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Not too many years ago an Instagram account made big news. PreachersNSneakers started posting images that preachers were posting on their own Instagram next to images of the cost of the sneakers or outfits that they were wearing. It’s a little bit of a weird thing to be a pastor at a time when celebrity pastors exist, but it kind of assumes there have always been someone who’s been, the most well-known, the most paid attention to of pastors. Nobody asks what shoes Martin Luther was wearing when he nailed his reforms on a door.

I will have you know that my shoes came from Goodwill which could be another way of showing off how good I am, that I’m not like THOSE preachers. My robe was a gift from my grandma when I graduated Seminary and I wear it because I don’t want anyone commenting on what I wear on a Sunday morning. Which also proves I’m better than THOSE preachers.

It’s easy to point fingers at the people we are certain and are not living up to the ideals that Jesus put forth. I think it’s why people love preachers and sneakers because we want to see and call out and name all the hypocrisy and it’s obvious. It’s not me. I don’t have to worry.

And if I always have someone out there to point to and judge, and never have to look at me. And when I humble brag “I got it on sale.”

In the middle of our reading is the part where we start to wonder what Jesus was saying and what he meant, when he speaks of the Messiah not being considered the Son of David. it has to do with the kind of Messiah that they were waiting for and looking for and planning for. It doesn’t look like the military might. It doesn’t look like a conquerer. It doesn’t look like the empire. It will look like the world upended and ending, at least the world as it was understood at the time. Others have suggested that this is an inside joke, and you had to be there. I wasn’t.

*There are a couple of things worth noting about our story today: 1: Jesus wasn’t the only rabbi offering the Shema from Deuteronomy 6 and love of neighbor from Leviticus as the heart of the Torah. Jews tell the story of 2 great rabbis from the 1st century BCE. A Roman decided he would convert to Judaism if the rabbi could teach him the Torah while he, the Roman, stood on one foot. *First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel who said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!”

2: By the time this gospel is being written down, the Temple in Jerusalem, the central place of worship and the only place where sacrifices to God could be offered, was in rubble. *Stones were toppled, holy relics had been carried off to Rome, Judaism as it had been was over and they needed to have a new way to be the people of God without the temple. And this new group of followers of Jesus were doing the same thing. The world as they all had known it was over.

So the Scribe who adds to Jesus’ teaching that Loving God and Neighbor was better than all the sacrifices… that might be part of the story because of what had happened when the gospel was penned.

*The Shema calls people to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength; Jesus adds mind. Love God with your reason, knowledge, emotional and character essence, and your body–your very being-ness–your very-ness.

And that love. It’s not how we usually think of love. It’s not a feeling. Not the lust of a crush or the euphoria of the first few months. It’s written here in a way that is not romantic at all.

It resembles a vassal treaty: that the vassal people would love their king/ruler. And love was to give loyalty and do the things agreed to, the things you said you would do. It’s about commitment and living up to the obligations that loyalty entails. In something like a vassal state and, as it should be, marriages, those obligations are spelled out. They are in Deuteronomy and Leviticus as well: sacrifices and prayers to God and leave the corners of your field unharvested for the poor, don’t exploit your employees, care those with disabilities. Be loyal to each other.

Without the temple, it is the love and loyalty to the obligations to each other that becomes the vital fruits, the evidence of the love of God. It is the fruit of our love of God revealed in Christ who loved abundantly and completely.

*And there were scribes who got it. And there were scribes in their fancy robes, with long fancy prayers, who made sure folks knew they were the most faithful, while this widow had so little, gave everything. The powerful put on a performance of holiness while they, at best, let the most vulnerable suffer, and at best contribute to their suffering. As much as this is a story about the widow embodying loving with all that she has, it is even more so a condemnation of those who stand by looking good while participating in injustice and in the suffering of the most vulnerable in their society. Today we might call it punching down: You either punch up to fight the system or you punch down to pile abuse on those the system oppresses–the weak ones, the vulnerable, they’re easy targets and can’t fight back. It makes some feel big and strong. It’s also cruel and certainly isn’t the work of love or justice.

*Here is where we talk about things that are political, not partisan.

There are parts of the Kettle Moraine School Board that, like many other places of society and school districts, have decided to spend time debating the reality of and treatment of transgender students. When given an opportunity to clarify his views in an email, one school board member of our public school district included the points: God doesn’t make mistakes like making someone transgender, it’s a mental health problem one shouldn’t participate in, xx and xy are chromosomal facts that cannot be disputed, and there is some external, undefined truth that gets to decide who a person is.

This book we’ve been reading, Think Again speaks of the fallacy of the 2 sides of an argument and simple beliefs need to be complicated with nuance. Because most of those statements could be true if we add nuance. Because I don’t believe God makes a mistake when someone is transgender, it isn’t a mistake of genetics that must be fixed, it is who they are and who they are will expand our understanding of humanity and God. Nuance.

Beware of those school board members who hold their position as an honor and not a responsibility. Who lead with their position, sit at tables and take no questions, spout canned lines they have not fully thought through, who proclaim their holiness and hold their religion as a shield from being accused of being unjust. They punch down and for the sake of appearances claim God. They will answer to their God for their lack of love.

And we have in this widow one who is willing to give everything, all that she has and a is, to the care of her community.

What are we willing to give?

In many ways than you want to hear, I am an anti-authority, anti-institutional millennial who is willing to burn everything to ground. Before the rainbow flag was on our flag pole, with fear of how the community might respond also in fire, my thought was, “We need a new roof! Bring it on!” We have a new roof, so it’s a little harder sell.

Because that is what Jesus has been asking and revealing all along: What are you willing to give up for the kingdom of God and the more you have, the harder it is to give anything up.

What are we willing to give up so a young person knows their safe? Our safety? Time? A room at the end of the hall? A deep-seated belief that they are wrong? What are we willing to give up to build community? Extra heating? An afternoon? Some space in the yard or parking lot? What are we willing to give up to bring more justice? Our power? Reputation? Our clean carpets? Our building?

Are we willing to go without for a moment, trusting God and the beloved community to care for us, are willing give everything for the sake of the gospel, the good news of love, justice, abundance, wholeness?

It’s hard, it’s not how the world has taught us to think about having and things and value. But if we’re not even willing to take a step in the direction that says the people, the mission, the good news, the love is more important than any of the things–from the hymnals to the roof, then we need to take some time. I mean, I need to take that time.

But if we are willing to take those tentative steps, willing to consider, then we are able to take some risks, to step out, to try, to speak out, to offer a voice to the powerless, and move through this world in love, love of God and all our neighbors–our loyalty to the work of justice, mercy, and compassion, we might just find new life coming forth in us as individuals, as a church family, within our communities, and maybe even our school boards.