Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, 2012

Proper 27B
11 November 2012
Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Athens, Ga.
Old Testament: Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm: 127
Epistle: Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44 (“beware of the scribes” who “devour widow’s houses;” the widow’s mite)

Story of the Pentecostal revival service & the offering plate being sent back through the congregation until the pastor was satisfied:

  • First more money into the plates, then jewelry:  a wedding ring, even
  • Then, on the third circulation, several sets of car keys into the plates!

But what’s the point for us, really? Am I trying to make excuses for corrupt TV-preacher types who will keep making the teary-eyed appeals, who will keep the band playing the sappy songs, who will keep the 800 number prominently displayed along the bottom of the screen . . . who will send the plate back around until they’re satisfied they’ve wrung everything possible out of the faithful? Not at all.

Are we going to change things up here, perhaps? Lengthen the offertory anthems so the plates can go around several times? I confess I know of no such plans. This doesn’t mean I’m not confident, though, that God can work with gold & silver jewelry, and precious stones, and even with a Toyota minivan and a Mercedes sedan. I can’t speak to any donated jewelry, but those two cars have, in fact, been given over to God’s work in the community right here, by members of this very congregation.

No . . . this is not about guilt and it’s not about alerting you to an upcoming change in our liturgy or stewardship campaign. It’s simply one image, an image from a world different from ours but not too different - still church - an image of what it might look like to be so caught up in prayer and praise, in gratitude for what God has done in your life and is doing in the lives of others in and through the life of the Church, to be so excited - at least for a moment in time - about your relationship with your Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer . . . to be so ready and anxious and expectant for the good things to come as to be “” To bet, to risk, to give yourself and the things under your control over to a work that you know is trustworthy.

You know this phrase “all in” of course. If nothing else you know it from the famous card game of poker. Seems to me it didn’t really come to prominence until Texas Hold ‘Em took the poker world by storm - is this me talking all expert-like about poker? several seminary classmates of mine, perhaps, men AND women, I might add, but this guy is assuredly no expert - and ESPN started televising the Poker National Championships and the winners got advertising contracts and reality TV gigs and...and “all in” became an iconic phrase, uttered by the player so confident in his position, so assured of being on the right track, so excited about the winnings that were to be reaped at the play of the next card, as to be ready to put everything on the line right then and there.

And there are other images, of course. Look no further than the Old Testament lesson and the proclamation of the Mark’s Gospel we just heard.
Ruth, we learn, in the book that bears her name, went “all in” with her mother-in-law Naomi, and with Naomi’s people, the Hebrews. Left widowed and without even brothers-in-law - therefore without the traditional family system of support - Ruth took up with her mother-in-law Naomi, a Hebrew. Against Naomi’s will, even, she clung to her and promised to be her companion, even as Naomi set out to return to her own people.  Even knowing the animosity that existed between Ruth’s Moabite people and Naomi’s Hebrew kinsmen. Yet, these Hebrews, they were the people of Yahweh. And great things were to come; great things were to follow, in God’s own time, from Ruth’s commitment to her new family, from her willingness to be “all in” - not with the tribe she’d been born into - but with the one she’d come to love, the one that had adopted her as it’s own.

And then from St. Mark we get to overhear Jesus observing, for the benefit of the apostles, the goings and comings at the Temple treasury there in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Jesus first notes how the wealthy are contributing - and let’s be clear: he does not condemn them. He merely observes that they are giving from a position of abundance. Their giving, that is, even if it’s at the expected level of their 1st-century Jewish context, is not likely to cause any discomfort to their standard of living; it’s not a risk of their assets; it’s . . . it’s almost like they have given without much expectation of a return on investment. Given out of obligation, perhaps given without much expectation of a return on investment; given without much of a stake in what will become of their gift; given without much trust - much faith that God will multiply and work wonders with their gifts. 

But the widow . . . and her mite - as the KJV puts it. Jesus observes that “she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” The widow, shall we say, is “all in,” all in for the community of the faithful. All in for what God can do with our gifts. All in for investing in the community knowing that the returns will not only go out to others, but also through the goodness of God will multiply and return blessings to her - someone without a family to care for her, one of the most vulnerable of the whole society. Casting all her hope on God.

So, dear ones, we’re left, then, with a question: what does it look like, for you, in your life at this point in time, to be “all in” with God, and “all in” for the common life of Christ’s Body, the Church? Can you imagine yourself caught up in prayer and praise, in gratitude for what God has done in your life and is doing in the lives of others in and through the life of the Church, to be so excited - at least for a moment in time - about your relationship with your Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer . . . to be so ready and anxious and expectant for the good things to come as to be “”?

Those of us who were blessed to represent you Friday and Saturday, at the annual gathering of Episcopalians from all over north Georgia, heard a good bit from our new bishop about being expectant for good things to come, about the exciting possibilities when we intentionally engage God’s mission in the world. Bishop Wright cited a text from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus as a key inspiration for his episcopate: “Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to Him be glory in the church....”  “It reminds us,” the bishop said, “of the dynamic partnership that God initiates with us.  It reminds us that God’s power is available through the conduit of our faith to achieve real results, results that exceed our thinking and praying.  And, that the climax of this process is God’s church increasing God’s celebrity in the world.

The verse reminds us (he said) that we should be expecting, more from God and more from each other.  Implicit also is that the world should expect more from a church with such a readily available power source.  ...we are expecting in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta! Through our faith we are expecting more from God. By our faith God can expect more from us.”

My hope and prayer this morning, friends, is that you are able to agree, to say, “Yes, Bishop, I, too, am expecting something...expecting something from my commitment to Christ and his Church. I’m “all in,” and I’m expecting something from God, and from God’s people, from those who have gathered here with me in THIS place, at THIS moment in time.” There is so much we can do together right on the horizon - in mission, in formation, in works of mercy, peace, hospitality, and justice, in study, in praise - and I want to be a part of it. I want to invest my time, talent, and treasure. I want my kids to be a part of it. I want my neighbors to know how much it means to me. I want it to transform lives in my community. With Ruth, with the widow in Jerusalem . . . I’m all in.

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