Pentecost 2518 (PR 27B) – “Encouragement for Those Who Live In Faith.” Mark 12:38-44

Pentecost 2518 (PR 27B) – “Encouragement for Those Who Live In Faith.”  Mark 12:38-44

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Mark, the 12th Chapter.

“38 In his teaching [Jesus] said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43And 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. 44For 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.””

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

How many people think this passage is a prime Stewardship Sunday passage?  Looking at the surface message one could possibly turn this passage into a powerful message regarding percentage giving.  On the one hand you have the more wealthy giving out their abundance.  This means not necessarily the first fruits of their wealth, but a vast sum that might be more or less than the tithe commanded by the Lord according to the Law of Moses.  On the other hand you have the widow who gave out of her poverty.  She gave her last two coins.  As Mark mentions, these two small coins were her life, all she had left.  Jesus mentions that the woman gave more than all the wealthy people put together.  They still had some left over.  The poor woman gave all she possessed.

What is the stewardship message?  “How Much are You Giving?”  Possibly.  “Are You Ready to Give All?”  Another possibility.  “Giving Till It Hurts.”  That certainly has possibilities.  Thinking this is stewardship is only a minute part of the picture.  When Jesus sits to watch the people entering the Temple gates his is not looking what is in their hands.  No, Jesus is looking at what is in their hearts.  What is in their hands flows from what is in their hearts.

Faith is the focus of Jesus teaching.  Jesus looks into the hearts of those around him and gives both warning and encouragement.  He begins his teaching moment with a somewhat questionable comment regarding the scribes.  Questionable first, because there seems to be no logical connection between the scribes and those who are putting their offerings into the Temple coffers.  Secondly, because in sitting down, Jesus seems to have moved on to an entirely different topic.

Yet, there is a connection between Jesus’ comment about the scribes and the offerings given by the rich people and the poor widow.  Again, the connection is faith or the lack of faith.  Some of these scribes were full of themselves rather filled by the Spirit of God.  Jesus warns to beware of them for they do not have the fruit of faithfulness and truth.  Rather they have a sense of false piety and its fruit, exaggerated holiness.

Piety is not a bad thing.  Piety means to live in humility and in faith expressed through works which are pleasing to God.  What are the works pleasing to God?  They are the works which express and are in accord with true faith in Jesus Christ.  Contrary to this, Jesus speaks of the works of the scribes as being motivated not by faith by for selfish glory.  The expression of this selfish glory was in the scribes “devouring of widows’ houses,” long winded and showy prayers, seeking congratulation and honor for their positions as keepers of the Law of God, and taking the places of honor as if these places were a given for them.

What works are in accord with God’s will and pleasing to Him? Dr. Luther describes works in this way.

“The difference among works you will understand if you divide them into four classes: works of sin, which are done while evil desire dominates, without the resistance of grace; works of the Law, which are done while evil desire is kept in check outwardly, although it glows all the more within and hates the Law, that is, works which are good in appearance but evil at heart; works of grace, which are done while the evil desire fights against them but the Spirit of grace nonetheless gains the victory; works of peace and perfect soundness, which since the evil desire is extinct, are done with complete ease and delight.  This will take place in the future life; here it begins.”

“Good works are works that flow from faith and from joy of heart that has come to us because we have forgiveness of sins through Christ.”

So we hear what good works are and how they can be discerned.  However, it is not our place to discern a work as being good or coerced.  We are not God who looks into the heart and discerns the presence of faith or the presence of unbelief.  We are called by God to believe in Jesus Christ and to act out of love and faith in Jesus Christ.

So this widow acts out of love for and faith in God.  Jesus commends her actions as evidence of her faith.  While others gave from the overflow of their wealth, this woman gave out of her lack.  She gave from what was even insufficient to support her life.  The widow placed her hope something other than earthly wealth.  She placed her hope in her God who promised through the psalmist to be a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow.  She took God at his word and returned to Him a bountiful gift of love and a sacrifice of faith.  in faithful obedience to God she brings her offering and enters into the courts of God’s house.

We must also consider a point that is often overlooked.  The point overlooked is the fact that God provides not only the means of blessing, but also the opportunity for those who are blessed to express their love for God and serve their neighbor.  Consider the widow in the reading from 1 Kings.  Elijah is asking the woman to use up her last store of flour and oil as a sacrifice of faith. Elijah says, “First make me a little cake and then make one for yourself.”  Is Elijah being selfish with request, or is there a greater purpose behind this request?

There is a greater purpose.  God is drawing this woman and her child to himself.  He seeks to assure her of His grace and mercy in this time of need and for days when the need is not as great.  He desires to draw from her heart and lips an expression of faith and an act of trust.  In this God, working through Elijah, is successful.  The widow prepares a meal for the prophet of God and then prepares a meal for her child.  Yet the flour and the oil do not run out.  For the time of the drought, this woman receives from the Lord’s hand all she needs to support her body and life.  The Lord brings forth from this woman and expression of faith in that she followed the direction of Elijah and the Lord blessed her trust with His gracious provision.

What gracious provision have you received from the hand of the Lord?  What miracle of flour and oil did God grant to you?  Certainly we have received the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life, Jesus Christ.  Certainly we have been anointed with the oil of gladness the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon us in Holy baptism.

We were destitute and found wanting as we walked this world seeking to supply our needs but falling far short.  I see this with every child whom I instruct in catechism classes.  I see this in you who sit here at the foot of Jesus’ cross hanging above God’s altar and pulpit.  I confess it for myself as I prepare a meal for you each week from the richness of God’s grace given in the pages of His Holy word.  Through the week we may spend the limit of our spiritual and physical resources.  We face many seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Some face chronic illness.  Some face pain of heart, or body or mind.  Some face fears and unexpected trouble or tragedy.  Everyone faces trials of faith and trust in God.  For, as Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Consider those families who suffered loss this past week in California. Last night the count of those who lost their lives was a 25. Such a tragedy is difficult if not impossible to prepare for in advance. Add to that the loss of personal property – homes, furniture, pictures, clothing, vehicles and other things that have sentimental or practical value. Loss of property is sad enough. Loss of life devastates the family. Where is the safety net, the arms that will comfort, or the people who will help rebuilt what was lost?

The widow knew where to go for comfort and aid. She went to the House of the Lord, the God of Israel and gave the evidence of her trust in God. All she had, she laid before her God. Jesus commended her actions and faith to the eyes and ears of His disciples. They saw the little the widow gave. Jesus saw the great faith by which the widow lived.

Do you remember Martha and Mary? Mary exhibits great faith. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus hearing him teach of the kingdom of God. Martha complained of the little her sister did to help prepare the meal. Jesus commends Mary for making the better choice. How long will Jesus be present to teach? His time is growing ever shorter. The cross of suffering and shame is drawing ever near. Soon the Teacher will not be found on earth. It is better to sit at His feet now than to be barred from His presence in the world to come.

In all we read and hear today have you learned the better part? Gathered here in God’s house we have the better part. It is given us as a gift from the hand of God. It is God’s Word and Sacraments that relieve us of worry and concern. They restore hope and increase faith. They abolish fear and overcome doubt. They nourish faith and feed the soul on the Bread of Heaven and the Living Water. They will at the last usher the believer into the presence of our Savior on the day of His return in glory. You who have been touched with these means of grace have received the better part. God give you his best in Jesus Christ and bring to your eternal home.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen