Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Mark 12:38-44

Like many of you, I love the woods. Whether I’m hiking on the North Country Trail, snowshoeing on my property, or sitting in my deer stand; I think, no, I know, there’s something spiritual about being in the woods. So, when I came across a poem last Tuesday titled When I Am Among the Trees by Mary Oliver I was intrigued. Let me share her words with you…

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”

When I first read this poem, I was struck by its pace; its call to consider the busyness of life. “The trees stir in their leaves and call out, ‘stay awhile’” And I thought that while this was a wonderful poem about slowing down and observing God’s handiwork, it finally didn’t have anything to do with the theme of my message for tonight. So, I moved on.

But Tuesday morning suddenly became Wednesday evening, and Thursday afternoon melted into Friday morning and no clear message had emerged. I think I was struggling because my mind kept coming back to this poem. But what in the world does a poem about trees have to do with this narrative about a poor widow’s offering?

So, I read it again and this time everything made sense. The final stanza says, “And they call again, ‘It’s simple,’ they say, ‘and you, too, have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.’” You have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.

The text we have before us is a comparison between the thought-less-ness of the scribes and the thought-full-ness of the widow. Imagine the scene. The Religious mucky-mucks, the most important men of the synagogue were parading around in long robes, looking as important as they could. But Jesus pointed out to his followers that their religious show as nothing but a sham. Why? Because while they claimed to be righteous, their actions told a different story. Jesus said, “they devour widows’ houses.” In other words, a thoughtless religion, one devoid of justice, is not pleasing to God.

But compare their thought-less-ness with the actions of the poor widow. Jesus said that she, “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” And this is where Mary Oliver’s words connect with the image of the widow. We are supposed to see ourselves, our faith, in the action of the widow. We are called to put in, from our poverty, whatever that poverty may be, we are called to devote our entire being, our complete selves, warts and all, to God, to justice, to loving our neighbor. We have come into this world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.

Which brings us back to our theme for today: Embodied Generosity; an Embodied Generosity grounded in Hope. The widow’s generosity, her thought-full-ness, lead her to give all that she had for the sake of others. The box into which she deposited those two small coins was intended to help the poor. Think about that for a minute. This woman, who knew the pain of hunger, of rejection, of being-on-the-outside looking in; this woman out of her physical poverty gave all that she had.

Now, we may not know physical poverty in the same way as the widow. But make no mistake, we’ve all known rejection, we’ve all, at one time are another, been the one on the out-side-looking in.
We’ve known the poverty of grief, of uncertainty, and of fear. And it’s from this poverty that Jesus calls us give of ourselves. It’s from these places of poverty that we are challenged to act; to take a deep breath and go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.

But how do we begin? How do we move from those dark places of poverty and realize that God has filled us with light? And maybe most importantly, how do we share that light; how do we shine?

Well, perhaps it’s important to begin by affirming the central message of Jesus; a message of inclusion, a message of faith and hope, a message of social justice. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing just that. I think we shine brightly. When we affirm that all people are children of God, we shine. When we honor and warmly welcome everyone, we shine. When we commit ourselves to being a uniting church that embraces the rich diversity of God’s creation, we shine. When we recognize, and celebrate, and give thanks for the many gifts of all of God’s children, we shine. When we encourage those of every race, and of every gender, and of every age, and of every nationality and ethnicity and faith background to join us on this journey we call faith, we shine. When we shatter the stereotypes and cast off the long robes of exclusion by welcoming those of every sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, we shine. When we invite and include those from every economic circumstance or marital status or physical or developmental ability to worship with us here in this place, we shine. When we welcome everyone, no matter where they are on their journey of life and faith to join in full participation and leadership of this church, we shine. My friends, when we shout from the rooftops “You are welcome here!” we shine.

And, when we embody a generosity, a generosity grounded in hope; when we overcome any sense of poverty we may feel in our souls and give our whole selves in an effort to alienate the physical poverty of others, we shine. And, when we come to realize, that like the trees of the forest, we are all interconnected, all humanity and all of creation; when we embody this interconnection and begin to feel the breath of God in all things, my friends, we shine.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”

May it be so. Amen.

——————————

[1] from the Open and Affirming Statement of Cable United Church of Christ, 2018

[1] Ibid. Oliver

 

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