Sermon Pentecost 23

November 9, 2009 at 9:35 am Leave a comment

The prophet Elijah probably never accused God

of doing things by the book.

He was going to get used to God doing things like this.

God appears to him during a drought

and tells him to go to Zarephath,

for he has arranged for a widow there to feed him.

Remember, this is over 2500 years ago in the Middle East.

Women back then who lose their husbands and therefore their means of financial support

have neither jobs of their own nor life insurance nor Social Security.

God has just told Elijah to do the modern-day equivalent

of going to a certain place in a snow storm

because God has fixed it so that a homeless guy will give him a place to stay.

But, again, Elijah is going to get used to this sort of thing.

Off he trots to Zarephath, and lo and behold,

he finds a woman down to her last loaf,

and asks her for it.

God never does things by the book –

or perhaps we’ve just got the wrong book.

 

Jesus is camping out in the temple precincts,

just watching what’s going on.

He watches as the scribes walk proudly through the temple of God,

and the rich are delighted to give what they have,

and a widow with nothing gives what she does not have.

Then he points out the widow to his disciples.

She is the God-blessed one in this picture.

She is the one down to her last.

God never does things by the book, does he?

Or perhaps we’ve got the wrong book.

 

One of the insights of Martin Luther

was that God would most often be found in what we would consider

the unlikeliest of places.

He called it the theology of the cross

and contrasted it with the theology of glory.

He said that God could be found under his opposite,

whether it be a poor widow from Zarephath down to her last loaf,

or a poor widow from Jerusalem down to her last coins,

or a poor man outside the holy city down to his last breath on a cross.

God where you least expect to find him,

in the presence of scarcity, sin, disease, and death.

This is a God who refuses to do things by the book.

 

 

What does the woman do with her last loaf?

Gives it to God’s prophet.

What does the woman do with her last coin?

Gives it to God’s temple.

What does the man do with his last breath?

gives it to God’s child, the sinner on the cross next to him

– “Today you shall be with me in paradise.”

 

The widows know the freedom of having nothing to lose.

If you’re a sports fan like me, that’s the hope you hang on to

when your team is having a off year.

“Well, they’re playing for pride, they’ve got nothing to lose.”

And you hope that the other team chokes under the pressure

of having success, of having a championship on the line,

of expectations,

whereas your team can play with a certain freedom,

when there are no expectations.

The book says that this team is supposed to win,

but we know that life doesn’t always happen by the book.

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to live life with that kind of freedom,

the freedom of having nothing to lose?

And yet the problem is, in order to have nothing to lose,

we think we have to have nothing.

All of us most of the time and most of us all of the time

are not willing to make that exchange.

The problem with the rich people who are giving large gifts to the temple

is not that they are rich,

it’s that they have lots to lose.

Jesus can see that there is something of themselves they are keeping back.

 

What is the best gift you can give to God?

We are taught in the Gospel that God doesn’t want us to buy him off

with sacrifice of animals, or money, or even what we can do for him.

God wants far more than these – he wants us.

He desires us far more than what we can give him,

more than what we can accomplish for him

He owns everything – what could we give him that is not his already?

But a relationship of love is what he desires –

and for that we don’t need to have money, time, talent, or pride

we don’t need to have anything except nothing to lose.

 

The gospels are full of the pain God feels

when people hold themselves back from giving themselves to him

because of the things they will lose.

Jesus looks at the young man and loves him

and the young man goes away grieving

because he cannot let go of what owns him.

Notice I said “what owns him.”

Not “what he owns.”

Jesus tells a parable of the king who throws the greatest party in history

and he is shocked and frustrated and angered

when response after response comes back, “I have too much to do to come to your party.”

In Jesus’ story the king goes and finds those folks with nothing to lose

and compels them to come in, so that he can give them everything they ever wanted.

 

Jesus tells another party story, which we know as the parable of the prodigal son.

In this one, a man refuses to come in to his father and brother

because his pride has been hurt.

He has been slighted.

The position of honor has been given to someone else who doesn’t deserve it.

And we are left wondering, will the elder son be able to let go of his pride

and join the feasting?

You can’t eat pride.

You also can’t have a relationship with pride.

For a relationship of love, we don’t have to have money, time, talent, or pride –

in fact we often must let go of these things so that we may have nothing to lose.

 

In Elijah’s story, we read of the woman and her son and their household

an extended family,

perhaps with servants from the good old days when they used to be rich –

this widow’s house feasts on their last meal for way longer than one could expect.

And we don’t hear anything more in Jesus’ story about the widow with two copper coins,

but we can be reasonably certain that God didn’t forget her either.

The man on the cross who blessed with his dying breath –

he fills the universe and is present with us today.

The Triune God, who gave himself to us and held nothing back,

wants nothing in exchange except ourselves,

and if there is anything keeping us from him he calls us to let it go

and discover the freedom and peace of living in his presence.

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Prayer for the Celebrity’s Purgatory Veterans’ Day

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