Proper 23

Faith

What Do You Want Me To Do For You?


What do you want? There once was a teacher who had a classroom. And she cared. She cared about the topic she was teaching. She cared about her students. But, early on in the class, there was a student that whenever she would say something, he would lean over talk to the person beside him. Hour after hour, week after week this would happen. While she was teaching, he was talking. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore. And she told the young man, What do you want? He looked up at her and said, “I want to hear what you’re saying. And with this loud heating vent right beside me I can’t hear anything.” Very quickly she realized that he was not speaking out of disrespect, but instead, just the opposite, a hunger to learn and pay attention. This morning we meet a man who is talking. And he’s talking at the very same time Jesus is teaching. In Mark 10, we read: 46 They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Mark 10:46–47 CSB17)


This morning, in your brains, walk with Jesus. There you are walking with Jesus and what is he doing? He is teaching and teaching and teaching. And then, off in the distance, what happens? There’s this guy on the side of the road who keeps crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” If you were the teacher, how long would you put up with this? There that guy is, shouting those words, and he won’t shut up. Well, since Jesus didn’t tell the man to shut up, the people took the matter into their own hands. We read: “Many warned him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”” (Mark 10:48 CSB17)


He is told to shut up by many people, but instead of shutting up, he shouts the same words over and over again. So what happens next? 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.” 50 He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:49–51 CSB17)


Jesus is still a little ways away. So he tells those who are near the man to summon him over. Here too, this is something to picture. Picture the blind man stand up, throw off his outer cloak and stumble toward Jesus. And when he gets close to Jesus, Jesus asks him that question, ““What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17) Now, my dear friends in Christ, we might ask the question, ‘why did Jesus ask such a foolish question?’ The guy has been sitting there shouting for a long time what he wanted. Everybody knows what the blind man wants. But you’re forgetting one simple fact: this man cannot see. Facial expression, body language—all of that is useless to this man. So Jesus asks him the simple, but all-important question: What do you want me to do for you? Bartimaeus answers: ““Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17)


Now notice what happens next. Jesus does not say, “I am good and gracious, so I can’t stop myself from healing you.” Instead, this is what he says: ““Go, your faith has saved you.”” (Mark 10:52 CSB17) Now my dear friends in Christ, these are some very important and impressive words that Jesus speaks. Jesus did not have to heal this man that day. In fact, there were times when Jesus did not heal people at all. Earlier on in Mark’s Gospel Jesus preaches in his hometown. And at the end of the day, we read these words: 4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:4–6 NIV)


Jesus did not have to heal blind Bartimaeus. But he did. He tells Bartimaeus that his faith is what counted. All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. In other words, Jesus does not perform miracles so that people might have faith in him. Instead, he gives them faith so that they would know him and then appreciate the miracle. Jesus could have said “no.” But this man was given a living, active, powerful faith. And we see it by the names that he calls Jesus. If you’re going to play it safe, what do you call Jesus? You call him, “teacher.” Everyone else did. But this man didn’t. He cried out and shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The title, “Son of David” was a very powerful one. It was one of those parts of the Old Testament that shouted out and cried out that the savior and messiah would be both God and man.


What if, my dear friends, what if you were blind and could no longer see? What if Jesus asked you that simple question, what would you say? What would you like me to do for you? I don’t know about you, but I might say, “What took you so long?” I might pray “O Lord, heal my body, but who really cares about my soul?” But look at blind Bartimaeus. He calls Jesus who he is, both God and man. Here is a man who knows that Jesus is his Savior. So when he says, “I want to see,” there’s more going on. As one pastor once said, even though he has no eyesight, he has so very much insight.


And what Jesus says about us, we pray for ourselves. Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” And first of all, our prayer is that, like this blind man, he would give us faith to find him in the darkness. How many long months and years did this man wait for the Son of David to arrive? And when the Son of David came he neither hurled rocks nor insults at him. My dear friends, there will be those times when the waiting will wear you down. When you get hurt, you need time to heal. And the same is true not just for our bodies, but also for our souls. And we sin when we either give up on the Son of David or even worse, blame him. But Jesus does the same for us as he does for this man. First, he does not assume anything. How thankful we are that we do not have to trust in facial expressions, hand gestures or body language when it comes to our Savior. He is just as clear with us as he was with this man. Second, he forgives us. He forgives us by being perfectly patient in our place. He forgives us by being treated like the son of hell in our place instead of the Son of David. He does all this so that, like this Bartimaeus, we would know that our sins are forgiven and then find him in the darkness.


