We Do We Find God 11-8-15

This sermon is based on Mark 12:38-44 as Jesus points out a poor widow who gives her final means to a system that has failed to support her.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Over the course of the nearly 15 years that Emily and I have been married, there have been quite a few places that we have called home…places where we have set up our residence. First there were 2 apartments, and then 2 houses that we owned, all of which were in the Okoboji area. Then there was a townhouse in the Twin Cities, before moving into the parsonage here in Underwood.

And with that many different places, there’s been a lot of moving. We’ve done it quite a few times, and I have a little ritual that has happened each and every time…the final walk through. I always end up doing it as we are walking out of the place for the last time, basically making sure that we got everything.

But of all the different moves that we’ve made, and the subsequent final walk-throughs that I have done, the two that stick out the most in my memory were the two houses.

Our first house, to date, remains the single location where we lived the longest…right at 5 years. Both kids were born while we lived there, and so it marks the change from simply a married couple to a family…and I can remember the day, quite clearly, as we moved the last of our stuff out of the house, and I made my walk through…checking for any missing items while also remembering all the joy from our time there…I remember being a little misty as I walked out the front door, and turned around to lock it for the last time, knowing that I would never step back into that house again. (pause)
Now the second house…well my final walk through was a little bit different…We had already emptied everything out…and in fact had already completed our move from Okoboji up to the Twin Cities…but an odd little situation brought me back to Okoboji just a couple of days later…and in my final walk through of that house…I was grabbing the left over garbage bag to put it out on the curb…chores…garbage…that was my final experience with that house. 2 very different memories to take with me as my last experience of an important location. (pause)
Now I bring all this up because today’s story marks a similar situation…this is Jesus’ final appearance in the temple…and it’s a little on the strange side isn’t it? (pause)

This passage occurs fairly late in Mark’s gospel…both in terms of the narrative as well as within the writing itself. In fact, everything from chapter 11 through the end of 16 occurs within Jesus’ final week of life…and a lot of it seems to take place within the temple…within God’s house…within the place where God makes his residence.

And, if we look back just a touch, most of Jesus interactions within the temple over the course of this week are pretty negative. Chapter 11 shows us the cleansing of the temple when he tosses around tables and starts cracking a whip. We also see quite a few different debates with the scribes…the experts in the law…those who know all the rules…inside and out…and for the most part…those debates have been pretty antagonistic on both sides of the coin.

And as the story picks up today, it would seem that Jesus has sorta had it…Beware the scribes…those dudes in the flowing robes who desire to be noticed…who take the highest seats of honor…those guys that like to stand up front and spout off long prayers, all for the sake of their status. (pause)

Strange to be sure…but really nothing new…we’ve seen this sort of thing from Jesus before…but what’s really strange in this…is the thing that happens next, just before Jesus goes walking out of the temple for the last time.

And we see Jesus, now sitting across from the treasury box…people watching…not an uncommon past time…but as he sits there, he take notice of a bunch of rich people dropping in heaping money bags…and thinking absolutely nothing of it…only to be followed up by a poor widow, who drops in two tiny coins…and this is what he takes notice of.

In fact, it seems to be so important to him that he calls the disciples to him in order to have a teaching moment. But…this whole situation raises the question of just what is Jesus trying to teach? (pause)
Now, considering the time of year we find ourselves in…late fall…the time when our Operations board is meeting to work on next year’s budget…just a week before our Harvest festival…perhaps we hear this passage and its absolutely engrained in us to hear…stewardship.

