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Sermon transcript for November 18, 2012

“Wonder and Freedom”
Matthew 6:24-34
Belmont UMC—November 18, 2012
Ken Edwards

Audio - MP3

We were at the closing worship service at a retreat for children and their families. The worship site was one of those outdoor worship places, where the seats are 2 by 12 planks set on top of posts and the altar looks makeshift and the cross is made of twigs bound together. My purpose at this service was to offer the Great Thanksgiving before the service of Holy Communion so I took a seat a few rows from the front. Someone had led us in singing choruses, guitars were the accompaniment and people were sharing where they had experienced God throughout the weekend. It had been a beautiful weekend with perfect weather and many opportunities to grow closer to one another and to God.

On the row where I sat was a little boy a few feet away from me. I knew this little boy well. His name was Clay and he loved to talk to me after worship on Sunday mornings and it pleased me that a child would take that time with me on Sundays. Clay had been trained to be an acolyte that year and he took his job so seriously. His mother explained that he would pick out his clothes on Saturday night if he was going to be the acolyte on Sunday, and he insisted that his parents get him to church early so he could practice one more time (even though being on time was not their habit). Even though I was extremely busy on Sunday mornings he could always convince me to watch him practice in the sanctuary between services. When he walked down the aisle with the light of Christ in front of him he would look at me and smile.

On that morning at the worship service, I sensed that Clay was looking toward me so I turned to him as well. But he wasn’t looking at me, he was looking somewhere beyond me, not at anything in particular. I could tell by looking at his big blue eyes that he was imagining something. His mind’s eye was seeing something that I could not see and for that moment I felt caught up in the power of the child to wonder and to imagine. I can’t explain it but watching him that morning gave me a deep sense of peace and reminded me that my adult mind has often lost the gift of wonder. Clay finally looked me in the eye and said, “Hello Pastor Ken!” and I said, “Hello, Clay. Thank you so much.” And as if he understood my thank you, he replied, “Why, you’re very welcome.”

As adults we lose something of the ability to wonder, to use our imagination. By imagination I don’t mean that we make things up, as in “we’re just imagining things.” But I mean the ability to wonder at the power of God or imagine the wideness of God’s vast love. Or to look up into a night sky of celestial wonder, solar systems and galaxies that go on for eternity and think, “God created all of that; God is bigger and beyond even the vastness of the night sky.” Wonder like that is the heart of true worship.

We are told that the words “look” and “consider” are exceptionally strong words in the Sermon on the Mount. Tom Long suggests “when Jesus asks us to ‘look’ at the birds of the air and to ‘consider’ the lilies of the field, he is not asking us to imitate sparrows and flowers. He is rather asking us to peer more deeply into that alternative reality called the kingdom of heaven. . . . If we look long enough and hard enough, at the birds of the air and lilies of the field, suddenly there will break into our imagination a slice of that alternative reality, a world not of tooth and claw, but a world of providential care, a world in which the One who created it delights in tending the garden and nourishing the creature.”  (Feasting on the Word, pp. 71-73)

I have photographs of fields of wildflowers in my computer, places I have visited in the springtime, where there are huge patches of larkspur and trillium, acres of blue-eyed Marys, dotted with wood poppies and Dutchman’s britches, and Virginia bluebells. And I have a flower garden in my back yard that I have labored over, weeding and watering and fertilizing, and my flower garden never matches the beauty of those wildflowers, tended only by our Maker. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

Our yard borders a small forest and we are not far from the lake. We have possums and raccoons that come to our back door at night. And we have lots of birds that visit our feeders and herons that clean out the goldfish pond ever so often. Over the last few weeks, 3 deer wander into the yard to nibble fresh grass in the early morning hours and I have had the pleasure of watching, amazed at their beauty and grace. Those are sacred moments for me.

What comes from our ability to look and consider and wonder? Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, about your food or clothing or about tomorrow.” That is lot for Jesus to ask of a person whose DNA is loaded with worriers. I come from a long line of them and if we did not have anything to worry about we would worry about lack of worries. It is our hobby to worry; it’s how we fill the extra time, with hand wringing and fretting.