That, my friends, is our prayer, that we too would find the Son of David in the darkness. But if Jesus asks us that question, let us also have another prayer. Let us pray that he would also give us such a strong faith as this blind man so that would follow Jesus in the light. In the final words of this part of the bible, we read: “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” (Mark 10:52 CSB17)


Do you remember what happened at a different time, when Jesus healed the ten lepers? We read those words on every Thanksgiving Eve. Jesus heals ten lepers and then how many come back to thank him? There was only one—one! This man is healed. And does he run home to his missed friends and treasured family? No, in joyous faith, he follows. That is our prayer too. There will be those times when the Lord answers our prayer—when he takes away a pain, pressure or disease. And our knee-jerk reaction will be to forget him. But the Son of David doesn’t just forgive our sins. He also gives us the Holy Spirit to follow him and live for him. And with that new person placed in us through water and word instead of forgetting Jesus, we follow him.


What do you want me to do for you? That is the question that the Son of David asked blind Bartimaeus. He still asks that same question of all of us today. And our prayer is that he would give us the same strong faith as Bartimaeus. We pray that he would give us faith to find Jesus in the darkness and follow him in the light. That is our prayer. And the Son of David will answer it. Amen.


Proper 22

Children

God Made Them Male And Female


Simple truths are often the best truths. Years ago there was a new pastor. He was an intelligent man. And he had gone to school for years to become a pastor. One day, a member in his congregation had him over to his house. He told him, “You’re preaching way up here; you need to bring it way down here.” Often the simple truths are the best truths. When we go back and look at Jesus teaching and preaching, so very often he shuts down his opposition not with huge five-syllable words, but instead with simple statements. In Mark 10, we read: 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.” (Mark 10:2–6 NIV11-GKE)


The Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question—but not to learn from him. Instead, they asked the question to test him and tear him down. The question was about divorce. Notice Jesus’ answer. It was not a long theological lecture. It was with quick, simple statements that Jesus answered. He told them that at the beginning God made them male and female. Before anyone speaks about marriage, divorce and remarriage and all the other issues one could bring up, there is the simple, solid truth we need to understand and build on: God made them male and female. For ever since the fall into sin, every human being has been busy denying that basic truth. 50 years ago the sinful world abused that truth by overemphasizing it. On the internet now, there are massive archives of advertisements from that time. And, if you read them, you’ll see that you aren’t really a man unless you can rebuilt your car from scratch and do 100 push-ups. And you aren’t really a woman unless you can bake a cake from scratch while wearing a pretty dress and keeping it spotless at the same time. And there are worse examples of this. But today the pendulum has swung the entire opposite direction today. If there was an over-emphasis on male and female (in an often abusive way), then today, there is an under-emphasis. Consider this guideline from the Minneapolis public school website:


Gender is often used as a classification for dividing classes, prerequisites for participation, or access to facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms. Advoid using gender as a characteristic for division whenever possible. Create an all gender option for facilities and allow student to self-select to the group they would feel most comfortable in.1


Notice the point that they are making on the site: First, there are more than two genders. There is not just male and female. There are more options out there. Second, according to them, you choose your gender. If you choose to be a boy for a while, everyone has to endorse that. If you then choose to go back to being a girl, then the world has to recognize and affirm that choice. But these words are so very clear, aren’t they? God made them male and female.


Why can’t people get this straight? Why 50 years ago did people over-emphasize male and female to the point of abuse? And why today do people under-emphasize this simple truth to the point of absurdity? The answer is simple: People often listen to what is popular.


We too face the same temptation. It is popular today to conclude that you can choose to be either male or female or even a third self-defined category. And it’s easy for us to conclude that that’s the truth for one simple reason: that conclusion is popular. But it’s not the truth. Jesus says it so simply and clearly. At the beginning, God made them male and female.


