Rev. Jessica Palys
What an enriching week of faith, beauty, and story that we’ve had! We have seen the handiwork, heard the words, and learned the struggles, contributions, and triumphs of women; we’ve learned how their love, perseverance and foresight impacted generations that came after. We have been threaded together by our connected stories and shared experiences of being cherished by our grandmothers. We have celebrated that which almost all of us had, that which some of us may have taken for granted and forgotten to celebrate. To bring this to a close, I thought I’d share a story about one of my grandmothers.
I was quadrupedally blessed - I had four through my family of remarriage. (well, 5, technically, although the one whom I’m named after died when my mother was young.
As a child, the one I was closest to was my father’s mother - largely because as a new father newly separated, I don’t think he knew what to do with a baby - so I spent a lot of time with my German grandmother whom I called Oma. She was a war bride who married a Polish American soldier during World War II.
All of my thoughts about Oma are the deeply embedded kind, the kind that are hard to put into words but rather feel like an imprint upon our physical childhood selves. I can almost hear her slightly raspy voice, her laugh, and her accent. There was a no-nonsense chiding in her smile, a lot of butter in her mashed potatoes, and a lot of love in all the baby pictures she handed over when I was an adult. And her smell haunts me. Every once in a while I’ll get a whiff of something that almost approximates it and grasp at what I can’t describe. I imagine she was instrumental in helping a new father feel comfortable caring for a baby every other weekend until he remarried when I was four, and she moved to Florida when I was 7.
I suppose my grandmother loved to knit because every Christmas there would be a gift in the mail holding a card with her German-infused spelling errors and a new sweater. Each of my dad’s 4 daughters would get at least one, so she stayed busy. Given that I was so far away, it’s remarkable that she kept up with the growing I was doing. When we became adults, the sweaters ceased. She sent blankets instead. She probably figured we were too old for homemade clothes.
3 years ago, when my sister had her first child, a special something arrived in the mail from some secret closet of generational love and intentional hope for the future. Even though she’s not here with us, she made it possible for her special touch to be visited onto her future generations. More than 10 years after she passed, my sister received two boxes of knitted baby clothes made specifically for the great grandchildren whom she did not get to meet. I can’t tell you what it felt like to discover this box existed.
Grandmothers build for us a future of hopes and dreams. They build for the things they cannot see but believe will be. Often one generation removed from the physical stresses of motherhood, the dread of worry, the emotional insecurities of parenting, they have the luxury of wisdom and the privilege to dream for us. Grandmothers can expect great things of us. They can see beyond the present, to see what is possible even when we can’t, and knowing they’ve contributed to it. And if devotion could make it so, they would will it into existence.
The story of the widow and her two coins reminds me of one of my grandmothers - and I’m sure you can all envision one too. That grandmother who has so much respect for church and tradition and responsibility - and so much trust in God - that she gives away more than her fixed income allows, but takes pride in the fact that it’s how much she felt was appropriate to give. On this Stewardship Sunday, I want to say that I’m sure this verse has been used to call for a greater sacrifice from dutiful church goers over the centuries of Christian worship. But is that what Jesus was lifting up? Did Jesus really glorify giving ‘all you had to live on’ to the temple? Or is this a story about hypocrisy, about the showmanship of prayers and donations of those with long robes while those with little sacrifice much?
This passage has at least those two interpretations. There’s this a whole other layer of meaning here, which we know because of Jesus’ admonishment about the scribes, who ‘devour widow’s houses’. In scripture we hear criticism of Pharisees, Scribes, Priests, Sadducees - it can get confusing but they all had different roles in ancient Israel. While Pharisees were more like religious teachers, the Chief Priests did most of the ritual sacrifice in the temple, and the scribes were legal scholars who executed duties of the law. A woman, once widowed, was not allowed to manage her own estate. If their husbands left them money, their estates were arbitrated by legal officials called scribes. The Scribes would manage their land and investments, distribute funds for their household and provide an allowance - for a fee, of course. This put supposedly pious and respected scribes in an immensely powerful position to abuse their power by using the estates of widows for their own gain. The system for supporting widows was ripe for corruption by unscrupulous religious men who pray proudly in public but have no oversight for what they do in private. Beware of the scribes, Jesus says, watching them strut with their prayers while the widow gives all she has; those who are supposed to protect the poor are devouring them.
We don’t know the widow’s motivations to give everything she had. According to historical sources, there was a temple tax during the life of Jesus, although according to those sources nothing indicates it was exorbitant. Was the widow compelled by the law to give the last of what she had? Was she proud to do it, trusting that God would do with it great things that she would have contributed to? Was it something she felt she had to do to keep up with appearances?
Maybe the widow’s offering is both an expression of trust in God even in the midst of the world comprised of broken people, systems, and communities of faith. Perhaps, like grandmothers, she trusted in the future God promises even in the midst of a system that is cracked, flawed and fallible. Perhaps, like grandmothers, she believed her contribution would help alter the direction because she believed it would be so.
Last week at the MORE2 banquet, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III delivered wonderful preaching on one of my favorite texts, Isaiah 58 - but framed in a way I’d never heard before.
Quoting verse 12,
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
Dr. Moss drew out the opportunity and the responsibility that awaits in rebuilding the ruins. He reminded us that it’s not only the legacy of a future that awaits our investment, it’s the responsibility to do what we are able to do in our lifetimes to nurture the future generations. Our responsibility comes in part from our culpability in those ruins. We were here while the cracks started in the foundation. We were here when the fractures began to spread. He said, we may or may not have been part of creating the cracks in the system, but we have a responsibility and obligation to be repairers of the breach. And then he recited a passage from Howard Thurman’s book, Deep is the Hunger. In that book, Thurman talked about encountering an old man planting a Pecan Grove, that crop that requires 8 to 10 years to produce nuts. Confounded by this, he approached and asked why in the world this man of 81 years is planting a Pecan Grove when he won’t be around to enjoy its fruit?
And the man replied,
“All my life I have eaten fruit from trees that I did not plant, why should I not plant trees to bear fruit for those who may enjoy them long after I am gone?”
We are called to be repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in. We are called to work to fill the cracks and restore the foundation of the broken systems in our midst. We are called to repair ourselves and figure out how best to build the foundations for future generations. We are called to plant trees who’s shade only future generations will enjoy. We are called to knit together warmth and love for the babies of future generations we won’t even meet.
Today in our Stewardship meeting this afternoon, the Stewardship committee wants to ask; What do you want your legacy to be in your work for God? What do we want our legacy to be as a KCUCC? We have accomplished an amazing feat in filling the cracks and restoring the foundation and exterior of this amazing structure that houses our family of faith. With this foundation, we can reach beyond the generations we see to those who we can only envision in our hearts. How are we building for a generation that is not yet born? In order to be who we want to be, we have to cover our basic budget, and we are about 50% there. But in order to touch those who aren’t here yet, to reach the future beyond that which we can see, we need to get beyond the basic budget to get to some of our Big Dreams. Its the grandmothers who nurtured and worked for something that only officially existed in their imaginations. The generations
before built for us. We now have an opportunity and a responsibility to put our time, talents and resources into building something for those who come after, in honor of those who came before. Today, may we stitch together our collective grandmother vision to design the quilt we’d like our community to look like in the future. Let’s think not about now, but who we are planting for 8-10 years into the future, beyond our vision. Amen.