11/8/2015 6:33:26 PM
Odd Giving [Sermon Manuscript]
As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (November 8, 2015) on Mark 12:38-44. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Be the Widow - isn’t that what this text from the gospel of Mark is saying? Jesus is in Jerusalem and teaching in God’s House, the Temple. He brought his entourage, his disciples, and the more Jesus says, the more people listen. So the Sadducees, Pharisees, and other religious and political groups send people to try and trap Jesus. They bring their questions, riddles, and their theological tongue twisters to stump the Son of God. But it doesn’t work. So today, after a large round of teaching, he plops himself down in front of the Temple’s Treasury, watching people give a financial offering to God. Jesus, like everyone else, sees the rich in their designer clothes putting money in the offering plate. But there’s also this woman, a poor widow. She goes up and deposits two small coins that are not even worth the metal they are made out of. In the vast pile of money that is being collected, her offering is so small, it won’t even be noticed. It’ll end up as just some decimal point recorded by a scribe with no name or story attached to it. She’s unseen - but Jesus sees her. He notices that she is giving everything she has. And in a world where wealth defaults to men, she doesn’t have an inheritance, or a husband, or a son, to get the kind of jobs and money she needs to earn a living wage. She gives a penny because a penny is all she has.
So, for all of us, what would it be like if we gave like she did? What if we gave everything we had - all our houses, cars, checkbooks and credit cards - and just dropped them, deeds and all, into God’s offering plate?
Now, that request probably makes us feel pretty uncomfortable. Even while I’m making the request, my gut is reacting against it. I get defensive. I’ve got bills I have to pay, car and student loan and even childcare payments that I have to make or else I can do what I’m called to do. The request to give everything like the widow does immediately made me uncomfortable. , And even though my family and I give to the church, even though we are on a journey to become tithers and are proud that our pledge for 2016 is more than 2015, I still wanted to run away from the widow’s demand. I still try to reason my way out of the request. And maybe you did too. But before we step away from the widow’s example to try and undo that uncomfortable feeling - I want us to grab it and not let it go. Any time Scripture makes us uncomfortable or causes us to flee, that’s an opportunity for us to dig deep and discover just what is going on in the story and with us. This is Scripture as a mirror - staring straight at us and asking us to see ourselves fully, warts and all.
So let’s stay uncomfortable - for a moment - and step into today’s gospel reading one more time.
So like I said before, Jesus is in the Temple. He’s teaching. He’s having arguments with the different Jewish groups of his day. Our text today begins with an attack on the scribes, the educated religious leaders who, unlike most, could read and write. Jesus tells his friends and those listening to beware of those who dress nice, who want the best seats in the house, and who pray long prayers without really meaning them. These fancy scribes are the ones who devour the homes of widows. We don’t know exactly how they do that. Jesus isn’t specific here. But there’s something about their behavior - about their desires and point of view - that consume the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. It’s after this warning that Jesus sits down to watch people as they bring their offerings to God.
Now, up to this point in Jesus’ time in the Temple, we aren’t sure who is part of his crowd. In Mark, we know there are people around him, but the only folks who are named dropped are his disciples and all the other religious leaders. When Jesus speaks, it’s these folks who respond back. There’s no mention of a poor or sick person being in his crowd, being in his sight, until that poor widow makes her offering. Jesus doesn’t go up to her. He doesn’t chat with her. He doesn’t even share her name. But he sees her - and then tells the story of what she gives.
Jesus tells her story. That’s it. He doesn’t actually praise what she does. He doesn’t tell his disciples to “be like her” and his disciples don’t take the hint and immediately drop all their coins into the offering plate. Jesus just points the poor widow out and tells the story of what she’s done.
So, with that said, what’s making us uncomfortable? Is it the word “more?” Are we seeing ourselves as the rich who give too little? Or would we like to gain the “more” than that the poor widow seems to get? Our feelings could come from these kinds of questions or be from something else entirely. But whatever happens, don’t try and wipe that uncomfortable feeling away because that feeling is the invitation to do what Jesus does. He sees. He notices. He tells the story. This isn’t a text about giving; it’s a text about seeing. Jesus isn’t praising what the widow does - he’s seeing her when no one else does. And in the middle of a long series of stories where Jesus is having arguments with religious leaders, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees - Jesus does what they don’t do, and he sees the vulnerable person in the midst.
But before we exhale and lose that uncomfortable feeling now that I’ve said this text isn’t about giving - we also can’t ignore that the poor widow gives. To see her is to see her gift. We don’t know why she gives. We don’t know if she feels obligated, if she feels that this is her faithful act to God, or if she gives because she loves the Temple and believes the Temple will take care of her when she’s in need. We don’t know her - we just see her because Jesus sees her. And seeing is the first step to being known. Seeing is noticing the unnoticed. Seeing is noticing the folks who are always there, in the background, who are the extras to the film story of our life. Jesus sees the poor widow. He sees what she’s doing. He sees what she’s giving and Jesus cares. He cares about who she is and why she’s there. And Jesus invites his disciples to do what they weren’t doing before and see her too.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Woodcliff Lake’s mayor and council debate. The format of the night was pretty simple. Everyone in the audience was invited to write their question on a card and hand it to the moderator who would then decide if that question would be asked. So I wrote my question, turned it in, and sat there as candidates talked about issues I knew about and others I knew nothing about. I heard them talk about how many stories houses should be, what to do with the Galaxy Gardens property, and what kind of tile should be at the municipal pool. There were questions about property taxes, suggestions on how to raise property values, a little jealousy that Woodcliff Lake doesn’t have a downtown area like Westwood or Hillsdale, and a lot of words spilled about who came up with the idea to install a bike path around the reservoir. There was plenty said about where we, as a community in Northern New Jersey, should go. But there was very little about noticing the people who are here now. I left that night with my question unasked. I left not learning where the candidates stood on how to deal with seniors living in poverty. We have seniors in this extremely affluent town who own their homes but can’t afford to eat. They are hidden from view, hidden in their own homes that they lovingly worked so hard to afford. But now, on the other side of 65, their struggle is real. We might not see them - but they, like that poor widow, are seen by God. And God cares. God cares about them, about all of the unseen, about that poor widow giving all she has, and God also cares about those who struggle to see everyone around us.
Today’s text isn’t asking us to be the widow. Today’s text is asking us to see the widow - to learn her story, her experience, and her thoughts on God. Today’s text is about taking that uncomfortable feeling inside of us, that desire to flee from the widow and turn back so that we can truly see. Jesus points out the widow to his disciples not because he wants them to only see what she gives. But Jesus knows it’s when we see clearly that we can truly know what God is calling us to give.