Friday, November 6, 2009

The Widow's Last Lepta; a Reality Check

What SHOULD it COST a congregation to conduct high quality worship every Sunday?
To put on good program? To enact mission that feeds the hungry, nurtures Christ’s disciples, and proclaims the Good News in word and in DEED?
And HOW should a church balance that cost without requiring a widow’s last lepta?

As we usually do, we look at the big picture of scripture, not just the few verses marked off for today. We began by reading of Jesus’ exchange with another scribe, one who was commended for his understanding. That scribe reminded us that everything starts with priorities, namely - by putting God first.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God is ONE and you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. AND You should love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 29-31)
LOVE GOD. LOVE NEIGHBOR Simple words, but it is not so simple to keep priorities straight in a world where church can be as corrupt as financial institutions. Where the people entrusted to protect your money are found to have squandered it. Where those designated to care for widows, take their last penny.

Surely Jesus would condemn any church that teaches the poor to contribute ‘all they have.’ Unless a church is about caring for the most vulnerable of society and offering nurture for their body and spirit, today’s temples will face destruction too. Does that make a stewardship message difficult? I don’t think so. Jesus loved the temple. He went there daily when he was in Jerusalem. It was a beautiful place of worship; a holy place for loving God with ritual sacrifice and prayer. He hated the corruption of the ancient priesthood when it became infatuated with perpetuating itself instead of WORSHIPing GOD and CARING for neighbors.

We must constantly evaluate our priorities as we do in each budget season. We compare what we do with our mission remembering, As St. Francis said, to “Preach the gospel, if necessary, use words”. We are entrusted with building up a community that lifts others up, that is why we are here. Our pledges and promises today are part of it. But they must not be ‘cost-less’ pledges. Unless our pledge cards include the promise of ALL we are, (heart, soul, mind and strength) we risk falling into the category of the scribes who were insincere and the rich who gave without any ‘cost.’

We need a regular reality check to keep our priorities straight. If we pledge our time, talent and treasure, (as we do today), to God’s Glory, Keeping our priority on Worship and Service, then regardless of the amount we give, small or large, God’s work will go forward. We can pray, like Jesus did, for God’s kingdom to come on earth, and trust that we – are – part – of - it, giving and receiving as we have need -- - Loving Our God and loving our neighbor.

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