"Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell." Frederick Buechner
Come in! Come in!
"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein
Today’s scripture gives us two very different images of
women doing what they need to do in order to survive. The first is the young
widow Ruth who uses her feminine sexuality – the only thing she has left – to
seduce Boaz into being her husband. All’s well that ends well as she not only
spares her former mother-in-law but bears a son Obed, who became the father of
Jesse who became the father of David who became the King of Israel.
The other is an unnamed woman, a poor, elderly widow, who
gives what she has – two copper coins – to the Temple. Jesus compares her with
the Scribes and says to his disciples, "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."
Jesus, an ancestor of the House of David, seems to
understand something about generosity - God's and our own - that many of us have a difficult time
grasping. I know I do. Still.
I learned a lesson about greed and generosity and success as
a young child. It’s a touchstone story for me, which I think of whenever I
consider these things – or sit down to write out a check to the church or any
other worthy agency – religious or secular – which is doing Gospel work.
A little bit of background: I am the oldest of four
children. When each of us turned seven years old, we got an allowance for the
chores we did. Every Saturday evening we were given two shiny quarters as an
allowance. The rule, however, was that we had to put one quarter into our piggy
bank, and put one nickel to the church in the collection plate on Sunday. That
left us with two whole dimes to spend on ‘penny candy’ and other, otherwise
forbidden treats like soda or a milk shake at the soda fountain.
I thought that was grossly unfair. I mean, I understood the
wisdom of savings but giving one tenth of my hard-earned money for the church
was simply over the line! To my mind, that was five pieces of penny candy I
could be enjoying. And, what was the church going to do with that money? Buy
candles? Or incense! Are you kidding me?
Besides, there were times when my parents could not afford
to give even two shiny quarters. My brother was a sickly child and often I
heard my parents lamenting that they owed $75 dollars (which might as well have
been a million back then) to the Rexall Drug Store to pay for his penicillin.
And, my father always seemed to owe someone named Jack
Daniel who demanded a line item in the family budget. My mother hated this guy
named Jack Daniel, but my father insisted that it was the only enjoyment that
he, as a workingman, ever requested.
One day, as I was sitting in church during one of the
offerings, I watched the long handled baskets pass by me as I slipped in my
weekly pledge of five cents. We always sat near the back of the church, so by
the time the collection basket got to us, it was teaming and practically
shimmering with shiny quarters, dimes and nickels. That’s when I got a
I figured that I could easily glide my hand over the top of
the cold hard, cash, drop in my nickel, and then scoop out a quarter or two.
When no one was looking, I could then slip the quarters into my anklet and,
before too long, I would have enough saved up that I could afford to pay off
Jack Daniel so there would be more money for Mr. Rexall. It was a brilliant
plan! I was a budding successful entrepreneur -and a potential hero!
I didn’t mean to set myself on a life of crime, but
suddenly, I was so successful that I began to think that, once I paid off Mr.
Daniel, I could begin to save for a new home for my parents – one with a
bedroom for each child so I wouldn’t have to share my bedroom with my three
sisters and we could all have our own room just like my brother, whom we called
“The Little Prince”.
Things came crashing to a halt, however, when Sr. Bernadette
– the one with the eagle eyes who was meaner than a junkyard dog – spied me
from across the church and reported me to Father. I still remember my palms sweating
as I was called into Father’s office, with my parents, and being confronted
with the evidence as reported by Sr. Bernadette. Through tears and sobs, I
confessed my plan to pay off Mr. Daniel and bring peace and harmony and
prosperity to my family.
I don’t really know what happened after that. I only know
that I had to leave the room and Father had a long conversation with my
parents. After that, Mr. Daniel disappeared from the family budget and Mr.
Rexall was paid in full. I had to spend the rest of that Sunday repenting in my
room, after which, nothing was ever said again about the incident. My lust for
greed was permanently curbed, I returned to obeying the rules, and I was spared
from a life of crime and corruption.
More importantly, as I have reflected on this story over the
years, I have come to learn something about the church and something about
God’s generosity – and my own.
The first is that so much of what the church does is unknown
to many people. There are hundreds of these little life-saving and life-giving
events that happen in the course of a week in the life of the parish that it
simply boggles the mind. You won’t see this written up in an Annual Report or
even hear spoken of during a Vestry meeting. You may think you are writing out your
pledge so that the lights and heat stay on – and, to be honest, your money does
that as well – but, when you give out of your poverty, expecting nothing in
return, you enable every day miracles.
Another important lesson is to remember that God’s forgiveness
and generosity is boundless. But, it’s even greater than that. God takes our
mistakes and our sins and turns them into glory. Ruth, who used what she had to
secure her future also secured the future of the line of the great-grandson who
would become King. God also took my childhood greed and turned it into an
opportunity for healing and wholeness for me – and my family.
When I think about why I pledge to the church, I think about
this story of Ruth and I consider the story of the Widow’s mite and I weigh
that against what the world teaches about success and prosperity. I think the
Gospel message of giving out of our sense of poverty often leads to amazing
stories of generosity and miraculous stories of healing and wholeness.
Both stories remind us that our real security lies not in
our ‘stuff’ – our clothing or cars or homes or back accounts. Our real security
lies in the boundless generosity and graciousness of God. This frees us up for
generosity beyond measure – to be as foolish and lavish with love as God is
with us – even when we feel we don’t have enough to give, or what we give may
be too costly.
And we are reminded – once again – that nothing can separate
us from the love of God. Not sin, not money, not power, not status, not even
who we voted for in the last election.
As Archbishop Temple once said, sometimes we make good decisions, and God still reigns. Sometimes we make bad decisions, and God still reigns.
The letter to the Hebrews says, “And just as it is appointed
for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been
offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal
with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Which inspires me to join my voice with the song the
Psalmist (146) sings,
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!*
whose hope is in the LORD their God;
Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *