The Very Rev. Tom Callard, November 11, 2018
This morning at 11:00 O’clock, as we are celebrating the Holy Communion at the altar, it will be
the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. And it will be exactly, to the hour,
accounting for local time, 100 years since the Armistice was announced ending the fighting of
World War I. It was the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, which marked the official
end of the war. But it was on this date, November 11 th , 1918 when the Armistice was declared,
and peace celebrated for the first time since the war began.
An armistice is not the same thing as a permanent treaty. It was the Treaty of Versailles which
ended the war. But it was the Armistice which held this thing in place, which held out this hope
for peace, while the leaders worked out the details. The armistice allowed the soldiers to lay their
arms down while the soldiers on the other side laid down their arms, and for that moment they
could see the end of the tunnel.
And there was a lot of hope 100 years ago that the world would be at peace after this war, for this
was “The war to end all wars.” And many people had a sense that they’d been through this
horrible experience with more than 40 million people killed, and perhaps now they could come
out with something better.
It’s a wonderful hope to declare an armistice. And sure you could look back at the hope of those
people from 100 years ago and you could say: well weren’t they naïve to believe that this was the
end of war. After all, don’t they know human nature and know how we are? That we are
basically prone to war and driven to aggression and violence and destruction.
But in the same way you could look back at the Civil Rights leaders from fifty or sixty years ago
as they fought for equality for blacks, and say the same thing: well aren’t they naïve? Don’t they
know human nature and how we are? That blacks and whites will never be equal. Or in the same
way you can look at those who those who fought for women’s suffrage and women’s equal rights
in the last 100 years and say of them: well aren’t they naïve? Don’t they know human nature and
how we are? That women will never be able to vote, and never be equal in the eyes of men.
And you can go back, on and on, through history, and say the same thing about every major
social movement and every major campaign for a better world and for peace and equality and for
the struggle to bring God’s goodness to the hurting places of the world. And you will always
come up with the possibility of saying: well look how we are. It’s against our nature.
For we are like the scribes in the Gospel today, we love to stand before others and call attention
to ourselves, to show how great we are, and put our own wants first. And we devour widow’s
houses. That’s just what Jesus says today: literally to eat up, the Greek Word, eat up their houses.
And that’s how we are. And we’re happy to devour and consume and destroy and suppress and
fight if it gets us what we want. You could say that about our nature.
But then here comes this widow today. And Jesus calls the disciples over, he calls us over,
because he wants us to bear witness to the other side of the story. For there is more to the
narrative than one side. And while all these things are going on and we’re busy telling ourselves
how bad we are and how bad the world is and how it’s impossible ever to have anything good
like peace, this widow takes this step, which is basically out of people’s sight, out of the sight of
the eyes of the world, and she gives her offing in thanks to God. But Jesus sees her.
It’s just the kind of thing that Jesus sees, and Jesus calls us to see her too. And he says, look,
here’s this act of hope. It’s kind of like declaring an armistice in the middle of war. It’s a step
into the unknown, for the widow has given all she has. She’s done something brave and perhaps
foolish, and it is much braver and bolder than all the rich who have put in their large sums of
money, for she has given it all to God.
Who knows what this widow wants or why she’s even there at the temple today. I’ve often
wondered, as I stare up at her image, there in the stained glass above the Chapel of
Reconciliation. I’ve often looked at her and her children, who we don’t hear about in the
Scripture. And on Sunday at times of reflection I will look up at her, partly to make sure she’s
still up there. And she is. But also to let this image take me away to the place of hope where I
know she is going.
I have never shared this, but the story of the Widow from Mark and the image from our window
makes me think of a woman I saw one time twenty years ago in a Church in Honduras, where I
was serving as a missionary. It was in the big Roman Catholic Cathedral in the town square in
the middle of the city of Tegucigalpa.
It wasn’t the Basilica. They also have a basilica which is huge and ornate and just outside of
town in what you might call the wealthy suburbs.
But this was the big church in the heart of the city, almost like our Cathedral is in Springfield.
