered that the two pearls attached to the ornamental pin are virtually priceless. The purple pearls, which are naturally produced by a type of clam called a quahog, are extremely rare. The larger of the two pearls in the brooch measured 14 millimeters, a size that some gem enthusiasts have said makes it a one-of-a-kind. The purchaser found the brooch in a basket of assorted costume jewelry at the store. He immediately recognized that the jewelry was made out of gold, but it was only later that he realized how valuable the pearls were. We often misjudge value in our day to day lives.
We all have something to give. But there are times, when we encounter those who seem to be more gifted in some way, that we hesitate to use the talent we possess. Based on field research that he conducted in Africa, anthropologist John Blacking has concluded that all people have innate musical ability. According to his observations, most societies encourage people to make use of that gift. But in recent centuries, western civilization has tended to consider music as something that only professionals are meant to engage in. Before rock groups and recording stars ever appeared on the scene, most music was folk music, a form of communication that all members of society were encouraged to share in. But today fewer and fewer people seem to know songs or are willing to sing them in the presence of other people.
The intersection of money and the church often results in some rather unusual situations. To help finance the pope's visit to Mexico City in 1998, the Archdiocese of Mexico City received corporate sponsorships from more than two dozen companies. The largest sponsor was the Pepsi-owned Sabritas chip company, which paid $1.8 million for the right to use the pontiff's face on its packaging. The product used Spanish play on words: "Las Papas del Papa" ("The Potatoes of the Pope.")
This story of the faithful widow and the unscrupulous religious leaders forces us to realize that it is not always possible to make a judgment about someone based on outward appearances. Police officers throughout the world wear uniforms, so that people will be readily able to look at them and understand who they are. In Mexico City, however, they have been having a problem with police uniforms being counterfeited. As a consequence, more and more criminals are now dressing up like police officers and using that disguise to commit crimes against unsuspecting citizens. At present, police uniforms can be legally purchased at stores and from street vendors throughout Mexico City. The police chief is now considering developing a new uniform for his 30,000 officers, which would include features that would not be easy to copy. The problem in Mexico City, though, goes even beyond uniforms. For about $700, criminals are able to get their cars outfitted so that they rather closely resemble police vehicles, complete with sirens and flashing lights. The overall impact is that many of the people there now fear the police, because they are never entirely sure whether the officer they see is intending to help them or hurt them.
The hypocrisy of the religious leaders is revealed in the disconnection between their words and their actions. A similar disconnection appeared in an embarrassing situation for the German Ministry of Construction. That Ministry is charged with making sure that buildings in the nation are properly and safely erected. But when the new headquarters for the Ministry of Construction opened, it was filled with so many flaws and such shoddy workmanship that it will cost millions of dollars to fix. The problems include such things as cracked walls, loose windows, and faulty air conditioning. The estimate is that it will cost about $39 million to correct the problems, an amount that the German government is anticipating will be covered by the construction firms.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, contends that we need to recover the role of "play" in our lives. He points out that games are, by design, totally unproductive. The goal is not competition for some limited number of goods or resources. Rather the point of games is to remind us that there is a whole other world out there that is not based on competition for material goods. In the course of playing, the value of winning immediately disappears as soon as the game is over. Right away a new game is able to start and all are back on an equal level to begin. In that way, the widow demonstrated that she knew which game was most important. She knew that the game of status and position that the religious authorities were engaging in was not important, but the game of faith and commitment that all are welcomed to share in and thereby become true winners.
Paul Tillich objected to the capitalist system because of its emphasis on possessions. He suggested that the whole system tends to be demonic because instead of people possessing things, things often end up possessing people.
Friedrich Nietzsche criticized Christianity as being nothing, but a religion based on resentment. In his opinion, the Christian faith was designed merely to attract slaves, losers, and recipients of bad fortune, so that they might share in a futile dream that one day they would get revenge on those who enjoy worldly success. In that regard, Nietzsche would have fully anticipated that someone like that poor widow would have been attracted to Jesus' movement.
