Sunday, November 9, 2003

the widow's mite

Merciful Father, compassionate Son, Spirit of
wisdom, inspire our words, ennoble our deeds,
that we may speak truth, work for justice, and
bear forth peace into the world you have made.

Let us then love God purely, without expectation
of reward or fear of punishment.

Remember how bereft a widow was in ancient
Palestine - the bottom had fallen out of her life
- she was in a dark place. Scripture knows no one
more desolate than the widow and orphan.

And here it was that Elijah went. He had just
announced to the king, Ahab, that there would be
no rain until he, Elijah, gave the word. Then he
hid out - first in a ravine (or wadi) where there
was a trickle of mud - then he picked up and left
Israel entirely.

He went into Sidon, on the coast - in the
territory whose god was not Yahweh but Baal. And yet
there Yahweh provided. As Yahweh lives, said the
widow, I have nothing ready to give you -

[She had nothing to offer him but bread, oil, and tears.]

just a little last meal, a little oil and flour,
with some sticks to make a fire. We are going to
eat it, then die.

I picture a campout kind of cooking - johnnycake,
bread on a stick. In any case,

after this rude meal, there would be nothing left
to eat and they would starve.

Remember the Psalm: Yahweh loves the righteous,
Yahweh cares for the stranger; God sustains the
orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the
wicked. (Ps 146.8)

Poverty and bereavement came close together - and
the grief was not just personal but economic and
political. This woman on the edge of the land had
no livelihood. There was no provision for her
care. Left alone with no support, she was
composing herself for death.

Politically it was a dark and turbulent time.
Ahab, the cruel king of Israel, had driven Elijah
out - and he thought he had driven the Lord out
as well. He thought Yahweh was a tribal god, a
local god, one who could be replaced - with a
flashy imported model, Baal.

Yet here in the heart of the land of Baal, Elijah
runs for refuge - at God's command. And there the
wonders begin - with simple sustenance, the
plainest meal. Bread. Oil. God works through
these things. In these simple things, in the
offering of them, these destitute people affirm
their faith. And neither the bread nor the oil
failed - they lasted until the rains came.

(At first when I read these passages I thought of
Jesus, in the gospel of John making provision for
his mother. She was about to lose her son, her
support. And from the cross Jesus saw her
standing next to the beloved disciple, and said,
"Mother, there is your son." "There is your
mother." (John 19.25-27) And the disciple took
her into his home from that moment.)

God provides for the widowed and the orphaned.
But these lessons are about more than taht. They
are about the radical faith and unstinting giving
(service) of the women in the stories. They love
without fear of punishment or hope (expectation)
of reward. All they have, they give.

The faith the widow of Zarephath shows is an
absolute trust in Yahweh. He is no tribal god to
her - she has no tribe. He is no territorial god
- she is in exile. He is Lord of their lives, and
she returns to him an offering from all he has

(All I have needed thy hand hath provided, great
is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me. ...and now she
gives in turn.)

Again in the gospel we meet such a woman of
faith. We are warned, first, about the
rule-keepers, the people who try to earn their
place. They keep the rules.

Just as there were rules of hospitality there
were rules of giving - and as Jesus witnessed the
rules were kept. But there was someone who went
beyond the rules.

"She had less than enough, and gave all that she
had to live on." (REB)

It is one thing to give out of your wealth,
another to give out of your poverty. Here again
was a woman with next to nothing. What would
happen to her when she left the Temple? We don't

(Since the first days of the church care for the
poor, the suffering & the bereft has been part of
its work. And of course there have been rich
widows - last week Mrs Kroc left $200m to NPR.)

What we do know is that she gave, without hope of
reward, without fear of retribution, without
stinting or holding back anything for herself.

All she had, she gave.

Six years ago at the General Convention in
Philadelphia I was selling Bibles and
prayerbooks. A friend helped me carry them in to
the exhibit hall, then we had lunch. We talked
about the issues of the day. He said, "well,
there are some rules, you know." And I found
myself retorting sharply,

"Your rules need to give way to some compassion."

Good words. Wrong target. I should have been
saying them to me!

Jesus carries us into a world beyond rule-keeping
- Jesus breaks the rules open to reveal
compassion, mercy & wisdom. Beyond the rules he
shows us radical faith, and a self-giving that
knows no measurement.

God does not meet us halfway.

This gift comes present to us as we share simple
sustenance together: Bread. Oil. Water. Wine.

Through them we find that he, like the widows,
has given all he has with an open hand - this
sacrifice of himself was made once when he freely
accepted the death he suffered at the hands of
the rule-makers. Bearing the message of
compassion, of infinite mercy, came with a cost
he could not measure - and did not measure.

As the widow of Zarephath claimed in the promise
of the prophet,
As the widow at the Temple opened her hand and
let it all fall to Yahweh,
So Jesus, sustaining himself only in his faith,
opened his heart - and cast himself on the mercy
of God.

[God is with us. Pray boldly. Give
wholeheartedly, openhandedly; live faithfully.]

This radical reliance on the providence of God,
this going beyond obedience to sacrificial giving

How do we live with that?

Where in our lives is there a place
to welcome the stranger
to give up our treasure

Perhaps it is not about the money
Perhaps it is about something else we treasure

Perhaps wherever we stand on current issues
Our rules need to give way to some compassion

It is about giving up self-righteousness, about
admitting that we, wherever we stand, could be
wrong - and opening our hands and our hearts and
ourselves to each other and to God.

(We need to blend the confidence, the courage, of the prophet, Elijah, with the compassion and care of the shepherd.

(The church has been through times of turmoil before. At one time there was a new prayerbook, and the ministers all looked different. It took 150 years, from 1537 to 1688, to find a workable solution. That was the English Reformation.

(How are we to live in the meantime?)


[It is not about the coins, not even the bread or
the oil. Perhaps it is about giving up our
treasured right to be right, to admit we could be
wrong, to open our hands and offer ourselves to
God and each other.

[DO try this at home.

[Next weekend at diocesan convention in Redding
there are a heap of resolutions to consider and
to vote on. Beyond that there are the people of
our diocese to gather and celebrate together the
goodness of God. It would be easy to get stuck on
the money - or it get stuck to us - to give or
not give, where I feel good or bad. But the money
is not a vehicle of self-expression, or a vote,
it's a gift of God. Beyond that what we really
have to give each other more than time, talent,
or treasure, is our obedience to the Lord, who
commands us to love one another. Our gift is to
go beyond compliance, to sacrifice our stampbooks
of debts owed, and out of radical reliance on God
to open our hands to the stranger and our hearts
to the Lord.]

Merciful Father, compassionate Son, Spirit of
wisdom, inspire our words, ennoble our deeds,
that we may speak truth, work for justice, and
bear forth peace into the world you have made.

Grant that we may live faithfully, and,
undistracted by fear of retribution or
expectation of reward,
love purely for Christ's sake.


Thanks to: Bill Adams, Don Kraus, Dorothy Nicholl, Jane Williams; Kate Aldrich, Margaret Bock, Hutch Gibb, George Hunt, Bette Leedom, Greta MacLeod, Ann Peters, John & Else Redmond, Sally Skanderup, Hugh Stevenson, George Thoresen, Julie Wizorek, Wendy Wood. Mrs. Paul H. (Sara S.) Leech.

The Lectionary Page
Geranium Farm Barbara Crafton
Out of Nowhere Lane Denson III

Year B Proper 27
1 Kings 17.8-16, Psalm 146.4-9, Hebrews 9.24-28
Mark 12.38-44 The widow's mite

St Patrick's Episcopal Church, Kenwood, California
Sunday, November 09, 2003