s144g00 Somerton Park Sunday 32 b 12/11/2000
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more ..." Mark 12:41-43
This is a most uncomfortable passage of the gospel. As I began this sermon it was reported in that morning's "Advertiser" that in 1992 the Queen Mother, almost universally revered as the most popular of the British Royal family, apparently complained to Lord Wyatt about the possibility of the Royal Family paying taxes, pleading poverty - "We're not rich at all, not in serious terms, as you know". (Advertiser Oct 30 p24). I have no idea if this is true or not, but it shows how quickly one gets tied up into all sorts of knots when one discusses poverty and wealth. Most of us would not claim to be rich, yet I heard the Archbishop say to a congregation just last Sunday that we were all filthy rich - in comparison to the people he visited in Papua New Guinea a while back. Curiously in the same article in the "Advertiser", it was reported that some Tories think that someone other than HRH Prince Charles should accede to the throne in due course. It seems to me very curious indeed for the most avowed supporters of a hereditary monarchy to want the right to pick and choose the most suitable candidate ...
The trouble is that when we say, quite correctly, that God has a special concern for the poor, the widow and the stranger, and has had for all eternity; those who are not poor, those who are not widows or strangers - are all too tempted to leave it up to God, and to forget the needs of the underprivileged. They are quite content to ponce around in their long robes being greeted with respect, as the scribes apparently were in the time of Jesus. The rich have no need to worry. The poor can eke out their existence with the bottomless jar of meal and the unfailing jug of oil that the Lord will provide, with no need for outside assistance. The rich might indeed be "sent empty away", so they might as well enjoy the trappings!
But, uncomfortable as it may be, it is true, God has always had a special concern for the alien, the widow and the orphan. The psalm for today (146) makes this plain:
7. Who keeps faith for ever:
who deals justice to those that are oppressed.
8. The LORD gives food to the hungry:
and sets the captives free.
9. The LORD gives sight to the blind:
the LORD lifts up those that are bowed down.
10. The LORD loves the righteous:
the LORD cares for the stranger in the land.
11. He upholds the widow and the fatherless:
as for the way of the wicked, he turns it upside down.
It does not say that the Lord gives food to those who work for it, or deserve it, it says that the only qualification for the Lord to give food, is that the recipient is hungry. It does not say that the Lord sets the captives, who deserve it, free. It says that the only qualification for the Lord to set a person free is that they are captive. Again there are no qualifications put on which blind people are enabled to see, which of those who are bowed down are raised up. The only qualification for God's care is that people are widows or orphans.
And in the midst of all this we have: "The LORD loves the righteous", and we can immediately conclude that "righteousness" for God is reflecting this same concern for the marginalised. And at the end we have the statement: "as for the way of the wicked, he turns it upside down". So wickedness in God's eyes is not reflecting this same concern God has for the marginalised.
We somehow have to deal with the problem that the person who is captive in our society, is most often incarcerated for a very good reason. We are, of course, fortunate in Australia, that generally this is the case; though I am reliably informed that even here in Australia, most of those who are in jail protest their innocence. It may well be that people are a danger to themselves or a danger to society. They may be in jail because of tremendous hurts they have caused others. It is very confronting to us who are free to proclaim a God as one who has a special care for prisoners, enough to set them free, especially if we are the ones who have been hurt so deeply.
The difficulty is that often we as Christians want the marginalised to stay that way! The illustration of the prisoners being set free is but one example. It does not take much imagination to think of others who are marginalised in our society, who we would certainly prefer to remain that way.
Did I not see something in the paper recently about a native title claim being lodged over the Adelaide Plains? What would I do if the house we are buying for our retirement turns out to be a sacred site? What would we do if the land on which this Church is built had to be handed over? Actually, of course, neither of these scenarios are at all intended or likely, but it is an illustration of how easy it is to proclaim a God who cares for the marginalised, still thinking that it won't cost me, or us, anything.
The Church rejoices in its position of power and influence in society. We bemoaned the loss of religious instruction in state schools and yet sometimes I hear criticisms of the education system which seeks to treat all religions equally. We "Christians" would much prefer the marginalised people of other faiths to remain so.
I suspect the present saga over branch stacking before the preselection of the liberal candidate for Unley revolves around a number of people who want prostitutes to remain marginalised. The sitting member - a devout Anglican - has tabled a private member's bill to decriminalise prostitution - a bill which has the full support of the Anglican Diocese's Social Responsibilities Committee as well as our Archbishop. The politician follows a number of other devout Anglican parliamentarians who have tried to do the same thing and failed.
Again parts of our Church are quick to be up in arms when the marginalised gay community doesn't stay appropriately marginalised! A more recent document from our Social Responsibilities Committee has a conservative and a moderate view expressed about this matter. The "conservative" view refers to one article expressing grave fears that we are about to be "taken over": "When homosexuals control a city" (by Roslyn Phillips, BSc, DipEd (Australian Festival of Light Resource Paper, February 1994)) They are marginalised and must remain so!
One of the difficulties with one of the cornerstones of our society - democracy - is that rule by the majority at the expense of the minorities is no more divinely ordained than any other form of government which is exercised at the expense of the marginalised. The only divinely ordained rule is that which tries to uphold and care for the other, as God has done for all eternity - and of course that can as well be exercised by democratically elected governments, as by hereditary monarchs, as well as by autocratic leaders and communist systems. In the end any system of government can be used constructively for God's purposes - democratic, autocratic, hereditary monarchy, communist; and in the end all of these can just as easily fail to do so, as one or more get power and wants to retain it for him, herself or themselves.
In fact of course God's special concern for the orphan and widow, those who have lost contact with their heavenly spouse, those who have lost contact with our and their heavenly Father, puts paid to any suggestion that God has regard really only for Christians, those who are in a relationship with the one God. This view is so widely held throughout the Church that the world, which knows nothing else about our teachings, certainly knows this. The world has got the message loud and clear, that the Church believes and proclaims that they, rather than the poor and the alien, are specially cared for by God, that it is no wonder to me that we so struggle with evangelism.
So let no one pretend that proclaiming a God who cares for the poor and the alien is easy, that it won't cost, especially we in the Church, for it demolishes our comfortable position of power and authority over others.
It is easy for us who, while none of us are especially rich, we manage to get by reasonably well. We have a few aches and pains, some of us a few more than others, but in reality there are few things we want to change in society. And the few things that we might think need changing are those where our own comfort is disturbed. The poor we will always have with us, and we are bidden to contribute what we can to their welfare, and of course many of us do.
God is not looking surreptitiously over our shoulders - like some omnipresent "Big Brother" checking what we put into our freewill envelopes each week. God is not looking surreptitiously over our shoulders - like some omnipresent "Big Brother", noting every time we look at a member of the opposite (or the same) gender appreciatively. It will be the appreciation or the cries of the marginalised in society which will make our actions or inactions in this life plain before the Almighty. It will be the abyss, which we either dig or fill in, spade by spade, in this life, which will testify either for or against us.
Of course there are many in the Church who do "give their all" for others. Often we act through Anglicare, the Australian Board of Missions and other mission agencies, and our contributions are always very much appreciated by them.
The way of the wicked is not just turned up side down however, I really think that it is also turned inside out. For in the end no one is turned away except those who do not wish to join the party because of the other company God keeps. God welcomes the younger son's return and pleads with the elder to join the party. I cannot say how long the pleading will go on for. I do not know when God takes a refusal to join the party as definite and irrevocable. I only know that I would prefer to be enjoying the festivities with others rather than be outside sulking all by myself for all eternity - but then I've got the impression some people actually do like sulking :-)
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