Christ Episcopal Church

Hear the Word. Eat the Bread. Change the World.

November 11, 2018

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One hundred years ago today, World War One, “The Great War,” “The War to End All Wars,” ended. At 11:00 (at Trinity) Walter Leino will ring Trinity’s bell, as part of a great state-wide chorus, to mark this auspicious anniversary. 100 years since the Armistice, the end of hostilities, the hope of a peace to bring to an end the horrors of world-wide violence.

It didn’t end all wars, of course. I remember one episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor goes back in time to a battlefield in France in 1914, and someone who is traveling with him refers to it as “World War 1.” The soldier with whom they are talking looks shocked and then devastated. “World War ONE?” he asks. The idea that such a tragic, chaotic world-wide event would happen again just devastated him.

As well it should have.

It is tragic that so much of our history is filled with war. When I was growing up, someone who used the phrase “after the war” automatically meant after World War Two. If you use that phrase now, you might well be met with the question, “Which one?” I am embarrassed to say that the other day I heard someone in the news refer to the war in Afghanistan, and my response was, “I thought that was over…”

Today is Veteran’s Day in the US. Around the world it is often called Remembrance Day. Most countries changed the name from Armistice Day after World War Two, ostensibly to honor the veterans who died in that conflict. I wonder, though, if there wasn’t also a sense that it was dishonest to refer to it as Armistice Day when the violence didn’t actually stop, peace didn’t actually prevail. We all continued to churn out veterans faster than we knew how to take care of them.

I don’t usually incorporate a national, non-religious observance into my sermon, but every time I tried to figure out a different way to start my sermon, I floundered. So I came back here to see where it would take me, especially in light of the readings we have for today.

Any of us who grew up hearing Bible stories may have learned a particular interpretation of the story of the poor widow putting her small coins into the Temple Treasury. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the framers of the lectionary put it here in November, the time that many (though not all!) churches are conducting their annual pledge drive. This story has been used to encourage sacrificial giving, to give not just out of their abundance, but to give ‘til it hurt a little. I think I’ve probably even been guilty of such a simplistic and ultimately wrong-headed use of this passage at this particular time of year.

As I have studied it more closely, I see that there is something else—something quite the opposite going on here. In fact, one of the commentaries I read warned us that if we preach this passage as it ought to be preached, our stewardship committees will not be happy with us!

Jesus is not praising the woman for her faith (even though it is praiseworthy). He is instead pointing out fundamental injustice of the situation. There might even be a bit of shaming involved, although I don’t usually like to think of Jesus as trying to shame anyone.

She is putting in everything she has to live on. Rather than using it to be sure that the widows and orphans, the marginalized of their community, were properly taken care of, the scribes use it for their own benefit, buying long robes and bribing their way into places of honor. Jesus is pointing to her as an illustration of what he meant when he said they “devour widows’ houses.” She shouldn’t have to put anything in; she should be receiving help from what everyone else put in. That’s the mark of a truly righteous community, that even the poorest and most marginalized are taken care of and protected.

We are told that many rich people put money into the treasury, Jesus describes it as giving out of their abundance. That is a good thing; it is appropriate to support the ministries of your faith community. (There, that ought to keep the treasurer happy!) But it is also important to be sure that it is being used in ways that build up the community of faith. Yes, that means paying your clergy and maintaining a building—as part of an overall priority to share the good news. We don’t keep the parking lot plowed and the walks shoveled in the winter for the sake of appearances. We keep them clear so that people can come into the building, both for worship and for community services and meeting groups. You don’t pay me to stand up here and give you a good show every Sunday. My job is to nourish your minds and spirits and equip you for ministry in the wider world. A former presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church once said to a room full of priests, “Aren’t you lucky! You get to equip the saints for ministry; it’s their job to get out into the trenches and do the actual work.” (This was the same one who told us our ordination was a mercy, because we needed that extra dose of the Spirit to be able to do what all of you are able to do by virtue of your baptism alone.) Sacrificial giving is a good habit, but it needs to be done mindfully and personally. I don’t get to tell you what you need to sacrifice. You need to figure it out for yourself.

This brings me back to the topic of Veterans’ Day. Honestly, I wish we had kept it as Armistice Day, celebrating that moment of peace (and yes, I know that even on the day it occurred there was a certain artificiality to it all). It troubles me that we don’t celebrate the ends of wars as national holidays. Mine may be the last generation that even has any memory of V-E Day as something important—and it’s entirely possible that I only remember it because I spent a year in Europe. I would like us to remember November 11th as Armistice Day. Not because I don’t want to honor our veterans, but because I do. I want us to honor our servicemen and women with more than one or two days a year and a yellow ribbon decal on the back of the car. I’d like us to take seriously how many of the people who are sent into harm’s way are like that widow putting what little she has into the treasury, giving up everything—ev-er-y-thing—in service to their ideals. Too often they are used up mindlessly by people far removed from any real sacrifice or suffering. It is our responsibility, and the responsibility of our elected officials, not to use them as cannon fodder or pawns on a chessboard to score political points. When—if—they do come back, we don’t do enough to make sure that they are put back together, body, mind, and spirit. We need to be willing to spend as much money on healing them as we do on wounding them. The people who put them in harm’s way need to value that faceless young man or woman as deeply as they value their own sons and daughters.

Maybe then there really would be a time without war.

The hymn writer Carl Daw wrote a new poem to go with the tune of a hymn that became popular in England during World War One. I want to share that new poem with you now.

O day of peace that dimly shines through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love, delivered from our selfish schemes.

May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze, a little child shall lead them all.

Then enemies shall learn to love, all creatures find their true accord;

the hope of peace shall be fulfilled, for all the earth shall know the Lord.

I pray that when the 200th anniversary of this day rolls around, and the bells ring out, people will hear them and have to really strain their memories to recall the last time any American soldier died in battle, because we finally achieved more than simple armistice, but true peace. Please God, may it be so.

Amen.

Christ Episcopal Church, Norway, Maine | A member of The Episcopal Diocese of Maine, The Episcopal Church, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion