Okay, so my proud blogging moment of March was when I went through and updated all of my pages and then created a Year of Mark page where all of my sermons from Mark are archived! It’s crazy to look back and see how far we have gotten.
Here is my sermon from last Sunday. It was the end of chapter 12, the end of the Gospel narrative, before the apocalypse in chapter 13 transitions us into the Passion. I feel like everyone in the church is really into this right now! It’s going to be a little bit odd celebrating Easter and then jumping back into the Passion and the crucifixion and resurrection but also we are all really caught up in the story right now, so I think it will be fine.
Here’s my sermon! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 31, 2019
Giving All Of Ourselves
I would like to start off this morning by reading part of today’s passage from The Message translation of the bible. I am going to read Mark 12:38-39, where Jesus denounces the scribes.
He continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function.”
So if it is all the same to you all, I think I’m just going to take my robe off this morning.
You know, preach in a sweater.
Quick context before we jump into this morning’s scripture reading: We know that Jesus is in Jerusalem. He has been questioned by the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees (all religious groups that, in the New Testament, typically are in opposition of Jesus). Then a scribe, who overheard the exchanges between these groups and Jesus, asks Jesus what, then, is the greatest commandment out of all of the laws. Jesus responds and says to love God and then love people.
The scribes are still primary characters in today’s story, so let’s first talk about who they are.
We know that The Message translates the word, “scribe” as, “religion scholar,” so I guess, simply put, that is who they are. The word, “scribe” derives from the Latin root, “to write”. Scribes are groups of people who are capable of reading and writing; they are seen as part of the leadership or the learned class.
In the New Testament, scribes appear both alone, just as a group of scribes or also within other groups (for example, the scribes of the Pharisees). In almost all cases, like the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees, the scribes are opponents of Jesus.
And now Jesus has turned his attention to them.
This morning’s scripture is broken up into three sections. The first section – verses 35-37 – addresses the question of whether or not the Messiah is the son of David. The second section – verses 38-40 – is where Jesus denounces the scribes and warns people about them. The third section – verses 41-44 – is the story of the widows offering, where Jesus compares the large offerings of those who have a lot to give to the small offerings of a woman who gives all that she has.
Let’s start with this first section – the question of Messiahship (verses 35-37 if you are following along).
Here’s the thing about this section – Jesus poses a rhetorical question that he really does not give an answer to. He says, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David?” and then references Psalm 110, a psalm attributed to David that says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” Then Jesus asks the question, “David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?”
Simply put, there is this question of Messiahship that no one can seem to come to any kind of consensus on. The scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David and yet, David, himself, in this psalm Jesus is referencing, calls the Messiah, “Lord”. So how can the Messiah also be the sonof David? How can the Messiah be a descendent of David when David is calling him Lord?
But we also know that, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus, himself, has been referred to as both the Messiah (in Mark 8:29 where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter replies, “You are the Messiah”) and also the Son of David (in Mark 10:48 when Bartimaeus, the blind man, says, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”).
And yet the words of this psalm were written down long before Jesus walked on this earth in human form.
This is a little bit confusing, right? And the thing is, Jesus does not really give a good answer, either. He kind of poses this question and then leaves it out there for people to ponder the tension of Messiahship while he moves on to his next point.
Which is to warn people about the scribes.
And here is, I think, the point Jesus is trying to make. This is not just about the scribes. Jesus is questioning the authority they were all accustomed to blindly following in the world they were living in. There are so many things that they had just become the status quo – who has money, who has power, who has access to education and other resources that give meaning to people’s lives – and Jesus is pushing back.
Remember Jesus had just issued the Greatest Commandment – that above all the others laws, people are to love God and then to love people – and now he is asking people to step outside of the convoluted cultural religious rhetoric that they are all trying so desperately to understand and think about what really matters.
Jesus warns people about the scribes because he says they are focusing on the wrong things; this is why Jesus does not answer the question about Messiahship! Because the question, itself, is not what is important; what matters is how we live our lives.
