November 8th, 2015 The Reverend John Zachary Flack
1 Kings 17:8-16
And he means, of course, a people, a household of people who share the same name. And we Christians believe that is the name of Jesus, the name that is above every name. We receive that name when we God builds us into his house through baptism. So when we say we are going to church, we mean we are going to go be with God’s house, God’s household of people. Build me a temple? You think you’re going to build me a temple? I’m going to build a temple for you, God says.
And honestly, only a king would think that God needs something he has. Only somebody like David, who had a long string of success can think, well, now it’s time to do something for God. It’s time to give God a little honor now that I live in a great big house. God, I might venture to say, prefers the devotion of those who give everything to him, than the devotion of those who treat him as an afterthought. God does not need to be thanked when things are good, but ought to be thanked and praised at all times—David wrote, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
No, God does need churches and temples. God called all things into being, and God permeates and upholds all of Creation. The tent of the Israelites symbolized that—wherever the people were, God was in the midst of them. And yet God was outside of them, too, meeting the faithful, as God met with Elijah, in the hidden and impoverished places.
Throughout the Bible and in Jesus' day, there was a debate about the place of the Temple in the piety of the people. That's why Jesus is forever confronting both the Chief Priests of the temple, who believed and were in charge of the Temple cult, and the Pharisees, who were more interested in the Word of God as it was found in the Scriptures. The temple was both a holy place and a corrupt place--the people knew that the temple was holy, but they also knew that the priests and the administrative structure was often less than holy.
How well we know this today. Just think how great the church would be without all the church professionals, or the bishops, or the church bureaucracy! Or better yet, without the Christians! I'm sure many of the people of Jerusalem and Judea felt the same way about the priests and the temple bureaucracy, not least of them Jesus himself. And yet Jesus does a curious thing in the texts: he sits to watch people contribute to the temple treasury. We're in the middle of a capital campaign and a stewardship campaign, so we know what it's like to sit down and watch the pledges get filled. It's not so different as in Jesus time--that Temple wasn't going to maintain itself, and moreover, it was one of the wonders of the ancient world. So Jesus sits down and watches all who give to the treasury, and instead of mocking the people who give to such a perverted, sinful, deceptive den of iniquity, he instead praises and lauds the poor widow who gives all that she has. Our translation says, "she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all that she had to live on."
Why would Jesus be so happy to see that a person gave so much to a corrupt and deficient Temple bureaucracy? Would Jesus be happy to see us, as we begin making pledges to keep this temple standing? I think Jesus loves this woman because she isn't really giving her money over to the Temple. I think that's what the rich are doing, giving out of their abundance so they can have a nice place to go worship, just like they might have a nice place to go have dinner afterwards. But instead he sees that she gives all that she has to live on, or in other words, all of her living, all of her life, not to the temple, but to God. She trusts that even through this fallen collection of human beings, God will act, and God will save. That's what Jesus celebrates--and indeed, let us remember, that Jesus could sit there and watch because he had cleaned out the temple of all the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals. Jesus reckons God will build a house, a holy household, and even though Jesus knows the temple is not truly a home of God, it is a place where people can encounter God in prayer, in giving, in worship.
God does not mark a place--God forms a people. And when God does that, God wants to totally transform us. The widow gives all of her living, her whole life over to God, and that's what Jesus wants of us. God does not need us to give out of our abundance. God does not need anything that we have. We need to give ourselves over to God, so that we can see what happens when God works through us. That's why we still need to give our time, and our money, and our lives to the people that are here gathered. We are not a perfect community, far from it. We are not perfect individuals, far from it. But we are members of the household of God, and God has called us be his people in this beautiful world he made, to proclaim the good news and to enter into the mystery of God's life.
Today we are so glad that Ernesto and Emily will be baptized into God's people, becoming members of God's household. Ernesto and Emily, God receives all of you in Baptism. Everything about you, all that you are, God hallows and makes holy. Today, you receive the promise from God that you are his children forever. And you will always have a home in his church, which isn't just OSA, but the whole people gathered in his name throughout the earth. No matter where you go, no matter who you meet, no matter how far you stray, someone will be there, put there by God, to help you remember the good news of Christ Jesus, to feed you with hope and faith, and to be your people.
Baptism is an amazing gift from God--a new life in Christ, salvation, the forgiveness of sins. It does not make you perfect now—but it makes you part of the body of Christ. You become part of the household—and we are built up on one another. We are all like rejected stones, imperfect, not right for the fancy palaces. But God takes all of us and puts us together into his house. God receives all of us, every part, and builds us into something beautiful—a family, a household, that gathers in this house. Amen.