So, we went to the polls on Tuesday. Some of us went once to vote and came a second time to the church building to hand out cookies and juice to our neighbors who were filling out their ballots in the Chapel just across the hall. We voted and we volunteered. Some of us gathered here for Tuesday Evening Worship and we prayed for our country. Then we whipped out our phones and scrolled through the initial poll results. And we woke up on Wednesday morning with one big question on our minds:
IS DEMOCRACY DOOMED?
The results? Meh, Mixed. Reply Hazy, Try Again in 2020. We’ve been beat up so bad for the last two years, its hard sometimes not to think that the whole endeavor – democracy, liberalism, progressivism, voting, protesting, advocating and organizing, the very Realm of God itself – is maybe a lost cause.
And think of all that money we spent on losers. We poured money into Texas – of all places – to try to get a Democrat elected to the Senate – Texas! What were we thinking? We spent more money than any other campaign in the history of the Senate trying to get Beto O’Rouke elected (and trying equally hard, I think, just to beat Ted Cruz). We blew something like $70 million, probably more. Was there ever a chance? In Texas? Was it worth it? Maybe we should have saved all that energy (and money) for another day or another cause.
Welllllll, hold on now. Let’s not get too cynical here, Beloved. In fact, let’s just look on the bright side of things for a minute and offer up thanksgiving where thanksgiving is due. Were there losses? Yup. Were there disappointments? Sure. Did we spend a lot on money and energy on some reeeeeallll long shots? Yes. And was there good news on Wednesday morning? You bet there was.
We all know that the Democrats took back the House. But we’re also sending more women than ever before to Congress – over 100! Included among them are the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress ever – Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, the first two Latinas to be elected to Congress in Texas – Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar, the first two Native American women to ever be sent to Congress – Deb Haaland from New Mexico and Sharice Davids, who is also the first openly gay person to be sent to Congress in Kansas. The good people of the Bronx and Queens are sending the youngest woman ever to Congress – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And Massachusetts elected its first black woman to Congress – Ayanna Pressley. In Virginia, Jennifer Wexton beat an incumbent opponent with an A rating from the NRA. And Abigail Spanberger beat the tea party House Representative most responsible for attacks on the Affordable Care Act – and she did it by running on a healthcare platform. A little further south in Georgia, a gun control activist, Lucy McBath, whose teenage son, Jordan Davis, was murdered with a gun in a hate crime, beat the Republican incumbent in a district that once elected Newt Gingrich seven times. And in Minnesota an anti-LGBTQ, misogynist incumbent lost to Angie Craig, an openly lesbian woman.
Massachusetts upheld Transgender Equality via ballot measure. While in Colorado, and for the first time in American history, an openly gay man, Jared Polis, was elected as governor. And in Florida a lesbian woman, Teri Johnston, was elected as mayor – a first for the Sunshine State. And speaking of Florida, let's not forget that 1.4 million ex-felons won back the right to vote with the passage of an amendment to the state constitution – that’s more than 20% of all the people disenfranchised from voting due to past felony convictions in the country.
And some infamously mean folks lost their reelections – from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, to Kansas Attorney General Chris Kobach, to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. Remember her?
Sure, the three most exciting Democratic candidates – Beto in Texas, Andrew Gillum in the Florida governor’s race, and Stacey Abrams in the Georgia governor’s race – also didn’t win. Not yet anyway. But there are Democrats who won seats in the House in those states who feel like they couldn’t have won without the support of a big-ticket Democratic candidate mobilizing people to vote the way that Beto, Gillum, and Abrams did.
So maybe all that energy and all that money wasn’t wasted after all. Maybe when it comes to these crucial historic moments, when we have to make a strong stand against hate, injustice, and bad policies, there can’t be any half-measures. When it comes to committing ourselves to the most important work of our lives, of our time, maybe we have no other choice than to just go ALL IN.
Maybe that’s why Jesus called all the disciples over to watch a poor widow drop two small coins into the Temple’s collection plate.
