House for All Sinners and Saints
November 11, 2018
Text: Mark 12:38-44
Theres a stock, boilerplate sermon to be preached about today’s Gospel text.
All about how you shouldn't be like the scribes and be super showy about your religion and your giving but should be more like the widow and quietly give all you can for the church. Blah, blah, woof, woof.
I have heard that sermon many times in my life, either on this text or on similar texts in other Gospels that make the same point, and it would be an especially good sermon to give today as we prepare for the congregational meeting and the vote on next year's budget, in fact, it would probably be HFASS's first actual stewardship sermon.
But wow is it boring and wow is it not what I want to talk about.
I want to talk, if not in defense of then certainly in sympathy with the scribes. Not the devouring widow’s houses stuff, of course, but I want to take a look at this text from a different viewpoint.
A therapist recently told me that I have a "constructivist view of reality." Which I think was a polite way of saying that I don?t have a very firm grasp on what?s real and what?s not, but I?m good at hiding it.
Anyway, there's something I see in this text that doesn’t get talked about, that doesn’t, I think, even get noticed. Whether it’s real or not, that?s for you to decide.
I own a lot of very geeky t-shirts. Like a lot a lot, dozens easily, hundreds maybe. Across all kinds of fandoms, comics, movies and TV, books, video games, and many mixtures of all the above. Add in sweaters, leggings, socks, hats, scarfs, jewelry and I could do different combinations of fandoms for months.
Some of you read my Facebook post about how I accidently dressed as Captain America for Halloween. Because I had a big test that morning that I was very anxious about, I wanted to dress in a way that would help me feel powerful, so I put on my Captain America sweater and matching socks. It wasn't until I got to campus and saw someone in a costume that I even remembered that it was Halloween.
I wear my t-shirts and all partially to improve my own mood and disposition, but also as signals to other people. I love it so much when somebody gets one of my t-shirts and gives me a knowing smile or nod.
I do a lot of that kind of signaling, my purse and my school backpack have pins and buttons on them as a way of reaching out to the same people who would get my t-shirt. My laptop is covered with stickers and I have Harry Potter license plate frames on my car.
I've worn these cuffs pretty much continuously for more than four years now, to try to silently communicate to a different, often overlapping, group of people that I belong to their tribe too.
Communicating to a group like that is one of the reasons that I've worn a black ring on my right hand for the last couple of years.
I wear all these markers not to fit in, but to try to communicate to others that the way I don't fit in is maybe similar to the way they don't fit in, and maybe we can connect over that.
And I think of those scribes, wearing their long robes so that they might be greeted with respect in the market place. Maybe saying long prayers in the temple so as to be noticed was the Palestine 30 AD equivalent of wearing a big button that says "I?m a Slayer! Ask me how."
I really don?t think I?m alone in wanting to be known, I may be more aggressive in advertising than some, I may have more invested in trying to silently communicate who I am than most. But I imagine there are very few of us who are completely blank slates when we go out into the world, happy to let people read whatever they want to into our identities. I may be more deliberate and aggressive about it than most, but I am of the MTV "Too much is never enough" generation.
Being seen, being known is, I believe, a universal human need. We don't want to be anonymous, invisible ciphers. I think many of us are more discriminating and subtle about it than I am. Some just want to be known by one or two people or are happy if there's just one someone who can look at them, see them and know them.
And there are, sadly, many who cannot show their true faces to the world.
In our culture of rape and violence against women, many feel the need to be as inconspicuous and invisible as they can possibly be, stifling what they would love to be, love to show the world, in the name of safety.
Others, because they are gay, trans, or otherwise queer, know that they must hide either because they are not out, or, again, because they don?t feel safe showing their true being to this culture, to those that would harm them.
Before I came out, my basic uniform was jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of light hiking boots. Partially because it was what I had worn to work for the previous decade or so, and partially because it was something that made it super easy to blend into the background, to be invisible.
The first person I came out to, the first person outside my head that I said the word “Transgender
to was a seminary classmate named Ani. I asked Ani to meet me in a private place on campus and spent a good part of an hour explaining what I was feeling and exploring what the future might be like. Ani was very supportive and I'm happy she was the first person I told.
Near the end of the conversation, I asked her if she thought people would notice or think it odd if I started to wear pink socks, because I knew from past experience that even something as simple as that could help me with the pain of not being able to be myself. Plus, I knew that between my jeans and the high top boots, if I was careful I could hide them from most anybody else seeing the socks.
She replied that she didn't think anyone would notice that, but maybe if I started wearing pink bracelets some people might ask questions.
A year later when I came out to everyone at the seminary, one of the first changes to my appearance I made was to slip twenty or thirty pink and black jelly bracelets on my left wrist. I wore those bracelets continually for the next couple of years, in the same way I wear these cuffs today.
Now, I don’t know if the scribes wore their long robes and said their long prayers out of some neurotic need to be seen and known, if it was the result of a narcissistic personality disorder, or if they just knew that in those practices they were simply emphasizing the status and privileges that they were already entitled to, that they were greedy for the accolades and privileges that went with them.
Jesus certainly implies that it was that third thing, their greed and hunger for praise and adoration.
But I like to think that there was at least one of them with a really, really bad case of imposters syndrome who was desperately clinging to outer clothing and other appurtenances so that they could convince themselves that they belonged where they were.
After warning us against the scribes, Jesus sits down opposite the treasury and does some people watching.
I want to emphasize that: in the middle of his inexorable three-year journey towards the cross, with so much to do, so many people he could heal, so many he could preach to, Jesus sits down and spends his afternoon just watching the crowd come and go.
Think about that and what it says about Jesus and about God. God's love for humanity is so great that they feel that spending a day just watching us in our routine journey through life is an important way to spend their time on earth.
We talk in the scriptures, in confessions, and in our prayers about how Jesus took on human flesh so that he might experience what it is to be one of us.
As Paul says, poetically, in Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
and being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death?
even death on a cross.
I want to propose that God had another reason: to be close to us and to really see us as we are. That God loves us so much that they wanted to see us from every possible angle to know us in as many different ways as they possibly could.
Not that God doesn't and didn't see us in those ways both before and after Jesus' presence here on Earth, Jesus doesn't need to be here physically to see us that closely, that honestly. What Jesus presence does, particularly in this little vignette of a few hours in his life is let us see that it is true. Help us to know that, yes, we are seen and known.
The end of this text brings that to life for me in a way that takes my breath away.
After spending this time watching hundreds of people come and go, Jesus picks one person out. A widow, it would be hard for him to find someone smaller or less important than a widow in first century Palestine, a woman with virtually no social standing, completely dependent on the support of her children, often grudgingly given.
In picking out that one, tiny, practically invisible person and saying that what she is doing is not only just as important as what the bigwig scribes and the rich people are doing, but even more so; Jesus says to all of us, all of us, that no matter how small, invisible, or unimportant we feel we are, God sees us, knows us and loves us. And there's nothing we need to do or be for that to be the case.
I could never wear a geeky t-shirt or my Wesley Crusher sweater again, and I could still know that I am seen, known, and loved for who I really am. No matter my job, my GRE scores, or what I give to the church, God?s sees me, knows me, and loves me.
So, right before a discussion on the budget, I've taken what is usually used as the basis for stewardship sermons and given you an anti-stewardship sermon. In what might be considered my final official act as a Housekeeper, I'm telling you that how much you give, how much work you do for the church, or how often you attend makes absolutely no difference to God. You are just as important, just as loved as anyone who does more of any of those things.
And with my apologies to Jeff, our Treasurer, Reagan, and Lori, Mrs. Hughes, I have to say I feel like that's some of the very best good news there is.