While we celebrate the rich and the grand, we tend to overlook the poor and the humble. This year, instead of going to Disney World, Habitat for Humanity is trying to encourage people to try out a different kind of theme park. On a 6.5 acre next to its headquarters in Americus, Georgia, Habitat for Humanity has built what they call the Global Village & Discovery Center. But instead of loading people onto spinning rides or sending people on lightning-fast roller coasters, the point of that park is to expose visitors to what life is like for those in the world who live in poverty and dwell in some of the worst slums in the world. Displays are set up to show what it is like to live as a poor person in Africa, Asia, and Central America. Visitors are then given an opportunity to try their hand at brick making or at tile laying. By seeing what a difference work like that can do for a family, Habitat is hoping to interest more people into participating in their worldwide ministry. The group hopes to attract as many as 70,000 guests during its first year of operation. Previously, although the headquarters in Americus had no official tourist facilities, they attracted about 12,000 visitors a year.
Apparently, that widow did not follow the guidance of the Talmud. The ancient rabbis taught that charitable giving should not exceed a fifth of one's possession. The rationale was that if people gave more than that, they might reach a point where they themselves would be in need of charitable donations.
Is it possible that all gifts can achieve some faithful purpose? Businessman Andrew Whittaker won the multi-state Powerball drawing last Christmas. Instead of taking the $314.9 million over 30 years, he opted for a one-time payout of $113.4 million. Upon learning about his winnings, Whittaker decided to make contributions to the three pastors who had been an important part of his life over the years. One Church of God pastor who would be receiving some of that money said, "If God wants to take the devil's money and give it to us, that's fine."
The comparison between the faithful widow and the hypocritical religious authorities implies a commentary on how the day will eventually come when the powerful will be unseated and the poor will be lifted up. When a celebration was scheduled in Durban, South Africa, to mark the coronation of King Edward VII, the British viceroy banned the singing of "Onward, Christian Soldiers." He objected to the hymn because of the words: "Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane." The viceroy did not feel that it was appropriate to make such statements to a king.
Recent studies are suggesting that the fact that men are more obsessed with rank and status than women are is a function of men's biological makeup. Anthropologists have found that this male emphasis on hierarchy is not just a feature of some societies, but of all societies. Research shows that boys are more assertive than girls at 13 months, and boys are more aggressive than girls as toddlers, and boys are more competitive at any age. While young girls tend to engage in cooperative forms of play, boys as young as age 6 begin to establish dominance hierarchies that they reinforce through rough-and-tumble playing. Male status seeking, though, is not limited to humankind. A similar kind of behavior has also been observed among crickets, crayfish, elephants, and higher primates, particularly chimpanzees.
According a survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted by the Barna Research Group, the percentage of households in the United States that tithe fell from 8% in 2001 to just 3% in 2002. The most likely people to tithe were people ages 55 and older, college graduates, Republicans, Southerners, conservatives, middle-income individuals, evangelicals, and those who attend mainline Protestant churches.
Seemingly modest contributions sometimes have more value to them than we may realize. When their church was having a garage sale this past March, a couple in Anchorage, Alaska, got a box of household items together to donate. One item the husband put into the box that they gave to the church was a somewhat worn teddy bear. It turned out, however, that teddy bear had $50,000 hidden inside of it. The wife had accumulated $50,000, without her husband knowing, and hid the money inside the bear. Apparently, the item was sold to a woman and her two little daughters for the sum of one dollar. Upon discovering what had taken place, the couple heeded the advice of friends and began putting up posters telling people what had happened, in the hopes of whoever had the bear would give it back to them. They assumed that if people found the money hidden inside the bear, they might assume that it was stashed there because it was illegally gained funds and would be less likely to return it to its owner.
