Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sermon for 24th Sunday after Pentecost: "A Tale of Two Widows"

+ 24th Sunday after Pentecost – November 11, 2012 +

Series B, proper 27: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today we hear a tale of two widows. The Widow of Zerapheth and the Widow at the temple. One a gentile. The other an Israelite. One had nothing to give. The other gave up everything.
Two widows, seemingly worlds apart but they have one this in common…they walk by faith, not by sight. They cling to the Lord’s hidden promises and trust not the glories of men.

As one Lutheran poet notes:  
One widow's mite in the treasury drops
One widow's oil will pour and never stop
One gives her all but now has nothing left
One had nothing but now is not bereft
Blessed are you, who in these widows see,
That God takes all that our all he might be.
(Chad Bird)
What was going through the widow’s mind as she stood in the women’s court of the temple, waiting to drop her meager offering in the coffers? She saw the scribes, their lavish robes and luxurious offerings. Inside the temple court stood 13 metal horn-shaped boxes, their gaping mouth pointed in the air. As the coins clanged their way into the coffers, the sound echoed throughout the courtyard. You can imagine everyone’s attention drawn to the horn when the rich came forward and dumped their large quantities of coin into the treasury box. Clang, clink, clang, clink. Everyone stopped. Looked.

What was she thinking as she stepped up to drop those two coins in? “What good can I do? I can’t even buy a loaf of bread. This doesn’t even compare to the scribes and their wealthy offerings.” No, none of that. Such are the ways and thoughts of sinful man.
Being a good Israelite, she had to know about the widow of Zerapheth. About the oil and the flour and the Lord who provides; about God, the Father of the fatherless and protector of the widows. She could have thrown only one in. But instead, she dropped two.

Sitting across the way, opposite the treasury box, is Jesus, watching people put their money into the treasury, listening to the clang, clang, clanging of the coins. And then He hears the plink, plink of the widow’s two copper coins. His ears perk up. He hears something different in that plink, plink that he didn’t hear in all the other coins that clanged into the coffer. He hears faith and trust in God. He calls the disciples: “Did you hear that?” You know they didn’t. “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”
“Jesus that’s lousy accounting. How are we going to pay the bills, Jesus, when you praise a couple of copper coins over all the gold and silver that was contributed? Aren’t we supposed to honor the big givers?” But Jesus sees what we can’t.  

Jesus sees what everyone else missed…the plink, plink of faith is music to the Lord’s ears, more melodious than all the coins of the rich clanging away in the temple courts. They gave out of their abundance; it takes no faith at all to give out of surplus. But to give out of poverty…that tiny little plink, plink of two copper coins was everything she had to live on.

             So, what are we to make of these two widows?

Certainly these readings teach us about the Lord provides for our needs, as he does for all. Perhaps there’s also a stewardship lesson here. If we all just gave like the widow , we’d be better stewards.  But there’s more to this tale of two widows than daily bread and stewardship –important though they are.

No, the greatest teaching Jesus gives us in this tale of two widows comes not from what is seen: the money, the oil, the flour, but what is unseen.  The hidden things: faith and trust in Christ. Not the plain-to-reason religion of mankind – works and pious pats on the back, but the outrageous forgiveness found in the kingdom of God. Mary foretold her Son’s radical Gospel as she sang the Magnificat: the Lord exalts the lowly and humbles the proud; fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty. The last become first. Losers become winners. The Kingdom of God comes in weakness and humility, just like those poor widows.

So, beware the scribes, Jesus says. They love attention; they love the applause; they love the place of honor; they love the loud clang of coins in the temple coffers. Yes, beware of the Scribes for there is a scribe in each of us. You see it clearly in others but the same reflection also reveals itself in the mirror: guilty. The kingdom of God comes not by our will, or by our offering, great or small. It comes not by what is seen or done, but by what is unseen. So give up your scribal, self-centered ways. Your sin and death – give it all up. For the Kingdom of heaven is like this poor widow, so repent that you may enter it.

