Good morning. Let me begin by saying I am so happy to be here with you this morning. It’s an honor to be here. It is humbling to here. It’s downright terrifying to be here. You see, I’m not used to a congregation and sanctuary of this size. I have the great joy of being pastor at two rural churches and we are significantly smaller than this. Which is great, because it creates a real close-knit community, where you can really know who the people are.
Perhaps, it would be helpful if I had a better sense of who you are. I am mindful that today is Previews. So where are the high schoolers? Can you raise you hand? How pastors or church ministers who brought the highs schoolers? Professors? Staff and students at Luther? Anyone else visiting today or from the community? Great, thank you. It’s good to have a sense of who you are.
In our gospel story for today, right off the bat, Jesus warns, “Beware of the Scribes.” They are the ones in the long robes. The ones with the seats of honor. They also say long prayers. I realize that Sarah and I don’t fair very well in this description. But it is more than just the clothing and the long prayers. The Scribes are the ones with power and authority in Jerusalem. They are in charge of the temple. They are the legal and religious muscle in the city. They are the boss and the bully. What they say, people do. And…Jesus says…Beware of them. They’ve become corrupted. They eat at these overpriced and lavish banquet, while at the same time they devour widow’s houses.
What’s happened to them? They are the religious authority. Have they forgotten who they are? Have they forgotten their own law – the call to care for the vulnerable and the poor? Like many religious institutions, they’ve become corrupted. They take advantage of defenseless widows, by squeezing them of their money.
And what do you know. Two verses later, a widow comes on the scene. Jesus and his disciples are sitting in the temple, watching the treasury. The offering plates, if you will. It is there that they witnessed the rich putting in large sums of money, and then along comes a widow, who had nothing but two pennies to her name, give everything she had. She had nothing but two pennies to her name, probably because the Scribes wearing fancy clothes and going to fancy banquets devoured her house. And then she gives all that she has left to the treasury of the temple. The very place controlled by those religious authorites. They have quite literally taken everything from her.
Now it would be easy for me to distance us from the Scribes, pointing out how bad and awful they are and then pointing out other corrupt leaders in our society and how bad and awful they are that you just shouldn’t be like them. It would also be easy to cozy up to the poor widow as a great example of a generous giver to the church and, you know, shouldn’t we all be more like her? This is a powerful story that can be about corruption and generosity. But what if it isn’t? Maybe it is not about how bad the Scribes are. I mean, we all are aware of how evil we can be at times and the corruption that can lurk within us. And maybe it’s not even about being generous with your money. I mean, Jesus never praises the woman for giving everything she had away. He simply points her out. He draws our eye to her. She is the one to watch.
This is a hard text to know what to do with and I’ll admit, my understanding is perhaps a stretch, but what if this story isn’t so much about corruption and generosity, but is about what has been entrusted to us by God. And I learned this from a 6-year-old boy, named Damien.
Like all Communion Sundays, a couple of weeks ago, I had the great honor of blessing all of the children who come up to the Communion table. Marking on the cross on their foreheads – God bless you and keep you always. It’s one of my favorite parts of worship. After the service that Sunday, I was greeting people outside the sanctuary, when Damien comes running up to me. So I did what I always do – I knelt down to give him a high five. But this time was different. His outstretched hand reaches past mine. At first, it seemed like he was playing with my hair. But no, he was just moving it, so that his little index finger could make the sign of the cross on my forehead. Few words can express what that was like for me. It was something I didn’t know I needed until I had it.
That day I was reminded by a 6-year-old boy that I have been entrusted with something. Something precious. I have been entrusted with the blessing of God, the cross of Christ placed upon my forehead. Something I carry with me always. And I realized how easy it is to forget.
The Scribes had something precious entrusted to them. The care of the temple, a place of worship, and the care of those most vulnerable. But somewhere along the lines, in the midst of fancy robes and fancy banquets, they forgot who they were called to be. They forgot who God called them to be when God said you shall love the stranger, care for the orphaned, and you shall help the widow.
I wonder how often we forget. I say we because I am not the only one who has been entrusted with something precious by God. You have been entrusted with something too. We have this thing in our Lutheran and Protestant theology. It’s called the priesthood of all believers. What that means is that all people of God are pastors, called to care for this world that God loves so much. It might sound strange to hear this but… you are pastors. All of you. And you have been entrusted with the hard, and wonderful, and menial, and exciting, and frustrating, and blessed work of loving your neighbor and caring for the outcast. The task of comforting your heart-broken friend. You are called to stand up for justice and reject bullying. To tell the truth in love to your friend, even when it is hard. You have been called to bless those who need a blessing. The 6-year-old boy was my pastor when he cared for me by blessing my forehead. And I guarantee that you have been pastor to someone.
On this Previews day at Luther Seminary, you may be wondering why you are here. But you know, it is not hard to imagine any of you as future pastors doing the work of God. Because you already are. Do not forget – you are children of God. You have been entrusted with the care of God’s people. Which can be terrifying because it means that what you do actually matters to God. But it is also the greatest blessing. Because it means that what you do actually matters to God.
So, can I get all the pastors in the room to raise their hands? It’s good to have a sense of who you are. AMEN