Archives for October 2015

Penny for Your Thoughts, Proper 27(B) – 2015

[RCL] Psalm 127, (19-22); Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Benjamin Franklin once said, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Yet, despite the sage words from Mr. Franklin, pennies are often readily available; all one has to do is look on city streets – pennies are in abundant supply. People all the world over are happy to get rid of their pennies. Oftentimes, people won’t bother to pick them up when they have fallen.

The penny occupies a peculiar spot on any currency chart. It’s worth next to nothing, but not really. Because of the penny’s peculiarity, it’s difficult to divide. What’s 10% of a penny? Matthew 10:29 proves that one could have purchased two sparrows for one penny in Jesus’ time – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny.”

The term “a penny for your thoughts” was ‘coined’ in 1522, with Sir Thomas More’s book, Four Last Things. As with most idioms or sayings, no one is exactly sure who first said “a penny for your thoughts” But Sir More was the first to publish it.

Perhaps our widow, in this Gospel story from Mark, should receive some credit for the phrase, “a penny for your thoughts,” as well. Her bold, uninhibited vulnerability to offer all she had to live on was a true sign of sacrifice. In her adherence to Jewish law, she brought her tithe to the treasury – an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Her revolutionary giving posture was to give 90% above the tithe – Now, how’s that for a stewardship model?

If she was anything like the other women portrayed in the Gospel of Mark. We know that this woman embodied faith to approach God boldly, perform loving acts for God, stand as an example of piety to be emulated, and speak truths when others would not. It could be suggested that she was a poor widow, because her late husband was a poor man. So to approach the treasury and pour out and offer all she had to live on, was to say, ‘this is all I got, it isn’t worth much, God, I’ll give you a penny for your thoughts.’

Those thoughts are embedded throughout Scripture. God’s thoughts towards her were that, she could live with the certainty that “Before God formed her in the womb God knew her, and before she was born God set her apart; God appointed her” and had a purpose for her. (Jeremiah 1:5)

She could lived with the guarantee and gratitude that God had her life all planned out because “surely God knew the plans God had for her, cause God said so, plans for her welfare to prosper her and not for harm, plans to give her a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Those thoughts are true for us as well. We can live in the assurance that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). And we can live with the knowledge that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

Knowing the thoughts God has towards us is important to carrying out our ministry on this earth.

Our sister in this story pushed passed the shame of being a struggling widow. She broke open the doors that would have said your two cents aren’t enough; pennies cannot do a thing. She paid no attention to the offerings others had in comparison to her own. She understood there wasn’t a thing she could do, but by giving all she had to God that could change.

Similar to American art teacher and musician Judson W. Van DeVenter who penned the lyrics for the Christian hymn ‘I Surrender All.’ DeVenter said “For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life.”

Once those two coins hit the bottom of the treasury it ushered a new day, a new season in the life of the widow, because of her surrender, sacrifice, and sacramental giving.

Worship is essentially our response to God’s love, generosity and graciousness. Worship edifies our souls, and God delights in our worship. Remember our sister from Canaan whose daughter was tormented by a demon? When she went to Jesus and his disciples, Jesus didn’t even speak to her at first. His disciples tried to quiet her and send her away. It’s not until she bowed down and worshipped Jesus that Jesus responded to her. Our worship gets God’s attention. (Matthew 15:21-28)

Giving is an act of worship. The widow’s giving, and in our giving, we are worshipping God. Her selfless act of vulnerability, her posture of worship got Jesus’ attention. The Gospel states, once she gives all she had to live on, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more that all those who are contributing to the treasury.” Her worship received Jesus’ attention.

She gave all that she had to live on, so that the work of God’s kingdom could be done. Prior to getting Jesus’ attention, Jesus is telling his disciples about the pitfalls of “Scribe-like” behavior and cautions them to beware! To be clear, “Scribe-like” giving (not “Scribe-like” behavior) is important and helpful to the growth of the Church. When we give from a place of sacrifice and surrender, this is our devotion to God. God looks at the heart and wants for us to be able to trust God with all that we have for what we have are gifts from God.

Rev. Charles Cloughen, Jr. states in his book, One Minute Stewardship Sermons, that ‘God is generous, giving, loving, forgiving, and gracious. God desires our loving response to His generosity.’ The oxymoron here is that God is generous even in our scarcity. Most often our loving response is not sacrificial giving similar to that of the widow. Out of her poverty she gave and took the huge risk of not being able to afford to live. One might look at her and begin finger wagging and calling her less than smart. How will she live, if she gave all she had to live on to God? It doesn’t make much sense. In today’s society that kind of giving may be frowned upon tremendously. Even sacrificial giving may be shunned because of the thrill of the accumulation of material possession in our society. But, this widow understood giving to God was a sure way for a substantial return on her investment.

