November 8, 2009

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

 Rev. Tom Mannebach  

1 Kings 17:10-16   X    Hebrews 9:24-28  X   Mark 12:38-44


A friend of mine works as a salesman for a consumer products company. Throughout the day he visits an average of a dozen small businesses. The people he visits are mainly small-time entrepreneurs. They own and operate primarily gas stations and convenience stores. Overwhelmingly, he says, these owners are immigrants to the United States. They come from the Middle East and other parts of Asia. They come to the United States often  empty handed and eager for the opportunity of a better life. They are today’s version of the nineteenth and twentieth century European immigrant.  

As a native-born citizen of this country, my friend told me he was taken aback when he first starting visiting these small business owners. First, he realized how much of their lives were tied to their small business. They worked weekdays and weekends, from early in the morning until late at night. They did whatever needed to be done, whether it was working behind the counter, receiving stock deliveries, or cleaning the restrooms. They were often busy trying to take care of their customers and stock their shelves at the same time. But what really surprised my friend was their sense of hospitality. Whenever he walked into a store (usually unannounced), the owner would see to it that my friend not leave the store without picking up a store item as a gift. Even if it was only a can of soda or bag of chips, my friend never left many of these stores empty handed. He said that so often he is made to feel not like not just another pesky salesman, but as a welcomed guest. 

Convenience store owners aren’t the only ones. Widows from biblical days seem especially suited to offering a spirit of welcome. The unnamed widow from Zaraphath follows her inner promptings to offer her traveling guest Elijah some much needed food and hospitality. Such gifts come to the prophet not out of the widow’s abundance, but out of her scarcity. Imagine the faith that it takes to give to someone else what you yourself desperately need. And in case we think this widow of Zaraphath is an anomaly, we only need to look at another poor widow—this one from Mark’s gospel. Again we find a model of faith in the form of a hopeful and trusting heart. She too gives what she not only values but also needs. In terms of Christian stewardship, we would call this sacrificial giving. It is giving out of a sense of trust and gratitude: trust in God’s care and gratitude for God’s goodness.  

As the Church, we realize that sacrificial giving is not something we invent. It’s source is within God, within the love of the Trinity. Not to be held captive, this love diffuses into our world and our lives. It is hospitable to all people. It never turns away a seeker, be they prophet-- or salesman-- or anyone on their pilgrim way. This love, so unconditionally given away, is most fully revealed in the one cross of Christ. It is love made sacramentally present for all times. The one cup we share signifies our willingness to offer ourselves as good news for others, and to love those who would hate us. The Lord asks us what he asked his disciples, “Can you drink of the cup I am about to drink?” At communion we respond, “Amen.”  We need to be reminded again and again that our commitment to God in others is not always a neat and clean effort. In our efforts to live our faith, we will get cuts and bruises, headaches and frustrations. We shed blood.  

Celebration and sacrifice may be an unlikely pair, but they are essential to the eucharisitic lives we live. Someone wisely once said that our letters of recommendation for life with God come from the poor. Today we add to the list: immigrants, salesmen, widows, prophets, and all who would welcome the Lord’s hospitality in their midst.  

© 2009 Rev. Tom Mannebach    





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