Jesus calls us to let go of everything. Can we learn to trust this together, and watch God change the world in us?
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 32 B
Text: Mark 12:38-44 (also referring to several other texts)
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
A month ago on October 14 we witnessed an encounter between Jesus and an earnest rich man.
The man asked how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus spoke of keeping the commandments. In fact, Jesus saw how well he kept the commandments and loved him. But then Jesus said, “you’re too weighed down by all that you have. You’re going to want to sell everything, give the money to someone who needs it, and then, come, follow me.” The man couldn’t imagine doing that, because he was so wealthy.
Today we witness another moment with Jesus. As he watches people put big sums in the Temple treasury, he notices a poor widow come forward and put in two nearly worthless coins, less than a penny. Everything she had, in fact. And Jesus looked at the disciples and said, “That seems about right.”
A hugely rich man and an impoverished widow both face the truth of their wealth. And for both, our Lord and Savior says letting go of everything is the way of God.
Here’s another moment, from the fourth chapter of Acts.
Did you know there was a second Pentecost event in Acts? After Peter and John were arrested and released, they returned to the community. Then all the believers prayed. Luke goes on:
31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. Acts 4:31-34
This is astonishing. Because of the Spirit’s blowing and shaking their lives, they lived in love together, one heart, one soul, and shared everything, and no one was needy.
This didn’t last very long. By Acts 6 there are cracks in the sharing, and some widows weren’t getting food, so six deacons were elected to help. Not too much later, by First Corinthians, it seems the believers had returned to the world’s way, with rich and poor members. But for a brief moment, the Church got Jesus.
Why do we consider this impossible today? Do we believe the Spirit still moves among us, still shakes us?
I believe the Spirit does still shake us. And I believe the Holy Spirit is calling Mount Olive to a completely new and ancient way of being Christ’s community together.
I have seen a vision over the past couple months that the Spirit compels me to share with you.
It’s a vision of this community of faith leaping deeper into community together than we’ve ever dared. Having one heart, one soul, and sharing everything with each other.
It’s a vision where we stop thinking of stewardship as “giving” but as letting go, as sharing together in Christ’s work. Where a 10% tithe is fine, but just the beginning of the path toward the 100% Jesus calls us to let go.
It’s a vision of this community recognizing its idolatry of commerce and the economy, admitting its addiction to possessions and security, and turning to each other in Christ to break that addiction. By understanding our general fund, our budget, not as a budget but as a community purse, into which each of us starts the path toward fully letting go, pooling it together, for the good of the community, for the good of the world.
I believe we are an ideal community to try to actually follow Jesus together.
We are deeply shaped by God’s grace and love and the inclusion of all people in God’s embrace. God’s love fills our hearts and lives every time we gather here, and these people here with whom we worship, with whom we walk on our faith journey, are family in Christ. We even disagree and argue, and still gather in joy at Christ’s table afterward.
We have a transparent structure, with leaders we elect from our midst. We meet twice a year as a community for business, and monthly as a Vestry, and we report to each other what we are doing. What other place could we even dare to risk letting go? What other people would we even trust to be the ones with whom we let go?
Listen to another vision your leadership has.
At our October Vestry retreat, President David Anderson asked each Vestry member to reflect on four questions ahead of time and bring them to the retreat. One question was: It’s ten years from now, and you’re looking north from Mount Olive’s door. What do you see? At least eight of the thirteen independently saw Mount Olive involved in some kind of housing initiative. Some saw a three-story apartment building of affordable housing. Others saw houses purchased and renovated and used for transitional housing. It was breathtaking.
There’s no shortage of imagination amongst your elected leaders. But we can’t begin to follow that dream, which I firmly believe was given our leaders by the Holy Spirit, if we view stewardship as giving to a budget, and nudge our yearly budget up a couple percentage points every year. What we do right now is good. We care for many people. We have a new loan program. Our care for the environment and our building makes this a safe place for our neighbors and the creation.
But if we caught the Spirit’s vision, and first a few of us, then a few more, then over the years more and more until we reached critical mass, if this happened and people seriously took wealth and possessions that we were keeping for ourselves and put them in a communal purse here together, God could change this city.
If we really sensed the Spirit shaking us and bringing us into one heart and one mind, and we strategically started sharing 10%, 20%, 30% together, God could do wonders here. We don’t have to let go of everything all at once, cold turkey, like Jesus asked the man. We can do it a day at a time, as addiction recovery people have taught us, and take steps down Jesus’ path together.
I expect some objections are rising in your hearts and minds.
There’s no time to list them now, but I’ve heard over ten specific kinds of objections in the past few weeks as I’ve tested some of this with people here and elsewhere, so you know them. I’ll just note a couple things.
First, the more you or I resist a teaching of Jesus, the more easily we have our answers why it’s not realistic or won’t work, the more we push back, the more it’s a sign we need to hear the teaching more deeply. Take your objections and sit with them. Ask yourself why they’re so easy to come to. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of, and why. Ask the Spirit to help you sort out if they are objections that must prevent you from following.
Second, this vision is not one-size-fits-all. Jesus encounters a wide spectrum of wealth in these stories, from someone with almost nothing to someone with great wealth. I don’t know where you are on that spectrum. Some of you are much closer to the widow’s end. I also believe that many of you join me closer to the rich man’s wealth. We do this vision together, as each senses the Spirit’s call. None of this can be forced, or guilted into reality, and each will do what each can, with the Spirit’s help.
Third, there’s an overlooked truth in today’s Gospel. If this poor widow gives away everything, someone has to take care of her, make sure she has food and shelter and love. There’s a reason the Scriptures are full of God’s command to care for the widows and orphans: God expects the community of God’s beloved to do this.
So not only would this vision transform our neighborhood and city. It would also make us a community where no one who sojourns with us ever has to worry about having enough to live on when they get old, or worry about where they’ll sleep at night or whether they’ll eat. It would make us a community where we learned to be vulnerable with each other about our needs, not so fiercely private and independent, so that we can care for each other and no one falls through the cracks. That’s the most beautiful thing about the whole Acts 4 story. No one in the community was in need.
There is much to think about. Please do that. Pray. And be in this conversation.
If the Spirit moves you right now and you want to start letting go of more of your possessions and wealth, for your own spiritual health and well-being, and you’ve already filled out your pledge card, take it home and bring it back with what you’re feeling called to do.
If you aren’t sure what this means for you but feel you’re being pulled by the Spirit, talk to me. We need to get a group together that talks about this vision and helps each other live into it.
If this is all too much and you don’t know what to think, that’s OK, too. But do think about it. Pay attention to where you are pushing back and ask what that might say to you. Pray about what God might need you to see, or change, or do.
And whatever your reaction to this vision, if you never pledge but you give faithfully, I invite you to change and pledge this year. Not to me, not to something else, but as your family in Christ at Mount Olive. When we commit to each other as Christ’s community, we make a sacred bond together, something that can’t happen if I keep my own counsel between me and God about what I will do to join this vision.
We are baptized, anointed children of God, just like those early believers.
Here we have found grace and hope in God’s undying love that gives us life beyond anything we could have imagined, just like they did. And the Holy Spirit is just as committed to moving and working among us as back then.
So: what happens when you feel the room start to shake and you hear the sound of the Spirit?
In the name of Jesus. Amen