Preacher: The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia
In today’s gospel, Jesus, is challenging us to question our assumptions. As he continues to teach his followers about what real observance of God’s laws looks like, and as he continues to try to disabuse them of their expectations of what the Messiah and his Kingdom should look like, Jesus sits down opposite the treasury in the Temple and points out a widow putting in two coins worth a penny and says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Now, I know that with the celebration of our In-gathering coming next week this text seems like a real gift from God – for we preachers that is — because in the Episcopal Church we don’t get to pick the gospel lesson each week. But this one seems tailor-made for Stewardship season right? And I don’t think we could go amiss by meditating on this scripture if we’ve yet to turn in our pledge. Jesus is commending the selfless and sacrificial giving of this widow who, in giving all she has, is obviously trusting in God. I also think, however, that the meaning of this scripture calls us to meditate on more than the gift that the widow gives – because if we do that we can only go so far—because if we just concentrate on her gift –on the fact that she gives all she has to the Temple, we will probably find ourselves like the rich young man in Chapter 10, who seeking assurances of eternal life instead goes away grieving knowing that he will not give away all that he has to follow Jesus. And we will miss the point that Jesus is trying to make both to that young man and to his disciples here – and that is, giving, in and of itself, is not the only issue here. It also has everything to do with “why” behind our giving. Because it is this “why” that the widow to give as she does. And it is that “why” which Jesus is hoping to get us to consider here.
The Temple depended on, the Church depends on the generosity of believers. In fact, sitting there in front of the Temple, Jesus and his friends are watching the scribes giving generously to the Treasury. And the Temple certainly could not survive on the copper coins of the poor widow – it needed, it depended on the larger offerings of the scribes. In fact, the care this widow – of all widows, orphans and refugees could only happen through the their gifts. So Jesus is not questioning the gifts of the scribes, Jesus is questioning what lies behind their offerings.
What was so great about this widow with her two measly coins? What Jesus was trying to tell the rich young man earlier and what he is telling his disciples now is that it can be relatively easy to give out of the abundance of the gifts that God has given us—but that giving that is truly reflective of what we hold to be important – our belief in God and the value we put on our relationships with one another—well that is what living out our faith is really about. Jesus summarizes which of God’s laws are most important for another scribe earlier in this chapter; love of God and our love of our neighbor. And that is, in fact, what Jesus is calling us to do today. To act, to give, out of a belief in God and what we hold to be important. That is what the widow does. Her gift is important, yes. But what is even more important is that her sacrificial gift comes from a place of deep love and respect for God and for her community. That is what Jesus sees and commends in her actions.
Maybe because of our baptisms last week, I have been thinking about the lines in our baptismal covenant where we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and where we promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Because this, again, is reflective of what Jesus is talking about in front of the Treasury. The widow is worthy of respect not because of the coins she puts in but because she has put all of her trust in God—and that is an incredibly difficult thing to do. That is a kind of faith, a kind of belief that we might strive to emulate. She is more than marginal member of society. She is a full-fledged member of the kingdom of God. Jesus tells us our propensity to dismiss the size of her gift needs to be reconsidered—because friends, she has invested heavily in the Kingdom of God.
Thinking about respecting the dignity of every human being and re-considering the gifts of others leads me to thinking about the late great Aretha Franklin’s song Respect. I think it a song that most of us know, and that has probably prevented entire generations from ever misspelling the word. We all know it right? – R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Well, one thing that some of us may not know is that this iconic Aretha song was actually written and first performed by Otis Redding – another great artist—known for Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. But anyway, if you read the lyrics to the song – a song that for so many women has been a clarion call for equal rights, the words mean something entirely different when sung by Otis Redding. His original version went like this: “What you want, honey, you got it. And what you need, baby, you’ve got it. All I’m asking for a little respect when I come home…” And Aretha’s went like this “What you want, baby I got it. What you need, you know I got it? All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you get home” Very similar words but an entirely different meaning. In Otis’ singing of the song, it is about a spouse bringing home the money for the family, providing all the “stuff” that the family wants and needs and asking to be respected for the money that provides that. In Aretha’s version, the tables are turned and she asserts that it is not the ‘stuff’ that is important or the money that provides it, rather it is about the relationship between these two people. What this spouse wants, what this spouse is working for really should really be based on what he values – based on love and the home he or she is coming to. And that is what should truly be respected.
We probably all know that Aretha Franklin is referred to as the Queen of Soul. The soul music which this gifted singer sang was rooted in the Gospel music. At Aretha’s funeral, a whole host of folks came to speak to the life of this remarkable woman whose work as a performer never eclipsed her love of God and others. The Rev Al Sharpton reminded folks of a woman whose life was lived as a part of the community. He said, “It is easy to celebrate the gifts that God gives. It is more difficult [for] someone [to use]…those gifts in ways that enhance humanity. Aretha Franklin was given special gifts but she used them in a special way and she would not want us to celebrate her without talking about ‘She stood for something.’” To those who knew her, Aretha Franklin was not only a gifted performer – not only was she music’s queen of Soul—but she was a full-fledged member of the Kingdom of God. Her values undergirded much of what she did.
In an interview with Elle magazine, Franklin, who had it written into her contract in the 60s that she would never perform for a segregated audience, reporter that she was glad that the song Respect became linked to feminist and civil-rights movements. She added that the line “you know I’ve got it” had a direct feminist theme. “As women, we do have it,” she said. “We have the power. We are very resourceful. Women absolutely deserve respect.” She went on to say, “ I think women and children and older people are the three least-respected groups in our society.” And yet, as Jesus is pointing out in today’s gospel, everyone is worthy of respect and we are called to seek and serve Christ in every human being we encounter. Because every human being is a child of God. With the widow, who in Jesus’ time would have been an outsider in a society whose societal structure was based on marriage ties, Jesus reminds us that those whom we often discount are not only worthy of our respect – we often can learn a lot from their example.
n a world where we often respect folks who have material resources or fame, Jesus is calling us to look again – at others and at ourselves. What do we truly value? All the ‘stuff’ that success brings or love and relationship? And even if we are not where we want to be in terms of our earthly goals of power, prestige – money, what do we have that we truly value and love? A few weeks ago, Doyt asked how it goes with our souls. Are we living our lives in accordance with our values?
For Aretha, the Queen of Soul, while she struggled mightily throughout her life with difficult circumstances – she never forgot her love of Christ and she never forgot what she valued. When Dr. Martin Luther King could not afford to pay his staff due to his work on the behalf of the community, Aretha Franklin and Harry Belafonte did an 11 concert tour solely to fund his important work. Al Sharpton noted that a lot of people hang up pictures of Dr. King, but that Aretha worked for free to further his work. He also recalls that when he himself was first starting his work, he received a call from Aretha Franklin asking him for his address. A few days later he found an envelope in his mailbox from her and inside she had included a generous check to help him. She later called and asked if he had received it and he told her that yes, indeed, he had and that because he had always looked up her so much, he had framed the check. To which she replied, “Boy, ain’t you got a copy machine?” And she promptly told him to cash it quick as she didn’t always do a good job with her bank accounts. All along the way, Aretha Franklin never forgot the gospel influence on her Soul. In today’s gospel Jesus calls us change our perspective and to respect the dignity of every human being – loving our neighbor as ourselves…May we live and give out of our values as full-fledged members of God’s kingdom and out of respect for one another…. .RESPECT let’s find out what that means…..