Some biblical scholars believe however that her gift presaged Jesus’ own surrender and sacrifice to God’s will for His life. In this Gospel, our poor widowed sister reflected Jesus’ behavior, “though he was rich, yet for (our) sake became poor, so that by his poverty (we) might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Anyone can give out of their’ abundance and excess, but it takes a true believer to give out of his or her poverty. Sacrificing and surrendering of all that she had, this poor widow was able to attain all she needed to live on and her heart sang the words of Van DeVenter’s Hymn:

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

Refrain:

I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

AMEN.

Download the Sermon for Proper 27B

For reference and further study

  • Cloughen, C. (1997). One minute stewardship sermons (p. 2). Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub.
  • Harrington, Daniel J., and John R. Donahue. “The Scribes and the Widow.” Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1991. 362-365. Print.
  • Mays, James Luther. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000. Print.
  • Newsom, C. (1992). The Women’s Bible commentary (pp. 350-357). London: SPCK ;.
  • The Origin of the Phrase “A Penny For Your Thoughts” (2014, December 7). Retrieved October 18, 2015.
  • Who Said. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2015.

Written by The Rev. Arlette Benoit

The Rev. Arlette Benoit is a graduate of General Theological Seminary in New York City where she earned her Masters in Divinity with a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. She was ordained to the priesthood in June 2013 in the Diocese of Atlanta. Rev. Benoit now serves at St. Paul’s Episcopal Atlanta GA, as Associate to the Rector. While at seminary she interned with The Episcopal Church’s Office of Black Ministries. She continues to be involved with the Office of Black Ministries, and assist and provides consultation for the planning of the S.O.U.L (Spiritual Opportunity to Unity and Learn) Conferences for youth and young adults, in addition to working with a team of clergy and lay leaders to develop The Rising Stars (RISE) Experience — a new initiative aimed at countering the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” where children are pushed out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Rev. Benoit was also recently appointed to serve as a Youth Ministry Liaison for the Office of Youth Ministries representing Province Four of The Episcopal Church.

They are resurrected in our hearts, All Saints’ Day, Year B – 2015

[RCL] Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 48; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

All Saints’ Day is one of the most underrated church holidays of the year. It is overshadowed by its more glamorous cousins, All Hallow’s Eve and Thanksgiving, similar to how Holy Saturday gets lost in Holy Week. But All Saints’ Day can bring us a unique blessing just as Holy Saturday does because they are days that are about how some of the darker parts of human experience can be washed in holiness when they are brought before God.

All Saints’ Day is so important because it is the one church holiday set aside during the year to tend to our grief. We experience grief on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, but that grief is for the suffering and death of Christ and the grand theological ideas that accompany them. All Saints Day is for us, for remembering the people we loved, who were important to us, who made an impact on our lives and then died and left us behind.

Grief is one of life’s most powerful human experiences, and grief is often very lonely. Many of us have awakened on the morning after the death of a loved one and simply marveled at how the sun can rise another day and the Earth can continue to turn after our world has been abruptly destroyed. We are grateful for all the concern friends and colleagues show us, but find it so strange to realize that while they truly felt sorry for us during the time they were in conversation with us or the moment they kindly took to send us a card or email, this event that turned our world upside down really meant very little to them.

We’re not angry at them. Of course no one would love or care for or agonize over our departed loved one the way our own family would, but it is just so surreal to realize that after someone says something kind to us about it, that person will go right back to thinking about what to put on the dinner table or whether to go to the movies that weekend. It is a realization that all of us have at some time or another that our own personal battles and tragedies and defeats really matter very little in the big picture of the world.

They matter very little 364 days a year in 99.9% of the places on this Earth. But our grief does matter on this day, in this place. On All Saints’ Day, in God’s Holy Church, the losses that we have borne over the years come front and center and are named for all to hear, on holy ground. On All Saints Day, our grief is no longer lonely and isolating, but we gather in this sanctuary and let our grief bind us together in a new and powerful way.

All Saints’ Day is an important ministry to us in our losses because it helps us reenter that place of mourning in a rhythm, year after year after year each November. As the green and life of the summer die and go to their winter rest around us, so we bring up the pain of loss on purpose in this rhythm, year after year. And each year that we revisit the loss, the pain softens and loses a little sharpness, begins to go to its own winter rest. Every time we name our loved ones among the saints, we honor not only their lives but our own long battle with memories both painful and joyful.

