It was a crowded place, the temple courtyard. Pilgrims came from near and far to make their sacrifices and, fervid with hope that they might be consoled with some strong sense of the holy, at least enough holiness to take them in faith to the end of their days. As is always the case, there are those who need to play to the crowd with acts of self-justification, spreading wide their peacock feathers and making a big show of throwing their offering into the treasury.
By the way, have you ever noticed that in casinos the slot machines make a huge noise even when the payoff is chump change? Well, so I’ve been told. There’s a point to that. They mean to deceive with what cannot satisfy. So Jesus observes leaders who deceive people into believing the officials are doing their jobs.
But it wasn’t just them Jesus was watching. Our savior is a people watcher! He watches the peacock behavior. He sees how the one-percent did not give as they had been given. At the heart of it all, he sees how the “system” with relentless focus tells “regular folk” that you cannot be nationally and religiously pure unless you give everything; as if we have to “buy off” God. And so widows’ houses were devoured. And so the power brokers, not at all ministering to their people, grew fat on the faith of others,
Yet the widow gave sacrificially, but from different motives. She didn’t need to buy off God. She already trusted fully in God. This anonymous and overlooked woman trusted implicitly that God would care for her through good agencies, just as God worked through Elijah for an anonymous woman and her son in a land ruled by the wicked Jezebel. And though she didn’t know it, this widow had faith in God because God already gave Godself to her! Our translation reads “she gave of all her livelihood.” But that’s just the half of it. The Greek literally reads, “she gave her whole life.” Mark’s subtle phrase there is not only about her. It refers to what would happen with Jesus. He would give his whole life. For all practical purposes with and in and through this anonymous woman, he already did. Christ’s very life was now in her life. The religious elite privately and cynically may have played her like a rube, like Enron execs would of widows in California. To paraphrase Warren Buffet, “when that kind of tide goes out, you can see who’s naked.” But the mighty God of Israel clothes God’s own with lover and fully identifies with those whose full faith is practiced even with only widows’ mites. Jesus the divine people watcher is in and with all whom are overlooked.
Today, as we always should be in ways more than token, we commemorate military veterans—and I count the blue-line with them. How totally they have given of themselves even as they have been and still are misused and mistreated. We thank you who have served. We confess that we must learn better how to thank you. And I particularly thank you for the fidelity you give one another and that you continue to show in your walk with God. I marvel at your faith, notwithstanding or maybe even because of the harm into which we have thrown you loudly like a few coins from our largesse. So to move ahead positively together, we will never forget.
And we will remember that Christ does not merely “watch” the widow and the vet and anyone who is forced to live in that shadow zone of neglect and self-doubt. That is the zone into which each of us at some time are thrown, where all we have left, the only thing we really ever have had, is sheer dependence on God. People who are honest with themselves and then with others live trustingly even in their own overlooked skin because not only has Christ worked faith in them, but Christ identifies fully with the frail, the weak, the played upon. Jesus has so given all his life that Jesus is the widow. Jesus is the vet. Jesus identifies with all of us, especially when we have convinced ourselves that no one else cares. When we are weak, God is strong, and then we are strong again with faith and concomitant generosity.
If Christ the King Church is to be known as a healing place, we will build on its strong foundation of faith formation. We will establish strong ongoing informal places, like “house churches,” where friendship with each other and God is deepened. We will provide yet more attractive and faith-nurturing opportunities for our youth. We will use 21st century technology to “do education” for those many of our growing community who cannot personally attend on-campus classes. We will make and take every opportunity to learn better how to pray. We will better welcome and walk with our vets. And we will accompany with spiritual intimacy those whom God brings to us as new members of this community, like baptized Gaby and the 10 more who join CTK today. To be known as a healing place with yet stronger faith formation depends on all our generosity together. The insert in your bulletin today spells out more how important this all is as we prepare for ministry in 2019 and beyond.
And because we are A Healing Place, we celebrate already the strength given by God in you. You widows, really and figuratively; you vets; you who carry effervescent memories of all who have gone ahead in service to God and country; you, the all of you, the all of us, who have abided the shadows: Christ is in you and Christ still gives all his life with the holy love that quells all fear, with miraculous bread that fills all the bellies of the universe, with holy wine that flows like a great tide finally to wash all creation with joy. Christ is yours, all yours, given and to give with abandon. Amen.
Duane H. Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX November 11, 2018