I mean, you would think that after riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey to cries of “Hosanna” two days earlier, and after driving the money changers out of the Temple the day before, and after a full day of debating with the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees that most people would not have found the time or the energy to pay attention to a widow with two small coins.
It’s not just that Jesus wouldn’t have been impressed with the amount the widow was giving. But even more than that Jesus was a huge critic of the institution the widow was giving to. Do you think Jesus was standing in line to drop his coins into the Temple’s treasury? I doubt it. Just the day before he had attacked the moneychangers in the Temple and called the place “a den of robbers.” And as they’re all walking away from the widow, heading home, one of the disciples will start speaking to Jesus about how impressive the Temple is. Gosh, it’s big! And Jesus prophesies to him that the Temple is going to be destroyed – a real lost cause.
So, it wasn’t what she was giving. And it wasn’t who she was giving it to. So maybe it was how she was giving. If we read Jesus literally and simplistically, we might think that Jesus is advocating that poor people should give the only money that they have to the Temple, and the rest of us should feel guilty. But, again, that doesn’t make sense. Jesus has already criticized the Temple for taking money from the poor. He has already criticized the religious hypocrites who “devour widows’ houses” rather than fulfilling their religious obligations to support widows, orphans, and immigrants.
Jesus isn’t praising the widow as the ideal model of charitable giving. He is pointing her out, I think, because he is moved by her dedication. Our translation this evening reads, “…but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” But a more literal rendering of the Greek gives us this: “…but she out of her want is throwing in everything she has – her whole life.” Her whole life. When you translate it like that it sounds less like Jesus is talking about blowing your monthly budget on sending a check to a televangelist. Our “living” is more than money. It’s our blood, our sweat, our tears, our time, and our treasure. It is not a monetary transaction. It is an offering, a sacred making. It’s an attitude. It’s a commitment.
It’s Stacey Abrams fighting on in Georgia to make sure that every vote is counted. It was millions of people sending millions of dollars to Texas – Texas of all places – to help elect a candidate that they believed in. It was all of us going to the polls in the rain, dealing with the broken scanners, volunteering, praying, checking the polls, praying. What else is it? What else? In your life? Where is God calling you to go all in?
Sgt. Ron Helus of the Ventura County Sherriff’s office was on the phone with his wife Wednesday night when the call came in about an active gunman, a mass shooting, at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA. He told his wife, “I love you,” and sped to the bar. He was there within just a few minutes, the first responder closely followed by two California Highway Patrol officers. A woman who had made it out of the bar told him that the shooter was still inside, still shooting, that there were people hurt inside. “We’re making entry,” he radioed in to dispatch with a steady, brave voice. Within a minute of entering the building he exchanged gunfire with the shooter and gave his life to protect others. Why’d he do it? Sherriff Geoff Dean remembered Sgt. Helus by saying, “He went in to save lives, to save other people. He was totally committed, he gave his all. And tonight, as I told his wife, he died a hero.”
We don’t want anyone else to have to risk their life to stop another mass shooting. It is not something we would ever make mandatory for a police officer – that he or she in order to be a good law enforcement officer would have to die in the line of duty. But when we see it happen, when we see the bravery and the commitment to service, we see it for what it is – a heroic gift – something we could have never required or even asked for from Sgt. Helus. He gave it to us of out of his own desire, out of his commitment, out of his character, and out of everything he was as a person – his whole life.
I don’t have any doubt that Jesus, who said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” was moved by Sgt. Helus’ sacrifice. And Jesus was also moved by the whole life commitment and sacrifice he saw in the widow and her two thin coins. Jesus understood that commitment and heroism comes in all different sizes and packages. And let’s not forget. Jesus watched the widow drop her two coins into the treasury on a Tuesday. That Friday he’d be crucified. I think in that moment he was so moved because he saw her as a kindred spirit. Maybe he saw her and thought, “If she can give the gift that she is giving, then surely I can give the gift that I am giving.”
Beloved, what is the gift that we are giving? Not the money we are giving – what is the ALL-IN gift that we are giving?