And it is so important to honor their memories. Most of our departed loved ones had a funeral to commemorate them. But the funeral happens right after the loss and often our emotions are completely chaotic, not to mention the practical circumstances we are trying to manage. If you have lost someone close to you, either due to sudden accident or long illness, you probably remember the days in the immediate aftermath as a haze of confusion. There are hundreds of details to attend to—notifying friends, organizing a service, pulling together money for a casket and burial plot, thinking about wills and estates, the volatility of family brought together in a pressure cooker of emotion. Frankly it is often not a time to treasure the memory of the departed. Many grieving families float through the funeral in a sort of disconnected shock.

This is where All Saints’ Day comes to our aid once again. There is no chaos, there are no arrangements to be made, no being singled out to sit at the front of the church in a black suit or dress, no finding directions to the cemetery. We are all in this together, and the ones we are remembering are long settled in their resting places. It’s the chance to be private about our grief, taking out our memories in the quiet of our hearts and turning them over one by one, taking our time to remember and reflect. But we all enter that sheltered and quiet heartspace of our own at the same time, in the same place. As you bring up the faces of your dearest departed before your mind’s eye, cherishing the chance to do so peacefully and uninterrupted, your neighbor is doing the same. We enter the valley of the shadow of death together, and walk through it in solidarity with one another.

There is someone else who is in solidarity with us in our grief, and that is Jesus. In our gospel today, we see him in the exact situation we have faced in our own lives—the inevitable but painful death of a loved one. Lazarus had been sick, they all knew there was a possibility he might die. But even Jesus can’t quite believe it at first. He doesn’t want to believe it, and asks if he’s been buried, hoping maybe the message has gotten twisted along the way and Lazarus is still just sick. “He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.”

Jesus sees so much pain in his lifetime, and he bears it so bravely. He sees the suffering of his people crushed under the imperial rule of Rome, and he doesn’t cry. He sees five thousand hungry and poor on a hillside needing him to feed them, and he doesn’t cry. He sees people tormented by demons, bleeding or paralyzed or diseased for years, and he doesn’t cry. He continues his ministry and cares for them.

But here, at last, he breaks, and for the simple, everyday loss of a simple, everyday beloved friend. Nothing grand or dramatic. One of his best friends gets sick and dies, and Jesus weeps. And so perhaps on this day of letting our heartaches step out into the open on holy ground, we can be in solidarity with Jesus as much as he is with us. He always bears the burden for us. Maybe today we can say, “Jesus, we understand how you feel. We’re sorry you lost your friend. We love you. Come be with us for a while and we’ll all be in this together.”

Jesus brought his friend back, just as on the final day we will all be brought back to life by him to live with him and in him. And how did Jesus raise Lazarus up to new life? How did he bring him back from the dead? By calling his name. “Lazarus, come out!” Today, we’re doing the same thing. We’re calling out the names of the ones we loved who have passed on, and they answer. They are resurrected in our hearts, brought to life in this time and place. Whether on one side of the border between life and death or the other, we all want to be with our loved ones. As the communion of saints joins spirits across the divide today, we may realize that we are being called by name today as well, named and loved by the ones who have gone before us.

Download the Sermon for All Saints, Year B.

Written by The Rev. Whitney Rice

The Rev. Whitney Rice is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Indianapolis and currently the Priest-in-Charge of the Shared Ministry of St. Luke’s Shelbyville and St. Thomas Franklin. A native of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, she comes to ordained ministry by way of the University of Kansas and Yale Divinity School. See more of her work at www.roofcrashersandhemgrabbers.com.

Healing our Blindness, Sermon for Proper 25(B) – 2015

[RCL] Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22); Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was a nobody. He wasn’t just any nobody he was a nobody among the nobodies. People often walked past Bartimaeus and at best they thought of the blind beggar as a nuisance. Day in and day out Bartimaeus would make his way to his familiar spot. Feeling his way along the crowded streets of Jericho, Bartimaeus was invisible to the people who hustled by on the way to something glamorous and important.

You see Jericho wasn’t just any city, Jericho was a city for the important people, the well-to-do. Herod had his winter palace there and all the rich Roman families spent their winters in Jericho. Jericho was an oasis, a destination city. You couldn’t get to Jerusalem without passing through Jericho so anyone who wanted to be seen had to have an address in Jericho.

