A Time for Everything

“A Time for Everything”

eccl-3-1-everything-cursive

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 – January 1, 2017

Expectations. Excitement! A fresh, new start. With eyes wide open, we all have the opportunity to make a new beginning, this New Year’s Day of 2017. New brooms sweep clean. New, fresh, sparkling clean, not a spot or speck to be seen. At least, not yet.

 As our scripture lesson from Ecclesiastes 3 says today, there is a time for everything. God has given each one of us a sense of the passage of time. God has implanted that within us, and we are placed in this construct of time, of past, present and future.

What are we to do with this concept of time? And, the idea that time is a never-ending stream? That, somehow, each of us is intricately bound up in this bubble called history, and together or separately, each of us has specific things to do. Or, not do. To look behind at 2016 with longing or regret, missing opportunities lost, or gazing ahead with expectancy, looking forward to what 2017 has to bring into each life?

What new, fresh excitement, and expectations!

Let’s take a common example. A door. We can either be on one side or the other of a doorway. One side—inside—and the other—outside. One side—in the past—and the other—in the future. It’s difficult to straddle both parts of a world, and at the same time to strive to do both of these either/or activities stated in our passage from Ecclesiastes, today.

Thinking further, Doors are good images for New Year’s Day. We have closed the door on last year, on 2016. We’ve opened the door to a new, sparkling clean year.

When each of us walks through a door, things can change—either a lot or just a little. As one bible commentator says, “When you go from outside to inside, you use a quieter voice, you wipe off (sometimes even take off) your shoes, you expect to do different things.  Walking through doors tells us where we are and who we are. “ [1]

Janus is the Roman god of endings and beginnings. A two-headed god, with one head looking backwards into the past, and the other looking forward, into the future. This god presided over gates and doors, and was sometimes shown with a gatekeeper’s keys and staff. There can be a great deal of change and transition from one place to another, as one year changes into the next.

Some people have a great deal of baggage left over from last year. Lots of stuff to carry with them into the new year. What does our scripture passage say? “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” There are several ways to view this poetic look at life and death, and everything that comes in between, but one way is to acknowledge this overarching structure as a foundational basis for understanding the cosmos, life itself.

Sure, some can go too far, and have a totally fatalistic point of view, saying that everything is absolutely fated and predetermined. Nothing is worth doing, no innovation, no creativity; no one can change anything ever. What a hopeless, helpless point of view. This view takes away free will, human decision, and the possibility of change. Why do anything, ever again?

However, we can leave our baggage and stuff, old and tattered, tired and worn, just drop it, even brand-new stuff with price tags still attached. We can look forward to a new year, a new chance to walk into the future with head held high, and eyes open to new possibilities.

I have an opportunity to realize and remember the many blessings that God provides in each of our lives, on a regular basis. Do you remember each of those blessings that God provided in your life, in 2016? Can you name each one, and thank God for it? Nope, me, neither. But, here is a concrete way to help you remember each one in 2017. Here is a real action step to take.

It’s called The Jar Project, and features jars with the following label attached: “The Jar Project. Starting New Year’s Day, I will fill this empty jar with notes about good things that happen. On next New Year’s Eve, I will empty it and remember that awesome things did happen this year.”

There are various other ways people think of this activity. Some people call it a Gratitude Jar, or a Blessing Jar. Put in strips of paper with things or people you are grateful for, or that you have been blessed by, in 2017. Then at the end of the year, each of us will have a whole year of wonderful, awesome blessings to truly thank God for.

Come with me, back to the doors of our sanctuary. We can offer prayer, asking that these doors welcome many visitors during the coming year and that all who come through the doorway be blessed.  I am going to write on our church doors with prayers for all who will come through the doors this year (worshipers, visitors, brides and grooms, parents bringing babies to be baptized, families and friends coming to bury their dead, members of community groups which will use the facilities).

Please, I encourage each of you, each household, to repeat this in your own homes. God’s richest blessings on you and your family in 2017.

 

God of doors and homes, bless this home this year and every year.

Bless all who come and go through this door, both those who live here and those who visit.

May all who enter through this door come in peace and bring joy.

May all who come to this door find welcome and love.

May the love and joy in this home overflow and spread into the community and the world. [2]

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-years-day-years-b-c.html New Year’s Day, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-years-day-years-b-c.html New Year’s Day, adapted from Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013

The Widow’s Contribution

“The Widow’s Contribution”

Mark 12-42 widow, mite mosaic

Mark 12:43 – November 8, 2015

I have a friend who is recently retired. He goes around town, quietly, and does good. He was raised in the church, but that was a good many years ago. Yes, he does have a belief in God, and he expresses that faith by doing good for others and being faithful.

Sometimes that means driving people to a doctor’s appointment. Or volunteering at a local not-for-profit organization. Sometimes that means picking up the left-over baked goods from a business at the end of the day, at closing time. And then, delivering the baked goods to a homeless shelter. He does all of this without thanks, with little or no fanfare. He is faithful. He is dependable. He contributes, in any way he can. And, I am so glad he is my friend.

