Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 27)

Text: Mark 12:43
Jesus said, "I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others”.

Courageous commitment

The story is told about an old man who came to the back door of a house some university kids were renting. The old man’s eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble. He clutched a basket holding a few unappealing vegetables. He bid the students a good morning and offered his produce for sale. They were uneasy. They made a quick purchase out of pity for the old man and to get rid of him quickly.

To their annoyance, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road. As their fears subsided, they realized it wasn’t alcohol but cataracts that made his eyes look like marble.  He shuffled in, wearing two mismatched right shoes and pulled out a harmonica and puffed out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion.

On one visit, he exclaimed, “The Lord is so good!  I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch.”

“That's wonderful, Mr. Roth!” the students said, “We're happy for you.”

“You know what's even more wonderful?” he asked. “On my way here I met some people who could use them.”

This old man was unselfishly generous.  Today’s gospel reading tells the story of another unselfishly generous person.  Jesus visits the temple and observes the rich people dropping their large amounts of money into the offering boxes.  These offering boxes had metal bowls on the top which funnelled the money into the chests below.  In a time when there was no paper money or credit cards, you can imagine the clatter as those rich people emptied their bags of coins into the metal containers for the temple offering.  Also the greater the value of the coin the larger the coin was in size.  If these were dropped from some height, they made quite an impressive clanging sound.    

In amongst all those coming into the temple was a widow.  She was the poorest of the poor.   

Jesus and the disciples watch as the widow dropped into one of the offering bowls two copper coins.  They had the lowest value and were the smallest coins.  They hardly made any noise as they hit the sides of the offering bowl and slid into the temple treasury box.  No-one took any notice of this poor woman, if they did, it would have been to ridicule how little she had given to the Lord.  She might as well have put in nothing.

Then Jesus says something very strange, I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others” (Mark 12:43). How can this be?  Didn’t this woman only put in two small coins while the rich people put in loads of money.  Jesus went on to explain.  The rich people had only given a small bit of their wealth.  The woman had given everything.

She was generous – sacrificially generous – she had given everything she had. 

She was courageous.  It took courage to do what she did.  I can imagine standing there with my coins and saying to myself, “Will I?  Won’t I?  Will I? Won’t I?”  Not quite sure if I could make such a courageous sacrificial act.  This woman showed the kind of nerve that relied on God as to how things will turn out in the future.  She had no more money. 
Where will she get her next meal? 
How will she pay her taxes? 
If she had kids, how will she take care of them? 
She had the courage to do what she believed was the right thing to do and trust God for the rest. 

This is no fairy story.  I have known people in real life who have done just that.  They had the courage to make a sacrifice and amazingly without anyone knowing what they had done, out of the blue, help came in some form.

You see, Jesus has been teaching his disciples as well as the Scribes and the Pharisees about the two great commandments:
Love the Lord you God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, and with ALL your mind and with ALL your strength,
and love your neighbour as yourself.
And very soon Jesus is going to show them what this really means when he gives his life for the world.  Jesus was unselfish and sacrificial and courageous in his generosity.

When it comes to being a giving-person, no matter how hard we try and twist the Bible’s teachings, no matter how cleverly we might argue, we have to face the fact that God demands nothing less than all.  
Two great commandments:
Give yourself totally to God – heart, soul, mind and strength
and give yourself totally to your neighbour – heart, soul, mind and strength.

You see, what God expects of us is nothing less than our whole selves. We can’t be givers, not really, until we’re prepared to say, “Lord, I’m yours.  Every part of me is yours.  My life, what I am, what I do, what I receive – all of it belongs to you.”  This is sacrificial giving.  This is commitment that comes at great cost.

It takes courageous faith to do this kind of thing.  This incident in the temple and Jesus’ teaching about loving God with everything you have and loving others in a similar way takes place in the days between Palm Sunday and the Last Supper.

The disciples had tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem because of the dangerous threats that his enemies were making against him.  They would have preferred Jesus to turn around and go elsewhere.  They were afraid for him.  But Jesus knew that he needed to go down the road to Calvary.  Maybe Jesus had deliberately highlighted this woman’s unselfish devotion to give his disciples, (who were often slow to get the point), an opportunity to witness what true unselfish commitment looked like.  A woman who seemingly had so little to offer yet gave so much. 
In the same way, a man from Nazareth who seemingly had so little to offer yet gave so much when he offered his life on a cross.

Such generosity and commitment requires courage and trust in God.

It takes courage and trust in God to put God first in our lives and to treat our neighbour as we would want others to treat us.  In 1 Peter 3 we read, “Honour Christ and let him be the Lord of your life” (3:15). That’s very straightforward and plain when it comes to describing what our priorities are to be as Christians but not so straightforward and plain when it comes to do doing it.

“Honour Christ” – that means to respect him, place him first, give him top priority but more importantly honour him with our lives. 
Honour Christ with our love for him. 
Honour him in the way we treat others. 
Honour him with the way we live our lives – speaking up for those who don’t have a voice, respecting those in authority, caring for other people’s property and honouring marriage and the role of the family.

“Let him be the Lord of your life” – Jesus has saved us with his precious blood.  He has brought us into his family through baptism. 
This is the almighty ruler of heaven and earth who graciously and generously calls us his own children. 
He wants to help us, guide us and walk with us to give us the strength and the power to overcome all things including death.

The lords of this world can be tyrants and unkind and bring only harm.  Christ the Lord is completely devoted and committed to us.  Paul can’t emphasise clearly enough the love that Christ has for us as he prays that his readers may grasp “how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is”. He wants them to be truly filled with his love and yet admits that the vastness of Christ’s love for us “is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

What does it mean for us to have the same courage that the widow had to give everything and to honour Christ and let him be the Lord of our life?

To be courageous and to honour Jesus means trusting the promises he gives us in his Word – really believing that he means what he says and can really help us, even though the rest of the world tells us that it’s a load of rubbish.
To be courageous and to honour Jesus means to walk with Jesus and let him guide you; direct your choices, your values, your morals.  He has made you a new person through his own blood so courageously live that newness.  He loves you dearly and wants you to be safe and to make the best possible choices.
To be courageous and to honour Jesus means to listen to the Holy Spirit and to say “no” when everyone else is saying “yes” to something that is clearly not God’s way.
To be courageous and to honour Jesus means to keep on trusting when it seems everything is stacked up against you and the worst seems to be happening.
To be courageous and to honour Jesus means to stick up for people when everyone else is putting them down; helping those people when everyone else is ignoring them.

Let’s be honest we are not very good at honouring Christ and letting him be the Lord of our life.  As pious as we might think we are, our sinful human nature gets in the way all the time.  You only need to look at the disciple Peter and see how hard he found it.  One moment he was boldly and courageously proclaiming his loyalty to Jesus and a short while later denying that he that he ever had anything to do with the man from Galilee.

When we are blowing hot and cold in our loyalty and boldness and we know it, and like Peter we are sorry that we are so fickle, thank God we have a Saviour whose love is limitless and forgives us and renews us and fills us with new courage to be his people.  His commitment to us and his sacrificial generosity is the only thing that saves the day for us.  He gladly forgives us and gives us the courage to do greater things to bring honour to his name.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th November 2015
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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