Roger's Postings

Friday, November 06, 2009

Mark 12:38-44. Dependant on whom? 8/11/09

(38) As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, {39} and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. {40} They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." {41} Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. {42} But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. {43} Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. {44} They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

Here in this reading God gives us a very important teaching as we go forward in life. There is a very important lesson in the comparison between those rich church leaders and the poor widow that we need to remember as we live out our lives every day. The Christian life today, as it has been throughout the centuries, is strewn with well-respected, pious, good-living people, who are even active in their church, but whom here, Jesus warns us to watch out for: and whom will be punished most severely. Then he highlights the attitude of the poor widow, as that which we are to have as we go about life in our world and if we are to receive God’s blessing.

Now we are on a journey that will be a constant struggle for us if we take our Christian faith seriously. You have a society around us, and a human nature, that seeks to focus on self and what we do, and there is an attitude of self-dependence and self-promotion that is seen by the world as vitally important. Yet, here in this reading, along with many others, God warns that this attitude leads to disaster. But again and again, he lifts up the attitude that sees oneself as totally dependant on God and what he has to offer.

Think of this poor widow, she had nothing; well a few cents in terms of today’s finances, and that was all. It is quite likely that she was one of those widows that Jesus mentions here who had her house taken away from her by the wealthy leaders. She had nothing. She was old; a widow, no money; and no welfare system, and by worldly standards, no hope. She had no way to get on in life, from a human perspective; and yet the implications here are that she is blessed: that she is the one who God favours. Because she does not seek to stand in God’s presence, on her goodness, but is entirely dependant on him. The question that arises for us then is, does God let here down?

Here, let us remember the Old Testament lesson, of the widow of Zarephath. ‘When Elijah came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don't have any bread--only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it--and die." Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'" She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

God was true to his word there, and I am sure that he was also to the widow in the temple. Even if the very worst possible happened to her after she left that temple, and she died of starvation; we know that she was blest, because she trusted that her life was in God’s hands and that he would take her to heaven. She looked to him as her only hope in life, and she received the reward promised by God himself.

However when we look to those wealthy church leaders, we see that they were looking to receive the praises of the people around about them, and the glory of being great men in this life. Outwardly, they were doing all the things that indicated that they were great people of God. Now, they may well have, in this life, received that reward which they were looking for; the praises of the people around them. But certainly, they were not going to receive the reward of heaven. In fact the opposite: eternity in hell. But I am sure even in this life they would have found keeping up the image extremely difficult, and in fact a very lonely and uncomfortable struggle.

So we can see that it is not wealth and status that makes us right and acceptable to God. It is not a matter of how good or bad that we are. Nor how high up in the church we might be, or how good our feelings or even knowledge may be. It is clearly a matter of on whom we are focussed and dependant: On God, or on ourselves and what the world promises us. Are we going to trust in our money, good status, feelings, numbers and the like or are we prepared to look to God alone for our help and salvation.

Now how do we go about this? How can we see to it that we keep our focus on Jesus and not get side-tracked and led into disaster?

First and foremost, we need to remember that we are sinful and that anything short of perfection is just not good enough. We constantly need to hear God’s word of law so that we can see that we have fallen short, and need help from outside of ourselves. To do that we need to attend worship regularly, because the world out there will try to shift the focus; blame someone else; and try to say that it is not so bad; you are doing a good job and you are moving up the ladder. We will be told, to just to lift our game and try a little harder. But God and his word tells us that we don’t measure up: we are just not good enough and never will be.

Knowing then, that we are sinful, we need again to be regular at worship, so that we are reminded at the beginning of the service, with ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, that, despite our sinfulness we have been baptised into God’s family and so he is happy to be with us. Then after confessing our sins, to hear God via the pastor say, ‘I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. Then again, in Holy Communion, we hear ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’.

Then constantly throughout the service, we hear of all that Jesus has done for us through his life, death and resurrection. We hear that it was he who allowed himself to be punished in our place, so that this forgiveness may be extended to us all. Through his resurrection from the dead we know that he is the Lord of life, and that in him we have the certainty of eternal life in heaven. So are constantly reminded that Jesus Christ is our only assurance of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

There we have wonderful good news. There we have the news that enables us to go forward with confidence to look to God; to depend on him; to listen to him; and to survive in a world full of temptation and evil. Now we will listen to his Word as it is read and preached, so that we can hear from God what he wants us to know. We will seek to live as he wants us to each and every day: All the time looking to him and seeking his guidance and help. Knowing that he is there with us and for us, because of his promise at the end of the service; ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look with favour on you and give you peace’.

With all of that, then we can depend fully on our God. We can focus on him: we will want to focus on him for he is our only true life and salvation. With this wonderful Good News, we will be wary that we are not sidetracked by those within the church and without, who seek to put the focus on ourselves and what we do, feel and think. We will ensure that we keep close to our God, knowing that he is there for us and has done everything necessary for our salvation and that he is the only who can truly get us through this life to be with him in eternity.

So let us go from here today watchful, but confident. Looking first and foremost to our God, and seeking to rely on him, throughout our lives. In our giving and our living, we will be like the widow in our reading, knowing that we are fully dependant on our God for our life and our salvation. Through our life and our life together, may all glory then go to our great God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: To him alone be all praise and glory, now and always. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze
Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish


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