Sermon: "Radical Hospitality" - November 8, 2015

by Ms. Gladys Hughes
Twenty Fourth after Pentecost

Radical Hospitality - (Mark 12:38-44)

From the time I was very young, I loved to read. I learned to read when I was about four years old. Of course this was before we had a television, and there wasn't much else to do to  keep us occupied.  So, I often got lost in stories, and could usually  be found on my favorite branch, about half way up the pear tree in our back yard. I loved  mystery stories and still do. My very first heroine was Nancy Drew.   If you were to look in my pocketbook  right now, you will find a mystery story.. I also remember, that in the Catholic school I attended, we didn't read the bible but learned bible stories. The source of these stories, the bible, was just another mystery and I never understood why I couldn't read this book. 

I've come to experience how stories often engage us, excite us, definitely entertain us.  We feel ourselves drawn into them, sucked in by their undertow and pulled all so willingly into their imaginary worlds.  They are in a very real sense, wonder-ful, for they engage  our wonder and imagination in a way that few other things do, and we have loved them since we were very small children. Sometimes we get so caught up in  the story that we forget just how important and powerful the story actually is.

I believe that might be the case in our readings today. I think I may have surprised  (Fr.) Jerry on Mon. when we had lunch together, and  I told him I was not going to be preaching on Ruth, but rather the widow in the Gospel. I chose this reading as the topic for this sermon because it has  always been very intriguing to me. Is it possible there is only one meaning to this story? 

So, I engaged in a process of prayer and reflection also based on a lesson I am currently teaching my high school seniors at St. Vincent Academy in Newark, and the  lesson is on "W" questions, a method of teaching students the skill of deep reading. The "w" question  I have been reflecting about  is "What If"? What if the interpretation often given to this story is not all there is to it.  In this story, Jesus calls attention to a poor widow who contributes two copper coins to the temple treasury, "her whole livelihood" and Jesus judges her contribution  as greater than the large sums contributed by the rich. Yes, the poor widow does exemplify sacrificial giving, but we need to understand that Mark's Gospel goes way out of its way to make clear that she is just as much a victim as a heroine in this story. And that to me is the missing piece in the story.

I believe this story is strategically placed  during this season of stewardship drives. Sometimes we hear the phrase a "widow's mite" as the stand in for true generosity  and self-sacrificing giving. But I also think it's wrong to assume that is the only meaning Jesus intended.

Listen again, Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, watching the crowd, in the midst of the multitude of important temple leaders-important men- Jesus saw a widow, recognized one who was usually invisible, and voiceless in the Temple and public society- a woman, a widow woman-  identifiable by her widow's garb, a poor widow woman making her way quietly forward, careful not to bother the important temple leaders and the crowds of men coming to the Temple to make their offering. Jesus saw a widow put in two small copper coins.

WHY did Jesus take notice of her? What else did Jesus see in this poor pious woman's  pilgrimage to make her obligatory temple contribution?  Jesus not  only sees her, but he watches her actions-this one who has no voice in the church or society;, this one who lives on the margins.  Jesus sees her; he watches her, and takes note of her giving as she faithfully contributes to the treasure.  There is no dialogue- the widow  has no voice in this narrative, we have no reason to believe she even knew she was noticed. We have every reason to believe she left as quietly as she  came-careful not to disturb the important men and Temple leaders around her.  And yet Jesus is not done 'seeing her," calling his disciples to him he says "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow herself cast in more than all of those casting into the treasure.   For all of them cast in from their surplus, but she from her need cast in all of whatever she had, her whole life."  Jesus is teaching, yes, but the lesson is not simply one of sacrificial giving.  Even this noteworthy recognition by Jesus of someone we might call "one of the least and the lost" does not begin to give us the whole picture.  Jesus sees the widow and knows the character and spirit of her gift.  In the same way  Jesus sees us.  He stands before us as we gather at the table.  The widow is here at this table too.  Do you see her- the voiceless one, the one silent in grief, loss, poverty? Who have I come to ignore, who is invisible and whose voice is lost on me?  Who do you need to see, we need to see?  IT IS about discipleship and fellowship, about stewardship-of one's whole life and resources-  IT IS about listening, hearing and being heard; it's about responding to God's daily gift of grace-responding to God's call to participate in creating the beloved community of justice and inclusion.

What if the whole point of this story is to invite us to Radical Hospitality-the call to emulate the widow by offering our whole lives, we are called to extravagant giving, we are called to be agents of justice, we are seen for who we are and who we are gifted to become. Several weeks ago, while at Jerry's beautiful installation I heard someone mention  the possibility that this community/congregation might open up a Food pantry for the hungry folks in the area.  Truly, my heart jumped and I said to myself "They really get it". What is it that you Get?  I sense that you understand the very clear message of Jesus to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and visit the sick and incarcerated.  And this is Radical Hospitality.  I promise you I will pray every day for you as you continue that conversation.  One of the things that impressed and moved me soooo deeply was that this discernment was done during the interim time that you were seeking a new rector.   Yes, you do get it. 

Come to Christ's table of grace and be renewed for the sake of the world.  Be renewed daily in God's grace to BE grace in the world- to be a voice for the voiceless and seeking to be stewards of all of God's creation.  AMEN