Kaleidoscope (Wake Forest University School of Divinity’s LGBTQ student advocacy organization) and Wake Forest Baptist Church are sponsoring an interfaith memorial service for Transgender Day of Remembrance on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. in Davis Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University. TDOR honors and remembers those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia and brings attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community.
A sermon by Pastor Lia Scholl, based on Mark 12:38-44.
As you know, we’re in our second stewardship sermon. Last week’s sermon was called “Show Up,” and I tried to focus on what it means to be a church member: how we show up with our whole selves, in order to serve the whole world.
We talked a little about how church members are supposed to be unifiers, because “when the church members don’t work together, the church is weaker as a whole.”
We also talked a little bit about how some church members come to be served, believing that their tithes and offerings mean that they get to choose the music, boss the pastor, pick the programming. Instead, when we come to church, we’re privileged to get to serve—to share the hope of the Kingdom of God, God’s promise of peace, equality, and justice.
Today’s Gospel lesson is being preached all over the nation, and this widow is being used as a perfect example of serving the Temple—giving enough that it hurts, while the rich people are just giving a small portion of their income.
But what if all those sermons are wrong? And today’s text is really the opposite of all of that?
Her story goes like this: A husband and wife go to the Temple, it is the center of their social life and their religious life. The husband, believing he is providing for his wife after he dies, wills all of his money to the Temple, with the provision that they will care for his wife. Remember that women can’t own property in these times. Then the husband dies.
The scribes take the money. They likely give the widow a pittance to live on, like scraps to dogs, and in order to keep on giving her the pittance, they expect her to show up at Temple… and to give. The scribes have exploited her misfortune, treated her with contempt, and have forced her to give, even as they keep her in poverty to line their own pockets.
So this story is neither a story about tithing, about expectations, about gratitude, or even a halfway good example of why we should give to our church.
So then why should we give?
I think we should start with the question: Why do you come to church?
Do you come to please your spouse?
Do you come to meet new people and socialize?
Do you feel obligated to be here?
Do you come to be a part of a faith community?
Do you come to become closer to God?
Do you come to be a better person?
Do you come to change the world, to make a difference in someone’s life?
Do you come for comfort in times of trouble or sorrow?
What if we pledged based on our reason to be here?
If you’re here to please your spouse? Go ahead, make a small pledge. You’ve driven all the way here, plastered a smile on your face. Just reach back, pat yourself on the back, and just drop a few dollars in. We’re glad you’re here, and we just want to make it easy on you.
If you’re just here to see your friends, you too can make a really small pledge. Maybe just enough to cover your share of the bills—ten bucks or so a week should cover the reception you partake in, the music you’ve listened to, the tiny piece of bread you ate with grape juice.
Really. You have very low expectations—our expectations of you should be the same.
And if you’re here to build your business rolodex? (I know, I just lost some of you young’uns. A rolodex is like your contacts in your phone). Give a little more. These folks might frequent your business. But don’t expect too much—we’re a lot of older folks, we don’t get out as much as we used to, and many of us are no longer homeowners, or not homeowners just yet. You may not make back your investment.
But if you are here to be closer to God? Well, you might need to give a little more. Sometimes it feels like we have to offer more of ourselves in order to break down our own internal barriers to God. We have to feel a little more vulnerable, a little more invested, a little more open—including our pocketbook.
And are you here hoping to be a better person? Have you looked at the patterns of your life and do you find yourself wanting? Like there’s anger, hatred inside you, and you want to be filled with love?
Then you should really give. Give like your life depends on it. Pay like you’re paying for health insurance, only it’s heart insurance.
And if you want to change the world? Well, you’ve got to invest all of it. Yourself, your heart, your time, your money, your energy, your resources. There’s no way to do this superficially. You gotta be serious. And it’s not just a Sunday morning thing. Not just a day or two a week. It’s every day. Every hour.
But what about those of you who come here for comfort? You’re not feeling okay. You don’t want to just change—you want to make it through the week, through the day, maybe even through the hour… You might be struggling with suicidal ideation. You might be overwhelmed with loneliness or anxiety. You might be hungry, homeless, hopeless.
