Sermon by Pastor Brigette Weier, Lutheran Church of the Master, Lakewood, CO
Mark 12:38-44; Sunday After Pentecost (B)
I have this bracelet that I like to wear. I bought it in MN, at a little shop by Luther Seminary. It’s simple and seems flimsy but its presence on my wrist reminds me of something complex and binding. It is called an Ubuntu bracelet and this particular one was made by women in Uganda and the funds raised from the sale of these bracelets go to help women and children who live with the disease of HIV. Ubuntu is a South African concept that has become known in the West by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. Ubuntu means roughly “I am because we are and we are because I am.” Or “I am because of who we all are.” This notion of Ubuntu doesn’t negate individual enrichment or importance but really calls to mind the fact that we don’t live in complete isolation and that we can only be as secure, enriched and healthy as our neighbor. It reminds us to listen to the voice of our neighbor as well as our own.
Ubuntu is not about those who have giving to those who have not but more about those who have not impacting the reality of those who have. It’s a sense of community, and that within that community our life situation is not static and can change instantly. Today we may be the people who have food, shelter and warm clothes. Today we may be the people who worry about if we will have enough for the future; today we may be the people who think that we are in control of our existence; today we may be the ones who give to those who have less around us. But tomorrow a mega storm , like Sandy on the East Coast, can come and take all of that all away and when that happens, all that remains are the people that surrounds us. And then the people who could lose everything the next day as well, reach out today to ensure that their neighbor is fed, clothed and sheltered. People who may have been the recipients of what we gave yesterday now offer us their last batteries, bread or gas for our own safety and health. I saw a news report that said the largest disaster response to the East Coast has been from the Gulf Coast-those who were devastated by Katrina seven years ago.
We have been constantly reminded of our interconnectedness in this country over the past few weeks. This interconnectedness is messy and it is not always clear as far as how we are connected. In this intense interconnection whose voice should be the loudest? Who do we listen to?
This idea of interconnectedness is a concept that runs deep in our gospel lesson this morning. This text is most often used for stewardship and the most common interpretation of these two little stories that cannot be separated is that the self righteous and hypocritical behavior of the religious scribes is to be avoided and that we should strive to be like the widow and give away all that we have. I think there is a reason that interpretation is popular and it is a part of what is happening here, but I am struck by Mark putting these two stories from Jesus together right before the words of the temple being destroyed in chapter 13 and the plot of Jesus’ death unfolding in the rest of the gospel.
The widow and the scribes are part of the same community. The widow, according to Levirate law, was to be taken care of by the religious leaders as well as the community. Widows, orphans and the alien have special provisions in the Hebrew laws. They are ones without status, financial means or security of any kind. They depend solely on those around them. People needing help to have the basics in life, is not a 21st century challenge. In Jesus’ time a majority of people lived in what we would consider abject poverty; food only for the day; no planning for tomorrow or retirement; no thought to the future what-so-ever. The fact that this widow had two coins is a miracle in and of itself!
Giving to the treasury of the temple was also something required by Levirate law. People gave not just to the upkeep of the temple itself but to funds to support the priests, the orphans, the widows and others in need. So the fact that the people whom Jesus called “rich” were giving was not a surprise, but the widow’s presence perhaps was a surprise. After all, she is the intended recipient of the funds!
This widow in the temple raises many questions for me-where did she get that money? Why would she give it all away? Isn’t that foolish? Shouldn’t she keep some of it? Doesn’t Jesus want her to eat tomorrow? Why does Jesus chastise the rich people for giving money? Isn’t giving-giving no matter what? It isn’t the rich people’s fault that they have more money to give and will have some left over. These questions are important ones to wrestle with but I don’t want us to be distracted by what Jesus is pointing out to us. The widow gave out of her poverty. She gave out of her uncertainty. This widow, not knowing where her bread for tomorrow was coming from-gave to the very community that should be caring for her!
But perhaps this widow gave, so that someone else would be cared for, because she had enough for today and trusted that God and the people of God would provide for her tomorrow. She gave from her uncertainty—confident in a bigger vision than what she could see herself. She didn’t know if that temple would be there tomorrow-it had already been destroyed once! But she knew that God was faithful whether the temple stood or not-the uncertainty of the world couldn’t shake her certainty in God.
You see, Jesus was pointing out that poverty isn’t necessarily about lack of wealth, but it is about living with and in uncertainty. Do you know where you next meal will come from or if you can pay the rent tomorrow? Will you have the money to see a doctor if you or your children get sick next week? Will you have a job next month? Can you afford to send your kids to college? Will our taxes be raised? Will there be social security for my retirement? Will I be alone when my children move out or my spouse dies? Will anyone love me if I am not perfect or have the right clothes, house, degree, job, health or perfect physique? There are all kinds of poverty or uncertainty in our lives.
Our world seems very uncertain indeed and like the rich people in the gospel, we want to control our fear and have security and so we hang on to our uncertainty about tomorrow and only give away what makes sense. We may do that not only with our financial resources but we also hang on to our time for fear of people taking advantage of our time spent. Maybe we hang on to our privacy for fear of being vulnerable or having our imperfections brought to light. Maybe we hang on to our pride for fear of being wrong. We have abundance in so many ways yet we are just as uncertain as the poor widow.
Jesus understands this uncertainty. Jesus prays in Gethsemane about his uncertainty and fear to God about what was to come on the cross. Yet Jesus gave his entire life for us-for the whole world-in spite of fear so that we can live without fear and uncertainty. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are certain of God’s unending love for all of us and that we are forever interconnected with this loving God and this connects us all together, every person throughout the globe to one another in a complex, messy and binding way. The scribe and the widow, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the conservative and the liberal, the ones who hurt others and the ones who heal, the leaders and the followers, and the imprisoned and the liberated-we are all interconnected, called by the Holy Spirit, and free in Jesus Christ to walk together proclaiming with words and actions the certainty of God’s promises to a world that wants to divide us and silence our voices of hope and love.
Words of kindness, peace, comfort, solidarity along with actions such as Thanksgiving dinners to those in need in Jefferson County, Christmas gifts for children who will otherwise go without, houses built for the homeless, warms coats for the cold and blankets for babies are all ways that we use our whole lives, all of who we are, every day to give voice to our connectedness with all of God’s children and our confidence in God’s love and care for all of us. This is our everything, like the widow, all that we have to live on and our certainty. I think that as Christians Ubuntu means to us: “because God is love, we are loved and we are loved because God is love.” Amen.