Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sermon: Mark 12: 38-44 The Widow's Mite

Quite often in newspapers and magazines you’ll find a particular type of article. As the writer surveys the latest trends or this week’s news, opinions are formed about individuals. And it’s normally called something like ‘what’s hot and what’s not’. In a fashion magazine, one famous celebrity might be ‘hot’ for wearing the latest style, whereas another celebrity has failed for trying too hard. In a sports magazine, the hat trick scoring cup winning captain is hot, while the player sent off will be a ‘not’.

It’s as if we have a league table, or a ranking system of people who are cool or important or life-changing. And it doesn’t just happen in magazines and on websites. It happens in real life as well. We make these kind of up or down judgements all the time, in all kinds of situations.

So when you meet someone, you might instantly make a decision about them, based simply on first impressions - what they look like; how they smell; how they speak. You won’t speak it out loud, you might not even realise you’re doing it, but you’ll find that you have made a decision about someone. And, although we don’t admit it, it can even happen in church. It was certainly happening in the temple in Jerusalem, when Jesus visited.

In the Bible reading we’ve just heard, the ‘hot’ and ‘not’ column would have been easily completed. What’s hot? The religious leaders, those high up in the grand scheme of the temple. And what’s not? Well, if people had even bothered to notice her, the poor widow would have been under the ‘not’ heading. But no one really paid her any attention. In the grand scheme of things, she wasn’t really contributing very much. It’s a wonder that they would even bother writing about this incident; it wouldn’t make any headlines; and yet it is included in scripture to show us that our ways are not God’s ways; that our ‘hots and nots’ aren’t his hots and nots. That God sees and God values the things and people discounted by the world (and even the church).

Jesus is in the temple, in the week leading up to the cross. Amidst the upheaval of the entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple when Jesus overturned the tables, the disputes with the religious leaders and everything else that was going on, Mark (and Luke) record the quiet action of a widow.

But before we get to the widow, we’re told what Jesus says about someone high up on the ‘hot’ scale of religion. The scribes were important people; they taught, and helped people know what God’s word said. Yet Jesus has a word about them: ‘Beware’.

Beware - it’s a word of warning, be aware of them, they’re dangerous, so be cautious. And why so? ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretence make long prayers.’

They look very good, and respectable, and important, but Jesus sees through their facade. They like the trappings of power and honour. They like to be made much of. But they use their power for themselves - devouring widows’ houses. Their religious acts, like long prayers, are just a pretence, it’s just put on. They should know better, and so ‘They will receive the greater condemnation.’

In the temple structure, the scribes were high up. But Jesus sees through the religious front, and sees their heart. As we heard in Mary’s song, those who think of themselves as important, high and lifted up are brought low; the proud are scattered in the imagination of their hearts.

To illustrate his point, Jesus sits down near the treasury. They didn’t pass a plate round, instead there was a big box, into which offerings were placed. Just think of the big glass bottles you get at flower festivals. But this wasn’t a silent collection in paper money.The offerings would rattle as they were thrown in. And here too, the comparison of ‘hot’ and ‘not’ was in effect.

The rich would put in large sums. You can imagine them having a bag of gold coins, taking time to through them in so that everyone saw how much they were putting in. Perhaps trying to make as much noise as possible so no one could miss how generous they were being. They were ‘hot’ - big givers. Important donors.

And then a poor widow comes in. She has no bulging money bag. Her purse isn’t full to bursting. She has just two small copper coins. You’d hardly notice. It was hardly worth her while. Her contribution seems measly. Incomparably little compared to these great givers. The comparison must have crossed the minds of the disciples. It might also cross ours, when the annual report comes out, and everyone’s giving is listed. Where do we come? Who do we think could have or should have given more? How much or how little someone gave.

Yet it’s the widow that Jesus draws attention to. In fact, he says that most startling thing. Look at verse 43. ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.’ Wise up Jesus. Catch yourself on. The bag of gold is more than two small copper coins. Think how much you could do with the big donations, while the coins wouldn’t buy you anything.

But look at how Jesus explains it in verse 44: ‘For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ The rich could afford it, they wouldn’t even notice it was gone. But this poor widow, she holds nothing back. She gives all she has. Notice that she didn’t even give one and keep one, she gives both, everything.

This is living by faith. Declaring her dependence on God, trusting him for her needs. Keith Getty puts it like this in a song: ‘Now Jesus sat by the off'ring gate
As people brought their money:
The rich they filled the collection plate;
The widow gave a penny.
"Now she's outgiven all the rest -
Her gift was all that she possessed."
Not what you give but what you keep
Is what the King is counting.’

Here’s this upside down world that Mary sings about. ‘He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.’ God sees through our religious exterior. God knows the motive of our hearts. Your acts of faith might seem very insignificant to anyone else. You might not seem terribly important or influential in the world’s eyes.

Yet God sees, and God knows, and God rewards those who live by faith. You see, God doesn’t want just a bit of us. He wants all of us.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall on Sunday 21st June 2015.

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