It is important to note that this passage is the last passage in the Gospel narrative. Chapter 13 of the Gospel of Mark is the apocalyptic narrative of the destruction of the temple (next week is going to be fun!). Then, in chapter 14, the Passion narrative begins.
So this is kind of it, right? This is Jesus’ final lesson, in a way; it is his final opportunity, before the plot turns to kill him begins, to remind people of what really matters.
And he has such a powerful example in this last section – the widow’s offering.
The story of the widow’s offering is one that is fairly well known; it appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Jesus is observing the crowd putting money into the temple treasury. He watches the wealthy put in large sums of money and then watches a widow puts in two copper coins – the Roman Quadran, which is the smallest denomination of Roman coinage and worth approximately 1/64 of a laborers daily wage. This is a much smaller amount than the wealthy are putting in, but it is all that she has.
Then Jesus says to the disciples, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she has, all she had to live on.”
Here, again, Jesus is questioning the authority they were all accustomed to blindly following. Because what did this authority do? It gave power to the wealthy, to those who were putting large sums of money in the treasury – not to the widow, who barely put anything in.
But Jesus calls into question the hierarchy of wealth and power. He says that it is not about giving out of our abundance, but about giving out of our poverty that makes a real difference in God’s kingdom. That in order to truly live into God’s love we are supposed to give everything we have, all we have to live on.
Okay, so now we will move into a time of offering.
There is a lot going on in these three different sections of our scripture reading, but I think when we look at them all together, they remind us to stop and question the norms that we have grown accustomed to, both in our culture and also in our personal lives.
Because as much as we would all like to think we are like the widow who gives everything that she has, realistically I think sometimes we do settle into what is comfortable. And we are afraid to question this and to step outside of it.
Jesus says beware of the scribes because they are missing the point and then we hear this story about people giving just to meet an obligation, not giving out of faith – again, missing the point. And in calling this out to the disciples, he is telling them that they need to decide if they are giving to God simply out of obligation or if they are giving to God out of faith.
Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.
This woman gave all that she had.
How many of us can say the same thing?
And I am not just talking about money, either; I am talking about all of the offerings that we give to God – our money, our time, our talent. Are we giving our whole selves to God? Are we putting in everything that we have, everything that we have to live on?
There is a reason Jesus turns to the disciples to teach them this lesson about the widow’s offering. Because as much as he was calling out the scribes for their actions in the passages before, the reality is that it is also not simply the actions of the wealthy and powerful that matter in this world; it is the actions of the seemingly ordinary people in this world that God is calling to do God’s work that have the capacity to change the world.
And that includes us.
I think this passage, which closes out the narrative of the Gospel and sets up the transition into the narrative of the Passion, calls us to do a personal audit, of sorts. It calls us to look at the norms that we have grown accustomed to – that we have settled comfortably into – and question them.
Where is our money going?
Where is our time going?
Where are our talents going?
How are we living our lives?
What are giving to God? What are we giving to this church, to the Body of Christ?
Are we giving our whole selves out of faith?
Or are we giving a little bit of ourselves out of obligation?
These are hard, but necessary questions for us to ask ourselves if we want to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God. And I believe we are being called to be bold in our giving as we question our norm and seek to give all of ourselves to God.
And I am talking about us, as individuals and us, as members of this church. And I am also talking about us, as a church, as a community of faith, as the Body of Christ. We cannot grow complacent. We must call into question what has become normal around us. Because if we fail to do this, we might miss what God is calling us to do, to give, to be in this moment.
The stakes are high in this morning’s passage, because Jesus is in Jerusalem and the cross is on the horizon. But the stakes are just as high today, because the world needs good Christians, living out God’s call to love and serve and make this world a better place.
Today I charge you: Question what you are accustomed to. Be attention to what God is calling you to do and say and be. And then put in everything you have for God.
Thanks be to God!