And what follows is the answer to the question, why: 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:7–12 NIV11-GKE)


Why did God make them male and female? He made us male and female so that they would be one. The general path laid out for us is that boys and girls grow up to be men and women. And one man and one woman marries each other. They become one. Now notice what Jesus is not saying in these words. My spouse is not my soulmate. And my spouse is not my savior. Instead, my spouse is a gift to me as a treasured friend and companion for this life and for this life alone.


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, look at all the traps—all the ways we can sin by not getting this straight in our own minds. We can abusively over-emphasize this truth. We can under-estimate this truth along with the rest of so many today, denying that God is the one who made us male and female. And even when we get married we can sin by making our spouse our soul-mate and even worse, our Savior.


But look what Jesus does. First, Jesus understands perfectly what male and female means. And then he treats them perfectly as they are, male and female. And he does this in our place. Second, he dies and pays for those sins on the cross. For those times I abusively over-emphasize or absurdly under-emphasize them, Jesus pays for them. For the times I forget that my spouse is a companion, not a soul-mate and savior, Jesus paid for those sins.


So Jesus made us male and female first of all, so that male and female would be one in marriage. But, as we read these words we see there is another reason he made us male and female: 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13–16 NIV11-GKE)


He made us male and female so that we would be one. But he also made us male and female so that in marriage we would bring many into this world. Now here is where we need to be careful. For here is where I have people usually throw down objections. So let’s deal with them right here. On the one hand, there possibly some proper objections to having children. If financially, you have severe problems supporting two people, adding more into the family might be a real reason. If you biologically cannot have children, that too is a real reason. And there might be others.


But there other improper objections. And let me speak about two this morning: Selfishness and fearfulness. It is an ever-present temptation to not have children because life would not be as comfortable as it is now. Children take away your money. Children take away your time. And so, if you look at so many cities across our nation what you will find is young married men and women who choose to have a dog instead of children. But there is another reason too: fearfullness. The idea of starting a family is terrifying. There is the real fear of messing up. What happens if the child dies, either at our hand or by others? What happens if that child grows up and leaves the Christian church? I had all of these fears and I had a good, solid example of what marriage should look like since I had a mom and dad all my life. How much worse and more fearful this is if a husband and wife were missing a mom or dad as they grew up.


Look at what our Savior does. First, he speaks a command: Let them come to me. Second, he speaks a promise: The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. If Jesus goes out of his way with both a command and promise to tell you how much he cares for children, won’t he also take care of you as you take care of them? When you mess up and sin (and you will!), won’t he forgive you? Won’t he teach you what it is to be a father and mother through his word? And won’t he remind you that, at the end of the day, these children are cared for by you but they don’t belong to you. They belong to our Lord and Savior Jesus.


And so, always remember the foundation: God made us male and female. He made us male and female to be one and to bring many. Amen.



1 Policies Supporting ALL Genders

Proper 21

Lamb of God

Why This Waste?


What does waste look like? Several weeks ago, I saw a mom walking down the street with her little boy. It was a busy street. And, as you might expect, there were objects that people dropped along the way on the ground. As they were walking down the road the boy stopped, reached down and picked up a piece of candy and ate it. The mom had to stop what she was doing and evaluate what was going on when there was a tug on her arm when the boy stopped. And before she could stop him the candy went into his mouth—dirt and all. This then began the lecture and lesson on why it was bad and wrong to put food that was on the ground in your mouth. And after a very clear, logical presentation of the facts, she said, “So don’t put candy that is on the ground into your mouth.” But I looked at his face. And every detail of his face cried out, “what a waste!” There’s this perfectly good piece of candy on the ground that was just going to waste if he didn’t eat it. And this makes us ask the question: what does waste look like? That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. In Mark 14, we read: 3 While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. 4 But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.” (Mark 14:3–5 CSB17)


