A SERMON FOR NOVEMBER 7, 2021
By the Rev’d Heather Liddell
Let us pray: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I remember sitting at my Grandmother's kitchen table on days like today. Looking out at the farm with a teacup in one hand, a plate of lemon squares and shortbread in front of me - and talking about all the things that mattered. Really mattered.
This isn't something that happened once. It was a ritual. Something like evening prayer - every night when I lived with her - when I stayed with her - we would brew a pot of tea, put out some sweet treat, and talk.
We would talk about things like what it means to love our neighbours even when they are hard to love. How to make hard decisions, what sort of person I ought to be, what repentance - what turning around and trying again looks like. We talked about romance and love and my Grandfather. You know - the important stuff.
My Grandmother had a saying - it was the most condemning thing I ever heard her say - and it came to mind starkly when reading and praying through our scripture passages for today. So I thought I would share it with you. I thought I would try to invite you in some small way to that table that means so much to me. The world today - my Grandmother would say - is about more show than substance.
Now I can imagine those words being… self-righteous or cruel if they were coming from another mouth. But, from my Grandmother, those words were steeped in kindness, understanding, and deep sadness.
She grew up believing that certain things were true, and still - in her 90's she was surprised that the things she held to be self-evidently true were not seen as such by everyone else.
I am telling you about my Grandmother because knowing her has shaped how I read scripture - more specifically how I read Ruth. It was knowing her that has shaped how I read Mark's words in our Gospel reading today:
The author of Mark wrote that:
A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which were worth a penny.
Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.
For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
Talk about being more substance than show. It is different to give out of one's abundance than it is to give out of one's poverty.
It is a different thing to do the hard thing and trust in God when it costs us something. Like it cost Ruth.
In Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics - he talks about the virtues - things that we can cultivate in our lives that will lead to our human flourishing. And they have a hierarchy. While all the virtues contribute to human flourishing, some are better - more impressive and more lasting than others.
Now it has been a solid decade since my Political Science degree, and I freely admit that I am very much out of the habit of reading political philosophy. So I offer that as a disclaimer and encourage you to read the Nicomachean Ethics for yourself. Feel free to call me about it afterwards to chat - but from what I remember, the highest virtue in Aristotle's moral framework is magnanimity which sounds like a very good thing, an excellent thing - and it is. It means a sort of generosity of spirit as well as just plain generosity. He even mentions a willingness to sacrifice oneself for others or for a good cause. But, in Aristotle's framework, this is exclusively the purview of the rich.
You cannot have this virtue without an abundance of material wealth.
The rich can be generous - they can give out of their abundance.
Therefore, only the rich can be truly virtuous.
Does that sound familiar to you?
Does it offend you?
I suspect many of us think that way. Maybe not overtly - but probably at least a little bit. It is the air we breathe in 2021. We venerate and revere the charitable giving of billionaires without stopping to think that often for them, what they gave was pocket change.
We stand in awe of the risks and creativity of the wealthy over the risks and creativity of those who have less.
We're often hostile to the risks and creativity of those who have less.
But, here today - we get a counterpoint, a powerful counterpoint. Here this morning, we hear about two virtuous women from scripture who were by no means wealthy, two women who gave out of their poverty and not their abundance.
Two women who loved the Lord their God with all they had and with all they were and who loved their neighbours as themselves.
So I ask you on this chilly November morning - what do you value? Who are your heroes, and why? Do you heroes point you to God's abundance, or do they point to their own?
What does your life point to? God’s abundance, or your own?