We turn to the Gospel reading for today, from Mark 12. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem, and Jesus is having another in those continuing discussions with the chief leaders and teachers of the Jewish Law. They happen to be in the rear of the Temple. Large sanctuary, lots of coming and going, to and fro.

These are several verses from Eugene Peterson’s excellent translation, The Message. Mark sets the scene in verse 41: “Sitting across from the offering box, Jesus was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection.”

Wait, didn’t the congregation at the Temple in the first century pass an offering plate? How did they collect money to keep the doors of the Temple open? And, was there any outreach, any charitable giving being done?

For this, we turn to Matthew Henry’s commentary on this chapter from Mark. “There was a public fund for charity, into which contributions were brought, and out of which distributions were made; a poor’s-box, and this in the Temple; for works of charity and works of piety very fitly go together; where God is honoured by our worship, it is proper He should be honoured by the relief of His poor.”;

So, different cultures and different places of worship, not to mention different centuries. We are looking at a slightly different practice of collecting money. Just to make sure everyone is on the same page. The principles of giving and generosity are the same, and those principles span the cultures and the centuries.

Apparently, people used to hang out at the back of the Temple and talk, have discussions, and sometimes debate. Oh—and they would also check out how much other people were contributing to the Temple and to the charitable fund. (I’m quite serious.)

Remember how open, how blatantly obvious the religious leaders were, about their religious observance? Their ostentatious prayer practice, their ritual observance of washing and cleanliness, their attention to the least little bits of the Jewish Law Code, and their finger-wagging and complaining about other people who weren’t quite as observant? So, of course the prideful extra-observant people among the religious crowd would be extreme in their giving practices. Talk about being a show-off!

Jesus has dealt with this kind of prideful observant attitude before. Here in our reading, we see Him dealing with this kind of show-offy attitude again, only in the matter of giving to the needy. What is the next thing He notices? From Mark 12: “Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents.”

What is this? Jesus does a compare/contrast sort of thing. He compares the large contributions of the rich people with the measly two small coins that the widow contributed. Large amount compared to a small amount.

We will take a short detour and look at our reading from the Old Testament for today. This passage from 1 Kings is a fascinating reading, about how God provided for the prophet Elijah in the time of an extended drought.

I could have preached my sermon to you from this reading! But pairing this passage with the reading from Mark makes a more powerful story.

Elijah was one of the most prominent prophets in the Old Testament. He was God’s spokesman in a time when the nation of Israel was not following God very well at all. King Ahab was married to a foreign Queen named Jezebel, who led Ahab and much of the rest of Israel into idolatry and worship of false idols. That is one of the reasons why God sent an extended drought onto the whole region of the Middle East.

Elijah listened to God, and God communicated to Elijah to head up north, near Damascus, to the home of a non-Jewish widow in the town of Zarephath. Ordinarily, widows were not very well off, with no husband and little means of support. This widow was really, really poor. By the time Elijah arrived at her house, she only had one bag of flour and one jar of oil left in her pantry, and that is all. Hard for us here in the Chicago suburbs to believe that she had so little. Remember, it was a time of extended drought,food prices must have been going through the roof.

Elijah worked a miracle. God provided for the widow, her son, and the prophet. The widow made food for her, her son, and for their tenant the prophet Elijah, every day. The bag of flour and the jar of oil did not run out for months, until the Lord allowed the rains to return and the crops to grow again. Did you hear? God provided for them, out of God’s abundance.

This is what I suspect Jesus was thinking of when He pointed out the widow who put the two coins into the collection box. What did Jesus say? “Jesus called His disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

Did everyone hear what Jesus points out?

All of these show-off rich people gave a portion out of their abundance. But the poor widow? The widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. She gave, hope-filled, looking to God to provide for her needs. Like the widow in Zarephath, centuries before, this widow in Jerusalem trusts God to provide. This widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God.

But, the treasurer and trustees at the Temple might have had a problem with this kind of thinking, and this kind of giving. Guess what? Too bad! What is valued and lifted up by Jesus, what is important to the Kingdom of God is not what is valued in this world. God does not have a dollars-and-cents kind of perspective!

This vignette is just a slice of the widow’s life. But, I’d like to follow the widow home. See how she treats her neighbors. Does she bring over a pot of soup to a sick friend? Does she clean the apartment of someone who has fallen and broken their leg? And what about her listening skills? Is she someone people come to, to talk about their troubles? Giving to God is so much more than just dollars and cents. So much more than just the coins the show-offy rich people put into the collection box in the Temple.

What about us, today? How can we take this scripture lesson today, and apply it to our lives? Is it just a nice story about what happened to people in Jesus’s day? Or, is it much more?

Today, we all can be like the widow in Jerusalem. This widow gave extravagantly. She gave over and above. She gave, trusting in God’s abundance. And, this widow decides that everything she is and has belongs to God. Like my friend I told you about, who does lots of things without thanks, with little or no fanfare. We all can be faithful. We all can be dependable. We all can contribute, in any way we can, to God and to God’s kingdom.

God willing, I’ll contribute to God’s kingdom. Will you contribute, too? Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!