This week’s blog is an essay Dr. Hood wrote for Lectionary Homiletics, a professional journal for preachers. The essay was prepared to assist subscribers of this journal in thinking creatively about their own sermon development of the lectionary text for November 8th, 2015.
November 8, 2015
Preaching Mark 12:38-44
Preachers have multiple choices here for relevant and timely sermons – religious hypocrisy, financial generosity, oppression of the vulnerable (attention here is on widows), and the meaning of authentic discipleship. My own preaching has a strong pastoral care focus because of the particular congregation that I serve; a large, predominately older membership that struggles with issues of being single again after the death of a spouse, loneliness, finding meaning and self-value following retirement, and having sufficient access to food and health-care. A sermon for this congregation might be titled, A Life Unnoticed; a sermon that acknowledges that on any given Sunday there are people present who fear that they are no longer seen and cared for.
I might begin the sermon with examples of those who are no longer noticed in our communities, particularly people who are older and single, those who struggle with addiction, and the under-resourced. We do not live in the most compassionate of times and such people are shoved out of sight and mind. Our full and frantic lives may be partly to blame. We simply do not have the time or emotional energy to acknowledge these people and be available to them. Nursing homes, addiction clinics, and homeless shelters protect us from seeing them and feeling any sense of responsibility to them. And yet, all people want to be noticed, valued and cared for – the financially privileged and the forgotten. We are all the same.
Here I would dive into the text and invite the congregation to see two stories, the legal experts in the first story and the poor widow in the second story. In the first story,2 the legal experts go to considerable effort to be noticed for their devotion and sacrifice. In the second story there is a widow who has probably abandoned any hope of ever being noticed again. There is no attempt by this woman to be noticed by anyone. She simply makes her gift to the temple treasury from an impulse of faith, an impulse that discloses her quiet gratitude and trust in God. Jesus notices both, the legal experts and the woman. Yet, what is remarkable in this text is that those who sought to be noticed received Jesus’ displeasure. The one who did not seek any notice is held-up by Jesus as an honorable example of authentic discipleship.
At this point my direction in the sermon would be to share the discouragement – and fear – that some people have as “invisible” members of our communities. They feel unattractive, have little to offer anyone, and are lonely. The despair that they experience makes moving through each day unbearable. This gives the church a wonderful opportunity to share the companionship and compassion of Christ. An invitation to dinner, to family celebrations and even acknowledging their birthdays proclaims that they are people with dignity and worth. We are the children of a God who notices and protects the unnoticed, and therefore, we are called to be agents of God’s protecting and providing grace.
Near the end of the sermon I would remind the congregation that each person has something to contribute to the mission of the church – even someone who may appear to have little to offer as the widow in our scripture lesson. Perhaps I would point to the parable of the talents in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25:14-30) that there is an unequal distribution of gifts among God’s people, some receiving five talents, some two talents and others one talent, but all are expected to invest what they have received for God’s good purposes. The church has the responsibility of connecting each person, poor widows included, with an appropriate ministry that the mission of the church is advanced and Christ glorified because of their participation.
I would then close the sermon with the high calling of investing in the lives of persons who may go unnoticed where we live. There is a story in Jewish tradition of a rabbi who was so holy that it was rumored that on Sabbath afternoons he ascended into heaven to personally commune with God. The rumor grew from the observation that this rabbi simply seem to disappear from sight in the local community until the end of the day. Several boys decided to secretly follow the rabbi. Throughout the afternoon and into the early evening they saw the rabbi go into the homes of the elderly, the sick, and the poor. He cooked meals, cleaned homes and read scripture to the lonely. When the boys were later asked if the rabbi really ascended into heaven, the boys answered, “No. He went much higher.”