Peter Gomes once preached this passage at an exclusive girls’ school in Massachusetts, hoping that a sermon about letting go of anxiety would help the students. He thought the sermon went well. But he wrote, “At the reception, the father of one of the girls came up to me with fire in his eyes and ice in his voice, and told me that what I had said was lot of nonsense. I replied that I had not said it, that Jesus had. ‘It’s still nonsense,’ he said, not easily dissuaded by an appeal to scripture. ‘It was anxiety that got my daughter into this school, it was anxiety that kept her here, it was anxiety that go her into Yale, it will be anxiety that will keep her there, and it will be anxiety that will get her a good job. You’re selling nonsense.’” (The Good Book, p.179)

I hear Jesus linking the care and tending of God to our ability to let go of worry. Worry suggests to us that we are in control and somehow by worrying over everything, we can muster up more control. Most of us are living with the mere illusion of control. About the time we think we are in control of everything or some thing, life happens and we are reminded that is not the case.  

A few months before I married Kathryn, when I was 19 years old and a college student, my mother and I went to find an apartment or house for us to rent in Clarksville. Some time late in the morning we found a little framed cottage with one bedroom and a very reasonable rent. But I made minimum wage at the part time job I had ($1.60/hour) and there were school expenses. We went to lunch together and I took a pen and started writing out a budget on napkin and I was worrying about the numbers. My mother reached across the table and took the napkin away from me, wadding it up and putting it in her purse. She said, “Son, everything doesn’t work on paper. You have to trust God.” I never forgot that but my entire spiritual journey has been one of constant reminders to let go of the illusion of control and trusting God. And during that first year of marriage we didn’t make much money but little surprises like an extra check from a church I served during the summer, kept popping up to remind us to trust.

Last week in a sermon I confessed that there is sentence that goes through my mind a lot. Four words, “It’s not about you.” I’m sure God is trying to tell me something. I’ve taken those words two ways. The first is that the work I do is not about me but about God, about God’s plan, God’s agenda, God’s will. But the second is really quite liberating. It’s not about you—it is about God!--God who is wiser; God who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that I might ask or think. Those words set me free to trust God. All that God asks of me is to show up and be faithful. I do not have to be the Messiah and the savior of the world. What a relief for me! What a huge relief for the world!

Letting go is never easy. I’m reminded that the word which means “to forgive” has its roots in a word that means “to let go.” It’s hard to let go of unforgiveness and move on, but it’s liberating when we do. I have held onto dear friends as they have slipped from this life to a new life with God. It’s hard to let go of them, but we trust God to continue to care for them in their new life.

Jesus isn’t suggesting that we wander through life, aimlessly waiting for God to provide everything for us. He did not model that way of life for us, but he is inviting us to the freedom of trusting God. So on my better mornings, I make my list for the day ahead and I look at my calendar and I think I know what the day has in store for me. Then I have some quiet time and then I give it all to God because I do not know what God has planned. On mornings when I’m struggling to let go of controlling everything, I close my eyes and clinch my fists like I’m trying to hold onto something very tightly and then I hold my hands upward, slowly opening them and releasing control to God, who can always be trusted.

Wonder and freedom come when we look deeply into that alternative reality called the kingdom of heaven, letting go and trusting God whose love and strength have never failed us. And in those moments of true yielding humility, gratitude springs up in us and guides our journey onward.


So let me close with this prayer that our Open Door Singers will sing for us:    

Give us humble hearts to praise you and listening ears to hear your voice.     
Willing hands to serve you. Thankful spirits to rejoice.
Lord of all we adore you and bring this prayer before you.
Create in us humble hearts.   (“Prayer for Humility” by Mark Patterson)

 

Sermon transcript for November 11, 2012

Discerning God’s Way
Colossians 1:9-12; Psalm 127
Belmont UMC—November 11, 2012
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

When Bishop Wills called me five and a half years ago about coming to Belmont as a pastor, he said something that most Bishops and Superintendents do not say when making those calls. He said, “Why don’t you spend a few days in prayer to discern if this is the right move for you?” I still remember my response to him, “Oh Bishop, I’m not very good at discernment.” He said, “You need to work on that!”

We have invited you to join us in a period of prayer and discernment as we prepare for a strategic planning initiative. A lot of us would rather rush to the end and make a plan but the most important part of this process is the prayer and discernment phase. As we began this process I have tried to be intentional about allowing space and time to be quiet and apart, and to allow myself to experience God’s presence. This spiritual practice, even on days when I resist it or I’m distracted, has become very important to me. I invite you to do the same, to find time each day for quiet, prayerful reflection and prayerful listening.

