The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
November 11, 2018 - Proper 27B – Veteran’s Day
One hundred years ago today was Armistice Day, the end of the “Great War,” “The War to End All Wars.” If only… Since, unfortunately, there have been other wars to follow, Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day, when we honor our veterans from all wars, especially those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives for a higher ideal, for a greater good, so that our lives might be free. They left us that legacy, to people they never knew, to people yet unborn, and we are grateful to them.
Not long before the First World War, in 1897, a few Episcopalians gathered at the Old Baptist Meeting House on School Street here in Franklin with the vision of having an Episcopal presence here. They wanted to share God’s love with each other, to preach the Word and share the sacraments, and to invite their neighbors. And they were able to establish a permanent presence in Franklin when they built the first St. John’s Church on Church Street, and eventually this building in 1966. None of us is responsible for making any of this happen. All of this was done for us, by all of those visionary people back then. This was their legacy for us; their gift for us; for people they didn’t know; for people who weren’t born yet. Remember last week we talked about the “Whole cloud of witnesses.” It’s the concept that Christians everywhere and throughout time are one, and of one Communion through Christ, those who have passed on, those who are yet unborn, yet we are all connected. So we receive this gift of St. John’s the way we have received it from those who have gone before, we care for it while we are here and do what we can to make it better for those who will come after us, and we must assure that it is here for those who come after us. What do we wish for them? What is the legacy we want to leave for them?
There were many different kinds of offerings that one could make to the Temple in the 1st century, and even to the church in our day: there were guilt offerings and sin offerings that were meant to heal some evil act; more familiar to us might be thank offerings, which are just meant to express our gratitude for something that God has done in our lives; and there was also the Temple tax or tithe, which was meant to support the Temple, its Priests and Scribes, and the local community. Everyone was expected to offer the first fruits of their labors. For someone who owned much productive land, offering 10 percent of their produce might have seemed like a large amount, but they still got to keep 9 times that for themselves. However, someone who had very little income probably needed to keep every penny in order to survive, so giving even a small pittance was quite a sacrifice for them.
Here’s an example: If I have 10 warm coats, and I choose to give away one to someone who has none, the gesture makes me feel good about how generous I am, and indeed I have helped to keep someone warm this winter, but I can’t really claim to have sacrificed anything. I have given from my abundance, since I will still have 9 coats to choose from each day when I leave the house. But if I only had two coats, and gave one away, that might be giving out of my poverty. In fact, if I had only one coat and gave it to someone who was ill and needed it more than me, that would indeed be a sacrifice, just as the widow made in surrendering all of her money into the common treasury. This was the value that Jesus held up as an example, the value of giving from our poverty, sharing something of ourselves that doesn’t seem to be abundant in our lives. I have found it true that when I am able to give, even when it feels like I don’t have enough, that somehow my sense of scarcity goes away, and I realize that I actually have plenty. For some, giving from your poverty may be the act of sharing your time – by volunteering or offering some service to the community – even when it feels like you have no time to give. For others, it may mean choosing to sacrifice the daily lattes or the designer labels, in order to write a bit larger check to the church or your favorite charity. Generosity comes in many forms, but if it doesn’t change the way you live in some way, if you don’t even notice it missing, then you haven’t given from your poverty.
But Jesus also says something in this passage about humility. He criticizes the scribes who want the places of honor, and dress and act in a way that makes them seem larger than life, even when they have actually gained their status in society at the expense of others – at the expense of the widows on whose houses they foreclosed. It makes me wonder if this widow whom Jesus admired for giving away her last penny was one of the widows who lost her home to the greedy exploitation of the scribes. If so, then this Gospel would also be about forgiveness and trust in God – the kind of trust that allows you to wake up each morning and say, “Thank you, God, for waking me up today; Now show me how you will use me today,” and to venture out at the mercy of the world to meet your needs. I aspire to that kind of faith and trust. And it allows us to continue giving, even when we have very little.