Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sermon - Pentecost 24 - Mark 12:38-44

Pentecost 24, November 11th, 2012
St. John's Lutheran Church, North Prairie, WI
Mark 12:38-44
“What's With this Widow?”

Introductions, etc...

What's with this widow? Jesus watches the scene unfold, with the various people making their offerings in the temple. Clang, clang, clang, go the coins – no paper money – and when the rich put theirs in the box it probably sounds like a slot machine dumping out a jackpot. Quite a show, perhaps. Really, very impressive. But not to Jesus. He is far more impressed with one poor widow who contributes two small coins – an extremely small sum – but out of her poverty, she gave all she had.

So is the lesson here simply one of proportional giving? That Jesus wants us to give everything we have, too? That the takeaway from today is go home, empty your bank account and put it in next sunday's envelope for St. John's, or better yet, mark it for support of a missionary to Singapore? What's Jesus getting at here?

Take the scribes, about whom Jesus warned his disciples. Oh they're very impressive, those people – they walk around in long robes, with all the pomp and pageantry. They always have the best seat in the house. But there's a dirty secret. Part of their wealth is ill-gotten gain. Maybe technically legal, but at great cost to the poor, the helpless, the widow. And all the while pretending to be faithful and pure, saying long prayers, and donating large sums into the temple treasury. Beware of them. Don't be like them. Don't think they're the example.

There are some warnings for us here, too. Against greed. Against pretense. Against taking advantage of others, and against making a show of our giving. We should not think highly of ourselves for giving 5 or 7 or 10% or more... Nor should we necessarily think more of the big givers in the congregation. Jesus isn't impressed by all that.

For over there is a poor widow, who puts us all to shame. Not with the amount of her offering, or even with its proportion, but that her offering is made in faith. And here is the key.

Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus say something similar to a rich young man who thought he had it all together, well mostly. But Jesus said you lack one thing. Go sell all your stuff, and give it to the poor. And the man went away sad because he had great wealth. He went away, it seems, because his real God was his money, and he wasn't willing to repent and believe. It isn't that Jesus is against people having stuff. But when that stuff gets in the way of them having him – of recognizing sin, of trusting in him for forgiveness, life, and salvation – if it's either stuff or Jesus, then the stuff has to go.

Once again Jesus turns the usual expectations upside down and inside out. You think that when it comes to giving, more is better. But Jesus is about quality, not quantity. You think that wealth is a sign of God's favor, but Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit. You think that lowly widows, poor and sad, are forgettable, but he remembers them, and commends their faith. You think that Jesus wants some, or maybe all of your money – but what he really wants is all of you, your heart, mind, soul.

But who can do it? Who can live up to this high standard of reliance on God? Who can give with pure motives, and not give thought to selfish gain? How many people today give because it feels good to help others – not simply out of love? What good work, of any kind can we do, that is not tainted or sullied by our sin, tinged with pride, or polluted by ulterior motives?

Only Jesus can give perfectly. Only Jesus can give completely. And does he ever. He gives what the world considered worth very little – his life. Our world cheapens life, too, both at beginning and end. But Jesus gives more than just a human life, however precious. He is the Holy One of God. He is without sin. And he is the only-begotten Son of God, by whom all things were made. His blood is worth more, is more precious than all the gold and silver in the world. And yet he gives up all, becomes a worm, dies a pariah, all... for you.

It is this good news that we have heard, this Gospel which calls us to faith. It is knowing him not just as God and Lord but as savior and friend – the one who loved us with the greatest love of all – it is this love that he first showed us, it is the giving he first gave for us, that moves us to love and serve and forgive and to give.

This widow – she wasn't at the Walmart answering the clang of the bell and filling the kettle to assuage her guilt. She wasn't in her comfy chair watching poor starving children on TV, and trying to do her part. She was in the temple – the house of God. And that means she heard God's word. She was where the sacrifices happened. Her faith trusted in God's promises, and her generous giving of all she had was a confession of her faith in the one who sustained her, and sustains you. She came to the temple to receive the true treasures that money can't buy. She came in faith and hope. Little did she know the fulfillment of all sacrifices and all her hopes had also come to the temple that day, that he took notice of her faithful giving, and commended her example to his disciples, and to us.

One wonders whether the poor widow came to know and believe in this Jesus of Nazareth who would soon be crucified, and rise from the dead. One wonders whether she came to see the fulfillment of all she hoped for, and trusted in.

But how blessed are we to have heard, and believed. How blessed are we when the Spirit of God works through his word, to call us to repentance and faith. And as that same Spirit moves us, cheers us on, to love and serve and give for the benefit of our neighbor and toward the expansion of Christ's kingdom. Whatever your gift, large or small, mighty or mite. Give it in faith and joy, knowing and trusting in the one who gave his all for you, and still gives for your blessing. In the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, amen.

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