25th Sunday After Pentecost
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Mark 12:38-44
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In 1957, then Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy was credited with writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage. While there was controversy around its true authorship, the premise of the book was to recognize the stories of eight American senators who had defied public opinions within their own party and among their constituents in order to do what they perceived was the right thing and for the greater good.

In 1989, members of the Kennedy family established the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award and since that time, numerous political leaders have been recognized for their courageous leadership.

There are other awards for courage and bravery, many names that might be obvious. But there are also regular, ordinary people whose names will never make the press or receive any kind of citation.

We might ask ourselves what makes for courageous leadership and life in our world today.  What makes a person willing to go against the grain, to put themselves, their reputation, career, or even friendships on the line; to stand up for something meaningful and by their own convictions even when doing so is difficult and unpopular? It’s risky at best because the results are often messy and isolating, we don’t always get to see the end results, and most likely, there will never be any kind of recognition at all.

Author and life coach, Rebecca Perkins puts it this way:

“Courage isn’t about being a battle-ready soldier; some days courage is saying ‘tomorrow is another day.’” We show courage on a daily basis, she writes, because our lives and the lives of those we love matter to us. “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the silent voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

She goes on to say:

Courage is saying sorry… knowing when to say ‘enough’…
Courage is saying I love you … saying yes … saying no…
Courage is being truthful with oneself…
Courage is knowing that we screwed up
Courage is admitting we can’t cope alone
Courage is letting go; courage is reaching out…
Courage is standing up for something we believe in … doing something new…
Courage is choosing love over fear … standing up for one’s self …
Courage is learning to love again….
Courage is being vulnerable … breaking with tradition
Courage is asking for help … stopping to rest
Courage is letting the tears flow…
Courage is trusting that all will be well[1]

There are others on the list and I like it, especially in our world today when the tendency is to think that all of these things might make us weak and vulnerable. It takes courage to just be human and courage is found in the simple, ordinary, living out of our days.

We see that too in our gospel this morning. There is a widow in the temple and her story is familiar, yet it does not stand alone. She is profiled in the context of others, situated between long-robe wearing pontificating religious people whose wealth and privilege gives them access to the best of everything – the best education, the best seats in their place of worship (aren’t you glad we don’t have special seats here at Park Avenue), the greatest respect and sources of power.

In contrast, she has no power at all. She is nameless, a mere pawn in a system in which persons like her are looked-over and over-looked. She is totally invisible. Have you ever been invisible? Completely unseen, not even acknowledged? We know the benefit of having some amount of power because quite frankly, without it, we are rarely taken seriously, hardly recognized as credible. Invisible.

We live in a culture of haves and have-nots: either or, with or without, and often our striving is about making sure that we are on the right side of it all. The risk of being on the wrong side is unbearable.

It seems to me that given her plight, it was a miracle that she would have shown up at the temple at all. From all appearances, it seems like God has let her down, the place of worship has let her down, and all of society has let her down. She should have been worried about where her next meal was coming from and what the future might hold. She is a victim in the most blatant sense.

I mean, it seems to me that they should have been passing the plate receiving a love offering on her behalf. But here she comes with her little two cents worth – literally – trying to do something to advance the kingdom of her God. And Jesus says, what she has done is of greater value than all the rest. She has put in more than those who have a lot and give little.

I know it must have taken something for her to show up and to give in this way – not out of our abundance, but out of our scarcity. Yes, it is true that church life can sometimes be a hot bed for hypocrisy. It is true that we often talk a good game but the reality is far from it. We say “open doors, open hearts, open minds” but all rights and privileges are not open for everybody. We say that “all are welcome” when in fact it often means you can come in but we’re not going to change anything at all in order to accommodate who you are.

The complaints are legitimate, and trust me, I’ve heard my fair share. There are lots of reasons to be disillusioned about the Church, after all, all of us are mere human beings but nevertheless, she is not deterred by any of that and neither am I.

She puts her trust where it belongs in what God might be able to do despite all odds. It does not seem to matter what others are doing nor what they might think about her. She puts in everything and is counted among the faithful.

And I think it took something to walk up to the treasury box, knowing her circumstance and put her little bit in just like all the rest. It took something deep and noble to speak her own truth without opening her mouth. And by doing so, she registered her own agency about herself. She said, “I belong here. I am a daughter of the temple just like everybody else.” It takes courage to do that.

We see it too in the Old Testament passage: Ruth and Naomi – the old widowed mother bereft of her husband and sons and the young widowed daughter-in-law. These two poor immigrant, transient women are alone in the world. They are immigrant, transient women walking the dangerous and rough terrain from Moab back to Judah, trying to stay alive in a strange land amid grief and loss, tyranny and fear, displacement and pain. They set out not knowing and head to another place. They don’t want to go but they must go; they must seek out a better life for themselves making one life shift after another. God’s people yearning to survive. What is that image on the evening news? What might they look like? Who are the brave among us? Those courageous souls?

Some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture are found in the book of Ruth. Naomi’s selfless love to Orpah and Ruth after their husbands have all died and she wants to return to her homeland in Bethlehem:

Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.[2]

And then, Ruth:

Intreat me not to leave thee, nor from following after thee. For wherever thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where you die, I will die and be buried there. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you![3]

These are not easy words, my friends. It takes courage to utter them and even more courage to live them out and to closely examine what that might look like day-by-day. And we just don’t know, do we? Because this same immigrant, poor, displaced Ruth went on to become the great grandmother of King David, the greatest king in all of Israel. And from her line, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born.

Here’s what I want to leave you with: muster the faith to live with courage in the day-to-day. You may never receive a plaque or reward but no plaque and no reward can ever hold the essence of who you are. Ordinary people like us displaying acts of courage and bravery everyday against all odds is a good thing in this world – especially these days. Even the least among us, our simplest acts can have great value in the kingdom of God.

What makes for courage? Maybe understanding who we are and claiming that in an authentic way; being willing and able to think and act beyond ourselves and our own egos, needs, wants and desires. Lord, may it be so.

[1] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-perkins/the-real-definition-of-courage_b_6857068.html
[2] Ruth 1:11
[3] Ruth 1:16-17 KJV