Monday, November 12, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: A Lesson in Contrasts

She was practically invisible. No one really would have paid much attention to her. She stood in line waiting her turn to approach the temple offering plate. Her duty to God was overriding her growling stomach. "The Lord will provide," she kept telling herself. "The Lord will provide."

In her hands she held the last bit of money in her possession. There was nothing left. Since her husband died, she had barely managed to keep a roof over her head and food on the table. Somehow, there was always something to eat. There was always just a little bit of money left after the Roman soldiers came to collect taxes. There was always enough to pay the temple tithe. She barely eked out an existence cutting corners wherever she could. But now, there was nothing left to cut. Now, there was nothing left of the money she and her deceased husband had scraped together. The temple tithe this time would claim it all. "God will provide," she kept murmuring to herself.

She reached the plate, and released the coins. They clattered in. The priest overseeing the spectacle didn’t even really look at her. There was no thank you. No blessing from God. Nothing. She might as well have been invisible. She turned away, "God will provide." She wondered if her statement of faith would be true, and she wondered how long it would be until her next meal–if it ever came.

In another line, a man reveled in the attention he was getting. He and his friends made their way into the temple laughing and conversing with one another. Plenty of other temple patrons stopped to view the spectacle. Obviously, these men had something to smile about.

"It was a good, a very good month this month, was it not?"

"What month hasn’t been a good month?" said one. All laughed.

Their robes glimmered with threads of the finest silk. They were some of the finest tailored clothes in all of Jerusalem. Rings of gold and silver adorned their fingers and toes. They were well groomed, and their bellies protruded just a bit from obviously having a little too much to eat at the table.

"Time to give to God the things which are God’s," the men shouted out. "God has blessed us mightily! Thanks be to God."

They approached the plate. Each held their hands up high and allowed the coins to rattle in the plate as they fell. It seemed like they fell for quite some time. The priest’s eyes widened as each man dropped his offering. As each man finished, the priest spoke, "Thank you for your generosity. May God’s blessing go forth with you this day and always."

The men politely acknowledged the priest and then turned to head out the exit. They began speaking about the returns on their upcoming investments. They spoke of the feasts they would be holding and the rich foods and drinks they would be consuming. They spoke of being blessed by God to enjoy the finer things of life. "God be praised!" they shouted as they walked through the door. And as they turned, each one walked right past a lonely widow woman, with tears streaming down her face, hands folded, mumbling the same words over and over and over, "God will provide. God will provide. God will provide."

No one noticed.

Except Jesus.

Jesus has a habit of noticing such things. Jesus has a habit of noticing the people society and religion overlook. Jesus has a habit of shining the light of God and exposing those who many think are invisible.

He turns to His disciples and says, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. Her very life."

There was no doubt in the disciples’ mind as to the point Jesus was making. This widow no longer had money to pay for food, for taxes, for her shelter, for anything. She would be forced to beg, or to become a prostitute, or be forced into jail for not being able to pay her taxes. They heard her murmuring, "God will provide. God will provide. God will provide." And they wondered, "How? How will God provide for this poor, forsaken, lonely widow, who has nothing, nothing at all?"

And then disciples looked at the men in their fine robes walking away from the temple talking about how blessed they were. They recalled Jesus’ words spoken just before He pointed out the widow to them, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

They thought about Jesus’ comment. They thought about those wealthy men. They thought about the priests standing over the treasury. "How much of that treasury is used to provide for these widows?" the disciples thought. "What if those who gave out of their abundance each gave some to this widow? Just a fraction of what they gave to the temple would provide for her for years. This widow should not have to be crying here in faith. She should be able to turn to the priests, to the scribes, to her fellow believers and find all that she needs. But who will pay any attention to this widow? Who will see her? Who will realize her need when the priests and those with means overlook her?"

As I think about this story recorded in the book of Mark and I think about its message to us today, I think about those whom are overlooked. I think about those who are in need. I think about those who are nearly invisible in our society today. I think about those who are hurting, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and who are hurting in their wallets who have nowhere to turn. I think about how they are often to proud or too ashamed to ask. And I think about how the church can respond to their needs. I think about how as a church we are called to make a difference in the lives of such individuals. I think about how God has gifted the church with wealth so that we can feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned. I think about how God can and does use us to provide.

Today’s lesson is a lesson in contrasts–a contrast between those who have and those who have not. But it is not a condemnation of either. It is a condemnation of those who refuse to acknowledge the clear command of God to care for the widow, the orphan, and those in need. The wealthy gave to God as they were instructed. The widow gave to God as she was instructed, but the priests did not do as they were instructed. They did not bless or care for the one in need.

As a congregation, I believe we must be mindful of our calling. We are called to proclaim the Word of God. We are called to administer the sacraments. We are called to pass our faith down to the following generations. And, let me stress this, AND we are called to make a difference in the lives of those who are in need by showing compassion to them, providing for them when they are in need, and by showing them that God takes care of them. He just sometimes uses us to accomplish that task. Amen.

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