We alone are the caretakers of our lives. We are responsible for how we share our time, talent, and treasure. While it would be lovely if there was a manual telling us the best way to do this, that is not how life works (though plenty of folks may try and tell you otherwise). It is going to look a little different for everyone.
Take for example the widow we meet in today’s gospel.*** Mark tells us she is a poor widow, placing her on the lowest rung of the social ladder. She follows some wealthy neighbors into the temple treasury. While they put in large sums, she puts in two coins; the smallest possible amount. She literally gave everything she had, ‘all she had to live on.’
That said, it needn’t have come to that. In first century Palestine, some of the scribes in the temple had lost their moral compass. They were caught up in their own craving for recognition, authority, and power. In turn, they exploited vulnerable members of the community. When Jesus tells the gathered people to beware of the scribes devouring widows’ houses, he is telling us that some of the scribes are taking more than was customary. And on top of that, the widow was expected to give even more money to the treasury. While this financial contribution was the result of a systemic injustice, it also tells us a great deal about the widow’s approach to being a good caretaker of her life.
In spite of this exploitation and oppression, the widow persisted. She gives all of herself, the very gift of her life, to God. Entrusting God will be with her as she navigates her survival. She gives all of herself. It is not so much about those coins, as it is about being more resilient than her oppressors could dare imagine. She could not control the circumstances of her culture, but she could live into God’s calling to be a caretaker of her one wild and precious life.
Another example is John Jay II. A man who carefully spent his time, talent, and treasure campaigning for the Episcopal Church to affirm the full humanity of black people in the mid 1800s. Stephanie Spellers tells his story in The Church Cracked Open.****
Jay did not fit into the cultural norms and expectations of American society. He was the grandson of the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a Columbia trained lawyer, an abolitionist, and an Episcopalian. Mind you, at that point in time, our denomination was rooted in racist ideology. The Episcopal Church so greatly benefited financially from the slave trade, that most saw no incentive in advocating for the end of slavery.
As a 22 year old, Jay flung himself into the work of reforming the church and striving for justice; calling out the church’s complicit support of the slave trade. You can imagine what a thorn he must have been to church leaders. When Alexander Crummell, a gifted young black man, applied to General Theological Seminary and was refused admission, but offered private instruction, Jay showed up at his door and began to walk beside Crummell. Jay went on to sound the alarm on the church’s caste system, and supported Crummell in getting the necessary education to be ordained.
Later, Jay went on to defend Crummell's sponsoring church, St. Philip’s, against discrimination in the Diocese of New York, who would not welcome the church at it’s diocesan convention. Spellers writes, “It was one thing to allow the existence of a Black church, but another to allow black people to join the councils and company of the rest of the church.” For the next eight years, Jay would file petitions for St. Philip’s to be seated at convention, and in 1853, the Diocese of New York’s convention finally voted to recognize the parish and seat it’s delegates.
Jay recognized the privilege, status, and means he had been given in this life. He knew what it meant to be a caretaker of his one wild and precious life, and he used it to proclaim God’s dream for this world.
The pandemic has been a reminder to slow down, and reflect on our lives. The blessings we have been given. How we are called to share those blessings in the world. Recognizing whatever has been consuming our time, energy, and resources. Realizing we had been living at an unsustainable pace and were nearly out of gas. I’ve sat across from many of you, as you’ve shared the ways you are making shifts in how you spend your time, talent, and treasure, as a result of your pandemic experience.
This has been true for me as well. Several months into the pandemic I realized my priorities had been way out of order, and that my well felt dangerously close to empty. I’m quite good at reminding folks to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others, but had been neglecting to take the advice myself. Knowing how many of you are in helping and caring professions, I know I am not alone in this behavior.
Through a chapter of prayer, curiosity, conversation, and experimentation I ended up making several changes in how I cared for my time, talent, and treasure. This time in an order that reflected my priorities and was more sustainable. By taking better care of my one wild and precious life, I believe I am showing up more fully in my roles as partner, parent, friend and priest.
In our ordination vows, clergy promise to share in the councils of the church. Except pre-pandemic, I had said yes too often and found myself involved with committees or ministries that I was partaking in more to be a good team player than because I had a particular passion or gift in that area. I decided to resign from several of them, and continue on with the ones that I do have a passion for or where I may have a blessing I am called to share. In the months since, I’ve noticed how much more I value and appreciate the diocesan ministries I have continued with. I feel I have more to give them; and that I am more fully present to those I serve beside. I’ve made many similar changes in my personal life.
Friends, let’s not wait for another global pandemic or family tragedy to engage in this kind of prayerful pondering and discernment. This work is part of an ongoing, lifelong process of caring for our one wild and precious life.
Each and every fall, our community holds our annual pledge drive, where we ask members of our community to make a financial commitment to support the mission and ministry of Saints James and Andrew. Today, we will offer a prayer of blessing over those financial commitments. Yet this season is about more than our financial offerings, it is about engaging in this kind of prayerful pondering.
Every stewardship season we are invited to do some deep reflecting and examine:
How are we spending our days?
How are we caring for our one wild and precious life?
What’s been consuming our time, talent, and treasure?
Where are we called to share those blessings in the world?
Whether we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, like our widow in today’s gospel, or in a privileged position like John Jay II-- we each have a life we are called to treasure.
This week as our stewardship season draws to a close, I invite you to join me in prayerfully pondering:
How are you caring for your one wild and precious life?
What time, talent, and treasure have you been blessed with?
What has been consuming your time and energy that you wish wasn’t?
What ways do you feel called to share your blessing in the coming year?
How might you use your blessings to help proclaim God’s dream?
* Ellie Roscher - 12 Tiny Things
** Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
*** Mark 12:38-44
**** Stephanie Spellers - The Church Cracked Open
Meet our Preachers
Coffee with Clergy
Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.