What a waste! That’s what all the people said. How much of a waste was this? Perfume—good perfume was expensive. This little jar of perfume was a little less then a year’s wages. Think of one bottle of perfume that was worth a year of your wages. And what does this woman do? She breaks it. With an item that precious you want to make it last and stretch it out. That’s not what this woman did. She broke the container and let the perfume flow over Jesus’ head and the fragrance fill the room. And so the people cry 0ut: “why this waste?” She could have stretched this perfume out. She could have sold it and given the money to the poor. But Jesus’ reaction to what she had done was totally different. They say, “look at the waste.” Jesus, instead, has us look at this woman: 6 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. 7 You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”” (Mark 14:6–9 CSB17)


The first detail that Jesus tells us about this woman is that what she as done was noble and beautiful.1 What she did was noble and beautiful for two reasons: first, they would always be able to worship Jesus by helping out the poor, but they wouldn’t always have Jesus around, face to face, as he was at that time. Second, What she was doing was driven by why she was doing this. She was pouring perfume over his head to prepare for his burial.2 she was pouring perfume over his head to show that she understood what all the others in this room didn’t, that Jesus was going to die. The fact that Jesus was going to die drove her to consider many other details before she walked into that room with that jar of perfume. First, she considered her sin, how real and true her sin was. Second, she saw her own inability to pay for her sins. Third, she saw that, in order to pay for her sin, Jesus could not just dump a large pot of money into the temple treasury to pay for her sin. Her sin was so bad that the only price that could pay for her sin was the death of the sinless Son of God. All of that then drove her to ask the question: why this waste? But she did not ask this question in her soul about the perfume. No, instead she asked this question about herself. What a waste it would be to pay with your own life to redeem a person who would sin after you paid for her life just as much as before. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did for her.


My dear friends in Christ, look at this woman. For we too could ask the same question: not ‘why this waste’ when it comes to perfume poured on Jesus’ head; no instead, we ask ‘why this waste’ when it comes to us and Jesus paying for us. The people in that room had an excuse. They had not seen Jesus die on Good Friday and rise on Easter. But, through God’s word, we have. And yet our great sin is that we so easily forget the price that Jesus paid. And we show it by going out and doing the very sins that Jesus paid to free us from. And so we lie, we cheat, we steal, we lust, we hate. Look at this woman for she saw a Savior’s love that filled her with awe and appreciation enough to break this jar and pour out this perfume on his head. And her Savior’s death on the cross wasn’t just enough to pay for her sins. That price was big enough to pay the world’s sins. That means your sins and my sins too.


Why this waste? From every true and realistic point of view the price that Jesus paid for us was a waste. But Jesus did it anyway, making it valid, true, and full of worth. And so, we might start out asking, ‘why this waste?’ But this morning we end up asking, ‘why this act of worship?’ It was not enough for her to use cheap perfume to prepare for Jesus’ burial. And it was not enough to use a little perfume. She gave Jesus her best in worship purely out of thanks. And the same is true for us. Today Christians give their best to their Savior purely out of thanks.


Now, for the time that remains here this morning, please let me give you two examples of what this looks like. The first is an example of what giving our best does not look like. Years ago there was a grandma. She had a piano in her house. Her children and their children had learned to play the piano on that piano. But now some keys would not depress and some strings were broken. She called Goodwill to see if they would come over and take it. They told her that unless it was in good, working condition, they would not take it. So what did she do? She called her sons and had them come over, put the piano in the back of the truck and then dump it off over at church. That, my dear friends in Christ, is junk for Jesus. That is not our best.


The second example is just the opposite. In my last congregation we wanted to have a processional cross. The processional cross is what we use at Palm Sunday and Good Friday. It is a way of picturing our Savior, who he is and what he has done for us. So I asked one of my elders to look into getting us a processional cross. In the worship books it gave this description: you could take the Christmas tree, and cut it up and then strap together two branches, making a processional cross. Months later, he showed up with this large, beautiful cross I had never seen before made of oak. And he told me, “Pastor, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tie together two branches and pretend that that was worthy of our Lord. I wanted to give my best.” And so he did. And it still stands there in that church as an example of giving our best to our Savior Jesus, purely out of thanks.


I use both of these as examples for each of you. Each of you has gifts, skill, talents and abilities that God has given to you. And like this woman, we give our best to Jesus to worship him and thank him.