"Religion is to spirituality as ideology is to thought." (Arnold Rampersad)
"The ability to find joy in the world of sorrow and hope at the edge of despair is woman's witness to courage and her gift of new life to all." (Miriam Therese Winter)
"A man there was, though some did count him mad, the more he cast away, the more he had." (John Bunyan)
"A cheerful giver does not count the cost of what he gives. His heart is set on pleasing and cheering him to whom the gift is given." (Julian of Norwich)
"He who is not liberal with what he has, does but deceive himself when he thinks he would be liberal if he had more." (William S. Plummer)
"He who gives what he would as readily throw away, gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice." (Sir Henry Talor)
"You do not have to be rich to be generous. If he has the spirit of true generosity, a pauper can give like a prince." (Corrine U. Wells)
"The most satisfactory thing in life is to have been able to give a large part of oneself to others." (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
"When you empty yourself, God Almighty rushes in!" (A. W. Tozer) )
In the Korean film The Way Home the 70-year-old woman known only as Grandmother is much like the two widows in this week's lectionary passages. Until her daughter returns briefly from the city to deposit her son Sang-woo with her while she looks for a job, the old woman has been living alone, barely getting by on what she can earn from her vegetable garden. She lives in an old shack in the hills, a long walk from the road. The spoiled city boy resents being dumped in such an isolated place, so he rudely rebuffs every attempt she makes to become acquainted, labeling her "stupid" when the deaf-mute old woman can answer him only by signing with her hands. He misses indoor plumbing, favorite foods, and the sights of the city, and even though Grandmother tries to accommodate him, continues his hostility toward her. Upon hearing him long for chicken, she uses some of her meager produce money to buy a chicken, kills and prepares it, and serves it to him. The ungrateful boy pushes it away, telling her again that she is stupid because he wants "Kentucky Chicken." She sacrifices more of her "widow's mite" to buy him batteries for his electronic game when they take the bus to a city. She treats him to a fine meal and puts him on the bus for the trip back home, whereas she herself eats almost nothing at the restaurant and walks home. By the time he gets off the bus the selfish boy has come to realize that Grandmother spent all her money on him and thus did not have enough to buy herself a ticket. Her patient love and spending her small income on him finally wins his heart, so that by the time his mother comes for him, Sang-woo is a very different boy than when we first saw him.
The seasons dictate the growth of the vine. In our lives we must learn that we cannot always live in the springtime of the rising new sap, or the summer of growth and formation; we cannot always live in the autumn of rich fruit-bearing, or in the winter of rest and seeming deadness. Each of these seasons has its place, and all are interdependent and necessary. Brother Ramon The Way of Love
Each sorrow that we allow to touch our heart takes us into the sorrow of God. Who can fathom the bottomless, endless sorrow of God? Yet the storehouse of sorrow is a rich resource of nourishment and healing ... Sorrow shared may yield a feast of memory and hope. There may be a communion of comfort. (Robert Raines, A Time to Live)
Sojourner Truth: When told that she was less than a mosquito, Sojourner Truth responded, "But I Sure can make you itch."
Bob Thompson started his company in the basement of his home with $3500. His wife, a schoolteacher, supported them. For 37 years, they have lived in the same modest home. When Thompson sold his road-building firm for $422 million, he divided up $128 million with the people who worked for him. Salesmen, secretaries, workers in the gravel pit, the people who hold the road signs during repairs all received $2000 for each year they had worked for Thompson. Salaried employees received their money in the form of a check or an annuity they could cash in at 55 or 62. To top it off, Thompson paid the taxes on all the gifts and started thinking about how he could give away some of the rest of the money. "It's sharing good times," Thompson says. (Sharon Cohen, "Boss Is One In A Million "[Santa Cruz County Sentinel [September 12, 1999], p. D1, D7).
Bill Hauf became interested in Cuba when he visited for business. As he met people who had children and grandchildren, Hauf was impressed at the children's joyfulness despite the fact that they had few toys and a lack of places to play. It took him four years to work through the bureaucratic process so that he could carry out his plan.
Recently, Hauf led a team of 58 Americans, who each paid their own expenses, to construct playgrounds in Cuba. He put up the $200,000 for the equipment and other costs; to give the Cuban children three playgrounds with bright colored slides, swings and climbing structures. (David E. Graham, "Del Mar Man Brings Playgrounds To Havana Children" The San Diego Union-Tribune [June 24, 2003], pp. B2, 8).
June Jordan, a poet and professor of African American studies, wrote an essay in which she likened the love of Ruth and Naomi to that of Jonathan and David as unconventional relationships portrayed in the Bible. Of both of these relationships she says, "It is love that supersedes given boundaries of birthright or birthplace or conventions of romance or traditions of loyalty. It is one love that yields to no boundary. It is one love that takes you to its bosom and that saves your life." (June Jordan, "Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan: One Love," in Out of the Garden, New York: Ballantine Books, 1995, p. 87.)