And without me even saying a word about it, I’m guessing that many of you are now thinking “the moral of this story is to give it all…be a cheerful giver…because Jesus acknowledges that this woman gives everything she has…and we should happily do the same.” (pause)

I probably wouldn’t be out of bounds to preach on that either…after all…we all know that ministry costs money…we need to pay the help…we need to keep the lights on…we need to maintain the building…and for the most part…that speaks to our understanding of stewardship doesn’t it? (pause)

I could go that direction…and as much as it makes people squirm in their seats to hear…not to mention making pastors squirm in the pulpit when we talk about money…in the end…I don’t think that is an accurate representation of what was actually on that day. (pause)

Jesus has just spent the past 2 chapters condemning the culture that has evolved within the temple…within the very place that Jewish culture goes to find God…the very dwelling place of God…a place that for countless years…for countless generations…has engrained it into the people that it is their cultural duty to support it…so much so, that this woman…this widow who LITERALLY…has NOTHING…she has no one and no way to support herself beyond these pitiful tiny coins…this woman feels utterly compelled to drop those coins into the box…condemning herself, quite literally to death by starvation unless someone happens to take pity on her. (pause)

Now we don’t know what becomes of the woman…perhaps Jesus engages with her…maybe someone else sees her and takes her in to care for her…or maybe on the flipside she wanders off, pitiful and alone and eventually dies…we don’t know.

But Jesus, points her out…and in doing so, I believe that Jesus is continuing the same trend of pointing out what is flawed about the system…how humanity has taken a place intended to be a point of worship for our Lord and through our warped sinful nature has twisted it into a guilt driven mindset that leads this poor woman to sacrifice her very life for it…this woman who should be protected by that system…this woman that should be cared for by the system…but instead, the system just takes her money to continue supporting itself.

And following this observation on the part of Jesus…he leaves the temple, never to return in Mark’s gospel…and knowing what we know about Jesus being God in human form…I guess we could say on this bummer of a note…God has left the building.

Isn’t that kinda strange? That this is the last thing that happens in the temple? That this, would be Jesus’ final encounter in this holy place?

It makes me wonder, just what was Jesus thinking as he walked out that day? Was he finally fed up with humanity? Had God finally reached the point where he had enough? (pause) Maybe so…because it seems, at least here in Mark’s gospel…that God cuts ties with the temple…and in fact, the only other two references to the temple at all are Jesus words right away in chapter 13 when he reveals that in a few short years the temple would be utterly destroyed…and then a couple chapters later when he died and the curtain that divides the inner sanctuary from the rest of the temple is torn in two and God is no longer restricted…but is freed…God is out in the world. (pause)

Now here’s the thing…if we really believe that God is out in the world…living and active…dwelling among us in the presence of the Holy Spirit here on earth…and if Jesus’ words to us that the kingdom of heaven is here now…then it raises the question of just where do we look for him?

And I think that’s why Jesus points out this widow in today’s story…because she represents the lowly…those with no power…with no status…with no voice…the very opposite of the uppity scribes that he calls out at the beginning of today’s lesson.

And Jesus himself tells us…he compels us to feed the hungry…to cloth the naked…the care for the sick and the orphaned….and not only that, but that when we do this…that is precisely where we will encounter Him. (pause)
And so, as we move this message to completion today, I’ll pose the question…where do you connect within this passage? What hits home…and perhaps, for some of you out there…what feels like a little bit of a dig?

Is it the notion that Jesus seems to condemn a system that exists only to perpetuate itself? It is the notion that the very house of God seemed to exist in order to bring in more money to continue to keep itself going at the expense of those that it should have been caring for? Or, on the flipside does it hit you with guilt that you don’t believe in something strongly enough to give absolutely everything you have to it?

I can’t tell you how this passage will hit you today…because the Spirit acts upon us all differently…and I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that because this woman gave her two pennies, you need to up your giving by 1%, or 5…or 10. (pause) And at the same time I’m not going to stand here and condemn the church for asking individuals to support the work that it does…I’ll let the Spirit lead you to the conclusion that you need today.

But what I will say is this…if Jesus’ final act…God in human form…if his final act within His house was to point out a widow…then maybe, just maybe we all need to rethink where it is that we look when we desire to see the face of God…in the lowly…in the broken…sometimes we’ll find that out on the street…and at the very same time…sometimes…we see that…when we look in the mirror…for we are all, flawed…broken…and the good news of the gospel is that Christ came for all…and sometimes we are the ones that need to hear that…and sometimes we are the ones that need to proclaim that. May it be our hope and our prayer…may it be our mission…that the people of Underwood Lutheran recognize both. Amen.

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