A sermon on being seen

I preached! This is what I said.

It’s based on this Bible passage (Mark 12:38-44):

As he [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 past week, the nature-loving Pacific Northwest girl came out of me in full force. I got to meet other pastoral interns, supervisors, and colleagues of Region 1 our national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

It was a big step for me because I knew a handful of faces, but didn’t really know most of the people there serving at churches from as close as Vancouver, WA (St. Andrew Lutheran), and as far away as Anchorage, Alaska. But through small group time, learning sessions, and conversations over meals and card games, I ended up meeting a lot of people, a lot of colleagues, and had a lot of fun.

One of the activities we did was reflecting on God’s presence in and around the retreat lodge. These acres in the shadow of the beautiful Mt. Si in North Bend just seemed to go on forever.

A foot-path wound through a thick forest of hills, rivers, and weather/mud-worn wood planks.

Off of a stream, I came across a wide tree stump.

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That big thing on the right. Wishing my phone better captured the crazy steam rising up!

All the re-growth and moss on top of the stump made me think that this tree had fallen in a storm decades ago. But what startled me as I approached the stump was that steam was rising from it. As the morning sun sifted through the forest, and hit the stump’s steam, this condensation rose above my head as if to say, “Do you see me now?”

I might as well just tell you now – today’s gospel story is about being seen. A poor woman is making her way through a crowded townscape to offer her coins. Throughout the day, Scribes and men of power walk stridently to the temple and deposit their extravagant planned giving into the treasury. Enjoying all eyes on them, they walk with long robes and they are greeted with respect.

And then this woman comes and deposits her two coins. She gives her offering, a small amount, but an amount that probably drains her savings. An offering that is not greeted with words of respect and admiration. An offering that is not robed in fine clothing. I would venture to guess that she is taking a risk, as a woman, participating in a male-dominated public act. In first century-Palestine if your husband dies, you (you are property), are married to your dead husband’s brother, no questions asked. Cruel, to our 21st century ears, but safe, because without a husband in this time, as a woman you were fresh meat, and vulnerable, economically, socially, and physically.

The Widow's Mite - Luke 21:1-4

The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4 & Mark 12:38-44

For all the reasons I just stated, and probably more that have been lost like sand in the breadth of the millennia that separates us – this woman is invisible – and yet – Jesus sees her.

Jesus sees her.

In a busy space, she puts in and offers to this greater cause, “everything she had, all she had to live on.” She gives her money, her resources, but she offers one thing that you might miss the first time around – she offers her hope.

Perhaps this truly is the biggest offering she can give. She doesn’t have monetary resources from this point on. She has given it all, hoping a better reality is coming her way.

So why does she give?

Because she is hoping beyond all hope that the mission of God, through this bigger treasury might give her abundant life. She gives to something bigger than herself because perhaps that is her last resort. This is not a romanticized hope. This is a hope of necessity.

But what does that mean for us today? Do we have to give all we have to the church? I mean – I won’t stop you! But I think the biggest way we can be inspired by this woman that Jesus sees, is not her perspective of abundance or attitude of abundance – but her audacious abundance of hope. A hope that we are called to demonstrate, however scary, however daring, that proclaims to the world, “we, are all in.”

I was so moved by last weekend’s worship. I remember growing up in the pew as little Allison next to my family, looking at all the big flowers and listening and singing to “For All the Saints.” If I’m being honest, nodding off a little as all the names were read out loud. But in my twenties now I find myself leading worship, including All Saints Sunday where last week we remembered those who had passed away.

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It’s kind of a weird situation, because since my internship only started two months ago, I never met the people whose names I was reading. But as the bell tolled, and together we saw the faces of your loved ones, I felt a sense of stillness and holiness here that I had not yet felt before. Even the activity of the fellowship hall and the narthex came to a halt. I’m so honored that you trusted me, the new kid, with that act of remembering your loved ones, and to share that with you was very meaningful. For a moment, I felt like I knew them, because I know you.

Together, these saints were seen. We saw them. Together, we named them and literally communed with them as you brought forward your sticky notes with their names – notes that filled this communion rail.

We are a people of hope. We hope for things not seen.

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We hope that we will one day be united with our loved ones in paradise. We hope that when we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,” as if to say, we don’t do this alone, God, we do this with you and for you. We will keep serving our neighbors as your people, because our love does not come from us, if comes from you; like it says in 1st John, “God is love,” and through our worship and service we proclaim a hope that others might find silly or not based in facts, but God, we proclaim our hope that you are love not just for this church but for this world.

We proclaim our hope that as your Son raised Lazerus from the dead, so too will you raise us and our loved ones from the dead to live with you in paradise: not ashamed of our past or our sin or our insecurities, but because of them, because of our imperfectness, because God we hope and we believe that you meet us here today in the mix and the messiness of life.

You meet us in our longings, in our “what ifs,” in our joys and in our sorrows – God, you see us.

What are you hoping for? What do you dare to hope for?

Do you hope that every returning veteran is loved and cared for?

Do you hope that every child in a one mile radius of this church has everything they need to learn?

Do you hope that young people discover God’s unique call for them, as they’re supported as college and seminary interns, and residential pastors?

Do you hope that we might explore what it means to be church through Messiah’s innovative North County Campus?

Just like God is not done bringing life from that old tree stump in the forest, God is not done holding your hopefulness. The steam from that tree stump continues to rise and refuses to hide. Admits all the signs of death in the forest, it continues to rise and be seen over, and over again.

A widow passes by the central treasury and puts in her two coins. An invisible woman puts in all she has. And yet Jesus sees her. Amen.

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