And so, we start out asking, “why this waste?” Why would Jesus waste his life to pay for my sins? And when we see his great and undeserved love for us we begin to ask a different question: “why this worship?” We give our best to Jesus purely out of thanks to him. Amen.



1 “ⲕⲁⲗⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:6 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲓⲥⲧⲟ ̄ ⲉⲛⲧⲁⲫⲓⲁⲥⲙⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:8 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 20

coins

This Is Impossible


I cannot do this. One of the great strengths of playing sports is that we very quickly see that there are people out there who have skills and abilities that are impossible for us to have. Years ago I remember watching a football with a guy. And that guy was angry at the quarterback. For the quarterback was having a bad day. And, in a moment of anger, the guy said, “Give me that football; put me on that field. I could do better than that.” So picture a guy with a beer in one hand and a bowl of popcorn in the other who hadn’t exercised in years. he said the words. But he wasn’t convincing anyone in that room that he could have done better than that professional quarterback. But that’s the difference between watching sports and playing them. When you play sports, you have to acknowledge that there are some abilities you do not have. You have to say, “This is impossible for me.” And that truth can be useful. This morning we see the importance of admitting the impossible. In Mark 10, we read: 17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not defraud; honor your father and mother.” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.”” (Mark 10:17–20 CSB17)


It’s hard to hear these words without laughing, isn’t it? So, here you have to picture an earnest, sincere rich young man. He runs up to Jesus. He falls at Jesus’ feet. He asks Jesus what he can do to earn his way into heaven. So Jesus repeats for him part of the ten commandments so that he could remind this young man how impossible it was to keep these commandments. But, instead of admitting his failure, the young man parades his pride. Without a hint of doubt or sarcasm he tells Jesus that he has zealously kept all these commandments all the way from when he was a little boy.


It’s hard to read this and not laugh, is it? But don’t be too quick to laugh. For we too fall to the same sin. Our sin is to underestimate the depth of our sin and how unable and incapable it makes so many parts of our lives. We, just like this young man, might think to ourselves that we have kept the 5th commandment because we haven’t beat up our neighbor with a 2 x 4. But Jesus says, “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” We might conclude that we have kept the 6th commandment. But then Jesus comes along and says, “I tell you the truth, whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her.” Don’t laugh too quickly. For just as it was impossible for this man to see the depth of his own sin, it is impossible for us to see the depth of our own sin too. And if we want to see the depth of our sin, all we have to do is read these words and see where this sin leads to: 21 Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:21–22 CSB17)


Because this man lost sight of the depth of his sin he lost sight of important and necessary wisdom about money. He lost sight of where money came from. He did not have money because he was better than other people. His money did not come from himself. It came from God above. He also lost sight of what you can do with money and what you cannot do with money. You can buy food, shelter, and clothing with it. But that’s about all it’s good for. It was impossible for this man to not trust in money. And in so many ways, we see the same fault and sin in our own hearts. From here, these words take a fascinating turn: 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were astonished at his words. Again Jesus said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished, saying to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God, because all things are possible with God.”” (Mark 10:23–27 CSB17)


Jesus looks at the man and loves him1 This word for love is a very beautiful word in the bible. It’s the sort of love which shows itself by doing what is best for the person you love. And so, because he loves this rich young man, he destroys this man’s love for and trust in money. He tells him, “you’re only missing one little detail. Sell all your stuff, give it to the poor, and follow me.” And with this, he shows this man that his trust in and love for money is far greater than his love for God above.


After that, then notice what happens. The man goes away sad. And then what does Jesus do? He destroys his disciples’ trust in and love of money. In Jesus’ day there was this common opinion that those who were rich were specially chosen to have money and that they were somehow better than the rest. If anyone had a fast-track into heaven, it was the rich people. And Jesus destroys this opinion.


But Jesus isn’t done there. He also destroys our own trust in and love of money. Money cannot buy you true friends. Money cannot buy you true love. Money cannot buy you health now. And money cannot buy heaven later. It is impossible for money to do this. And yet, like this rich young man and like these disciples, we fall into the same trap.


