Posts Tagged ‘Mark 12:38-44’

You Are Seen 11-11-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 12:38-44, I explore an odd little passage including a warning from Jesus and the Widow’s mite.  This passage seems to offer a rebuke to a system that exists in order to perpetuate itself, but there is good news to be found here as well.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-are-seen-11-11-18

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

The grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

Anyone out there have catch-phrases or words that you still use that have gone out of style?  I know I’m guilty of that…Groovy is a big one…I say that a lot…Awesome…which is probably still acceptable although whenever I say it I’ve got the early 90’s version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the back of my head.

On occasion cool-beans comes out of my mouth when I like the sound of something…and on the flip side I call things Bad-chicken, which is a throwback to lingo at a job that I worked more than a dozen years ago. But perhaps the one that is looming most prominently in my head happens when I’m with my buddies that I grew up with…especially if we’re playing a game of some sort…when one of us pulls off something impressive…we’ll boastful ask “Who’s the man?” to which the other guys have to respond “You the man.”  (pause) You are the man.

Now that statement is interesting…because it just came up in the confirmation class a week ago as we’re making our way through the Biblical Narrative…and we were talking about King David and his story that take place about a 1000 years before Jesus.  There’s a encounter, following some of David’s less than stellar moments, with the prophet Nathan, who tells David a story about a rich guy who’s got everything and his poor neighbor who only has one lamb that he loves more than anything…and the rich man takes the lamb and serves it in a banquet for his friends.

Now when David hears this story, he gets riled up and curses the rich man in the story…only to have Nathan look him in the eye and say “you are the man.”  David realizes the depth of his mistakes…the impact of his sins and he mournfully repents. (pause) Ever had a moment like that…when someone points out something significant that hits close to home…something that was sitting in a blind spot…but the moment they point it out, its convicting?  It’s a humbling feeling isn’t it? (pause)

I imagine though…you’re probably wondering what this has to do with the gospel lesson we’ve shared today…because the story of Jesus warning his disciples about the scribes leading into the story of the poor widow placing her last two coins into the treasury doesn’t really seem to have much to do with King David or random phrases…at least not at face value, but bear with me for just a little bit.

Beware the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces…and have the best seats in the synagogue and places of honor at banquets…they devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.

Now…who do we know that tends to wear specialized outfits…and has a bit of an abnormal title connected to their name…who do we know that has a specific, perhaps considered “special” spot in the sanctuary…and even rattles off lengthy prayers during worship each week? (Pause)

I’ll admit it…the more I read this passage in preparation for today…especially this first portion…the more I heard “You are the man” in the back of my head and not in the positive “I just did something cool on the basketball court” kinda way…but in the “I’m King David and I screwed up” kinda way.

Because in the interest of full disclosure…I have my moments when this is pretty spot on…moments when I get a big head, or when a sense of entitlement creeps up because of the role that I’ve been given. I’m not proud of it…but it does happen…that crazy thing known as pride that’s evidence of my brokenness and my sinful nature.

And so this passage really makes me sit up and pay attention…but, the passage doesn’t end with that warning from Jesus does it? We hear following this brief teaching moment, he sits down across from the offering box in the temple…watching as people walk by and toss in their offerings.  Apparently some of the rich are pulling out their money bags and are tossing in healthy amounts…but then a woman walks up, takes a look at the two tiny coins in her possession…and drops them in the box.

Now this is one of those moments when I wish I was Jesus…because he seems to know a lot about this woman and her situation…information that we just aren’t privy to.  He seems to know that she’s a widow…she’s alone…and these two coins are the entirety of her finances…and she drops them in the offering plate.

The thing about this story…is that its become synonymous with the idea of sacrificial giving…often times featured in stewardship drives because of the way that, at face value anyway, Jesus SEEMS to praise her gift above the much larger sums also being given by the rich.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think Jesus is pointing out a flaw in the system…that this poor woman, seemingly with no other way of supporting herself…gives everything…essentially giving her life…making herself a financial martyr to the temple…if not an actual one when she starves to death.

Here’s why I wish I knew what Jesus knew…because I wish I knew what the widow’s motivation was to place her last two coins into the treasury.  Was she giving joyfully?  Or was she feeling shamed by seeing the large amounts given by others?  Or was she giving out of a sense of obligation to a system that demanded it? A system that was supposed to protect and provide for her…but as we heard in the first portion…a system that enables those with power and authority and prestige to take advantage of the powerless, just like this woman. (pause)

I thought a lot about that this week…the idea of a system, which seemed to exist only to perpetuate itself.  Many scholars have written at great length about the flaws of the temple system in Jesus’ day…something that he himself butted up against in many moments of debate or teaching or even violent outbursts like the cleansing of the temple.

Any funny enough…we’re given just a tiny glimpse of the eventual outcome of that flawed system in the very next portion of the story that follows this…a story that we’ll hear next week…as Jesus dashes the wonder of his disciples who are marveling at the glorious nature of the temple when he tells them that the whole thing is destined for destruction.

And so let’s think about the woman again…what’s she doing? What’s her motivation? Is she giving to a system that has hammered this obligation into her that’s destined for destruction?  Or is she giving cheerfully to something that she believes represents the ongoing action of God within this broken world that she’s a part of? We don’t know.

Now, I’m not trying to turn this into a stewardship sermon…I’m really not…but what I will say is this…there’s a big difference between giving anything to a broken system that will only exploit you to perpetuate itself even though its dying, and giving to the living embodiment of God’s action in the world.

And as I say that, I wonder if anyone else is hearing a little voice in the back of your head saying “You are the man.”  Because in many ways…we are that broken system.  The church is facing a tough tough reality…both the church as a whole, particularly here in North America…and even our congregation. I don’t say this to be a downer…but I think its true. I think the church, as it has existed in the past century or so…is dying.

But even as you hear me say that…hear this as well…we have a God who specializes in bringing new life out of death…and I believe that this is the case for the church as well…because the church IS the living embodiment of God’s action in the world…broken and flawed to be sure…because it is made up of broken and flawed people…and yet…God has continued to guide and use the church over the course of the past 2000 years…and I’m pretty sure its going to continue on long after every one of us in this room is dead and gone.

Just as the Jewish faith and culture continued on after the Temple was destroyed…the church will continue on as well…its just gonna look different. And we don’t know what its gonna look like. (pause)

Now in the meantime…as we consider this rather sobering reality…perhaps you’re wondering if there’s any good news to be found within this gospel today…because while we expect the scriptures to convict us, we also expect them to give us hope…and maybe here’s where we find it.

In the midst of the whole situation that happened that day…and even in the midst of the entire ongoing, broken and flawed system of the temple that Jesus witnessed that day…even if no one else noticed…Jesus saw the woman. He…sees…her.

The man, who is also God, took notice.  She is seen, even as every other cultural and systematic detail pushes her to the side and makes her invisible…she is still seen.  And so are you.

Maybe this text is troublesome…and maybe the message that I have shared today is also troublesome…and perhaps you find yourself in a state where things feel like they are going wrong and you wonder if anyone notices…and if that is the case, then remember that you are seen…and that no matter how insurmountable the situation…you will never be abandoned by the one who has acted out of divine love for you…and in everything, remember that there is nothing in all creation…not poverty…not brokenness…not our flaws and failures…not the powers that seem to stack the deck against us…not even death can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  In the midst of it all, even when it doesn’t feel like it…you are seen by one who loves you. Amen.

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:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/where-do-we-find-god-11-8-15

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.