Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Mike Turgeon Outside my own little world: “Start living right now” 10/30/11
As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘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 had, all she had to live on.’ Mark 12:38-44
Start living right now
With Thanksgiving on the near horizon, it is time to re-tell the tale of the Butterball Turkey Hot Line. A person called in with a question about a turkey that had been in her freezer for twenty-three years—and she wanted to know if it was still safe to eat. After checking with her supervisor, the hot line person came back to say that if the turkey had been kept at zero degrees and never defrosted, it would certainly be safe—though maybe not so very tasty.
“That’s what I thought,” the caller replied. “I’ll just give it to the church.”
In today’s scripture, Jesus is saying that he doesn’t want your left-overs. He wants your first fruits. By commenting on the extravagant generosity of the poor widow here, Jesus lets it be known that the standard for entering the kingdom of heaven as one of his followers is excellence, not mediocrity. But the lesson goes deeper--he issues a warning:
“...beware of those who are greeted with respect in the market-places yet devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers…”
Jesus is responding to the headlines of his day, the same headlines that we help to create today--headlines of hypocrisy and greed. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy we learn of the pitfalls of money:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” 1 Timothy 6:10
Yes, money gets all the worst headlines, but money is neutral, neither good or bad; it is when we love it that we stray from what Jesus had in mind. What we do with our money counts more that the total amount in our possession, according to Jesus in this parable. But I wonder if hypocrisy, the act of saying one thing and doing the opposite, is even worse than the love of money?
Is greed on steroids in today’s world? Sure seems like it. But Jesus treats greed and hypocrisy as equal offenders. Are we too far gone down this path? Am I, are you, capable of applying the Jesus lesson to our lives?
Last Tuesday morning, my wife and I were in Chicago. We spent a couple of days there and on the morning when we were leaving, I walked a block and a half to get some morning coffee. As I did, I walked past three guys sitting on the sidewalk with a spare change cup at 7am. My first thought was I’m not in cozy Windsor, California anymore, am I Toto?
For 30 years, I have not given out spare change. I tithe to the church. But on this morning as we prepared to head back home, the words of Mark’s Gospel were already floating around in my head, knowing this sermon was coming.
'For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’
My regular coffee at Starbucks that morning was $2.46. As I left the store, I said “good morning” to the first beggar I encountered and gave him 54 cents.
I don’t tell this tale because of the math, but because of what was going on inside me. No, I wasn’t pretending to be a poor widow giving from my poverty. I was well aware that I was a scribe contributing from my abundance. It was easy to give the 54 cents, I never missed it; I was dispensing charity. Jesus isn’t interested in charity, he’s looking for sacrifice. The hypocrisy of the situation did not escape me.
Outside my own little world
I remember hearing the word ‘sacrifice’ at a very young age growing up when my mother would speak about it. She’d say, “life was more than our own little family unit;” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you;” Things like that. The baby steps that lead to a life of morality; baby steps, but momentum builders nonetheless. But the lessons of sacrifice are taught right next to the lessons of greed and hypocrisy.
Your family, your church may preach one thing, but we learn a whole different set of principles from what’s going on around us, don’t we?
Jesus is saying what we learn is vital, but how we choose to live is what determines whether we
“...wander away from the faith and pierce ourselves with many pains.”
Our selfishness and our sin are like arrows that find their target in our own hearts. So understanding what this widow does is challenging and uncomfortable, especially when Jesus holds her up as the standard, not the rich guys giving 54 cents of their fortune.
The very idea of sacrifice in a culture of self, tithing in a culture of entitlement is offensive, disturbing and we’d much prefer to ignore it and move on to the parts of the Gospel where Jesus loves us not because were lovable but because of his ultimate sacrifice.
The widow’s sacrifice of all she has sets up what Jesus does for us on the Cross. In turn, we are asked to give, not just of our crumbs, but the entire loaf.
And we’re supposed to do it humbly, not like those who “yearn to be greeted with respect in the market place.” Sacrifice in a culture of self. Tithing in a culture of entitlement. Humility in a culture of hubris.
hubris = arrogance, pride
Start living right now
In Jesus’s parables, the heroes are the unlikely ones. The scribes, the Pharisees and the religious leaders have much to teach us but always from a negative angle. But it is the lowliest of the lowly who teach us the positive truth.
You want lowly? Look to Jesus’ friends: Tax collectors, outlaws, sinners, but none was more pathetic than the lowly widow. In this parable, she turns out to be the best steward of God’s gifts. As we know, the widow didn’t have just 3 strikes against her, it was beyond that. She was dependent on the kindness and charity of relatives or strangers, but here, in her one shining moment, she is living large, living right now, taking a leap of faith that makes our baby steps look small, really small.
In this parable, Jesus singles out the scribes for the ‘harshest condemnation’ but Jesus doesn’t say anything about what the widow can expect from her sacrificial act of generosity, he just tells us that she gives everything she has. Does she end up starving? Don’t know. Has she been taken in by a relative? Couldn’t tell you.
Jesus is just looking at the arithmetic here. The percentage from the scribes—woeful; the widow’s percentage—priceless.
You ever stop to think what a bad mathematician Jesus was? There’s plenty of examples. For instance, he said that heaven gets a bigger kick out of one sinner who repents than out of ninety-nine saints who don’t need to. And Jesus was a horrible businessman as well. One time he said that God pays as much for one hour’s work as for one day’s work. And he was a rotten accountant. He said that the more you give away, the more you have.
These were laughable ways of doing business as far as the scribes were concerned. They had their formulas and percentages down to a science.
There was only one time where Jesus’ arithmetic lined up with the conventional kind. Remember the high priest, Caiaphas? Caiaphas was the ruler of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Council. He was the high priest, the grand poobah, couldn’t get any higher than Caiaphas. Caiphas was the one they brought Jesus to before he went to Pontius Pilate for sentencing. When it came to the welfare of the Jewish religious interests, the buck stopped with Caiphas.
Caiphas could see that Jesus was going to get them all in trouble with the Romans. Caiphas calculated that it would be better for one man to ‘get it in the neck’ for the sake of many, than for many to get it in the neck for the sake of one man. His grim arithmetic proved unassailable. (Listening To Your Life, Frederich Buechner, p. 301).
But Jesus came to bring the truth, not impeccable math skills. The truth he speaks about this widow is embedded in the calculus of her sacrificial generosity. Hers was the rightful sacrifice because it acknowledged God’s blessings in her life. This is the formula of God’s covenant--God gives and we give back out of gratitude.
You could probably call this parable the Sermon on the Amount because the truth is God is interested in one amount and one amount only. And that amount is 100%. Giving 100% of your life to Christ’s mission.
If you ask me, Jesus was much better at physics than he was at math. He said, “One cannot serve God and man at the same time.” This is Jesus’ great lesson on multi-tasking. Multi-tasking, we have been led to believe, let’s us concentrate on more than one thing at a time. In reality, however, multi-tasking has us doing more than one thing badly at the same time. But we persist.
In contrast to the widow’s bold ‘logic’ of giving it all, we try to have it all. And most of us are absolutely positive that this is working to our advantage. Trying to serve both God and man is like standing with one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat. Pick one or the other ‘cause it’s the straddling that will get you all wet.
Serving two masters is the formula for crazy-making. You can’t please more than one, yet we try. So then our spirits get eaten away. We’re walking around on tip-toes, afraid to offend, not even sure who we are serving. No wonder we go numb!
So Jesus says the scribes don’t get it but they’re going to get theirs, and this widow lady gets it, but we’re not sure what it is she gets. But she is a savvy investor, someone who knew deep in her soul where to put her money to get the greatest return.