appearances

A sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday After the Pentecost, Mark 12:38-44

The gospel lesson this morning is harsh.

Live into your faith, fully, completely, without hesitation, without boasting and strutting for all to see, with the greatest self-sacrifice, with the commitment to truly be a person of faith, forgoing the expectations of the watching public to practice the faith that Christ has called us into.

That is the gospel message today. But, it is also so much more than this.

Our appearance as followers, as faithful people, does not matter. Our appearance as givers, as those worthy of praise, does not matter. What matters is our actual actions. What matters is what we actually do. What matters is what we allow to happen. What matters is what we are actually willing to give up in order to practice our faith. What matters then is not whether or not we are Christian, what matters is what we do with that.

You can hide behind your identity that you show to the world. In our current understanding of the world this is pretty clear when those who proudly and loudly proclaim the identity of “Christian” consistently fail to actually live into that identity. They are the ones that Jesus warns of who “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” It is easy to identify these people.

You are Christian simply for the sake of appearance when you support the inhumane and predominantly racist policies that are directed at the least and less among us. You are Christian simply for the sake of appearance when you use that identity to make yourself feel better for supporting those inhumane and racist policies. Calling yourself a Christian is not for your benefit so that you can feel comfortable, so that you can justify supporting despicable things, so that you can justify systematically targeting the least in our society and in our world. Identifying as a Christian should leave you uncomfortable, knowing that there is always more that you could be doing to live into your faith, knowing that due to our flaws we will never fully live into the model of life that Christ has left for us, but trying nonetheless, not resting, not falling back on this identity, but rather using it as motivation to do more, to be more, and to do all this for the sake of others, not for the sake of our own appearances.

The gospel lesson this morning is harsh. And, it leaves room for God’s grace. It leaves room for us, broken sinners simply trying to do our best, when we try for the sake of faith rather than the sake of appearances.

And, the gospel lesson this morning really comes down to one question: are you giving because it is what is expected, or are you giving because your faith compels you to?

When we give out of our abundance, whether it is wealth, time, service, outreach, ministry, are we really giving all that much? It’s easy to give when we are comfortable, when there is plenty left over for us to give again. It is easy to give when that is what is expected of us, when our giving is calculated so that others will not question whether we are giving enough, doing just enough for the sake of appearances but nothing more. But, that measured act of giving is not really giving. It is performance art. And prayerful action should never be performance art. For that allows one to pray long prayers while the widow’s house is devoured.

Give everything you have, all you have to live on, that is the gospel message today. When you give out of your poverty, when you give because it is right, not because it looks right, then you begin to live into the (demanding, exacting, impossible?) call that Christ has laid before us.

But, what about those of us who live in abundance? How can we give out of poverty if we are comfortable, if we already give what we can spare?

I’m sorry to say this, cause it applies to me just as much as anyone in this place, tough.

What I mean be that is simple, as far as I can tell from the gospels, from the lesson we have before us today, when we give just enough, we aren’t giving nearly enough. We have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves in order to begin to live into the spirit of what Jesus heralds today in the poor widow. This means we have to use the positions of privilege we have to destroy the systems that have given us that privilege. This means that we have to do more than speak against the injustices in our society, the evil done on behalf of us as citizens of this country. We actually have to do something about it. We have to be willing to sacrifice ourselves, our privilege, our comfort, in order to cause the reality shifting that must occur in order to realize the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

The gospel lesson this morning is harsh, because it is demanding (and honestly, when is it not?), especially so because it calls us out for exactly what we still do to this day, doing just enough to be somewhere in the neighborhood of the call, but not the actual, sacrificial, acts that we are truly called to undertake. Luckily for all of us, we can change this. The roadmap is there before us. We just have to do more, give more, sacrifice more (simple, right?), in order to enact real change in this world, in our society. Jesus invites us into this knowing that we will fail from time to time, but if we try in faith, in the knowledge that God’s grace is there to pick us up when we falter, then we can’t help but live more fully into our faith, and move beyond simple appearances into people who fully embrace their faith, and all of the challenges that presents to us.

Amen.

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