Sunday, November 11, 2018

Year B Proper 27 2018 All In- Stewardship Sunday

Year B Proper 27, 11 November 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“All In” Ingathering Sunday and Veteran’s Day 
Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen  Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 Hebrews 9:24-28 Mark 12:38-44 As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 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. 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.” 
This week we had a fun and fascinating conversation during our Wednesday Book Club time discussing Watership Down. The main character, Hazel, is the Chief Rabbit of the warren on Watership Down, and repeatedly I have discussed his approach to leadership is one many reasons I love this book. I mirror, or try anyway, to lead like he did, and one class member made note of the unique requirements of leading a church. And it is a funny business. Faith Communities are really strange. No one requires you to be here. No one makes you show up, give, volunteer, or participate. But day in and day out, you choose to be a part. You choose to be here. You choose to give. As the leader, one of many but a requisite one in how we do church as Episcopalians, I have to hold some of the flock back from where they would like to charge ahead, and cajole some along who want to return to previous ways of doing things. I have to get buy-in with new approaches and ideas, and I need to make sure that people feel loved, heard, and appreciated. 
It is a strange and funny business being a priest. If this were a job, I would be a fool. But that is why it is seen as a calling. I am a priest because it is who I am, because it is what I love and it is what gets me out of bed every morning. I thank God every day I have opportunity to be your priest. But at the same time, you pay me so that I have the ability to care for those in my charge and care, my wife and my children [sidenote: I am in my wife’s mutual and equal charge and care, as well] , and for me to have the opportunity to support the work here through my offerings to this and other ministries that I support. 
And that is what is so beautiful about what we do together as this church. We are given the opportunity to be in on the work of God, together with one another and with GOD. How humbling. How powerful. In fact, that is the only way that Jesus’ statements in today’s Gospel makes any sense whatsoever. 
We see very rich people putting in vast amounts of money. And then a poor widow comes along with her two mites, the equivalent of a penny, and Jesus says that is greater than the other gifts. Now we have a few ways to see this.  
  1. 1. Jesus was really bad at math. How many times should I forgive someone Jesus? Seven times? Nope. Seventy times Seven. It could be like when a mom asked her toddler if she was old. The toddler said, “Yup.” She then asked, “How old do you think I am.” The toddler responded, “Really old, like Eleven.” Jesus, though, unlike the toddler has a frame of reference. So giving Jesus the benefit of the doubt, let us let go of the “bad at math” theory. Two mites is hardly greater than anything except 1 mite, mathwise that is.  
  1. 2. Jesus is looking at the percentage approach. This woman gave 100%. The others may have given, 1%, 2%, or even 10%. But 100 is greater than 1, 2, or 10. So was he talking about percentages? I don’t think so, and here is why. If Jesus is talking about percentages of wealth, then it still comes down to us being better or greater than someone else. And I do not see Jesus ever doing that, not even here. If it came down to percentages, then we could set a number and be done. In fact, the biblical percentage is 10%. But I think Jesus is going for something greater. You can still tithe (give 10%) and be a rotten stinker and feel you have done your “duty.” 
  1. 3. So then what does it comes down to? For me it is this. This woman brought her whole self. She did not leave or hold anything back from God. She was “all in” to use a modern phrase.  
Last year I said this at Stewardship time, and I say it again. God does not need your money. God does not want your money. God wants your heart. It really is the only thing that you have when all is said and done.  
Christ, He requires still, wheresoe’er He comes, To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms: Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part Of all the house: the best of all’s the heart. - Robert Herrick 
In Romans [12:1-2], Paul encourages the Church in Rome with this: 
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
It was not just this widow. God calls us to be all in as well. On Monday night when we had our Community worship service, Kerra English, the Pastor to Ashland Presbyterian, quoted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. His version of these two verses make it really come to life. Romans 12:1-2 from The Message: 
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 
We are talking here not of the transactional economics of this world, you do this, you get that, tit-for-tat. God’s economy, the God-onomics of Grace, are so different. God already has everything. God can do anything. What God enables and wants is for us to go “all in” and live that “abundant life” that Jesus promises in John [10:10b]. When we live, breathe, act, and dream through abundance we have all we need and more. With Jesus’ way of looking at things through abundance, we can stop “keeping score.” We can let go of the idea of Winners and Losers, and things being “not fair.” It enables us to do the impossible, all those crazy, radical things that Jesus called us to do. 
Love your enemies. 
Do good to those that hate you.  
Bless those that curse you. 
Let the meek inherit the earth. 
When you do it to those considered the Least, you know, the rejected and rotten, the forgotten and the losers, you have done it unto Jesus.  
If we do not live in that abundance that can only come from God then none of these Jesus things make any sense. The bottom line will never be able to work that out. It takes a whole new way of looking at things to make sense of what Jesus is saying here. That is why the widow’s mite is possible to be greater. 
If you think about how irrational and unreasonable our faith is when we look at it from worldly standards, it is so confusing. One of my college friends asked me while at the University of Richmond why I would waste my life going into the ministry. It made no sense to him. It still doesn’t. When one does not hear the call of God none of this makes any sense. 
I was reminded of that recently when I heard about a modern day Good Samaritan. We all know that phrase, “Good Samaritan,” but we have become immune to what it means. It means somebody of whom you have no expectation of good or kindness does the miraculous good and kind thing. It happened two weeks ago in Pittsburgh. This is from Ari Mahler [Facebook Post, Nov 3, 2018, 5:38 pm]. 
“I am the Jewish nurse. 
Yes, that Jewish nurse. The same one that people are talking about in the Pittsburgh shooting that left 11 dead. The trauma nurse in the ER that cared for Robert Bowers who yelled, ‘Death to all Jews,’ as he was wheeled into the hospital. The Jewish nurse who ran into a room to save his life. 