And they ministered to all sorts of people, but in particular I saw a lot of poor campesinos,
people who lived in the country, who came to the big Cathedral to pray. They would take the bus
in the morning and I would see people get off the bus carrying flowers that they had grown up in
the mountains. And they brought them here to sell in the marketplace. And I’m sure that’s how
they made their money. I can’t imagine how much money you can make selling flowers,
probably less than 50 cents a day. But it’s what they had.
And in my morning commute to the school where I taught, I would occasionally stop at the
Cathedral to watch the people and to offer prayer, which is part of my sense of what one does in
a Cathedral, you come in and you watch the people and offer prayer.
And so one morning I was sitting there in a pew in the back offering my devotions, and this
woman caught my eye. She was there with her two children, who were a little older than the two
in the stained glass here. And I could tell she had come in from the country to sell her flowers,
for she had an armful of white lilies wrapped in newspaper. And that’s how they carried them.
And the woman came into the Cathedral and I watched as she went to the side chapel where
there was a statue of the Lord, and she knelt at the feet of the statue with her children at her side,
holding the flowers in her arm. And she placed the flowers at the feet of Jesus, and knelt there
with her arms outstretched to pray and make an offering to God.
Who knows what those flowers cost her in terms of her daily wage. Who knows what sacrifice
they represented to her and her family, her children, and her husband, to lay the flowers she
could have sold in the marketplace there at the feet of Jesus. And who knows what she prayed
for: whether she was giving thanks for a blessing she had received or asking God for a miracle
she was hoping for still. But it was clearly something big and important. You could tell she
didn’t do this every day. And after she spent some time there, she left the flowers, got up with
her children, and went off to continue on her way.
I had forgotten about that woman until I arrived here, and had forgotten about her until I began to
sit in my chair there as your Dean and look at that stained glass window up there, and think to
myself, what little do I do and what little faith do I have, that I venture so little in hope. I give so
little in hope.
My offerings to hope are meager and at times I would say pathetic, because I am far too willing
to look at the bad side of human nature and not enough at the good. I am one of those who can
easily say: well it’s pretty naïve to believe that wars can end and equality can be achieved and a
better community can be built, because look at the scribes we are, ready to devour widows’
houses. And I am too infrequently the widow, ready to give all I have in hope.
But then I learn from people like her. I learn from people like you. I learn from the stories in the
Bible. I learn from places like Square One or Loaves and Fishes, or the Big Blue ministry, from
the tutoring we do, and from countless hours of watching you and your faith and your knowledge
that no matter what it looks like, that something amazing will happen, for we have an amazing
God, and God has acted always and forever on our behalf. An armistice which lasted. Yes, war
returned, but there was another armistice after that, for someone else provided hope.
We do that. And these small pieces of hope help build the larger world that God imagines, for
hope is the business of God. The community of God can scarcely do more than to invite each of
us to offer our own hope for what we desire and what we need and for us to know that something
good will come.
Did you know that exactly 100 days before the Armistice of 1918, that King George the V of
England, who was the grandfather of the current Queen, declared the day, August 4, 1918, to be
a national Day of Prayer. And he and Mary the Queen and members of the House of Parliament
went to the Church of St. Margaret in Westminster, and they did something like the widow, they
went and they got on their knees and they offered prayer. It was a day of prayer. A day offered in
the hope that this terrible war which seemed to go on forever would end. And exactly100 days
later, it did.
For our God accepts our offerings, as meager as they might be, or as great as they are. God
accepts the offerings of Kings and poor widows. God accepts and rejoices in all of our hope. And
our offerings of hope change the world. So today we take up these pledges and we bless our
offerings during this morning’s service.
And I can scarcely imagine what it is you are hoping for in your life. I cannot imagine what are
the blessings you give thanks for today or the miracles you still hope for one day to come. I can
not imagine how much this sacrifice of your offering means to you, or how little, or even what it
will mean for the ministry of this Cathedral.
But I can say that God knows, because Jesus sees. And God listens. And God cares. So if all we
do today is just come forward and say Thank You, that’s a lot. If we make a pledge to the
Cathedral and our ministries, that’s a lot. And if we make an offering that shows the hope we
believe in, that’s a lot. But the important thing is that we hope.