Insignificant. That’s maybe a word you could describe how it feels to be just one person amongst a whole world of problems. Just one person. Just one life. Living in a world with six billion people, a nation with 350 million people, a state of five and a half million people. Who am I in the midst of all this immensity? The world is filled with problems ranging from wars to hunger to pandemics to looming environmental disasters to financial crises. To confront any of those problems by myself would be like a rain drop falling upon a slab of granite – barely felt and quickly forgotten as it evaporates into the heat of a day.
I could hold up a sign the declares that all sides should give up fighting and make way for peace, but myriad other voices would drown that out as each side would press on with their calls for fighting and defense for what is good. I could cook a meal for someone who needs food and nourishment, but that act of kindness would be statistically unimportant and thrown out of the gathered data as outlier insignificant to the overall picture of what is going on. Of course, I’m not exactly a faceless, nameless person without any voice to speak to a good number of people. I’m a pastor, and I have a place and time to speak at least weekly. I’m charged with inspiring people to action. I’ve been called to be a leader of people, to preach and to teach. As the world sees it, I am no faceless, nameless, homeless person without the power to influence people and situations. I have a position of authority. I have a position of importance….at least those are things I could say if I was delusional and completely concerned with who I am and what power I wield. Let me assure you. I am not completely delusional. Although, maybe there are times when I let that fantasy enter into my mind. Perhaps I will yet receive “the greater condemnation.”
What harsh words we are confronted with by Jesus in the beginning of our gospel reading. The scribes are just doing their jobs and fulfilling their calling as teachers and preachers of God’s word. We hear Jesus denounce them for wearing long robes (oops.). We hear that they are greeted with respect and like to sit in the places of honor (yeesh.). We hear that they like to say long prayers (*gulp*). Jesus is not kind to the thought that some people are better than others because of the trappings they surround themselves with. Yet, it is pretty clear that Jesus, while passing harsh judgment upon the scribes, is not passing judgment upon them for simply being scribes but for taking the fact that they are scribes as something to be especially honored. Then these scribes go further yet and take that position of authority as something that is even higher than the welfare and life of widows who in this society are relegated to total dependence on the care and generosity of others. Thankfully, we never get caught up in the “show” of who are, or do we?
It’s sad but you and I can get caught up in the image that other people see of us, and we can get caught up in the image that other people show to us as we encounter them in our lives. These scribes that Jesus is condemning have given up care for other people and care for the godly work that they perform for care of how they look and seem to other people. I bet that there are times when we can and should rightly indentify with these scribes and condemnation that Jesus proclaims for them. At least when we see that condemnation and hear it speaking to us in our lives, we can finally reassess who we are and who we should be. You see, that is part of the power of Christ. Part of the power of Christ is to shake us to the core so that we can see that we have turned away from the things that we should be concerned about and turned towards ourselves and how righteous and just we appear before the world. That is a power that names sin and names its hold upon us. That power can show us how we fight for our appearance. That power can show us how we devour widow’s houses, maybe not literally, but certainly figuratively as we are either implicit or complicit in the systems that keep people poor, that keep people hungry, and that keep people in conflict. It’s not even the money we spend in all the various places of our lives. It’s the way that we tend to put ourselves and our wants above the things we should really care about – our trust in God and our care for all the people and the rest of creation that God has made.
So today, where is grace to be found? Certainly we cannot find grace in our ability to always trust in God above all else and to always care for the needs of others. For as we know, a single person’s quest to do everything right will do nothing to change the reality of the situation. That is until one person was born showed us all that his IS the power to bring in a new reality. That is until Jesus is born and walks among us, teaches among us, and dies for us and our sin, that inability to trust in God above all else.
You see, grace is to be found in the way that Jesus declares and proclaims that even the seemingly insignificant contribution of a poor widow is deemed the worthiest gift of all. Normally, such a gift would go unnoticed and be considered meaningless the total sum of that is collected in to the treasury of the temple, but Jesus is seeing that poor widow give all that she had left took notice of someone and something and turns it into a proclamation of grace that, in God’s eyes, no goodness, act of kindness, sharing of love, or trusting in God is deemed insignificant. In the reality that Jesus ushers in, it is that trust in God, even as flawed as it is for us sometimes, and goodness that makes this immense world and universe a significant place. That is our hope in the face of the hopelessness of fulfilling the Law that God would have us fulfill. It’s not that we forget how to be sinners, we probably remember all too well how to be sinners, but has deemed each one of us as insignificant as we are individually as worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.
Today we will/we have baptize(d) a new child into the church. We will baptize a child that the world vastly on the whole has taken no notice. Yet, today God will take special notice of Evan and proclaim him to be as special and loved as anyone else in the history of the world, even the really great and really important ones. Today the Holy Spirit will enter into him and forever hold him in the eternal promises specially for him just as specially it was for all the rest of us here today. God has taken notice and God will not forget.