Why is this important to us? Bishop Rueben Job answers that question in the book, A Guide to Spiritual Discernment, “To live with God in this world that God loves requires some intense and intentional listening.” He says that the prerequisites for hearing clearly the voice and direction of God are “faith in a God who communicates with us,” and “a great love for God and a passion for God’s will.” (pp. 24-25)

The Psalmist says, “Unless it is the Lord who builds the house, the builders’ work is pointless.” (CEB 127:1) This is one of my favorite Bible verses. It means that the house belongs to God and God must be in the plan to build it or we are wasting our time.

I told Pam Hawkins the other day that I’m constantly annoyed by a 4 word sentence that plays over and over in my head. The sentence is, “It’s not about you!” I think someone is trying to tell me something. It’s not about my plan; it’s about God’s plan. It’s not about my will; it’s about God’s will. It’s not about my agenda; it’s about God’s agenda. It’s not about my way; it’s about God’s way. We need a strategic plan for this church, but it’s not my strategic plan or your strategic plan, it has to be God’s plan. We need to spend some generous time alone with God to hear God’s voice and know God’s direction.

Let’s confess that everything in our lives and in our culture conspires against the possibility of us doing this. The fact that most of us are goal oriented makes it difficult. I’m a compulsive list maker. I have lists for work and home, lists of things needed at the grocery and lists of projects I hope to do in the future. I make a list every morning when I get up and I work toward completing everything on that list. If I do something that’s not on the list, I add it to the list and then mark it off. I thought everyone did that but I’m discovering that it’s a bit peculiar. I keep the old list for a few days to remind me of my accomplishments. Our culture evaluates us for our accomplishments. I’ve never seen an employee evaluation form that asks if the employee has mastered the art of quiet  discernment. Our culture values measurable results.  

The way we tether ourselves to smart phones, Ipads, and computers conspires against our ability to find time to be quiet and alone with God. Our schedules, carpooling children to events, work, household chores, and all the voices that threaten to drown out the voice of God, all these things conspire against the possibility that we might spend time in prayer, listening, and discernment.

We would also confess our reluctance to listen to God and to discern God’s way for fear that we might hear we hear something we do not like. There is risk in being fully open to God’s leading. We like the path we are on. Why stir things up? Rueben Job writes, “When we are very settled and comfortable, it is hard to listen for and respond to God’s voice calling us to move out, up, over, beyond or even to new ministry where we are.” (A Guide to Spiritual Discernment, p. 36) How many times have I heard people say, “I’ve known God was calling me to _______ for a long time, but I kept fighting it.”

So I invite all of us to give ourselves permission to spend some quiet time alone with God. Give yourself permission to quit working, quit thinking about the chores ahead of you. Give yourself the gift of being in God’s presence. Turn off your cell phone and move away from places of labor. Don’t talk over God, but be very quiet and inviting. Wait, be still, be quiet and listen. Listen! For the first part of the discernment process is listening.

The other part of the discernment process is watching. We have used the question, “Where do we see God at work?” in our church. We have used this question as centering question at the beginning of committee meetings. It is a question that calls us to the spiritual practice of observing the places where the holy and divine are breaking into our secular and mundane worlds.

Where do we see God at work? On Sundays we see God at work all over this place. Walking the halls before and after worship and Sunday School we see God at work in the generous and glad greetings of friends in faith. We see God at work through educational ministries of Sunday School Classes, volunteers, and teachers. We see God at work in the experiences of worship in the chapel and sanctuary, in the beautiful music of organ and piano, in the voices gathered in song and praise, and in the sweet sounds of hand bells.

Last week we could see God at work in the lives of our Open Door Singers, our youth choir, continuing to grow in numbers and now filling the balcony on the east side of the sanctuary. On Children’s Sabbath we saw God at work in the lives of our children’s choirs, gathered on the sanctuary chancel steps, and filling the space with beautiful music and smiles. Our young people are learning about God and about the theology of worship through their participation in these choirs.

We see God at work in your hospitality to visitors. One couple told me that on their first visit here they came through the front door of the sanctuary and Keith Roberts was out on the steps to greet them. And though they have learned other ways to enter the sanctuary, they still prefer to enter the front doors so they can see Keith there. Visitors tell me all the time that they are welcomed and treated like old friends when they come to Belmont.

During the week I’ve seen God at work when Anne Hoback takes time out of her busy day to sit on the bench outside her office and talks with one our homeless neighbors. I’ve seen God at work through the Justice for our Neighbor attorney, Adrienne, as she greets immigrant families and offers them guidance and hope. I’ve seen God at work among the many ESL students who come here to learn English each week. I’ve seen God at work in the faces of Week Day School Children. Every week older adults who are ill or homebound experience God through the personal visits of Linda Johnson and homebound visitors.

