When Mites Matter Most

What we see in the widow from Mark 12:38-44 is a response in her heart and from her hands to the God who fully and wonderfully took care of her. What Jesus found before he left the temple, was not just a widow, but a worshiper.  “When Mites Matter Most.”  November 11, 2018.

When something draws to a close, how often is it that we communicate what matters most. The athlete reflecting on a career at the close of a final season, the senior class reflecting over a commencement speech, spending your last few days in the workplace, sending a child off to kindergarten. We seek to summarize the significance, grab hold of any treasures to be found and kept in the heart as the stuff that matters and is most important.

The Scriptures live and breathe this kind of talk. Near the close of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses has been serving up meaning through five carefully written books of the Bible, and now reflects to God’s people: “See, I set before you today life and death, blessings and curses.” The book of Psalms is saturated with a “train of thought” for you to ride from beginning to end - Psalm 1 wants to be your eyes through life and sets the tone: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in the way of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in God’s Word on which he meditates day and night.” There’s blessed and there’s not blessed. A way that perishes and a way imperishable.

We are nearing the close of another church year. Are you putting it all together? Seeing life clearly for what it is to be with God and also for what it isn’t without him? Don’t worry if you’re struggling, we’ll start over again soon enough.

But here we are in Mark 12 - the end of Mark 12 - with Jesus taking his last steps in the temple courts as a “free man.” We are probably less than 72 hours from “It is finished.” He scans one last time the eyes of the large crowd, “The teachers of the law are in the fast lane to hell. They wait on God for nothing - everything they want in life, they already have - front row seats, first place spots, people address them with fancy titles, attention getting robes, recognition for their lengthy prayers, and many support them by donating other’s estates, even widow homes, which they gladly assume, eating them up like pancakes for breakfast.” Jesus is probing the inner hearts and thoughts of these teachers and finding them, Bible scholars, working for food that spoils. And then the hammer drops, “They will be punished most severely.”

For one who wears a flowing robe and often says a lengthy prayer and is greeted by a special title, “good morning” and sits in the tallest seat in church up in the front, I can’t think of a more fitting gut-check than to ask, “Do I live as one already receiving my reward? Am I in it for those things?”

No pew, by the way, is spared the Savior’s scrutiny, from front to back. What do you aim to do? What do you want to have? Where do you hope to be in life? Am I cluttering my decision-making and thinking with how much time will it take? How much will it cost me? Do I think I have enough? Maybe now is not the best time...like, as long as I can think of some mildly pressing need to save my money for, then I must not be in a position for generosity - so much clutter! And in the meantime, we leave no room for faith, but must save every dime so as to be fully prepared for any kind of colossal emergency. It’s not that a wise use of your possessions and wealth doesn’t involve thinking, but many such thoughts are to be first or foremost when it comes to that management and Christian giving.

What really matters? Jesus’ final act in the temple was to find a seat and watch people.  Not eager to start Judgment Day prematurely, but there was something special to see at the temple treasury. With plenty of outwardly noticeable gifts - shiny gold and silver coins, emptying from satchels and bags in large quantities - tons of people were watching for your “oohs” and “aahs” at the temple. And then the widow came. Probably not dressed as the others. Probably not front and center like the others, with the most easily overlooked, a meager - “nothing to see here” giver of pennies that barely mean anything to Sunday-schooler with a shiny quarter to bring.

But it’s just that - where nothing else lends itself to our attention, she and her offering receive the full amount of Jesus’ attention, as this is the moment he grabs his disciples and pulls them close - I know you didn’t see much when she put her offering in...but let me tell you what I saw.  “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

So many others gave out of their wealth - they gave without needing to think about the cost or effect it would have on their lives, because they could afford it easily. It was giving without impact...something you could do mindlessly, if you wanted.

But not the widow...she’s like a wrapped Christmas present that looks average or worse on the outside, but it’s what was inside that mattered most. This giving of but two copper coins may not have sparkled to the naked eye, but Jesus showed something important, something that mattered most shining brightly in his eyes inside of her. She trusted God. She was thinking not what coins could do for her, but what God could and did. Jesus opened up the jar of her heart and showed its true treasure. She put it all out there. This was an incredibly difficult time in her life when it came to daily bread you could depend on. She didn’t have a steady means of income, she had but two copper coins to her name! Dependency was her middle name, which was either going to see generosity of others tomorrow or the abuse from those like the teachers of the law.

But, freely, faith-filled, she gave her gift and made her offering. Obviously, it’s not the amount clinking in the coin-box that counts to Jesus. Instead, he saw what no one else could see - that these were her last two coins and she gladly gave them in faith to her God. Alone with her God, with trust in him who does not perish, spoil, or fade, whose words do not depreciate in value ever, the investment that pays everything it promises and more.

What do we have here (vertically) that brings meaning to my wallet?  That crazy irony of Jesus reporting his full awareness of her situation, even as she gives in a way that says “God, you know, and I trust you.”  Her trust wasn’t in vain - her entire life, inner and outer, lay bare before God, known to him, cared for by him. Jesus is the Savior God she already knew God, what he would do for her on Good Friday, what he had done for her throughout her life - she banked on his selfless surrender of all just to care for her deepest needs, and the coins spoke her sermon.

Brothers and sisters what we see in the widow is a response in her heart and from her hands to the God who fully and wonderfully took care of her. What Jesus found before he left the temple, was not just a widow, but a worshiper.  

Do you think that was the only time Jesus watched and rejoiced? Sees the Sunday Schooler get a buck from mommy and daddy for the offering - the only buck to her name, but she knows by now what money does. And the jar is open to Jesus as he sees the tension - what line of thought, what thought will win the day in her little heart? Will she ask her folks for change so she can pocket at least a portion? Will she think about the worthiness of the mission to be funded? Some need to see her dollar translate into work for Jesus? Or will her eyes stay closed, and her heart remain alone with her God, rejoicing in lavish generosity of blood poured out as the bill empties from the fingers? Let others fret over dollars first and foremost, as for me and my house, we serve the Lord.

Can it be that it all leaves us in that simple space of aloneness with God ourselves to ponder – what has he done for me to earn my trust? This isn’t just one way you can live. It’s the only mode believers in God know and want. Do you remember what Jesus once commanded the rich man who thought he had kept all of God’s law - “one thing you lack, go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor and then come follow me.” There is but one way through life and that’s following him, alone with my God.

The word generous carries the smell of something unusual and unexpected about it, always ruffles the feathers and stretches you - the point is not “lets add a little crazy to your giving or a little reckless to your offerings - no, but let’s urge each other to consider crazy grace we’ve received, that hold nothing back, total surrender for us, reckless way God treats us every single day, bar none. In Christ, rich generosity comes from one who won’t stop rejoicing by faith. It’s generosity that is a sort of matching gift - I want my offering (like my entire life!) to preach this and proclaim him. I want my generosity to stretch me because of a God who always stretches wider, ever does more, never quits displaying the riches of his kindness.

Does faith have a currency? Whatever your coins may be, or however many, that they be the currency of faith, the currency of Christ, that which we use for the sake of his praise and glory, the exchange of his value to us. I like to think how paying taxes never mattered as much until you find the command of God to pay taxes and rejoice in the purpose that pleases him. There is a joy in purchasing, sharing, giving; there is a party in putting money to work, an inner celebration of blessing a God who blesses without end, living for a God who made life, singing back to a God who wrote the song.  That’s the difference between those who in wickedness have already received what they wanted, already got their reward, and those who in Christ sit with purses open and the flow never stops - it’s what makes all of it matter most, and never matter any less.   Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on November 11, 2018