November 22, 2020
In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the market- places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of
them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’
This season of Harvest for millennia has been a time of making offerings. When the grain silo is brimming, as the canned vegetables and preserves are put up in the root cellar, mixed in with the incense of bonfires rise the prayers of thanks for the harvest, and the offering of food to others, while planning for the long winter from the bounty of the season. While most of us aren’t farmers, we can still find ourselves taking stock, and offering thanks for the bounty of the soil. This is also a time for planning for the future, of looking ahead to what will be planted, what we will endeavor to do, not only for the winter, but also looking hopefully towards the spring and Summer. I love the arrival of the seed catalogue, my favorite being Baker Creek Heirloom’s, full of visions of what just might be. But this year, I’ve also found myself saving seeds, learning how to let carrots go to seed and harvest, how to collect the marigold blooms after they’ve matured, full of next seasons plants. Yesterday Eric and I cut back the stocks of our Mexican Sun Flowers, leaving some of the stocks for native bees to lay eggs in, letting the roots return their nutrients to the soil, supporting the magic of the life of the soil. It has felt like a revolutionary act, keeping seeds for future harvests, holding on to what God and soil, sun and rain, roots and flowers and fruits have provided, in the stubborn hope of a future. Caring for the soil, keeping the compost going, taking stock at what we grew this year that worked, thinking of what to grow again next year, what plants will need soil amendments or what dreams of growing should be let go, making room for other things to grow. There’s thanksgiving for what was harvested, pulling out what never took, and dreaming of what could be, given what we’ve learned. And amidst all this, there’s a chance to share with others; exchanging seeds, donating to Rockrose farm, seeing what we can help Derick to harvest for our friends on North Ave, letting the arugula go to seed so we can share with the Farm to Stoop Project. This is a time when we can look and see, brutally honestly, how the world is, and make plans to be a part of moving the world just a little closer to how it should be.
That’s where we find Jesus in our scripture reading from this morning, watching people make offerings, and taking stock of what works, what isn’t, and dreaming of the future.
Two years ago, I invited McKenna Lewellen from The Center to come preach during our stewardship campaign. Last year, Sam gifted us with a series on Stewardship. Looking back, their words were near-prophetic to where we find ourselves today.
Both McKenna years ago, and recently Sam on his blog on faithful financial stewardship, lifted today’s scripture passage. It’s a perennial favorite of Pastors to guilt folks to give all they possibly can to the Church. Except, as both of these preachers and teachers have so deftly pointed out, that’s a twisting of what Jesus is teaching.
And what he sees, isn’t working. The community’s religious life is being supported through the giving of money. There are offerings of food as well. This creates a system for the redistribution of wealth, the provision of a livelihood for priests, and the care of some of the poor. But human systems of charity and religious offerings, they can get messy quickly, and while the intention may start off right, the way to take stock of a system is to look at the results, the fruits. Here’s a woman, giving all that she has, so that she can be a part of the life of the Temple. And it ruins her. Jesus sees it for what it is; the result of reducing people to their utility; only seeing people as a means to an end, in this case cash. It’s not for maliciousness, it’s the result of a systemic failure. When those who are vulnerable are hurt, by the very communities that they support, something is off. Jesus isn’t interested in this system and wants the whole thing reborn. There’s a new way of life possible, that’s needed. It’s going to come through calamity, through upheaval, but a new way is possible where all can thrive.
Last year our congregation took on a massive reimagining of how our life together works. For a long time, we had functioned like the women Jesus sees, giving all she has away, leaving herself with too little. Each year, we gave away an impressive amount of money, to organizations around the world, while year after year, we didn’t have enough, and had to dip into our savings. It wasn’t that the organizations we supported were malicious; they do incredible work. But our vision of who we were, and our part in Jesus’ reign of love, was reduced to our utility; what we could give. Instead, we entered into 2020 with a new vision of what our life together could be; we cut our spending drastically, but looked at what our biggest cost as a community, not as something that got in the way of our mission, but as an asset to what we wanted to be a part of in the world? I’m talking about paying my salary, to be able to serve as a full-time pastor in our community. We sought a community where each of us was cared for, and able to be involved, even if we don’t have large amounts of money to donate to other organizations, and to the life of the church, and created more ways to volunteer, especially through developing relationships with God, one another, and our truest selves , along with fellow revolutionaries of love in the wider area.
