This week’s RCL readings, especially the Gospel, provide a challenge to preachers. Many of us are deep in the season of stewardship campaigns, and we are presented with  a story that is often held up as a model of sacrificial giving: the widow who places two mites, “all that she had to live on,” into the temple treasury. I’ve heard this story used in stewardship campaigns to

The Widow's Mite - Luke 21:1-4
The Widow’s Mite – Luke 21:1-4

encourage generosity, giving beyond what we think we can do, and I understand that impulse. But if we engage the text critically, we might see something else going on. More than lauding the widow’s behavior, Jesus is providing a sharp critique of the behavior of the scribes who demand honor for themselves even as they call for sacrifice from the lowest of the low (remember that widows were often left without any real financial resources.)

Should we use the widow as a model for stewardship? Or might we be bold enough to challenge our congregations to consider instead how we are like the scribes, seeking honor for ourselves, enjoying our affluence, all the while holding up the ideal of sacrifice? It’s a hard sell and it makes us all – preachers and listeners alike – uncomfortable. Even more challenging (and in some contexts, too political) , perhaps, would be to extend Jesus’ critique to the increasing gap between the richest and poorest among us, and the way the system penalizes the poor to reward the rich.

Another preaching option is the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. It’s too bad that, because of All Saints’ Day,

Ruth and Naomi ~ Marc Chagall
Ruth and Naomi ~ Marc Chagall

many of us missed the first part of this wonderful story, but preachers who choose this text can fill in the missing details. This multilayered narrative provides a number of preaching opportunities: highlighting women’s voices, so seldom heard in the scripture, and women’s resourcefulness even in a patriarchal culture; setting up the genealogy of Jesus, including a Moabite (a foreigner) as David’s great-grandmother, as we approach Advent; or considering the simple loyalty of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi, the powerful bond between them,  their extraordinary care for one another in hard times, and their experience of God throughout.

So where are you headed this week, preachers? November is a transitional month as we finish up the season of Pentecost and prepare for Advent. Are you preaching stewardship? Doing a preaching or teaching series? Are these readings calling you or presenting you with particular challenges? We’re here to support one another.

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12 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary ~ Widow’s Mite edition

  1. Having the luxury of being a supply preacher (though one who keeps getting asked back to the same church), I think I’m going with Mark and preaching the widow not as an example to which we can aspire, but an example of how systematic oppression can be internalized by the oppressed.

    But maybe not in those words.

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  2. We did the entire book of Ruth last week (condensed version) so will be looking at other texts this week.
    When I read from 1Kings the story of Elijah and the bottomless jars of meal and oil, I was reminded of a book of stories from my childhood that contained a story from a poem, The Legend of the Northland. The poem tells a story of a woman who while baking teacakes was approached by a hungry beggar asking for something to eat. Thinking what she has too large to share she attempts to make a smaller one, but each attempt results in a cake she deems to large to share. Eventually she turns into a woodpecker, boring holes in trees to find her own food.
    I learned the story is from a poem written in the mid 19th century by Phoebe Cary and was often used in elementary schools as a morality tale. That explains how I came to have the book as my dad had been a 2nd grade teacher.
    I’m thinking there are many possibilities for tying this story in with this week’s lectionary and stewardship.

    The poem:
    http://www.english-for-students.com/a-legend-of-the-northland.html
    About the author:
    http://blog.myeduz.in/cbse/summary-of-a-legend-of-the-northland-by-phoebe-cary/
    In story form:
    http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/bird-day/short-stories/the-old-woman-who-became-a-woodpecker.html

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  3. my take on this is how the generosity of those-who-have-NUTHIN’ — symbolized by widows (then, and it’s no flippin’ picnic being a widow NOW either) (also symbolized by refugees, “economic migrants,” foreigners, potential terrorists — you see my drift) — ignites the voluminous generosity of those who have a whole bunch to give from…(as many of my congregations have had good ol’ identifiable Boazes in them, this goes down really well)…and I make a point of recapitulating the portions of the book of Ruth that don’t show up in the (prissy, useless) lectionary.

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  4. I’m not preaching this week, and I’m fairly sure my deacon will hold this up as an example to aspire to. Even that is challenging to this congregation. And I’m reeling from some conversations that reveal an incredibly judgmental attitude about those who seek help along with some incredible stinginess, so it’s probabaly good I’m NOT preaching. Sigh. About to shake the dust off my feet…

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  5. I have parts of a sustainable sermon that I’m going to attempt to re-use, about how the widow’s internal motivation matched her outward action, and the temple leaders’ insides and outsides did not match. Basically a sermon on integrity. But it’s only half a sermon (the other half of it was very time- and context-specific). Not sure where I’m going with the other half. Thanks for the food for thought here, as always.

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  6. Fragments of Mark were dancing in my head: the heavens torn apart, some will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God, the temple curtain torn in two, the disciples sent out and, finally, the open question at the end–will the women remain captive to their terror or will they spread the word? Then I Douglas Hare’s commentary on Mark which concludes its first chapter with these words, “…the Gospel expects us to react not with ‘Isn’t this interesting?’ but with ‘What must I do?'” Now I’m struggling with that question and beginning to see both the Gospel as a whole and the account of Jesus’ third visit to the temple as an invitation. Just a direction. Hardly a platform for a sermon.

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  7. I know we are onto the the 11th hour preacher party and I’m torn between preaching the difference between the leaders abundance the the widows mite. This is commitment Sunday for us to so I’ve got to work in our stewardship text of being rooted in Christ.

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  8. It’s Saturday. When I accepted the opportunity to preach this week (Head of Staff is on continuing ed), I knew we had a Presbytery Pastors’ Retreat on Monday and Tuesday. What I could not know was that while we were gone, a called Session meeting would become necessary for Thursday evening and a death in the congregation would necessitate a funeral this morning or that last week, the doctor would relent and schedule a heart procedure for my dad on Wednesday. It is Saturday at 4:30 p.m., and I am trying to figure out where the sermon on Ruth is going to go. Is anyone else preaching about Ruth and Naomi and the radical hospitality demonstrated between them? I really need to get in on that conversation …

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