Monday, November 9, 2015

Sermon for Pentecost 24: "The Kingdom of Opposites"

+ 24th Sunday after Pentecost – November 8th, 2015 +

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Day-school Sunday is always a good reminder that many of the things we know in life – from learning our letters to the Lord’s Prayer - begin in preschool. And one of the greatest ways children learn is through opposites.

Superman flies up; kryptonite makes him go down. Darth Vader is corrupted by dark side; Yoda overcomes with the light. And children are quick to learn opposites like “yes and no,” or “mine and yours.”

Today’s Gospel reading of the widow in Mark 12 is no different. This poor widow teaches us about opposites too.

The widow has nothing. The Scribes have everything.

The widow drops two small copper coins in the coffer – all she has to live on, a whisper compared to the Scribes fill the temple courtyard with echoes of clanging coins.

The widow, like her offering, is hardly noticed, save only by Jesus. The Scribes love nothing more than to be noticed, to be admired, and recognized.

The widow, in the words of St. Paul, has nothing yet possesses everything. The Scribes foolishly think they have everything, yet receive nothing; truly, they have their reward.

The widow’s offering reveals her faith in the Lord. The Scribes’ offering reveals their faith in themselves.

But there’s more, for in this story we see a glorious picture of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of opposites. The first are last; the last are first. Jesus comes for the sick, not the healthy. Jesus dwells with sinners, not the righteous. Those who are unimportant and have no status before men, are of the utmost importance have the greatest status before Jesus.

In the widow’s poverty, we see the richness of God’s mercy toward us in Jesus.

You see, this story isn’t about the widow’s offering, not really. Of course, we could twist it that way. No doubt we’ve heard that before. You know, “Follow the widow’s example. Give till it hurts and then give some more. Beatings will cease when offerings increase. Look at her and do what she did. Give like that widow.”

But if this story is only about giving, then we’re on the wrong side. Yes, beware the Scribe in each of us who loves to give, but only when we get something in return, only when we’re noticed, congratulated, or admired. If this widow is an example of giving, we fail to live up it. We don’t give like the widow.

Thankfully, the story of the widow’s sacrificial points us to Jesus’ greater sacrifice for you in giving his entire life – all that he has - for you.

We also might be tempted to think this story is about the great faith of this woman. Indeed, she is an example of faith, especially compared to the Scribes. And we could twist Scripture here as well: “Have faith like this widow. Believe like she did.” But, saying, “Do this; have this kind of faith,” doesn’t make our faith any better, in fact it does the opposite; we despair.

Thankfully, the story of this widow’s faith points us to God’s faithfulness to her and to you. She points us to Jesus’ faithfulness, not her own. This is what the Scribes failed to see, God’s kingdom of opposites. The reversal, that in the Kingdom of God, the little are big, the lost are found, the forgotten are remembered, the poor are rich, the sick are healed, the sinner is forgiven.

We may even think this story is about the widow’s great love for God above her own love of self. Her love is sacrificial while the Scribes’ love is self-serving. But once again, the point of this story is not the Scribes lack of love or the widow’s abundant love, but rather the love of God that is never found wanting.

And this is good news for us. For the kingdom of God is like this poor widow. The kingdom of God is not found by our eyes, at least not the eyes like the Scribes – in what we see in this world. The kingdom of God is hidden. The kingdom of God is about the last being first, the lost sheep being found and rescued, the tax collectors and sinners having dinner with Jesus, about the ungodly being justified, about you – having nothing to claim on your own, yet possessing everything in Jesus name.

For there will be days – and maybe today is one of those - when our faith will not be like the widow’s. We worry. Doubt. Despair. We fail to trust. It can be hard to believe God’s promises when finances are tough, when we or our children, friends, or family fall ill, wrestle with addiction, suffer, or die. It’s hard to believe when times of need and uncertainty come upon us, when we come face to face with the poverty of our own hearts, and the emptiness of the world around us.

This widow teaches us to remember that God’s kingdom is opposite of everything we call good.
The kingdom of God isn’t found in what we see and think are good according to our sinful flesh. The kingdom of God isn’t found in the amount of money in the offering plate, or the number of people in the pews, or even by looking at our own faith.

Rather, on those kinds of doubting, despairing, difficult days, remember that the kingdom of God is hidden right where Jesus promises.

Listen to the kingdom of God hidden upon the lips of children singing “Thank the Lord and sing his praise with joyous abandon, and without thought of embarrassment or shame.

See the kingdom of God hidden in a quarter size piece of bread and some inexpensive sugary wine, promised by Jesus to be the greatest gift of God placed in the coffer of your mouth on any given day.
See the kingdom of God is hidden in the water and word of your Baptism. You are now sons and daughters of the King.

Hear the king’s decree hidden in the voice of a fellow sinner, declaring, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” “I forgive you all your sins.”

And see the kingdom of God hidden in our humble King, who was enthroned on the tree, who dripped, and poured into the Father’s treasury, not gold, silver, or copper, but his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death, every single drop of it for you.

Yes, the kingdom of God is full of opposites. It is hidden in the widow’s copper coins. In the weak made strong by Christ. In the lost being found. In sinners being forgiven.

For in the widow’s poverty, we see the richness of Jesus’ mercy, who though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

It’s true, our giving may not be as great as the widow’s offering, but God giving himself to die for you is the greatest gift of all.

Yes, our faith may be found wanting, but God’s faithfulness to you is never wanting. Our love for others may even be lacking, but God’s love for you never fails. Jesus’ mercy for you will never come up short. Jesus is always faithful to you and for you.

Through this poor widow, we learn to see God’s kingdom in the opposites – in the cross, not glory. We join her in poverty, as beggars before the King who fills our poverty with the richness of his own life given and shed for you.

It’s not really about the widow’s faith, but the one in whom she has faith. God is faithful. How do you know? Look to the cross where Jesus put in everything he had, all his life, for you. Christ gave his all for you. And God’s love for you in Jesus never fails you.

For in the widow’s poverty, we see the richness of Jesus’ mercy for us.

Indeed, let us thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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