To be honest, I’m nervous about sharing this. I just know I feel alone right now, and the irony of the world talking about me doesn’t seem fair without the chance to speak for myself. 
When I was a kid, being labeled ‘The Jewish (anything)’, undoubtedly had derogatory connotations attached to it. That’s why it feels so awkward to me that people suddenly look at it as an endearing term. As an adult, deflecting my religion by saying ‘I’m not that religious,’ makes it easier for people to accept I’m Jewish – especially when I tell them my father is a rabbi. ‘I’m not that religious,’ is like saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not that Jewish, therefore, I’m not so different than you,’ and like clockwork, people don’t look at me as awkwardly as they did a few seconds beforehand. 

I experienced anti-Semitism a lot as a kid. It’s hard for me to say if it was always a product of genuine hatred, or if kids with their own problems found a reason to single me out from others. Sure, there were a few Jewish kids at my school, but no one else had a father who was a Rabbi. I found drawings on desks of my family being marched into gas chambers, swastikas drawn on my locker, and notes shoved inside of it saying, ‘Die Jew. Love, Hitler.’ It was a different time back then, where bullying was not monitored like it is now. I was weak, too. Rather than tell anyone, I hid behind fear. Telling on the people who did this would only lead to consequences far worse. 

Regardless, the fact that this shooting took place doesn’t shock me. To be honest, it’s only a matter of time before the next one happens. History refutes hope that things will change. My heart yearns for change, but today’s climate doesn’t foster nurturing, tolerance, or civility. Even before this shooting took place, there’s no real evidence supporting otherwise. The FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center note that Jews only account for two percent of the U.S. population, yet 60% of all religious hate crimes are committed against them. I don’t know why people hate us so much, but the underbelly of anti-Semitism seems to be thriving. 

So now, here I am, The Jewish Nurse that cared for Robert Bowers. I’ve watched them talk about me on CNN, Fox News, Anderson Cooper, PBS, and the local news stations. I’ve read articles mentioning me in the NY Times and the Washington Post. The fact that I did my job, a job which requires compassion and empathy over everything, is newsworthy to people because I’m Jewish. Even more so because my dad’s a Rabbi. 

To be honest, I didn’t see evil when I looked into Robert Bower’s eyes. I saw something else. I can’t go into details of our interactions because of HIPAA. I can tell you that as his nurse, or anyone’s nurse, my care is given through kindness, my actions are measured with empathy, and regardless of the person you may be when you’re not in my care, each breath you take is more beautiful than the last when you’re lying on my stretcher. This was the same Robert Bowers that just committed mass homicide. The Robert Bowers who instilled panic in my heart worrying that my parents were two of his 11 victims less than an hour before his arrival. 

I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you? 

Love. That’s why I did it. Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope. It demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we’re all here. The meaning of life is to give meaning to life, and love is the ultimate force that connects all living beings. I could care less what Robert Bowers thinks, but you, the person reading this, love is the only message I wish instill in you. If my actions mean anything, love means everything. 

Respectfully, Ari Mahler, RN.” 

Matthew 22:36-40 Someone once asked Jesus: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 
Like Ari, who let go of his fears to live his love of God by loving others, we see someone who in the moment was all in. Even in the worst of moments. 
Like the widow, we see someone who let go of the fears of the needs of the world to embrace what she held most dear, God. 
Love God with all you’ve got, and your neighbor as much as yourself, and you have got your bases covered.  
Like Ari and the widow, we are only given this one precious, fragile life. Think on it even more when we remember those who risked their lives for our freedoms, and even more those who gave their one, precious, fragile life for us. So, where are you gonna place the chips you have been given? In a word, are you All In?

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Blessings, Rock