Several years ago a story came out of Israel/Palestine about people crossing barriers to save lives. A Palestinian child had been seriously injured in crossfire during a fight between Palestinians and the Israeli army. At the hospital, the doctors explained to the parents that their child would soon die and requested them to consider donating his organs to save another child. They agreed, even after the doctor explained that the child who would receive their son's organs happened to be an Israeli Jew.
It is important to emphasize that Ruth's decision to follow Naomi was her choice, freely made. Naomi did not expect her to come; she actively discouraged her from doing so. There is no criticism, overt or implied, for Orpah's decision to return home. The text should not be used to require this kind of self-sacrifice on the part of daughters-in-law, or anyone else for that matter. Ruth makes her choice out of love and loyalty, not requirement or expectation.
Naomi tells her daughters-in-law that "the hand of the Lord has turned against me." Yet within a very short time, Naomi hears Ruth express her everlasting love and commitment to her. Sometimes it seems to us that God's hand has turned against us, yet we discover God's hand has been at work for us in ways we did not expect.
The professional golfer, Tiger Woods, has caused many people to reevaluate our eternal penchant to label people racially or ethnically and evaluate them on that basis rather than, as Martin Luther King urged us, on the "content of their character." Tiger's parents and grandparents come from Asian, African American, Native American and Caucasian backgrounds. "What" he is cannot be summed up by nationality or race, but rather by his humanity.
One of the many themes woven into J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books concerns the issue of whether the wizarding community should accept those wizards who come from families who are not "pureblood." One of the worst insults you can throw at someone at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is "mud blood," someone born of mixed magical and "muggle" parentage. Harry's 2 best friends fall in both camps; Ron is of a pureblood family and Hermione's parents are non-magical. Rowling makes the point again and again in numerous ways that blood is irrelevant and skill and loyalty and goodness are everything.
Spring and Fall Festivals in the Scottish Church celebrate planting and harvest. Spring Festival is an offering of First Fruits, a biblical practice that is a step of faith. When people give the first fruits of their labors, there is no guarantee they will receive more. To give the first fruits is the ultimate step of faith and trust in God's providence, like the widow who gave all she had.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Arise and bring the fruits of Your labor to God.
People: But we need those fruits; we work hard to earn what we have.
Leader: Has God not taken care of You? Has God not provided for Your needs?
People: Yes, but we need these things, for tomorrow God may not be here.
Leader: Rejoice, for the everlasting God will be with us always, to the end of time.
People: We rejoice and give gladly unto the everlasting God!
Eternal God, we confess that we have not trusted Your providence. We admit that our fears and insecurities have blinded us to Your gracious hand. Instead, we have calmed our fears by trusting in the things of this world. Forgive us, we pray. Help us to loosen our grip on material goods and bring us joy in surrendering those things. Grant us the grace to share in Your grace. Help us to give to others, as You have given unto us. Amen.
Heavenly God, Your grace has been most abundant. Indeed, all we have and know comes from Your grace. We dedicate these offerings now to be a part of Your ever-present grace. May our gifts be a part of Your Gift. May our love be a part of Your Love. May we be a part of Your kingdom, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in whose name we pray, Amen.
Almighty God, we have heard much today about the need to give. We know that You take care of us, but sometimes it is hard to trust that You will always take care of us. We would gladly give to others, but we need some security. We do pray for others, we really do. We pray for the homeless man who cannot get a job and who is trapped because he cannot apply for unemployment without an address. We pray for the battered woman and her abused children, brave enough to run but suspicious of any help. We even pray for the richest of the rich in their isolation, that they would use their gifts for the benefit of others.
We pray that You would assure all of us rich and poor, strong and weak that You will take care of us. Grant us all the trust that Your grace merits.
And help us to engender such trust in others. May we be agents of Your grace; may we be trustworthy and dependable for others in need. In these things we ask for some of Your guidance, Your steadfastness, and Your unconditional love. In Christ we pray, Amen.