I look back, and I give thanks that we risked, as a community, to make this change. I honestly don’t know how we would have survived the pandemic as a congregation if we hadn’t. And what has emerged, because of this shift, have been fresh expressions of the love of God and neighbor in our world that we never imagined a year ago. Sometimes following Jesus means doing life in new ways, and rediscovering our worth, beyond our utility to larger systems.
in our life together, shifting from collecting money to give to nonprofits, to getting involved in face to face, hands on ministry with our neighbors, gave us the space to be able to follow Jesus’ call when the world fell apart. What we had no idea of last year was the coming destruction that the pandemic wrought, and how lifesaving that move would be to our community. If we had been focusing on collecting funds throughout the year to donate, we would likely have hurt the many organizations we have financially supported in the past. Instead, we have been able to step-up and bring in a unique harvest. We were able to set aside funds for the organizations we knew were most vital to support, and were able to use my time, Leigh’s time, our building, and your volunteer labor to do some incredible things. Our sanctuary has housed food packing and become an emergency food bank. Through our budding relationships with Rabbi Ariana at Hinenu, and Pastor Emily at Dreams and Visions, a Lutheran LGBTQ+ congregation in the city, Divinity Lutheran down the road, the Lutheran Campus Ministry at Towson, Pastor TIm Hughes WIlliams at Light Street, Pastor Michele at Brown Memorial, and Vicar Aticus at North Ave Mission, we have been able to distribute over 300 thousand pounds of food to neighbors in need. Working with the Assistance Center of Towson Churches and the Woodbourne-McCabe neighborhood association, we’ve been able to deliver groceries each week to over 50 different households in the neighborhood, folks who are particularly vulnerable, and should be quarantined in their homes. And we’ve cared for each other, staying in touch during a period of increased isolation, from the gatherings at Broadmead to phone calls from Elders, to books for kids, and online and drive-in church, to working out how to sing together as a choir starting this Friday, from the safety of our cars, and being able to hear our voices joined together through technology.
2020 has given us a healthy harvest, and we have stored up enough to make it through some tough times this winter. Instead of giving the last we have to survive, and closing our doors, we will be able to survive, and also be a blessing to so many, in new ways, not through the giving of resources, but through the creating of community. In our midst, as the world changes, a new way of being church is emerging. We will be able to step into the new world that Jesus and the Spirit and our Mother Creator God is preparing. Instead of giving others money to do the work to create the world with God you dream of, we have seeds saved, and materials to compost from the past, so we can plant and grow and be a part of the kingdom of God ourselves. yourself.
Friends, let us give thanks for the harvest of hope, and relationships, and love we’ve experienced this year, in the midst of such tragedy. In the coming weeks, you’ll receive a letter about our stewardship campaign for 2021. It’s a very different letter than we’ve sent in the past. There’s no thermometer with a goal for next year, no suggested increase in giving. Instead, we’re asking if you can, to continue to give what you’re giving. If you need to decrease your giving, we totally understand. If you’ve found yourself with more than you need this year, consider sharing with us. We will weather 2021 together. But the letter also reminds us what has been made possible through the creative reworking of our congregation’s ministry.
Beloved, I am glad that we started to change how we love our neighbors before the pandemic began. The very foundations of our life together have shifted under our feet, and yet, here we are. We’re ok, and thanks to your trust in our Elders, we were ahead of the curve to adapt. Instead of burning out in a blaze, we’re instead able to harvest what has been life giving from this year, and compost the leftovers, while collecting seeds of new hope for the future. There is so much to be thankful for, especially each and every one of you.
We are filled with such thankfulness for one another, and those we serve alongside of, in a wider community of mutual aid and care, beyond anything we could have imagined just a year ago.
Let us give Thanks to God for what becomes possible when we move beyond seeing our worth as tied to what we give away, when we refuse to value people based on what they can give. With the help of the Ministry Coordination Team, let us love mightily, on a shoestring financial budget, but one rich with a wealth of creativity and passion. I’m asking for you to continue to equip Leigh and I to creatively use our time, and volunteer with us as we flip the worlds script on its head, creating with God, something out of nothing, through the creativity God has gifted us all. And when we need help, when we struggle personally, when the deaths of our loved ones, when the loneliness and isolation, when the fear and anxiety we feel, from our youngest children, to our parents raising children, to our most aged friends, let us trust that we can turn to this community for love and care, compassion and friendship, prayer and a reminder of Jesus’ presence among us, and within us. Thank you Jesus for this harvest, and the wisdom to save seeds of hope, to compost to prepare for what’s next, and compassion for ourselves and our neighbors to make sure each and every one is fed with spiritual and physical food. Amen.