What is Your Heart's Deepest Longing?

We wait in the silence of a new season / moving from spring to summer
from Pentecost to Advent / from busyness to quiet.
We crouch with Mary on the straw of our messy lives / letting go of everything but this moment.
We breathe in organic and homely smells / we breathe out the impulse to push, to rush
to stock up, to plan, to get things done
—and we wait. We wait. / We listen.
It is not yet time for labour.
This is the hour of rest. / This is the time for silence, breathing,
Gestation / of a nascent, quickening Christ.

    —“Advent Prayer” by Bronwyn  Angela  White

This poem by Bronwyn Angela White reminds us that weeks leading up to Christmas are not meant to be hectic and busy.  They are meant to be quiet and deeply centered—focused on the sacredness of this very moment—messiness and all.  We might want to push and rush, struggle, stock up, and plan.  But here—in the midst of all the lights and glitter, advertisements and pressure to do more—we are meant to simply wait.  To open our eyes.  To lean in with an ear.  To rest.  While many around us hurry around carrying bags and bags of urgency, let’s just breathe.  And wait.  And hope.  And listen to our hearts.  What is your heart’s deepest longing?

See you in church,

Out of Abundance

From Mark 12:38-44

It started at the end of October.  And it has continued throughout this month.  Black Friday?!  If it hadn’t already been creeping earlier and earlier every year, I might be confused. . . .  Some ads even brag “A month of Black Friday!”  I’ve been getting emails for weeks—“Check out our Black Friday deals!”  Are you kidding me?  And it’s hard to stay out of it.  At times it feels like the Dementors from the Harry Potter stories are coming after me—sucking my life force, paralyzing and consuming me.  Prodding me—forcing me to click that link—to consume more and more.  I mean I like a good deal as much as anyone, but. . . .  But.  Really.  When is enough enough
We’re coming up on a season of thanksgiving and grace, and spiritually, this time should open us up, allow us space to be more real and vulnerable and human with one another.  It should not bombard us with heavy-handed expectations that insist that we spend and consume more as expressions of who we are.  And yet, here are these 2 realities—juxtaposed right next to one another:  the spiritual invitation to be thankful and to express that gratitude in authentic, grounded, and life-giving ways AND the cultural expectation to accumulate things in order to impress, to fit in, to communicate who we are—or, at least, who we want others to think we are.
And this juxtaposition resonates deeply with our scripture reading this morning. 
This story comes at the end of Jesus’ public ministry, as he continues to reinterpret—and dispute with the presiding religious authorities over—the proper way to be in deep and abiding relationship with God. 
Despite their revered and honored status, Jesus denounces the scribes as poor models of leadership in this regard.  He might as well name the scribes as the spiritual equivalent of the “month-long Black Friday.”  They are people who wear long and showy robes to impress, who demand respect in the marketplaces, who expect the best seats and places of honor without regard for others. . . . 
But we know—don’t we?—like Jesus did—that places of honor can attract people who are not honorable.  We can easily look to the world of religion—and we can just as easily look to the world of politics and the world of commerce—and we readily see the temptations to greed and self-aggrandizement.  And we have to ask ourselves, “Where do we fit into this picture?”  Are we free from these temptations?  Are we living in authentic, grounded, and life-giving ways?
Jesus condemned the pretentious practices of the scribes because they thinly masked the scribes’ heartless exploitation of poor and vulnerable people who turned to them for help.  And in this regard, Jesus stands in a long line of prophets who similarly attacked religious leaders for similar actions—or equally detrimental inactions.  To be in deep and abiding relationship with God—Jesus kept insisting—has nothing to do with your social standing or how others perceive you.  It has to do with how we take care of one another and how we give thanks for the abundance we find in our midst.

This is why, I think, I struggle so much with this whole debate about whether or not to accept—and who will and who won’t accept—and what is too many or not enough Syrian refugees—as if they aren’t really people but numbers and problems and inconvenience.  Have we lost our humanity?  Or simply our hearts?  Jesus critiques the scribes precisely because—as public leaders—they did not have the generosity of spirit to care for the poor and vulnerable people in the deepest need. 
And that brings us to the widow.  Now, we’ve talked about this same widow before.  In fact, I remember a fabulous Scripture Choir performance of her story last year or the year before.  She serves as an example of how vulnerable people can be—and how vulnerable people were routinely victimized by Temple authorities.  Jesus laments her plight and continues his denunciation of the scribes who do not care for this person but proceed to exploit her.  She is an example of those widows whose houses are “devoured” by the scribes.  She has no home, no security, no reason we might recognize as a reason to be thankful.  And yet she comes with her gift.  Because this is what she knows to do.  And this is where she places her hope and her trust.
Many others come with much larger gifts. . . .  And let’s be careful here.  Jesus does not criticize large gifts.  He criticizes gifts given for the wrong reasons—that are meant more for show than for any genuine expression of hope and trust and goodwill.  But large gifts are needed—on this pledge Sunday and throughout the year—to sustain open, life-giving, and welcoming ministry in our community and in our world. 
But large gifts are certainly not the only ones that are valued.  Rather than romanticizing small gifts, Jesus recognizes the great sacrifice of the poor widow who offers her 2 lepta, the smallest coins then in circulation.  And he readily points out that some people—even after giving their large gifts—still have plenty.  But the widow has nothing left—just her faith and her trust in God’s abundance.
And here, I think it is important to notice the faith in abundance.  The financially wealthy are not the only ones with access to abundance.  Abundance is available and accessible to us all.  It is a gift, and it is a grace.  And even when things feel bleak, there are pinpricks of abundance—that transcend dollars and cents—all around us.
So, with this in mind, I want to close with a story I read recently by the wonderful poet Naomi Shihab Nye: 

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.  Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—she stopped crying.  She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.  She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the following day.

I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.  We called her son and I spoke with him in English.  I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.  She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering Questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament.

The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice and lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, this is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.  They took the cookies.

I wanted to hug all those other women too.

This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

—Naomi Shihab Nye

This story reminds us of the ways God continually calls us into deep and abiding relationship—and invites us to be thankful and hopeful in authentic, grounded, and life-giving ways.  Abundance lies all around us.