A Widow’s Mighty Ripple

Sunday, April 18, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune

Acts 6:1-15; 7:54-60

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace, Amen

I would like to begin this morning by saying the dates for our annual Global Mission emphasis were decided almost 10 months ago. When we do worship planning, we never know what the circumstances will be when the time arrives for us to carry out the plan.

With the tragic death of Daunte Wright this week, our community, which is already on edge is further strained, as we are all trying to understand and process what has happened. I am struggling to understand the why, as well as what to do.

Part of what I am choosing to do is to work our plan. I make this choice knowing full well there is so much work that needs to be done to heal and make whole the brokenness in our communities around racial inequities and how best to respond as people of faith.

What I do know is that the church of Jesus Christ has a long history of responding to needs of all kinds and the thirty-year ripple of Global Mission at Augustana is just one example of that kind of response.

As I continue to learn and grow in my own personal response and understanding concerning matters of racial inequities, as I hope and pray you are doing, I can at the same time focus on what I do know and understand about the church’s response to community needs. Part of that response for me this week is preaching about Global Mission. It is working our plan.

The beginning of the reading today in Acts, chapter 6 is one of the first examples of the church addressing community needs.

In this case, it was the needs of the widows in the community.

 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Yes, this is a church disagreement and they figured it out.

This is the first group of Jesus followers, gathered together, after the Holy Spirit comes with power at Pentecost, trying to figure out how best to respond to the community needs. Specifically, to needs of the widows in their midst.

I would like to share a story with you about another widow. The story is told by Gary Langness, the former Senior Pastor at Augustana.

“Her name was Evelyn.  She sat quietly on the porch for more than two hours.  She was almost motionless.  I was introduced to her; she stood and politely shook my hand while humbly bowing.  She had come to Linda for help.

[ Linda is Linda Jacobson. She and her husband Mark are medical missionaries that Augustana has supported for over thirty years. Linda and Mark have a deep and strong relationship with Augustana.]

Evelyn was a widow with two children, no job, and no food.  But she had heard about Linda, that Linda helped poor people and so she waited at Linda’s gate.

Finally, Linda was done teaching piano lessons and came out on the porch where she greeted Evelyn with a hug and words of love.  Linda had found out that Evelyn could sew.  Linda asked Evelyn if she could make Christmas tree ornaments that would reflect life in Africa.  “Yes,” Evelyn replied.  So Linda had purchased the material and necessary supplies and now Evelyn had returned with a bag full of elephants, giraffes and zebras.  She handed them to Linda and Linda paid her for them.  It was more money than Evelyn had ever received at one time.  It would pay the rent, feed her family and it would mean there was still hope.

As Evelyn walked across the lawn and through the gate Linda turned to me and said, “I just have to help her, she has no one else.”  Then she held up the bag of ornaments and said, “Do you think I can sell these to someone?”

So I bought the whole bag and when I gave her the money she said, “You are the first person who has taken some of Evelyn’s work and paid for it!”  Linda was buying the material, paying Evelyn for the finished product, and hoping that others would pay her.  I thought it was time for an American business lesson for my friend Linda.  “Linda, you will go broke!”  I said.

And Linda laughed a hearty laugh and said, “Yes, perhaps, but Evelyn and her children can eat tonight.”

“True,” I said, “but what about those other women you wish to help?”  And tears welled up in Linda’s eyes and she said, “I have got to find a way to help them too.”

What does a pastor do with a bag of 50 Christmas tree ornaments for which I had just paid $1.20 a piece?  I came home and told Augustana about Evelyn and Linda.  I suggested that they might like to help Linda help Evelyn and other women in Arusha, Tanzania where Linda serves as a missionary.  The ornaments were placed on a table in the narthex, and I told the congregation that if they wanted one, they could take one, but they were not for sale.  If they wished to make a contribution to help Linda help others, they could put their money in the African basket on the table.  An amazing thing happened.  At the end of the morning there was $816.20 in the basket and orders for 1,500 more ornaments!  Evelyn will be doing lots of sewing and Linda will have funds to help others in the name of Christ.  Linda calls it a miracle.  Can $816.20 and an order for 1,500 ornaments be called a miracle?  Perhaps, but the real miracle is when someone loves so deeply that they wish to help others and end up doing it in the name of Jesus.” [1]

Two women. One black. One white. One Tanzanian. One American. Both of them Jesus followers. A mighty ripple came out of their first visit at Linda’s gate where they sat down and cried because they did not know what else to do. But God knew what to do.

It is called the Widow’s Might project; m-i-g-h-t.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit Evelyn went to work sewing and the wave washed over pastor Langness in the form of 50 Christmas tree ornaments and the ripple arrived here in West St. Paul and it grew and spread even further. The ripple has been moving for 30 years.

It provides scholarships for students to be educated in Iringa Tanzania and in Guatemala.

It helped build churches in Tanzania and in Guatemala.

It provides micro loans for farmers in Tanzania whose incomes doubled and tripled because now they had the capital to increase the production of their farms. And they can educate their children, grow their farms, and in turn grow the local economy.

This mighty ripple heals the broken limbs and the burnt bodies of children at Plaster House in Arusha, Tanzania. It provides surgeries for women that allowed them to go back to their home villages after childbirth, fully restored and healed in body, mind, and spirit.

This mighty ripple has reached the middle east through the 100 plus years of work Lutheran Mideast Development has done with the Kurdish people in educating and supporting them in that difficult part of our world.

This is my last Global Mission sermon as your senior pastor and the moment is not lost on me. It is the last time I get the privilege of inviting you to give a gift to support the prayers, projects, and progress of 30 years of ripple effects from Global Mission at Augustana.

Janis and I usually give a gift of $1,000. This year, our last year, we are doubling our gift.

And I am inviting you to do the same.

As you have heard so many times from this pulpit over the years, every gift matters, whatever the amount. If you were going to give $5.00, make it $10.00. If you were going to give $20, make it $40. If you were going to give $100.00, make it $200.00. The math is easy, and the ripple will be great.

The 30 years of ridiculous generosity from Augustana has created ripples of healing and changed many lives in ways we will never see. But God does.

And when God sees that the widows are being cared for and children are being educated and farmers are learning how to become better farmers and places of worship are being build so the good news of Jesus can be heard and received, a widow’s might is rippling through time and space and we are part of it.

We get to be part of it. God calls us to be part of it.

It is both fascinating and humbling to me that so much hope and change could come about because of a widow named Evelyn, a missionary named Linda and a congregation of Jesus followers called Augustana.

Evelyn has gone to Jesus, but the ripple she helped start keeps going. It moves through you and me and this amazing congregation. It moves through Iringa and Arusha in Tanzania, in La Esmerelda and in Guatemala City in Guatemala, it changes lives in the Middle East.

This mighty ripple is inspired and driven by the Holy Spirit at work in you and me.

Thank you for the ripples you will create as we continue to do this amazing work.

For Evelyn and the mighty ripple of hope and new life in Christ we say thanks be to God. Amen

[1] A special thanks to my dear friend and former colleague Gary Langness for Evelyn’s story

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