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November 7, 2003
Each Friday's eMo is a meditation on a lectionary text for the coming Sunday. Preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution.


For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living. -- Mark 12:38-44

There is fallout from the consecration of the first openly gay bishsop in theAmerican branch of the Anglican communion, of course. I know at least one bishop who received a death theat because of his 'yes' vote. I know any number of rectors who have lost parishioners. And dozens of people -- make that scores of people -- have written to me to say that next year's operating budget in their parishes will be a lean one. Some people have voted with their pocketbooks, electing not to pledge support to the parish. Others have pledged with great precision, designating their support for the local parish only: Not a penny of my money is to go to diocese or to the national church. Period.

We don't have a "national church."

We're a republic, really. Not an oligarchy, with unaccountable bosses at the top. And not a primitive democracy, in which every person participates directly in every decision, no matter how large or small. We elect people to vote on decisions affecting us at various levels. We try to elect the wisest people we can find, and then we trust their sagacity. This is a risk: we can elect the ecclesiastical equivalent of a professional wrestler or a movie star if we come to think such a thing wise. Later on, we elect others if we think they'll do a better job. Sometimes elections and votes don't go our way. Sometimes they do.

The problem with designating our donated money against this or that entity is that there is always collateral damage. It's like bombing a large city: you hit some targets you did not intend to destroy. You didn't mean to eliminate a missionary or gut a program that sends volunteers to Haiti. It wasn't your intention to force your bishop to downsize the diocesan youth minister. You just wanted to send a message.

The widow wasn't sending a message. She was all out of message. She is a figure of pure need, in this ancient tale -- in scripture, nobody is needier than a widow or an orphan.

Voting is voting. We think the Holy Spirit acts in voting, a belief that guarantees us a messy Church. Giving is giving. It's not sending a message. To send a message, you use the telephone or write a letter. A gift, you just give. In the end, a gift is a gift back to God from the gifts God has given you. Nothing more.

You don't have to give a gift. It's not a tax. But sharing the fruits of one's labor dignifies giver and recipient alike. Joins them. Ennobles both. And may surprise both: as an organization goes forward in history, it learns things it did not know. Its members learn, and its leadership. It finds itself able to do things of which it had not dreamed, and able to dream things heretofore unimaginable.

All the widow could imagine at the moment she stood there with her last two coins was her own death. This was the last of the money and there was no more. She dropped the two coins into the box and heard them hit.

But she didn't know what happened to them. And we don't know what happened to her. But we do know that the early church made special provision for widows and orphans. That the church has always understood the care of the poor and those who suffer as part of its work. That this has been true no matter what the ecclesiastical politics of the day.

Jesus didn't leave us much in the way of specific political advice. Feed the hungry, he did say, and visit those in prison, clothe those who are naked and visit the sick. Didn't mention sending a message with your care of these sufferers. Not a word.
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