But notice how these words close. What is impossible for us, is possible for God. And it’s not just possible, it’s provided in Christ. Where was Jesus’ mansion here on this earth? He slept most night under the open sky. Where was Jesus 401k for his “golden years?” Where was his “Cadillac insurance policy?” As you read God’s word what do you find as you read about Jesus? You see our substitute and Savior who trusted not in money, but instead in his Father to provide for him. And he did this perfectly in our place.


What was impossible for us, was possible for God and provided in Christ. This is true when it came to his obedience in our place. But it’s also true when it comes to his punishment in our place. On the cross Jesus did what was impossible for sinful humans like us. Jesus predicted that he would die and then pick up his body on the third day, proving that he paid for our sins. And he did it. Not just his obedience was provided for us; his punishment in our place was impossible too, but it was provided for us, in our place.


These words then invite us not just to ponder what we cannot do with money. They also invite us to ponder what we can do with money. Jesus did what was impossible for us to do. He was perfectly obedient in our place. He was punished in our place. And that leaves us with the question: How can we remind ourselves what it is impossible for our money to give? How can we use our money to remind ourselves what it is good for and not good for? Have you ever wondered why God’s work encourages us to give an offering regularly? Sure, your pastor is paid every couple of weeks and we pay bills every month. But that’s not the biggest and best reason we give offerings every week. Every week and every day our sinful nature lies to us and tells us that money can give us protection that it cannot give and joy that it cannot deliver. And so, as a way of reminding us where deliverance and joy comes from, what do we do? We put a part of our money in the offering plate. And when you put that money in the offering plate, there is that sinful nature saying to you, “You need that money; you can have real and true fun with that money.” And week after week, you prove that sinful voice to be a liar. For God gives you so much joy; so much contentment and every other gift even though you give that money away every week.


This is impossible. That is where we began. It is impossible for us to see the depth of our sin. It is impossible for us to not trust in and love our money. How thankful we are that what is impossible for us is promised and provided in Christ. His trust in his Father was perfect. His payment was impossible for us, but provided by him. Let us, week by week, remind ourselves of this fact in our offerings. Amen.



1 “ⲏⲅⲁⲡⲏⲥⲉⲛ” (Mark 10:21 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 19

denarius

What Drives Our Giving?


People are fascinating. When I first started High School, we had to take fine arts classes. So I signed up for drama classes. And one of the first homework assignments I had was to go out somewhere and study someone so that we could act and pretend to be that person for a minute or two. So that’s what I did. I went across the street from our home to the grade school. I took out a notebook and a pen and studied the children. And there was this boy who began to tie his shoes. But half way through he realized that it was work to tie his shoes. So he put on the saddest face—the sort of face that makes mom’s sigh and dads act. And then he said, “Teacher, I need help.” And as the teacher kneeled down and tied his shoe for him, this smug, self-contented smile spread across his face, as if to say, “Life is good. My mom makes me tie my shoes at home. But I just successfully trained my teacher to tie my shoes at school. Life is good.” I walked home after that thinking to myself one thought: people are fascinating. But I was not the only one who thought that people were fascinating. Jesus too thought that people were fascinating too. And they were so fascinating that they were worthy of time to observe and study. And in our gospel for this morning that’s exactly what Jesus does. In Mark 12, we read: “Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury.” (Mark 12:41 CSB17)


As we read these words, it’s important to see the setting. It’s Holy Week. Jesus is in the temple area. He has just answered every tough question brought to him. And now no one is coming forward to test and challenge him. And so, for a rare moment in time, he has spare time. But he doesn’t let it go to waste. He sits down. Then he stares at and studies the people in the temple because they are fascinating to him.1 And as he does this, what is it that he sees? 41 Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.” (Mark 12:41–42 CSB17)