The Kingdom of God is hidden from the eyes of man, 20/20 vision is no avail. It is hidden under its opposite; it is hidden under the emptiness of the widow’s jar of oil and flour; the emptiness of the widow’s purse, the emptiness of Lazarus’ stomach; under the emptiness of Him who emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. It’s no use looking for the kingdom of God with your eyes. You won’t find it in a perfect church body or a perfect congregation or a perfect voter’s meeting.

You’ll find it, rather where you’d least expect it…hidden in two copper coins dropped in the treasury that day, the greater gift that day known only to Jesus. The kingdom is hidden in the coin sized bread placed onto your tongue, the greatest gift God gives on any day.

In the widow’s offering we see a picture of Christ himself who gives out of his poverty; he puts everything he has into God’s coffers: his perfect obedience to the Father; his keeping the whole Law; his suffering and death, and for what - for his own sake, like the Scribes? No. For you. He gives up everything he has - in life and in death - for you.

For the kingdom of God is hidden in the naked king robed in flesh and blood, enthroned upon his tree, dripping into His Father’s treasury – not gold or silver or coins – but his holy saving blood, shed, every single drop of it, all for you. And when His blood in the coffer rings, the angels in heaven sing for joy.

You see, this tale of two widows is also your story. Perhaps you identify with these widows: feeling alone or abandoned, forgotten or unappreciated, hidden from the eyes of the world or your friends.

Maybe this week finds you worried about the economy – where your mites and copper coins will come from or go;  concerned about putting bread on the table for your family – where will I get flour and oil? Or maybe you’re tired from doing thankless tasks around the church, with little but grumbling from fellow members. Maybe you think no one notices those hidden gifts and talents you bring to Redeemer. But you are no widow. You are not alone or abandoned. You are the church, the body of Christ…Christ’s bride; you are safe, hidden from the world, but hidden in Christ. Adorned in the beauty and holiness of his death and resurrection. Don’t think that your two coins offered in faith go unnoticed. The world may not notice, but Christ does. And that plink, plink of faith’s little copper coins is a sweet melody in His ears.

What then shall we say about all these things? If God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also graciously give us all things?  If we trust Him with our eternal life, will we trust Him with our two copper coins? Here we must pray, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Sometimes the flour and oil may run low, and your stock portfolio or bank account may have little more than a couple of copper coins in it, but you are never outside the Lord’s notice and never outside His care. He promises to care for you in body and soul. And Christ is faithful and true to His Word. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” For our hope is not in princes or presidents, elephants or donkeys but in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

There is the Kingdom of God.  The paschal Lamb of God whose sacrifice is hidden in bread and wine; whose blood and water is poured out and hidden in the font; whose Spirit still breathes life into dead sinners in the absolution. Thy Kingdom come!

And we pray in this petition that the kingdom of God would come among us…and among our neighbors. We know Christ takes our earthly talents and gifts, time and treasures and uses them to serve others. We know those LWML mite boxes fund mission and mercy around the world. We know God’s Word goes out, like seeds, planted today, sprouting tomorrow. We know our preschoolers hear the forgiveness of their sins and grow in Christ’s love. We know that children hear and sing the Word of God and carry the liturgy and hymns – they carry Jesus - home in song to their families.

But we know none of these things by sight. Rather by faith. Faith in hidden ways of Christ. The hidden ways of the cross. Christ hidden in the VBS child, the music student, the preschooler, the Sunday School, youth, college student, homeless and countless other hidden works of mercy around Redeemer. Christ hidden in the neighbor; Christ hidden in your service to others, not counted in riches and glory like the scribes, but in sacrifice and love, like the widow.

That’s what this day, Called to Serve Sunday – and more importantly, this Christian life - is all about: Christ for you on the cross. Christ in you for the neighbor. We give up everything because Christ has given up everything for us.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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