Hymn- Jesus Loves Me
Patty’s birthday is this week! Send her a card or call her, since we aren’t able to sing to her as a congregation today.
Violeta’s daughter and new grandson. The ill, the immunocompromised, the elderly, and the young. Our community and our neighborhood. Wilmington Yearly Meeting.
Hymn- Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling
Meditative Moment (Followed by silent worship)
Faith and Practice Query #3: Do you love one another as becomes the followers of Christ? Are you careful of the reputation of others? When differences arise, do you make earnest effort to end them speedily?
One of my very favorite books of the Bible is the book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes is Old Testament wisdom literature. It comes after the poetry of Psalms and the sensibility of Proverbs, but before the weirdness that is Song of Songs. Ecclesiastes is unique when compared to other wisdom literature—for many reasons—but mostly because the author, an unknown person who is referred to as “the assembler”, is basically a manic depressive. He builds beautiful homes and plants amazing gardens—then calls them all meaningless. He reads and studies—becoming the wisest person in all of Israel. Then, he calls pursuing such things a waste of time. He says that everyone should find meaningful work, then calls all work meaningless. The guy is kind of a hot mess, and as he writes, he is constantly wavering between tinges of hope and utter despair. I think that I like it so much because as a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder and from depression, it is descriptive of certain experiences that I have had in my life.
But there is beauty in Ecclesiastes for people who aren’t prone to mental health issues, too. The book ends on a great note—reiterating that all meaning is found in God, not in money or power, or anything else. But there are also little nuggets that are really great along the way there. The famous song by the Byrds, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, for instance comes from Ecclesiastes. There is advice for young people to be faithful to God and to build a relationship with Him, and to not become overly invested in self-reliance, because self-reliance will ultimately fail. And then, there’s this little tidbit that I absolutely love: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
This is basically what Jesus says in today’s text in response to a poor widow who gives her two last pennies to the Temple treasury—just not in so many words. We are still in Mark 12, and we are picking right back up where we left off last week.
Jesus is in the Temple in Jerusalem, and for the first time since His arrival, He has a moment to breathe. The parade is over. The hullaballoo of Jesus flipping over tables and driving out the moneychangers in the Temple has calmed down. And the religious authorities—who had been trying to undermine Jesus via clever questions—have admitted defeat for now and scattered. Now it’s just Jesus, the twelve disciples, and the various followers who He has picked up along the way.
I am sure that the disciples, at this point, are just ready to call it a day. It’s the Passover—which didn’t just involve religious observances in the Temple—but also included fellowship and festivities. Someone somewhere was having a delicious dinner, and the disciples more than likely really wanted to go. They had been with Jesus through all the drama, remember. They were probably itching for some relaxation and for a hot meal. So, I can imagine the loud sighs that come from the disciples when Jesus goes and sits down in the Temple treasury, rather than leaving.
The Temple treasury was exactly what it sounds like—an area of the Temple where worshipers came to give money. Per Jewish Law, there were 13 different receptacles set up in the treasury, all earmarked for different purposes. One was for sin offerings, one was for temple tax, one was for guilt offerings, one was for voluntary contributions, etc. It’s hard to tell why Jesus decides to hang out here—of all places—but that’s what He does.
So, Jesus is sitting in the treasury. Several people are coming in to make their offerings, including some wealthy people—who are contributing large amounts. Jesus just sits and watches in silence. The disciples have probably lost their patience at this point and are probably wanting to ring His Holy neck. If Jesus really wanted to sit and space out somewhere, He could at least do it in a comfortable chair at someone’s house rather than in the treasury. But then, a poor widow comes in. She contributes two copper coins to the treasury that weren’t even worth a penny. In fact, these coins were worth so little that they had no equivalence in the Roman monetary system. In comparison to the wealthy folks, the widow has donated essentially nothing. But, it’s the widow’s tiny, meager offering that Jesus decides to use as His final lesson before wrapping His time in the Temple for the day. He calls His disciples over and says: “Truly I tell you; this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
When times get tough, the kneejerk reaction is often to pull apart. We go into survival mode—thinking only of ourselves and how we are going to make it. Unfortunately, it’s a universal response to difficult and stressful situations. It’s why some people will steal their coworker’s lunch if they forget theirs at home, its why some people during the Holocaust refused to help the Jews, and its why your high school buddy suddenly had no idea that there was spray paint in his backpack when you all got caught climbing the water tower. When the rubber hits the road, our instincts push us towards an “every man for himself”, and “only the strong survive” sort of mentality.
And yet, the poor widow makes a different choice. Keep in mind that in ancient Palestine, there were no social safety nets. This widow wasn’t drawing off her deceased husband’s pension. We don’t know her exact situation—the scripture doesn’t tell us—but more than likely, this woman was either doing various odd jobs that women were permitted to do in exchange for whatever anyone would give her, or a child was helping to support her. Either way, she was barely scraping by. If this poor woman had wanted to budget out her bills before making her Temple offering, or had just skipped it that week, knowing that a wealthier person would more than make up for it—people would have understood. But the widow’s sense of community was stronger than her sense of self. She decided to prioritize others over her natural instinct for self-preservation. She took a massive risk, and she gave all that she had—not having a guarantee that she would have enough money to get her through to the next day, or to the day after that. And both the assembler from Ecclesiastes and Jesus sing her praises for this.