So every morning Bartimaeus made his way to the Jericho Road, knowing that the rich people, the military and the important people had to pass by on their way. Jericho Road was the place to be if you were a blind beggar. But even on the main road Bartimaeus was invisible. Occasionally someone would drop a copper penny or two in his bowl so that he could eat for the day. But deep down in his heart Bartimaeus knew he was someone. He knew that God’s love for him was deeper than his blindness. He was certain that even though people tried not to see him, God saw him and that was all that mattered.

Then something happened that changed Bartimaeus’ life forever. He heard that the Rabbi name Jesus was in Jericho. Rabbi Jesus had been preaching and large crowds of people gathered to hear him but Bartimaeus couldn’t get close. He had heard about Jesus, whispers here and there that Jesus could perform miracles, that he cured the sick and preached about God’s love.

Bartimaeus decided this was his chance, this was his time. Jesus was passing by and he mustered every ounce of strength he had and shouted “Jesus, so of David have mercy on me!” The good people following Jesus, even his disciples, told Bartimaeus to be quiet but he yelled all the louder; “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

It happened almost too quickly. The people parted and someone grabbed Bartimaeus’ hand and suddenly he was kneeling before Jesus. This man who for most of his life was invisible, this man who no one recognized, this nobody was standing before of Jesus. The words tumbled out of his mouth faster than his brain could process them; “My teacher, let me see again.” And with just seven words Bartimaeus could see!

The story of Bartimaeus is often held up as one of the great healing miracles of Jesus. In the gospels Jesus transforms the lives of those on the margins and draws them more and more into the center. But what if we saw this story as the crowd, the followers of Jesus, being blind and not Bartimaeus.

The crowd in our gospel saw this blind beggar as annoyance, disturbing Jesus as he preached God’s kingdom. Bartimaeus was an disturbance, a distraction from the ‘way things are done’, but Jesus skillfully moves him from the sidelines, recognizes his humanity and dignity and draws him closer to the center.

Bartimaeus wasn’t blind where it really mattered. Barimaeus had a perfect vision of what it meant to be a beloved child of God. Not only did he know that he was a beloved child of God he insisted on being treated like a beloved child of God. Not even the crowd could hold him back and Jesus recognizes him for his bravery.

We as the church can quickly become like the crowd; blind to the needs of those sitting right outside our doors. The Bartimaeus’s of our day do not necessarily sit with a bowl begging and blind, they are the ones in greatest needed reaching out along the Jericho road leading into our church. Like in our gospel we, the crowd, are the ones in need of having our sight restored, our blindness healed, our vision focused.

If we listen hard enough and look long enough we hear the cries of Bartimaeus still. Listen…

Jesus, son of David have mercy on us….

  • We are the ones who are blinded by a world who deems them of no account.
  • We are those who are blinded by a society that too often measures worth by the things we own and the cars we drive.
  • We are the ones who have been told time and again that we are of no value that we are outside the realm of God’s love and peace.
  • We are the ones blinded by the pain of grief and loss, broken relationships and failed dreams.
  • We are the ones blinded by a disease and crippled by a diagnosis.
  • We are the ones blinded by the word illegal and immigrant and refugee.

How do we respond to the many Bartimaeus’s in our own time? We show them to Jesus.

Notice in the gospel the crowd is the first miracle of healing. The crowd is given their sight and actually sees Bartimaeus. And once their blindness is cured the crowd didn’t pray for Bartimaeus, they didn’t form a committee, or call a meeting or even have a theological discussion on the merits of Bartimaeus. The crowd saw him and showed him to Jesus and let Jesus do the rest.

The same is true for us. We are called as followers of Jesus to first be healed of our blindness so that we can see clearly to invite others to share in Christ’s healing.

As Bishop Michael Curry said to the Episcopal Church gathered in Utah this past June; “Put Jesus up front. Put sharing that good news in front. Put forming our people as followers of Jesus – as disciples for real – at the front. And then put inspiring and enabling them to serve in their personal lives, and for us to witness in the public square in the front. That’s the church; that’s the movement.”

Once we as the church recognize those on the margins, those sitting on the sidelines, our faith demands that we show them Jesus and together be healed.

Because if you notice at the end of the Gospel story Bartimaeus didn’t go off and found “The Society for the Formerly Blind of Jericho”, he didn’t go dancing through the streets shouting from the rafters, he “regained his sight and followed in the way.”

In the end as Christians that is all that we can do once our vision has been restore and blindness cured, follow in the way of Jesus.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see. Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 25B.

Written by The Rev. Deon Johnson

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, MI for the last nine years. A Liturgical Consultant, Deon specializes in helping communities revision their worship spaces to better reflect both their needs and the theology of welcome found in the Eucharist. In his spare time Deon enjoys working on websites and is an avid photographer.