Rev. Michele Ward

Nov 13, 2022

Sermon Text(s):
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17Luke 21:5-19

As we enter the second week of our stewardship series, the lectionary gives us this challenging passage from the Gospel of Luke. This excerpt follows the story of the faithful widow called “The Widow’s Mite.” She gives her last two coins as an offering to God at the temple in Jerusalem, and receives praise for her dedication to God. Jesus disapproves of this practice, and calls out the religious leaders for praising her financial gifts while ignoring the fact that she lives in poverty and they haven’t done anything to change her circumstances. 

Jesus continues his teaching about justice and retribution in the section that we just heard this morning. Here, he turns his attention to the economic injustices of the temple itself. King Herod the Great, the puppet king of Judea subservient to the Roman emperor, had rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. In his rebuilding of the temple, he added an outer court called the Court of the Gentiles. [1] People would listen to music, visit with priests and rabbis, and talk. They would also exchange their money at the Temple in the outer court, purchase animals to sacrifice, and buy religious souvenirs. [2] We are more familiar with the account of Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers, chasing the animals out of the Outer Court, and generally condemning the practice of exchanging currency and purchasing animals to sacrifice at the temple. 

Here, in the Gospel of Luke, we do not simply encounter Jesus turning over tables or herding the animals out onto the streets of Jerusalem. He begins to prophesy and teach about what will come to pass for the temple itself as well as his early followers in the days and years ahead of them. Although the Second Temple that King Herod built is beautiful and grand, it will not last forever. The extravagance of its walls and the impressiveness of its size will not be around for generations to come. The temple will crumble, wars will ensue, families will betray one another, and the disciples will be arrested and brought before political and religious leaders to answer for their beliefs and actions. 

Honestly, what a killjoy! Jesus is not acting like the loving, kind, gentle Jesus that we prefer to read about in the Gospels. Instead, he is angry. He is  serious. He describes a difficult future that will require sacrifice and change. Jesus does not stand there and praise the beauty of the temple when widows, like the one right before this section, are left to face poverty while being lifted up as examples of generosity. Jesus does not stand there and extoll the practice of money changing when the house of God has turned into a money making endeavor for merchants and money lenders. He does not describe bucolic, easy lives to his disciples. 

Remember – he is speaking to colonized, oppressed people living under Roman rule. He is not speaking to the elite or the wealthy. He is speaking to people who live within the confines of a caste system built around their own enslavement and servitude. This is a time when political rulers are viewed as gods and their word is the word of heaven. To live under both Roman political rule and Jewish religious practices means that following Jesus as their rabbi as well as the Messiah was the most risky choice of all.

To speak the truth is a risky endeavor. It is a powerful endeavor. And it is the endeavor to which Jesus calls the disciples and each of us this day. When I think about truth speakers in our own city, I think of the high school students, young adults, and neighbors involved in the South Baltimore Community Land Trust. In 2008, South Baltimore’s 21226 zip code had the highest quantity of toxic air emissions from a factory or plant in the country. [3]

The following year, the state and the city reviewed and accepted a plan to build the largest trash burning facility in the United States. The community would not have it. The current incinerator has been in operation since 1985, burning trash from both Baltimore City and Baltimore County. That is right – if you live in Towson or Lutherville, Roland Park or Homewood, your trash is burned and emits toxic fumes into the air. For every 100 tons of trash the incinerator burns, 70 tons enter the air as toxic fumes and 30 tonics enter landfills as toxic ash. But the Baltimore citizens that endure the health risks of the incinerator are predominantly black and brown Baltimoreans living at or below the poverty line. They are the same citizens who had their homes bulldozed to build highways, stadiums, and casinos, all in the name of economic progress.

Right before Mayor Scott was elected, the outgoing mayor, Mayor Young, renewed a 10 year contract with BRESCO, the company that owns and operates the incinerator in South Baltimore. South Baltimore Land Trust had been working tirelessly to retire BRESCO’s contract and the use of the incinerator entirely.  This action at the eleventh hour left them unable to lobby against signing up for another decade of pollution, higher asthma rates, cancer, and other health conditions. We prefer to research these issues at universities and in medical systems rather than address them at the root by getting rid of the source of the toxins that are killing our people and our planet.

The majority of us in the community are not living in the midst of these toxic fumes. But if we burn fuel for energy in our homes, we are potentially surrounded by toxic indoor pollutants. Today we join congregations of many faith traditions across our region in celebrating Climate in the Pulpits with Interfaith Power & Light. [4]

This year, Climate in the Pulpits is a chance to reflect on the harm that burning fuel for energy is causing to our neighbors and to the natural world. Our faith traditions teach the sacred value of repentance. At every moment, we can turn from what is harmful and choose life. In this season of returning, our congregation is joining with many others to turn towards a future in which we don’t have to burn anything to heat our communities or our homes and can use clean renewable energy instead.


[1] Richard Swanson, “Commentary on Luke 21:5-19,” Published November 13, 2013. Accessed November 11, 2022.

[2] Ibid., Richard Swanson.