Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Phil Brochard

Nov. 11, 2018

Lessons:

1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

SOLACE IN OUR FIERCE LANDSCAPES

RIGHTEOUS APPEARANCES

GIVING WHAT YOU’LL NEVER MISS

A POOL IN THE DESERT

GIVE FOR LOVE

 

SOLACE IN OUR FIERCE LANDSCAPES

Near the turn of this century, the theologian Belden Lane wrote a provocative book called The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. In it he explored what he recognized to be the theology of desert and mountain landscapes, landscapes that are unsparing, wild, and fierce.

In his estimation, when we enter these landscapes, because of their danger and their sublime beauty, they teach us truths that we would otherwise choose to avoid.

This past week, yet again, has been a journey through fierce landscapes. We endured one of the most divisive election cycles in modern history. And, once more, we reeled from the senseless destruction of human life. 12 people killed with unfathomable precision.

And so we find ourselves in the wilderness yet again. We struggle to comprehend how a fellow human can enact such wanton cruelty. We struggle with the proliferation of guns solely created to killing humans as efficiently as possible. And we struggle to see how we will do this, see as a fundamental truth that we are in this together.

And in my home state of California, just within the past several days, horrific fires are burning faster than we had thought possible, leveling entire towns, taking the lives of those unable to flee fast enough.

This week has left many feeling lost in their own land, and I, for one, am grateful this morning to worship God in this place, coming together, seeking solace.

And I am grateful for the wisdom that emerges from the desert. Because in the end, Belden Lane writes, when we open ourselves to fierce landscapes, two questions emerge:

How much can you give?

How much can you love?

Again,

How much can you give?

How much can you love?

 

RIGHTEOUS APPEARANCES

Well this is a particularly uncomfortable Sunday to be wearing long robes and offering robust Eucharistic prayers, seated in a choice chair. Because that seems to be one of the threads running through our Gospel passage this morning–– the danger of appearing to be righteous.

It’s what Jesus says some of these scribes are doing, by wearing long robes of respectability, by the sitting in the seats reserved for those who know the Law best, by uttering long, impressive prayers. It’s not that these actions in or of themselves are at fault, but more that they can be used to cover practices of deceit.

These appearances mask the destruction of the widow, that iconic image of the vulnerable who is to be protected, but instead is systematically preyed upon until they are destitute. Beware disciples of the Christ! Surface appearances do not necessarily signal true righteousness. What does?

Being righteous, as Kathleen Norris, among others, reminds us, is consistently defined throughout scripture as being willing to care for the most vulnerable, the widow and orphan, the resident alien, the poor. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, the suit it wears, the status it holds, the power it commands. It asks those same questions,

How much does it give?

How much does it love?

 

GIVING WHAT YOU’LL NEVER MISS

To make his point clear Jesus turns our attention to money.

Funny thing about Jesus––he is not afraid to talk about money. Continuing this teaching about the appearance of a righteous life, he has his students watch as people put money into the temple treasury.

When you see rich people pouring in large sums, he says, it might appear that they are righteous. But then you might miss this widow. Now it’s likely that she is always overlooked, both figuratively and literally, I can’t imagine that her two pennies made much of a sound.

But if you judge a righteous life by appearances, you’ll miss a lot. And here’s where I appreciate the recently deceased biblical scholar Eugene Peterson. In contradistinction to the widow who gave her all, Peterson’s paraphrase reads that, “All the others gave what they’ll never miss” Gave what they’ll never miss.

How often have I done that? Given what I won’t miss? The scraps, the left-overs, the left behinds? Because of fear? Or protection? Security? Pretending that what I have is mine alone?

Maybe that’s why the tithe, or other proportional giving is so instructive. Because by nature of this spiritual discipline you know what you are doing, you can’t help but miss it.

When my wife Sarah and I began this practice of tithing I wasn’t sure at first. It wasn’t clear what this would mean for our student debt, or the little things––our nights out together, our cable. What I remember is the distinct feeling being able to trust that our money won’t own us. It’s not over, of course, I don’t know that it ever is. But year by year I have been taught that what I have–– my home, my money, my life itself, is not mine, but has been given to me that I and others might live.

 

A POOL IN THE DESERT

Belden Lane concludes his book on the solace of fierce landscapes with this ancient story of a community of monks living in the desert. For years the brothers chose one of their members to go into the city to beg. It was a difficult task, but one old monk took it on without complaint, enduring abuse in the city as he begged for the food and coins that the monks needed to survive.

But every trip was made more worse on his return to the monastery, as the afternoon sun beat down upon him and the burning sands met his every step. Marveling at the monk’s faith and endurance, God created a pool of cool water to refresh himself.

But the monk, thinking himself unworthy of this miracle, always passed by the well, stopping only to express his thanks and joy. Each night as he lay down to sleep, he’d look up through the window of his cell, and see a single bright star, giving thanks that God had placed it there for him to see.

After years of making this arduous trip into the city, as the monk was full of days, the brothers chose a younger monk to go with him to learn this task. They set off, and that day in the city the younger monk found it hard to persist in begging, accepting the abuse of some of the people of the city, and especially the grueling trek back under the harsh afternoon sun.

But then, on the horizon, the younger monk sighted a pool of cool water! He ran quickly to it, knelt down and began drinking deeply from the cool, clear water. As the the older monk passed the pool, he was torn. If he refused to drink the water, this miracle in the desert, he would have to tell the young monk why he did so. And it was likely that the young monk would feel ashamed of his impulsiveness and lack of devotion.

And, if the older monk did drink, he wouldn’t be able to offer to God the gift of sacrifice that he had been offering to God for so long. In the end, his heart remained with the young monk, so the old man ran back to the pool knelt down beside him and drank the cool, clear water, offering God glory for what had been given them.

But as they made their way home that evening, the old monk fell into a deep silence. He feared that he had disappointed God by what he had done. As he lay down to sleep that night, he looked through the small window of his cell, and this time saw the whole night sky lit by stars, just for him. His joy was overwhelming, too much to contain. He slept with the greatest peace, and his brothers found him dead in his bed the next morning.

And if they’d been able to hear the words on his lips that last fell from his lips, they would have heard the words of the prophet Hosea, that love is always better that sacrifice.

 

GIVE FOR LOVE

For we do not give simply out of sacrifice.

We give because we love. We give so that any child, regardless of their families’ income, can encounter art and beauty, trust and caring. We give so that for anyone who walks through these doors, the kingdom of God can be realized. We give so that one day on this block there will be space for the widow to be cared for. We give because we love.

You see, those two questions asked by the fierce landscapes of our lives are intrinsically and essentially connected,

How much can we give?

And,

How much can we love?

Try as we might, we cannot ask one without the other.