Do you ever have those moments in meetings when the conversation gets to a subject matter not in your area of responsibility, and you drift off for a moment? I had one of those a few vestry meetings ago.
I was probably thinking about decorating the guestroom, or what menu to choose for the wedding reception, possibly even about something responsible like Sunday school or children’s worship. Out of the corner of my ear, I heard Chuck say, “I’d like to concentrate on World Peace on Veterans Day. I hope our preacher will be able to incorporate that. . .”
Suddenly I realized everyone was looking at me. I, in fact, was scheduled to preach on Veteran’s Day. That certainly got my attention, but I was left with a fundamental problem. I don’t believe in world peace.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against world peace. If the nations of the world decided to beat their weapons into plowshares, I would celebrate wholeheartedly.
I just don’t believe that day will come while humans still exist on this planet. We humans have this nasty problem called sin. And while we often think of sin in terms of tawdry behavior, like the recent evangelical pastor who was ousted from his congregation for purchasing sex and drugs from a male prostitute (that always ends well), sin can also lead us to abuse power, because power feels so fantastic.
Like sex or alcohol, power can intoxicate and affect the way we treat others around us, and can definitely affect decisions we make. And as long as power has this effect on leaders, World Peace will be along way off.
Both our Gospel reading and Psalm today are about the abuse of power. We often think of the story of the Widow’s mite in terms of stewardship. We picture Jesus sweetly extolling the virtues of this dear woman who gave God everything she had.
Well, read more closely. Jesus is not in a peaceful frame of mind, Jesus is boiling mad. The first sentence of the gospel today reads,
Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.
We do not know exactly what the scribes were doing to take advantage of widows, but we knew Jesus was not happy about it. To see a widow give all she had to the treasury must have been heartbreaking to Jesus. Yes, it was an act of faith, but the widow should not have been put in that position to start with! The scribes and other leaders were supposed to take care of widows, not take advantage of them. The scribes abused their power.
Jesus battled against the lure of power his entire ministry. During his 40 days in the desert, one of the temptations with which Satan taunted Jesus was to remind Jesus he could have power over all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus refused. And he taught this philosophy to his followers. To help his disciples resist the temptation of power, he told them not to get attached to any one town, but to do their ministry and keep moving, accepting gifts from no one. Jesus and the disciples lived simple lives and though constantly surrounded by crowds, never gave into the temptation to abuse the power they had been granted.
Our Psalm today reiterates this distrust of those in seats of power.
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.
What is interesting about this passage, is that the word for rulers is a word with very positive connotations. The word can mean generous man, or noble man. Yet, the psalm is telling us not even to trust noble rulers! Instead the psalm tells us to trust the God of Jacob-the God who has been faithful for generations.
The controversial activist and Jesuit priest, Daniel Berrigan once wrote,
I can only tell you what I believe; I believe:
I cannot be saved by foreign policies.
I cannot be saved by the sexual revolution.
I cannot be saved by the gross national product.
I cannot be saved by nuclear deterrents.
I cannot be saved by aldermen, priests, artists,
plumbers, city planners, social engineers,
nor by the Vatican,
nor by the World Buddhist Association,
nor by Hitler, nor by Joan of Arc,
nor by angels and archangels,
nor by powers and dominions,
I can be saved only by Jesus Christ
Daniel Clendenin, founder of Journey with Jesus has updated this to read,
I cannot be saved by George Bush or Jesse Jackson,
by Hillary Clinton or Condi Rice, nor by their successors or opponents.
I cannot be saved by Green Peace or the ACLU,
by Focus on the Family or by Promise Keepers.
This Tuesday many of us went to the polls, hoping either for change or to prevent change. We put hope in our leaders hoping our Congressmen and women will be upright, honest and wise. We hope that if we elect the right people into our government, that we will be safe and secure.
Our readings today remind us that not even the best politician, the most noble leader with excellent policy, can save us in any kind of existential or permanent way-only God can do that.
Knowing this, the temptation then becomes, “Well, then why should I care about what happens in politics? Why should I care about world peace? If my security is bound up with God and not with leaders here on earth, why participate in the system?”
While God warns us about the dangers of power, he simultaneously calls us to create cultures of justice and integrity.
Remember the widow and how angry the scribes made Jesus? Jesus expected the Scribes to create a culture of justice and instead they participated in a culture that took advantage of widows!
Our ultimate reality is grounded in God, but this is the same God that calls us to live here on earth. There’s a term that describes this-the already and the not yet. God has already saved us and we are already his-but it is not yet time for God’s kingdom to come to fruition and in the meantime, we must be fully present in our daily lives.
We’ve talked a lot about stewardship the last month, but I invite you to think about stewardship in a broader sense. God has entrusted us with these lives, with this country, with this planet. He charges us to create societies in which widows and orphans are taken care of, in which justice and mercy are prevailing qualities.
We may not have power to create world peace single handedly, but in America, we are blessed, because we are each empowered to participate in our government. We don’t have to rely on the scribes or a dictator or a king. This week we each had the opportunity to vote, to build a government-what an incredible opportunity to create a government that loves justice. We also have the power to reach beyond our class and racial lines to build connections with those who are not like us. We have the power to live on this planet lightly, being stewards of this earth we are currently treating so poorly. Stewardship is not only about responsibility, it’s also about power-the power God gives us to take care of each other, the power to make change for the good, the power to live life thoughtfully and with care.
And we may not be able to create world peace, but we can create a culture that values just war, and taking care of widows, orphans, the disabled, and the elderly. We can create a culture that is more interested in connection than division, reconciliation than hatred, information rather than ignorance. And we can do this because we know that ultimately our security and hope rest in the God who loves us-all of us, Democrat and Republican, gay and straight, women and men, children and adults.
Thanks be to God.