On Friday our veterans gathered for a brunch. They were there to fellowship, to tell their stories and to thank God for one another and to pray for those families and friends whose lives have been affected by war. And God was with us.

I could go on and on with this list, because there are so many places that God is at work among us already. But where do you see God at work? Ask yourself this question each week as you engage the spiritual practice of experiencing God in everyday life.

Another question of discernment is, “Where are the places of need in our community and in our world?” Where is there suffering, hunger or hopelessness? In moments of quiet reflection we reflect on those places where the grace of God is needed. Where are the places of exploitation, places of rejection and alienation that need the healing presence of God? This takes the level of discernment to a deeper and less pleasant place. We may want to walk or drive the streets of our city and ask God to guide our thoughts and prayers.

We also ask the question, “Where do we hear God’s call?” We often rush to answer this question, before we have engaged the practice of discernment. I believe that when we have allowed ourselves to be in God’s presence and to listen and wait, the answer to that question will come.

Let me close with these words from Wendy Wright, “Discernment is about feeling texture, assessing weight, watching the plumb line, listening for overtones, searching for shards, feeling the quickening, surrendering to love. It is being grasped in the Spirit’s arms and led in the rhythms of an unknown dance.” (A Guide to Spiritual Discernment p.53)

   

Sermon transcript for November 4, 2012

“Kinship” Ruth 1: 1-18
All Saints Sunday—November 4, 2012
Belmont UMC
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

The reading today from the Book of Ruth contains this beautiful story of a bond and covenant between courageous women. “During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man and his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab.” (verse 1 CEB)  It was a time of hardship, and the decision to leave home for Moab was life changing. In this foreign land the sons of Naomi and Elimilech take foreign wives, Ruth and Orpah. Elimilech dies soon thereafter, leaving Naomi a widow. In turn Naomi’s sons die leaving her daughters-in-law widows as well. In a patriarchal culture this creates even greater vulnerability for them and they are forced to make difficult decisions. Like many immigrant families they find themselves facing numerous hardships and losses.

Hearing that the drought in Judah is over, Naomi decides to return home to the land of her people. This decision forces the daughters-in-law to make their own tough decisions. Naomi encourages them to return to their people but Ruth refuses and vows incredible allegiance to her mother-in-law, in words that are often quoted, she proclaims,
“Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” (vv. 16-17, CEB) So Naomi returns home and she returns with this unlikely companion, a Moabite woman, a foreigner, a widow, and an outsider who represents the people who have been the enemies of Israel.    

This story and the celebration of All Saints Sunday teach us something about the power of kinship. Kinship causes us to do extraordinary things that we would not do otherwise. Ruth is fiercely and completely committed to her mother-in-law and this commitment is spoken beautifully in words of covenant that say, “My relationship with you transcends everything else.”

On the list of persons we are remembering is Rebecca Graham Ferris. Rebecca and her family had deep roots in this church. In her later years Rebecca met Walter and they fell in love. During their short but fulfilling marriage they traveled all over the world. They love to dance and be together and they had wonderful stories of their life together. Walter died a little over a year ago. Walter was a “cradle Catholic” and even considered the priesthood when he was young. He loved the church and he and Rebecca come to Belmont one Sunday and go to the St. Henry’s on the next.

One Sunday, when Walter was 92 years old, he decided to join Belmont and sometime during the last hymn he started down the aisle. I did not know he planned this and I did not see him, even though he waved to get my attention. The hymn ended and Walter never made it all the way to the front. I gave the benediction and walked to the back.  After service the Randolph’s said, ‘Ken, Walter wanted to join the church today, but you didn’t let him.” So that afternoon I called him to apologize. He had a wonderful sense of humor and he said, “Well I’m kind of slow; maybe I should have started down the aisle during the middle hymn.” I assured him that we would gladly welcome him the next Sunday.” I talked to him before the service that next Sunday and I said, “Walter, you can join the United Methodist Church if you want to but I suspect you will always be a Catholic at heart.” He smiled but did not respond. Walter did not join us because he loved John Wesley or because he liked my sermons. He joined because it was the ultimate sign of his deep love for his dear Rebecca. When he died his service was at the Catholic Church and this United Methodist Minister offered the message of faith. Kinship can cause you to do extreme things, like becoming a United Methodist when you’re lifelong Catholic, or following your mother-in-law homeward, not knowing if you, a Moabite, will be welcomed.

