SERMON ~ November 7, 2021 ~ “Charity”

November 7, 2021 ~ Proper 27 ~ Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44 ~ Communion Sunday.

Charity

“For all of them have contributed out of their surplus; but in her poverty, she has put in everything she possessed from the little she had— all she had to live on.” — Mark 12:44 [1]

Let’s try an experiment. I am going to intone the first five words of a very well known song. When I stop, I’ll ask that softly with your masks on you sing the next four words and only the next four words Ready? O.K.

“Oh, give me a home…. (the pastor holds out his hands and the congregation responds) …where the buffalo roam….”

That’s it! “Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam.” There is only one problem with those words. You probably know this. There are not and there never has been buffalo on the North American Continent.

Several kinds of buffalo inhabit Asia, Africa, Europe. But there are none here. What this song and popular culture refers to as buffalo are bison.

Bison are relatives of buffalo, but they are not buffalo. To be clear, popular culture often calls bison buffalo. And popular culture is… wrong… just plain wrong.

Let’s try one more song, and again please sing softly with masks on. Do any of you remember this Tennessee Ernie Ford song: “Have faith, hope and charity / That’s the way to live successfully / How do I know,…” (“…the Bible tells me so.”)

Except there’s a problem with this song also. That’s not what the Bible says. Popular culture may say it. The Bible does not say it.

Well Joe, you might say, does not a passage in First Corinthians say this: “And now abide faith, hope, charity”? The answer is, “Not really.”

Now, to explain why the answer is ‘not really,’ I need to address how the Bible has been translated over the last 2,000 years. You probably know the original languages of the Bible are mostly Hebrew and Greek. But the version of the Bible used for about the first 500 years in the church was entirely in Greek.

By the late Fourth Century of the Common Era that presented a problem. Most people, even learned ones, did not know or read Greek. The language of the Roman Empire was Latin.

Saint Jerome, who lived from the mid-Fourth Century to the Early Fifth Century is said to have translated the entire Bible from Greek into Latin. Amazingly, this translation was the basis of the Bible used in the Roman Church for about 1,5000 years.

Jerome’s translation is commonly known as the Vulgate because the style of Latin Jerome used was not the classical Latin of Cicero and Horace. It was the language of common people and, hence, seemed like a vulgar dialect, at least to the elite. Therefore this translation became known as the Vulgate Bible.

Well, fast forward 1,100 years. The Bible gets a new translation. (Rumor to the contrary, the Bible is constantly getting new translations but that’s a longer story.) This translation is the King James Bible.

The translators did consult other versions, including the much revered Vulgate. And the King James translates 1 Corinthians 13 this way: “And now abide faith, hope, charity” because the Latin word is charitas.

But they were wrong. Charitas does not mean charity. Charitas means love and not just any kind of love. Charitas very specifically means love of God. (Slight pause.)

Remember I said earlier popular culture is sometimes wrong? Well, sometimes translators of the Bible are also wrong.

But then on top of that sometimes popular culture makes things worse by perpetuating misconceptions, as did that Tennessee Ernie Ford song. It is not faith, hope and charity. It’s faith, hope and not just love but love of God. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Mark: “For all of them have contributed out of their surplus; but in her poverty, she has put in everything she possessed from the little she had— all she had to live on.” (Slight pause.)

If we read this passage and then think about of how much money the wealthy people give to the temple and think about how much the poor widow gives to the temple we are reducing the passage to a comparison about monetary value. I maintain this passage is not about how much or how little people give. This passage is not about anything which can be counted, especially money.

You see, as was suggested when the reading was introduced, this widow is not just poor. Poor is too kind a word. This widow is destitute.

Hence, I maintain the amount being given is not the issue being raised. And if the amount is not central, we then need to ask, ‘what is it this widow is really giving?’ (Slight pause.)

I think the widow is giving her heart to God. She is giving not just everything she has. She is giving everything she is. She is giving her entire being to God.

To reiterate, this story is not about an amount of money, about how much or how little is being given. In short, what the widow gives cannot be quantified. So this story is not a lesson about charity. That’s the way popular culture might have it. And popular culture would be… wrong.

The Bible sees this story as a lesson about love and what it really means to love God. And that is a constant Biblical message. We are invited to give our heart, to give who we are, to give our entire being to God, to love God. Indeed, loving God is what true stewardship is about. Amen.

11/07/2021
South Freeport Congregational Church UCC, South Freeport, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “As was said earlier next week, November 14, is Stewardship Sunday. The observant among you might have thought— ‘Wait Joe! That message we heard today sounded an awful lot like a stewardship message.’ And my reaction would be, ‘Yep, guilty.’ I even used the word stewardship in what I said. Here’s my take: to a certain extent all sermons in some way are or should stewardship sermons. Tune in next week, same time, same station— part 2.”

BENEDICTION
Let us be open to the possibility that the whole of our being should rest in the will and wisdom of God and that the whole of our being should rest in the ways of love taught by God. In short, let us trust God. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ be among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.

[1] INTRODUCTION TO SCRIPTURE Rev. Mr. Joseph Connolly
In the King James Version of the Bible today’s Gospel reading was known as the widow’s mite— a mite in the England of King James being the smallest of coins, a half a farthing. A whole farthing was worth a fourth of a penny. This widow is not, as this translation suggests, poor. She is beyond poor. A better word for the underlying Greek would be destitute. She is destitute. Here now this Word as it is found in the Gospel we have come to know as Mark.

A READING FROM – Mark 12:38-44 [ILV]

[38] Jesus taught and said, “Beware of the scribes, the religious scholars, who like to walk around in long robes, be greeted with respect in market squares, [39] and have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  [40] They are the ones who swallow the property of widows and, yet, for the sake of appearances, say long prayers.  They will be judged all the more severely.”
[41] Then Jesus sat down opposite the collection box at the Temple, and watched people putting money into it.  Many rich people put in large sums.  [42] But an impoverished widow came and put in two small coins, worth a very small amount.
[43] At that point Jesus called the disciples together and said, “The truth is, this woman has put in more than all those who have contributed to the treasury.  [44] For all of them have contributed out of their surplus; but in her poverty, she has put in everything she possessed from the little she had— all she had to live on.”
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