You know what we want from you? We want you to find what you need. Giving your tithes and offerings is not necessary. All we want from you is to know how we can serve you.
Those of you who want to change the world? You can start right there. How about if you give so that the person sitting across from you can get what they need? Whether it be time, energy, money or just. a. hug.
Our text doesn’t say it, but I believe that when Jesus saw that widow across the way, putting in her last two mites, she who had been exploited, used, abused, and cast aside for nothing, I think he walked right over and helped her.
Or if he didn’t do it, one of his disciples must have. Someone pulled that exploited, used, abused and cast-aside widow out of the river of corruption that the Scribes had created.
I think Jesus and the disciples likely thought of the widow of Zarephath from our Hebrew Bible text this morning. She too had very little.
The prophet Elijah asks her for a cup of water and a piece of bread. She argues that she doesn’t have enough, and he answers, “this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!
When the widow did as she was asked, the text tells us, “There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised.”
Friends, you will get what you expect when you come in this place. If you only expect to hang out with your friends, you’ll receive just that… If you only expect to find a way to pat yourself on the back, you’ll find that… But if you expect to get what you need, you will get what you need. And if you expect to give what others need, you will give what others need.
Every year, on this first Sunday of the new school year, I have massive anxiety. I feel like I need to give all you new students a word of wisdom, that wisdom must be perfect for the rest of the church, too.
And to top it off, the first Sunday of the new school year is also my anniversary. So it should be doubly good—in four years, I should have it down!
But my words often fail me, and I find no better way to approach today than to ask for the wisdom of the poets. The poem today is called Blessing When the World is Ending by Jan Richardson.
Please pray with me.
God of grace, look down on your servant right now and give me the grace to preach this message. Please God, make it a message worthy of the giftedness of this gathered community. Amen.
I have spent the week thinking about apocalypse.
Not THE APOCALYPSE, that thing that people think the Book of Revelation reveals. That apocalypse doesn’t take up very much space in my head. Whenever I hear people threatening about it, I just think, “Well, God’s got this. We’ll be fine.”
But I’m thinking about apocalypses. The ones that aren’t capitalized.
They are the (relatively) small apocalypses. They are those crises that turn everything upside down. We call them disasters. They are the things that happen that change the way you are in the world. They are calamities.
Poet Jan Richardson writes:
Look, the world
is always ending
the sun has come
it has gone
it has ended
with the gun,
it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the hospital room.
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
We all know about natural disasters: tornados, floods, earthquakes, big storms.
But these are the personal apocalypses. They run the gamut. Failing a class. Wait. It’s doesn’t have to be a class, it can be failing at a job, failing on a team, failing an exam, or like me as a college freshman: failing to care that you’ve failed out of school.
We can lose lots of things: relationships, health, money, time.
We can fall victim to many things: violence, predatory scams, bullying.
You know, the writer of Isaiah is no stranger to apocalypse. In the chapter prior to today’s, the prophet writes:
This is a people plundered and looted,
all of them hidden away in dungeons,
or forgotten in prisons.
See? The writer knows apocalypse.
So in today’s text, the writer shares his survival guide.
But now, hear the word of Yhw
the One who created you,
the One who fashioned you, Israel:
Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the seas, I will be with you;
when you pass over the rivers, you will not drown.
Walk through water, and you will not be singed;
walk through flames and you will not be burned.
You hear it, right? God created us, God saved us, and God will keep us forever. That’s the best survival guide ever.
But maybe you need a couple of other tools.
I have a few suggestions:
First, don’t be so hard on yourself. Perfectionism is over-rated! Mistakes happen, and we can learn and move on from them.
Second, recognize there’s an imposed sense of urgency on your life. For some of you, that urgency is imposed by the illusive idea that there are benchmarks for your life. You go to college at 18. You get married at 22. You begin to have babies before 30. You hit the apex of your career at 40. Don’t buy into the idea of urgency in your life.
Some of you elders, How many of you missed some of those benchmarks? (Three people raised their hands—one of them was 8 years old.)
And were you okay when you didn’t? They all nodded.