At the heart of kinship we come to understand the meaning of obligation—obligation not in its negative connotation, out of a rote and sterile sense of duty or guilt, as in, “I feel obliged to do this even though I do want to.”  But I’m speaking of obligation to the other, born out of compassion, empathy and caring. Obligation that arises out of the human bond and a desire to do for the other what is right and good. We see this sense of obligation between Naomi and Ruth. We see it lived out among the saints of this church as well.  (Deep Symbols, Their Postmodern Effacement and Reclamation,  Edward Farley, “Obligation” pp. 42-44)

Our nation is starting the slow recovery from another national disaster and we hold the people whose lives have been upended, from Cuba to New York and New Jersey, in our prayers. Natural disasters are times of great hardship and suffering but it is during these times of extreme need that we finally get it right. Persons reach out in love and compassion to anyone and everyone in need, and they do without asking if the person is Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a Moabite, a Democrat or Republican, because it doesn’t matter. What does matter is our response and our sense of obligation and kinship overrides our even our deepest prejudices.

The story of Ruth reminds us that kinship is more than blood ties. Kathleen O’Connor writes us that “this God does not belong to one people alone but gathers peoples into this wide family.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, p. 246) This story and the celebration of All Saints remind us of the importance of relationships centered in God and not in our narrow understandings of relationship. Ruth would marry Boaz and become an ancestor to King David, and according to Matthew’s gospel, a foremother of Jesus. Jesus’ own genealogy is a theological statement that speaks of a wider understanding of kinship.

And it is through Ruth’s faithfulness that God works to bring hope and redemption to God’s people. Hope arises out of this broader understanding of kinship. As we read the names of these dear saints, we are reminded of our deep love for one another in this family we call Belmont. These names represent some of our finest; people who have lived as an example of compassion, people who by their example have shown us the way of life through Jesus Christ. We miss them, but like Naomi and Ruth, ordinary saints, they continue to inform and transform how we live and think. As we hear their names we offer thanks for their continued witness among us. And as we come to this table to break the bread and drink from the cup, we are aware of our kinship with a communion of saints here and elsewhere, known and unknown. As we think of them may the hope which comes to us as a gift from God, spring up in us and give us new purpose!

 

Sermon transcript for October 21, 2012

Living God’s Dream--A Widow’s Gift
Mark 12:28-34; 38-44
Belmont UMC—October 21, 2012
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

We know these texts. In the first part of this reading Jesus reminds us of the Great Commandment—to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. The other story is one we heard in Sunday School and we probably called it the widow’s mite but maybe it should be the widow’s might, for it describes a woman who understands the power of a life centered in God.

This story of the widow’s gift seems foreign to us, doesn’t it? We live in a world that has a different way of seeing things. In our world bigger is better. If you do well in this life you are rewarded with material rewards. You get the corner office with a great view. You get leather seats and more horsepower. You get your name on the sign out front.

We like bigger things. The young man at the fast food restaurant asked me, “Do you want to supersize that?” I never know how to answer this question with a simple “yes” or “no,” and I ask something back like, “Do you feel it needs to be bigger than it is? Do I look like I need more fat and calories?” I get blank looks in return. We like the supersized life, the trophy house and the bank account to match. “The one with the most toys wins.”  We want to the white light of success to shine brightly on us.

We get bragging rights when we are successful--especially, if we started out life without the marks of success. You have all heard my log cabin stories, haven’t you? We’ve come a long way from those simple days on the farm.

And I’m not putting success down, by the way. I want all of you to excel and do your best in whatever you are endeavoring to do. But I would caution us not to measure the life of each person by how much they have obtained. For if we do we will never understand a gospel story about a poor widow who gave a small gift, but Jesus said she gave more than anyone else. The other caution we have with this text is that most all of us are rich, by the world’s standards. And we may need a little spiritual healing to be able to see through the eyes of Jesus. That would be true for me, I confess.

The story in Mark 12 is a story of contrasts. Jesus is sitting in the temple, people watching. And this is what he sees: scribes marching in with great fanfare. They like to walk around in long robes (Some of us on the chancel could get a little uncomfortable here. I think robes are supposed to make us look less adorned and act as equalizers, much like a high school graduation robe does, but we have gotten away from that idea. They do keep us from adorning ourselves in other ostentatious ways. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons shows a preacher behind a large pulpit, wearing a Porter Wagner inspired jacket, addressing the congregation as, “Dearly Besequined!”). But the point is that is that Jesus notes the scribes’ desire for attention and they yearned for the seats of honor. He sees them march in with great fanfare, dropping their coins in the coffers with loud clanking sounds as if to say, “Look at us; look what we have done.”

