Monday, November 09, 2015

What God Wants

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio, this past Sunday, November 8.]

Mark 12:38-44
“All she had to live on.” 

That’s what Jesus and the disciples witnessed the poor widow put into the temple offering a few days before Jesus was crucified. 

And, this is no exaggeration on Jesus’ part, by the way. When you read the Greek in which Mark originally quotes Jesus, Jesus says of the woman’s offering: “ὅλον τὸν βίον αὐτῆς,” literally all her life or her whole life, she placed in that offering box.

Now, let’s be clear. In the Old Testament God only called His people to give a tithe, the first ten percent of their income, to the temple. 

And that same Old Testament law would have exempted a poor widow from giving anything. 

But here is this woman giving all she has to live on. 

Was she crazy? 

Was she imprudent? 

Was she trying to make deals with God? 

Jesus doesn’t seem to think that there's anything wrong with this woman. 

In fact, he commends the woman as an example of faithfulness for His disciples, for you and me. 

But before you put your money over your wallets to protect them, let me just tell you that our Gospel lesson for this morning is about a lot more than money

It’s about our whole lives and how we will spend them.

Our lesson, Mark 12:38-44, takes place in the temple during Holy Week. Just before where our lesson picks up, Jesus has had another confrontation with the scribes, the experts in Biblical and Jewish law. They’ve said that the Messiah Whose coming they anticipated would be a “son of (or a descendant of”) David," Israel’s greatest king, who lived about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. 

The claim is true enough, but they seem to think that the Messiah will be inferior to David. 

Jesus though, quotes Psalm 110, written by David, where it says: “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ Here, Jesus says, the great King David called the Messiah--Jesus Himself--Lord. 

As our lesson begins, Jesus talks about the scribes: “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 honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus is warning us against people and warning us against being people who like to look like super pious believers, but are really looking out for number one. 

Today, they’re people who like to have titles, to have people bow and scrape to them and honor them. They’re hung up on status and hierarchy. 

You find them still in the Church today. 

We were invited to a dinner with a prominent man and just before dinner started, a local pastor was invited to offer the prayer. It went on forever, certainly what Jesus would call a “long prayer.” And, I hope I wasn't judging unfairly, but it certainly seemed that the man was praying less to God than to the prominent man visiting our town.

Jesus says that our aim shouldn't be to pray impressive prayers, but to pray honest prayers, humble prayers.

Jesus is also warning us against people and warning us against being people who crave money and the status it can confer on us. He said that the scribes found ways to extort money from widows because of their love of position. 

Of course, the particularly slimy thing about the scribes as Jesus describes them here is that they want, with their elevated status, to look like pious servants of God, men who are close to God, holier than others. 

In fact, how they looked was of paramount importance to them. It was all about the show. 

They’re like pastors and church people who focus on the performance of liturgy with elaborate exactness, but don't believe that Jesus was God. Or that He was born of a virgin. Or that He rose from the dead. Or that He was (and is) “the way and the truth and the life,” the only Lord by Whom we can be saved from sin and death. Or that the Bible is the Word of God. 

Like the scribes’ friends, the Pharisees, who Jesus once described as “whitewashed tombs,” the scribes were spiritually empty suits. But for as long as they lived on this earth, they were, if I can mix my metaphors, the big dogs. Jesus says though that beyond the gates of death, people like them will be condemned by God.  

Then, we’re told this, starting in verse 41: “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 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 widow wasn’t trying to be seen by anyone. She didn’t make a show of her appearance at the temple. She simply--almost furtively, it seems--gave everything she had. 

She believed that the God Who gave her life would either sustain her in this life or give her new life beyond the grave. 

She didn’t worry about sacrificing herself in this way because she knew that the God Who gives life has plenty more to give away. 

Jesus says that this gift of her whole self exceeded the value of all the fat offerings by the “look at me” crowd.

To me, it’s instructive to consider when this incident took place. 

Just a few days later, Jesus Himself would give His whole life on the cross

Repeatedly, Satan and the world had striven to tempt Jesus, to divert Him from His mission of dying as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that all who believe in Him can live with God and share in His resurrection life. But He was intent on giving His whole life for us so that He could give new life to us.

And in fact, the only way you and I can share in the life that God gives exclusively through Jesus Christ is to for us give our whole lives to Jesus. That’s what it means to believe in Jesus: To trust Him with our whole lives

Thirty-nine years after coming to faith in Christ, I realize that I am only now beginning to understand that truth.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:25: “...whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This isn’t legalism. God doesn’t require our lives in a legal transaction to claim the salvation He gives in Jesus. 

Rather, it’s a simple fact that until we empty ourselves of all thought of needing earthly power or comfort, we can’t be free to take Christ’s outstretched hand of forgiveness, life, and love

Again, after all these years of being a Christian, I feel that I am only now beginning to learn this.

All the scribes, obsessed with earthly comfort and status, were slaves to this world, weighed down with concerns over what people thought of them, how others saw them, whether they were happy. 

The widow cared only about what God thought of her. 

And she already knew that God cared very deeply for all people, even poor, powerless widows. 

That’s why her offering was so valuable: It came from an authentically surrendered believer putting her surrender into practice.

What are you willing to give to the Lord? 

Of course, every Christian will see it as an appropriate expression of our faith to give of our finances to the mission of Christ’s Church. 

But even more than your money, God wants you

He wants you because He loves you. 

He wants you so that He redeem and make new every part of your life: your mind and emotions, your work, your friendships, and your marriage, your present and your eternity. 

God wants you because He’s given His all--even death on a cross--to make you His own. 

And He wants you for all eternity. 

May we, like the widow, learn what it means to give our whole selves to the God we know in Jesus. Amen 

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