Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2018
Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have quite a contrast in our gospel reading for today. On the one hand we have the scribes. Scribes were powerful and wealthy people in Jesus’ time. They were experts in law. They had a skill not many people had in that time, which was the ability to write – thus the name, “scribes.” They were the ones who knew how to make the scribbles on the parchments. They wore long robes, which were a sign of their wealth and power. While the scribes were indeed religious leaders because they dealt with religious law, these were not liturgical vestments. No, these robes were the ancient version of a three-pieced tailored suit from Brooks Brothers. And oh, how they loved to be seen in these suits! Oh, how they loved the admiration and attention they got, the best seats at the best tables! Because the scribes were in positions of authority and trust, and because they could read and write the scribbles on the parchment, they were involved in many legal aspects of life – including dealing with the estates of widows after their husbands died. These scribes were known to manipulate the numbers to give themselves a little extra commission. They knew how to work the angles to give themselves an advantage. How do you think they got so wealthy? The people of Israel, including the scribes, were commanded by God to care for the vulnerable, specifically the widows and the orphans, and many of the scribes instead used their position to feather their own nests. And so we hear the Lord Jesus take them to task for devouring widows’ houses.
On the other hand we see one of these widows. In contrast to the wealthy and powerful scribes, she is destitute and desperate. Instead of wearing fancy clothes, she wears the dark and tattered garments of the poor and grieving. Instead of getting attention and admiration from others, she gets only pity. Instead of being seated in the best seats at the best tables, she lives on the margins of society, living on the scraps.
Jesus sees both kinds of people at the temple treasury putting in their offerings. There are rich people putting in large sums. I think we can assume some of those rich people were scribes. They were giving out of their abundance. They put in enough to maintain their positions of power as the biggest givers, but they kept enough coins for themselves to maintain their lifestyles.
And then there is the widow. She had two coins to her name. These coins were small, each about the size of a button on a dress shirt. They weren’t worth much either. In fact, these coins had the least value of any coin in circulation at that time. It was all she had to live on. Perhaps she was one of those many widows who had been fleeced by the scribes managing her husband’s estate. Whatever it may have been that brought her to this situation, it was all she had left. She went up to one of the horn-shaped receptacles in the temple treasury and tossed them in. They were so small they probably barely made a sound. But, as Jesus notes, they represented everything she had. This woman had such great faith in God that she entrusted herself entirely to his keeping, giving him everything she had.
Now it would be easy for me at this point to turn this into a stewardship sermon. We have been doing a fall stewardship drive, and a gospel reading like this is like a fat pitch right down the middle for a preacher. It would be so easy to hit that topic, saying, “We all need to be more like the widow! We need to give everything we have to the general fund! Maybe not our entire paychecks, but at least more than we do!”
It would be easy to go that route, but we need more than that. We need more than that because before we can begin to live more like the generous and faithful widow we need to deal with the scribe living in our hearts. He’s there in all of us! Now hopefully none of us are actually involved in swindling vulnerable senior citizens out of their money like we often hear about, but all of us have within us a scribe that is always trying to work the angles of life for our own benefit. There is a scribe within all of us that cares a little too much about looking good in front of other people, or about being honored, or about having power. We all have selfish ambitions and ulterior motives, even if we aren’t always aware of them. Out of our abundance we give just enough to feel good about ourselves but not so much that it impinges on our lifestyles.
There is a scribe living in all of our heads, in all of our hearts. It lives in mine, and I’m sure it lives in yours too. And if this scribe could be driven out just by being told that we should be more like the widow, Mark’s gospel could have ended with chapter 12, verse 44. We’d know what we’d need to know, right? We’d know what we’d need to do. If Jesus came just to be our moral teacher and maybe our financial advisor, it all could have ended right there.
But the story didn’t end there. The story we hear today actually marks the end of Jesus’ public ministry, the end of his public teaching in Mark’s gospel. But the story doesn’t end there. Instead it continues. It continues on to the cross. Everything that follows in the next chapters moves swiftly to the cross.
And on the cross we hear of a very different kind of offering. The scribes had a lot and gave relatively little. The widow had little but gave everything she had. Christ Jesus had the most and gave the most! He both had it all and gave it all! As Lord of heaven and earth he had everything. As King of kings he had power and glory and riches if he wanted them. And on the cross he gave it all up. Jesus gave up his power and his glory as he was mocked and humiliated. Jesus gave up all his earthly possessions, including even his clothing. Jesus gave up his body. He gave up his blood. He gave his last breath. He gave up his life! And he gave all of this for you and for me. Jesus gave this offering to save us from our sin. He gave this offering to save us from the scribe lurking in our heads and our hearts. That’s why he came! In our second reading from Hebrews it says that Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
And so we see that Jesus didn’t just come to teach us how to be more like the widow and less like the scribe. Instead, he came to offer himself for our sin. He knew that we needed more than a teacher. He knew we need a savior, and so he came to give himself for us. He came to offer himself so that we would have forgiveness, life, and salvation. He came to offer himself in order to fill us with the riches of God’s grace.
When we look at the scribe’s offering in the gospel we see a glimpse of the sinner inside us and we are convicted. When we look at the widow’s offering we see a level of selflessness, a level of giving, a level of faith and trust that we can never conjure up by our own strength or will.
But when we look to the offering our Lord Jesus made for us things are different. When we look to Jesus’ offering of himself for our sake, we can’t help but be changed by that. When we look to the cross we find that the old scribe in us starts to be killed. The old sinner in us is crucified with Christ. Those selfish desires begin to be put to death, and then by the power of the Spirit a new person is raised up in us. This new person looks more like the widow. This new person lives by faith. This new person lives with trust in God. This new person is not only generous when the offering plate comes around, but sees all of life as an opportunity to say thank you to Jesus for what he has done for us.
I know the Lord Jesus is raising up this new person in you, because I see it all the time. I see it in your generous offerings of time, talent, and treasure to this congregation. I see it the tender care you offer to one another. I see it in all the ways you offer yourselves again and again for the sake of widows and orphans and all who are vulnerable, in our community and around the world.
Maybe this ended up being a stewardship sermon after all. But if it is, let it be first and foremost about the offering our Lord Jesus made for us as he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sin.
Christ has already made the offering that matters most. As our hearts begin to take hold of this offering, we find that we can indeed entrust ourselves entirely to him. As we begin to take hold of this gift of salvation, we find ourselves giving him everything we have.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church