And Jesus notes that these same men take advantage of widows. In Jesus’ day the widows and orphans represent the most vulnerable of society. They are signaled out in the Torah and in the Book of Acts as those who were dependent on the kindness and compassion of the religious community.

Jesus sees rich people coming in and dropping huge sums of money, and it was all very flashy, very attention getting stuff.

And then an older woman who is a widow, shuffles in. She did not want anyone to notice her, maybe a little embarrassed by the size of her gift. She had no gold or silver, no robes or jewelry to dazzle the eye of observers. She had a couple of small coins—it was all she had. Jesus notes the woman’s gift as the most generous. And Jesus surprises us once again by saying the unexpected.

Mark is very intentional about the placement of material in the gospel and I believe that this story belongs with the first text we read. They are separated in lectionary cycle (they come up in November), but I think Mark intended them to be together. Jesus, repeats the shema, saying it is the greatest commandment, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And then he observes this woman’s gift as an example what the law truly means. Jesus is saying, “This is the commandment, but this (the widow and her gift) is what it looks like in life. “I tell you this widow gave more than all the rest, because she gave all she had.” Not the religious elite, not the strict interpreters of the law and once again Jesus challenges our way of looking at the world.

This may seem to some like a strange choice for a text on a Sunday when we are asked to bring our pledges to the chancel. We would like to see some generous pledges. We hope to increase giving so we can accomplish some great things for God. But my friends, Jesus is reminding us that giving, giving that changes lives, and giving that changes the world, starts with a heart that is in the right place, a heart that is turned toward God. It is not about me, not about you, but it’s about living a life that is obedient and faithful because that life is in love with God, all in, heart, soul, mind and strength. Generosity starts here, in our hearts!

When I was in seminary, a friend was invited to the hills of eastern Kentucky to preach a revival, sometime between the winter session and the spring session. Another student was serving a couple of small churches there and he needed a favor. So my friend agreed to do this. He didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the sermons and he began to regret the commitment, but he did feel it would give him an opportunity to practice preaching. He was promised that he would be fed, his travel costs covered and he would have the guest room in the small parsonage.


As he drove eastward, the temperature was falling, the wind picked up and as he arrived in the small rural community where he was to preach, snow began to fall. It was to be the last gasp of winter and he wondered if anyone would venture out to the revival in weather like that.

On the first night he and the pastor arrived at the little white framed church, they were greeted by an older woman. As she reached out her hand to greet him, he couldn’t help noticing how worn her clothes looked and that she was not wearing shoes. Instead her feet were wrapped in burlap and tied around and around with twine string.

He was disappointed in the small crowd that showed up that night and even more disappointed in his attempt at preaching, but the people were kind and thanked him at the door as they left.

On the way to the parsonage he asked, “Who is that older woman with the worn clothes and burlap wrapped around her feet? What is her story?”

The pastor explained, “That’s Ms. Lottie! Her husband was killed in a logging accident when they were young. She never remarried and she is probably one of the poorest persons in this community. She lives in a little shack of a house down the road. She is very resourceful though. She raises a little garden, keeps a few chickens, and knows where to forge for berries and mushrooms. She is very well loved by the church people and she is one of the most generous persons I’ve ever known. She receives a small check each month, and always puts money in the offering. If she picks berries and makes 5 jars of jam, she’s apt to give 4 of them away because she’s go good hearted. We try to give her things and she always refuses. The only thing the church folks give her is firewood. They wait until she’s asleep and they’ll drive over and put a rick of wood by the house. She says, ‘The Lord provides!’”

Every night, Ms. Lottie was there wearing the same old clothes and her feet wrapped in burlap, and she would greet the two ministers with a smile of gratitude. On the last night of services, Ms. Lottie waited until everyone has left and she approached the seminary student and pressed a small package into his hands. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. He thanked her for the package, later tucking it into his luggage for the trip home.

The week ended and my seminary friend drove back to his room at school. In his room that night he began to unpack and he found the package Ms. Lottie had given him. He sat on the bed, untied the twine and opened the package. Inside was a pair of socks--hand knitted socks. Tears welled in his eyes as he pictured Ms. Lottie standing there with burlap around her feet and she had knitted socks for him.

He said, “I realized that trip to eastern Kentucky was for me, so I could encounter this prophetic and generous woman. And as I sat on my bed that night, admiring the gift, I could almost hear Jesus say, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all who are contributing to the treasury. . . for out of her poverty she has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

   

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