Third, be in charge of what you value. Sometimes we can find ourselves doing behaviors because we’re worried about what people think—but when it comes right down to it, we don’t care about the thing they want.
It doesn’t fit in your values, let it go.
Fourth, value quality over quantity. Are you ready to write papers that are 10,000 words long? What if you only come up with 9, 472, and it’s perfect just the way it is? Let it go!
We often define success by bigger and more. For college and graduate school, it’s better grades, for our first jobs, it’s more money. But what if we asked, “how will my actions affect people seven generations from now?”
Bigger and more are not always better.
And there are two more:
Let’s not fall into the trap of either/or thinking. No one, and nothing, is either/or. No one is good or bad, right or wrong, with us or against us. That person on your hall who makes you crazy? She’s not all evil. The amazing beautiful person you just met and made fast friends with? She’s not all good.
We’re all a mix of all of those things. Seriously. Check out Not one single post out there on social media about John McCain gets it just right. He was, like all of us, a mix of good and bad.
And also, don’t get trapped in the idea that there is only one way to do things. There are many paths to the place you want to be. And guess what? You will backtrack, you will go in circles, your life will not be a straight path. You’ll fail. You’ll have setbacks.
And STILL… will turn out okay.
Apocalypses will test us, help us to see what we’re made of, and if done right, will teach us how to live.
Apocalypse doesn’t have to destroy us.
In fact, did you know that after natural disasters, many people report that they feel happier, more connected, and less attached to things?
Out of apocalypse comes newness.
Isaiah 43:19 says:
Look, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth—can’t you see it?
I’m making a road in the desert
and setting rivers to flow in the wasteland.
Wild beasts will honor me—
the jackals and the ostriches—
for I will put water in the desert
and rivers in the wasteland
for my chosen people to drink,
these people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
And what can church and community offer? We can offer to walk beside you, through your apocalypse. We’re here. We are not scared.
Oh, the poet can say it so much better than me.
this blessing means
to be anything
It has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.
It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
as the world begins
A sermon by Lia Scholl
In preparation for this sermon, I read two texts. One helped, called Woman Clothed with the Sun and written by Joyce Hollyday. The other, which I accidentally read, was the Matthew Henry commentary which describes the woman clothed with the sun like this:
“The weaker part of the world, who only has righteousness in the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Having put on Christ, who is the Sun of righteousness, she, by her relation to Christ, she is invested with honourable rights and privileges, and shines in his rays.
She “only thinks of things that are in heaven, where her head is, with a crown twelve stars, gives glory to the twelve apostles”
To hear Matthew Henry tell it, this is the story of a weak woman, a woman with no value of her own.
If that were true, she wouldn’t be one of the Fierce Women of the Bible.
Instead, our text is a “beautiful portrait of a woman empowered. She is clothed in sun, upheld by the moon, crowned with stars, swathed in the power of Creator and creation. Her womb is brimming with life, vibrant with possibility. The world is hers.” (Hollyday)
She is a woman of power.
And she is fighting a dragon.
One year ago today, I was standing in the parking lot of First United Methodist Church Charlottesville, peering over State Police with riot gear, watching what used to be called Lee Parknow called Emancipation Park EXPLODE.
Midway through the day, my phone died. My charger was in my car, about 5 blocks away from our safety zone.
My dear friend Pastor Robin Bolen Anderson and I decided to brave our way to the car. We were in clergy dress, black shirts and collars. It’s not subtle. We had already been snarled at because of it.
We began walking towards the car, through a densely packed, residential neighborhood, with postage stamps for yards, no driveways, and street parking.
Suddenly, Robin pushed me into a yard. “Get down!” she demanded, and physically pushed my shoulders down. And I found myself crouching low on the ground.
I looked into the street and saw a white pick up truck, bed packed with young men and guns, driving up the street.
Fear gripped me.
And then I noticed that Robin had hidden us behind bushes…
Sparkling new tiny little fairy bushes, no more than 18 inches high.
I’m hiding behind a miniature bush.
And I’m shaking and shaken.
The truckload of white supremacists passed, and we hurried to the car, and on our way back, we found two men to walk with and hurry back to the safety zone.