What Jesus sees first is crowds of people coming up and dropping their offering into the temple treasury. But then, as time goes by, he sees more. He sees how there were many rich people who stopped by and dropped large sums of money into the treasury. This is a reminder for us that in those days there was no such thing as a check or credit card. If you had masses of money you had to carry it. One of the parts of the Old Testament that I thought was funny when I first read it was the description of Abraham. In our english versions it just says that Abraham was “rich” in gold and silver. But in the Hebrew it says that he was weighed down with gold and silver.2(Genesis 13:2 BHS-T)}} If you were rich, it was hard to hide it. Everyone could see the masses of money that these rich people brought because they had to carry them. Or, to be more specific, they had people to carry them. And as all of this happens, Jesus is just sitting there. But then there is this change in Jesus. And we hear about this in the verses which follow: “Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:43 CSB17)


So Jesus is sitting there watching one person after another. But then he sees someone get in line. And what he sees fascinates him. He sees one woman. He does not see teams and groups of people, as with the rich people. And he sees that she is a widow. There is no husband to go with her and support her. And then the final detail we learn about her is that she is poor. There was no trust-fund for her or life insurance. Her income died with her husband. Jesus sees her and studies her. In fact she is so fascinating to him that he calls his disciples over to him. And he tells them all that this one woman gave more than all the others who showed up that day. And then he tells them why this was true: “For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had—all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:44 CSB17)


Notice the contrast Jesus sees. On the one hand, what drove all these people to give was the fact that they had enough if not even more than enough. And because they had enough, they could give some to the Lord. But just the opposite was true with this poor, lonely widow. What drove her to give was her lack. She did not have a husband. She did not have and income. And with that lack she arrived at a conclusion: “I can do no nothing because I have nothing.” And that was what fascinated Jesus. For from that conclusion she arrived at an even more important conclusion: “Since I can do nothing, the Lord will have to do everything. He will have to be the one who will save me from sin and from starvation.” And from this conclusion she arrived at a final conclusion: “since the Lord will provide for me, I can give freely and joyfully to him.” And so she did.


Joy in Christ—that’s what drove her giving. But for us here today, what is it that drives our giving? Here is where we face two temptations: first, our temptation is to give out of apathy and peer-pressure. After the sermon ends and it’s time for the offering we look around and all the other people are giving. I guess I should. And so, without much thinking and pondering we put our money in the plate. That’s one temptation. But the other temptation is just as bad. The second temptation is to give out of panic and desperation. We publish these numbers in our bulletin every week. And if we don’t understand them properly, we they can lead us to sin. If I see a negative number here in the bulletin, it’s so easy to conclude, “I have to give because if I don’t this church might close down.” And that’s not true at all. I’ve been in many congregations over the years and what causes churches to close down is a lack of love for God’s word, not a lack of money. The lack of money is an effect, not a cause. In one of the churches I served in, there was a guy who bought into a false teaching. And when our congregation refused to give into that false teaching he left. And he left with a strange sort of glee. You see, he was a very generous giver to the church—and everyone knew it. And, with glee, he left the church, expecting it to fold because he was no longer there. But the church didn’t collapse. In fact, it grew. It was a powerful reminder that that church belonged to Jesus. He died for those people. He gave them faith. He gave them their daily bread. And our great trap is to either care too little about our offerings (apathy) or to care too much (panic and desperation).


Those are our temptations. But what is the truth we see in these words? Just look at that widow. Did Jesus rescue her from her sin? And there’s the amazing part: we find no hint that she even knew he was there. But she knew her good and gracious Lord would forgive her sins. And the same is true for us. And did Jesus rescue her from her starvation? Year after year we walk through these words in catechism class. And I ask the kids: “So, do you think that this widow put her coins in the box and then went home and died of starvation.” And, in all my years of asking that question, they all had the same answer: “no.” They knew that the same Savior, Jesus, who died for us will also provide for us.


So where does that leave us this morning? That leaves us in the same place as this one poor widow. What drives us to give is our great joy in Christ. And what this joy in Christ drives us to do is to give freely. So when we get to that part when I say, “We continue with our thank-offering,” care about that money that you put in that offering plate. But do not let your care be driven by pressure or panic. Give freely, out of joy in Christ. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲑⲉⲱⲣⲉⲓ” (Mark 12:41 GNT-ALEX)

2 ”וְאַבְרָ֖ם כָּבֵ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד בַּמִּקְנֶ֕ה בַּכֶּ֖סֶף וּבַזָּהָֽב׃“