November   9, 2003
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Readings

1 Kings 17:8-16
8 Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9 "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." 10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." 12 But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." 13 Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. (NRSV)

Mark 12:38-44
38 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." (NRSV)

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Our passage this morning contrasts the power of the rich with the poverty of the widow… Jesus makes it very clear that one is viewed by God with displeasure and the other is welcomed with loving arms.

That message is not new, it fits right in with “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” While the widow blended in with the crowd, the scribes liked to walk about in long robes, so that they could be recognized as powerful and be greeted in the market – nothing like an ego boast…

While the widow gave all that she had to help the poor, the scribes were willing to steal from the widow to increase their power..

Again, quite consistent with Jesus’ message, love one another…

A few nights ago, after reading this passage many times, I dreamed that I was walking down the green in my robe complete with my stole… I met Mike at the Patisserie – he was also in his Sunday Best… we were glad to accept the greetings from the community, we liked the notoriety – after all – we do pastor the largest protestant congregation in this community – so why not accept the respectful greetings. I woke up in a sweat, wondering – robe or not, how true this might be…

Am I a scribe?

What I realized is that the answer to this question is yes – of course. In some ways I am a scribe – I don’t mind the recognition – I kind of like be greeted – I might even take a free cup of coffee. I will make sure that I don’t make the mistake of wearing my robe and stole, to get a cup of coffee.

I am a scribe in other ways too – I like having enough money that I am not dependent on anyone else to help me along. I don’t think that I would mind winning the lottery, and that is as close as I want come to devouring the money of the poor – I am not buying lottery tickets, however, I turn them down, either.

After I asked myself about the possibility of being identified as a scribe, I had to look to see if I am even remotely like the widow…

Now the widow was often a victim of society, as it was believed that if her husband died before his old age, it was judgment for his sin… and that judgment would automatically fall on the wife left behind… If the wife was young she might be eligible for a Levirate marriage or she might be able to return to her father’s house… but if her husband had no brothers to assume his responsibility or her father was gone, she had no recourse. Widows of course had to wear identifying clothing, so it was easy for people to take advantage of them. Even the name “widow” in Hebrew resembles the word meaning “ to be mute”.

The widow had no power at all, and often she was taken advantage of.

How could I possibly be like the widow? First of all, I am not a widow, and I am not powerless. I have power – enough power to buy my own food, decide where I will live, I have the power to educate my children and even help them out when they need it. I can work and I don’t give or even intend to give every last cent to the Church. I am dependent on my money to give me my freedom and power – the widow was had no one, no money on which to rely, so she was dependent on God.

So the next obvious question is: am I dependent on God?

I have lived in CT for the past 22 years – I have that “Independent - I can do it myself” mentality… And I live in a culture that celebrates independence…– our American heritage is based on independence… seeing ourselves as dependent on God is difficult.

But yet Jesus tells us that the widow’s dependence is what sets her free. Our culture teaches us to be like the scribes, but Jesus tells us to be like the widow… be dependent on God.

Where and when are we dependent on God? Or are we even able to be dependent on God?

Like others of you, this summer my husband and I took a trip across the US… we went back to see our families in Iowa and Illinois… this is a routine drive for us, and since we are so familiar with it, we decided to investigate UCC churches as we drove west. We looked at several churches in the Midwest.. and we were struck by the number of towns that were boarded up, where the only building in town that was maintained was the Church, and when we looked up the membership in the UCC directory of churches we were surprised to see that it had a small congregation that supported the Church in a big way. I started to wonder why, and then along came this passage –and my dream. And I realized, that being a farmer, means being totally dependent – on the weather, and on God. It means keeping your faith as the center of your life, it means trusting God, because you can’t trust the weather and you have no control over the market value of your crop. It means trusting God, because you love what you are doing and know that in a heart beat it could all be gone. Those folks have a connection to life and death that those of us working in other fields don’t face regularly.

But if we examine our lives, we will discover the moments and the ways in which we do turn our lives over to God… usually those are the moments when we are under stress, or when something bad has happened, when we are faced with pain and suffering, when we understand ourselves to be only a player in a world moving so fast, that we can’t begin to be in charge. We see ourselves as dependent on God when we come face to face with our lack of control… when our lives start to tumble at a speed that defies our effort to regain control.

My own memories include being so sick that I could barely raise my head off of the pillow, watching a big truck head straight at my car, knowing that it would most likely impact us right where my daughter was sitting, watching my father-in-law die peacefully last fall, waiting for each of my children to be born and then being amazed at the miracle that is birth.

Which moments of your life made you realize that we are all as dependent as the widow, and that we just masquerade as scribes.

We are the work of God’s own hands – when we rest in those hands when we live our lives in that dependence we find the road to joy and thanksgiving… Jesus says “34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If what you value most is your relationship with the Lord, then your heart will rest in God’s hands. And ultimately, that is the goal, to rest and work and live and die in God’s hands.

May the widow be our mentor, for we have much to learn. Amen.
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