I am not one of those women of power. But I know we’re fighting a dragon. It’s the dragon of white supremacy.
I learned on that Saturday in August that things are a lot worse than I thought they were. I learned it when I saw a young man in a white polo shirt and khakis toss his backpack into the head of a counter-protester and watched her fall to the ground, bloody. and the police officer standing by did nothing.
I learned it when I watched the Virginia State Police and the Charlottesville Police standing by—not going after men who had discharged their guns.
I learned it when President Trump said, “I think there is blame on both sides.”
I learned it again two weeks ago when Portland police were “heavy-handed” with people protesting a rally by extreme-right demonstrators. The police stood with the alt-right rally, instead of against them.
I learned it again yesterday when President Trump tweeted “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence.” When we all know that there’s only one type of racism.
Things are a lot worst than I knew. Racism is a dragon.
And it’s a beast.
Just this week, our dear sweet young friend, an 8-year-old girl, had one of those moments that happen at summer camp, a misunderstanding that escalated. A young boy threw a ball and hit another boy, but the second boy thought she threw it at him. The boy yelled at the little girl. And when he did, he used a racial slur.
She came home to ask her mother: why did he do that? It’s the first time someone has used her race against her to her face.
Her mother called me crying. “I had to have ‘that talk’ with my baby. I didn’t think I’d have to have it so early.”
Racism is a dragon.
And in our text, the woman clothed with the sun is attacked by the dragon.
Hollyday tells us that the dragon is a monster so large his tail can take out a third of the stars in one swipe. He stands there, by her side, jaws open and ready to devour the thing she loves most:
Her son, the one who is to rule by the power of justice. But her son is snatched away, by the bearers of children to God. He is safe. The woman is safe, too… but in the wilderness, far from all that is comfortable and known.
But the dragon is not through… He pursues the woman. This time, she is given the wings of an eagle to soar away and back to the wilderness.
She soars in “glorious freedom and creativity” in the end.
You know, the woman clothed with the sun may be Mary.
But the woman clothed with the sun may also be the Church.
And if she is the church, we know her. We know the joyful agony of giving birth to something, whatever it is we are bringing to life, whatever our longing and labor. And we all know that the monsters lurk, threatening to devour our creativity, our confidence, our life.
But in the end the dragon loses.
The woman soars in glorious freedom and creativity.
In the end white supremacy loses.
The church soars in glorious freedom and creativity.
How do we defeat the dragon?
We do it with love.
We do it like Rose says in The Last Jedi, “Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”
We love little girls like our friend, and we create a new world where she doesn’t grow up hate herself because someone has called her a racialized slur, a new world where she grows up knowing that she can be woman clothed with the sun, and defeat the dragons, and fly away to creativity and freedom.
We do it by thinking of our church as a movement for people—not a place with walls, not a gathering that happens on Sunday mornings, not just a community of people, but a people with a mission—to slay the dragon of racism, to be such a strong community that we raise little Black girls into strong Black women, to be such a strong community that we build friendships people different than us, strong friendships, that help people who are lonely, people who are broke and broken, people who are in need of a community around them, people who are longing for connection—and remembering that togetherness fights the fascism that we only got a glimpse of in Charlottesville a year ago.
We do it by loving people so well, that they understand that God loves them like crazy. That God is carrying their baby book around in her pocketbook.
You see, we are the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under our feet, and on our head a crown of twelve stars. God bears us up on wings. And we soar with God.
Charlottesville tried to break me, y’all. For months after, I had violent dreams. In every one of these dreams there was an expectation that I would fix all of this. That this was my fault, and that fixing everything was my responsibility, too. I woke each day heavy, with a burden in my heart, because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to fix everything.
And still, a year later, I don’t know how to fix everything.
But I do know how to love, and I can take a little girl into my arms and teach her that she is worthy of every good thing, that she is good and strong and worthy of love, that she is a fierce woman in the making.
I can teach her that racism doesn’t have to change who she is, and that white people have no right and no ability to make her any less than who God has called her to be.
And maybe that will be enough, for now.
Will you join me?