We aren’t exactly living in unprecedented times, but seeing as there are only a handful of living centenarians out there who remember the Spanish flu epidemic, we are in unknown territory. To say that a lot of us were/are unprepared for the realities of what a pandemic actually means for our lives is an understatement. We are seeing the panic, and the “every man for himself” mentality. There are still no groceries or toilet paper, because people are running out and buying everything the minute things get restocked. Folks hoarding supplies and refusing to share them with those who actually need them is becoming a very real problem. The people who are willing to give up some of their stash aren’t sharing—they are taking advantage of people and trying to resell items at outrageous prices. From a purely social standpoint, we are falling apart at the seams, and it’s not helping anyone. It’s just causing more problems and chaos. So today, I’d like to encourage us to take a page from the poor widow’s book, and to take a risk.
Understand that when I say to take a risk, I am not talking about hanging around unnecessarily with people who have the coronavirus, or ignoring the suggested CDC guidelines and potentially getting other people sick. In a pandemic situation, the goal is to stop the spread. When I say to take a risk, I mean to actively attempt to shut off the panic button in our brains, and to think about what we can do during this time to help others. We need to shift from survival mode to thriving mode, and do what we can to love our neighbors, and to make an effort to build our communities up instead of tearing them down.
We need each other, Friends. The assembler might have been majorly depressed, but his observation about two being better than one is absolutely true. Folks can say what they want about self-sufficiency and whatever else, but humans were created for community. Bearing God’s image into the world is not a one-person job. It involves the work of many. When God said that it is not good for man to be alone—that was less about marriage than it was about togetherness in general. When Cain asked God if he was his brother’s keeper, the implication from God’s answer to Cain is that he absolutely was. We are all in this together, and we all have a certain level of responsibility for one another’s well-being. Love is our greatest calling, and love is what is going to get us through this time of uncertainty and difficulty. More selfishness is only going to make things worse. Selflessness is going to heal our wounds and bind us closer together.
So, let’s check in on our neighbors. If you don’t want to knock on their door and risk the person-to-person contact, there are other ways to do it. Write them a note and put it on their door. Give them a call. Shoot them a text. Yell at them loudly from across the street when you see them, if that’s how you have to do it. Let’s just make the effort to say hello and to make sure that they are holding up okay.
Maybe get a pen pal. I know its an old-fashioned thing to do, but while we’re all cooped up in our houses, writing and sending letters will allow us to get our minds off of things. Our anxiety will decrease, but our bonds will also grow as we express support and love through our messages. If you don’t want to write physical letters, emails are a good option, too.
Share what resources you do have with neighbors and friends. If you have three rolls of toilet paper left, and your neighbor has none—give them a roll. I know it will leave you with less, but that’s the selfless thing to do. That’s what the poor widow did. And who knows, maybe that will encourage them to share something with another person, which will create a whole ripple of love. Or, you could barter. If you have a bunch of spaghetti sauce, and your friend has extra Clorox wipes, you could make a swap. Its just like our parents told us when we were toddlers—sharing is caring.
If you aren’t an at-risk person, but you know someone who is—offer to do things for them that they might need done, but that are dangerous for them to do right now. Pick up their groceries. Go to the post office for them. Whatever the errand might be, if it doesn’t necessarily have to be them doing it—help them out by doing it. You just might save someone’s life by simply going to Kroger.
Someone in your community got laid off. You might not be able to afford to pay their mortgage for them, but you can help in other ways. Slip them $20 to go towards their electric bill. Buy them a bag of groceries. Let them know about some of the debt relief programs that are being enacted right now that might help them. You don’t have to save the world, but you can still make a difference just by doing what you can.
Were you a panic buyer? I know I kind of called you out earlier, but seriously—don’t beat yourself up about it. There is grace enough for all of us. But, from here on out, please try to be more conscious of the needs of others. If you already have a year’s worth of toilet paper, don’t go out and buy more—no matter what your brain’s alert system is telling you. Give others the chance to get what they need. Or give away some of what you have. Your toilet paper fort isn’t going to be your friend when all of this is over, and all of your friends are mad at you for being a hoarder.
Call a relative or friend daily. Hearing another person’s voice can be therapeutic. Be a source of comfort and a listening ear to someone who might be struggling. Start a book club on social media. Create a prayer chain. Whatever you can do to spread the love, to ease the pain, and to come together as God’s children—do it. It doesn’t matter if its big or small. Just one small unselfish act, just one tiny display of love, just one simple risk—it can positively impact somebody. And one positive impact will bring us all closer together, which will get us through this.
There’s a beautiful song that we sing at Quaker Knoll that goes like this: Bind us together, Lord; Bind us together with love. There is only one God; There is only one King. There is only one body; And that is why we sing; Bind us together, Lord; Bind us together with love. Stay strong, Friends. Let’s pray for one another and encourage one another, until we can meet together in person again. And let’s take risks and throw love around in our communities wherever and whenever we can.
Hymn- Blest Be the Tie That Binds
Ada Chapel Prayer
Father, we thank thee for the night, and for the blessed morning light. For rest and food, and loving care, and all that makes the world so fair. Help us do the things we should, to be to others kind and good. In all we do, and all we say, to grow more loving every day. Amen.