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Nov 11, 2018

Choosing To Serve

Passage: Mark 12:38-44

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: The Choice Is Yours

Category: Sermon Series


Our scripture reading today takes place during Jesus’ final week.  He’s in the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem and he’s talking to the crowd around him about the scribes (a group of religious priests).  Mark 12:38-44

Giving offerings at the temple in Jesus’ day was a very public affair.  In the temple courtyard there were up to 13 urns and people put coins into one or more of those urns.  The coins were weighted.  The more valuable coins were larger and weighed more.  The lesser coins were smaller and lighter.  Because the giving was done outside, in front of others, everyone could tell how much you gave based on how much noise your offering made.  Lots of noise meant a big offering.  Little noise meant a lesser offering.  So when scripture says that “many people put in large sums,” it was because everyone heard the loud noise.  And when we hear that poor widow put in two copper coins, we know that it made hardly any noise at all.

And yet this story is not really about money, because the amount the poor widow gave, two copper coins, is not what made her heroic.  The copper coin she gave was called a Lepton and was worth 1/128 of a daily wage.  In today’s terms she gave about 60 cents!  My kids give more than that when they give offerings to the church from the commission they earn from doing chores around the house.  And even their gifts don’t really impact our church budget in any meaningful way.  The same was true with the widow.  Her actual gift was insignificant. 

Some, though, might push back and say this story is about money.  For this reason: the scribes were group of priests.  They worked in the temple and could have also been the “guardians for the poor.”  They were the ones in society designated to care for the less fortunate – people like this poor widow.  This poor widow would have been a “ward of the state” and the scribes were the guardians of those “wards of the state.”  The theory about why Jesus is so mad at them is that the scribes wore their long priestly robes in public to give the appearance of being trustworthy.  They used this image to gain the trust of the poor – and access to whatever resources the poor had – and then they used that access to rob from them and exploit them.  Then, as if this wasn’t enough, they watched at the temple as the same poor widows they had already robbed from, gave offerings at the temple, which would end up benefiting them, since they worked at the temple!  It was a racket of injustice and it is why Jesus tells the crowd, “They will receive the greater condemnation!!!” 

And it is why the widow is the hero of the story.  She gave up everything she had, so says Jesus.  When we hear this about her, we are reminded of what happened earlier in the Gospel story.  A man with many possessions ran up to Jesus asking what he must do to gain eternal life.  He doesn’t really care to listen to Jesus’ answer, because he thinks he knows it already.  He’s been following the Laws of God his whole life, so he assumes Jesus will say “You’re fine!   There’s nothing more to do.”  But when Jesus says “there is one thing you lack.  Give up your possessions and follow me,” the man goes home.  He doesn’t follow Jesus and he doesn’t give up anything.  The poor widow gave up everything.  The man with everything couldn’t give up anything.  The man claims to want to follow Jesus but is unable to do what is required.  The poor widow doesn’t say a word.  But she’s already doing what is necessary to follow, whether she knows it or not. 

And that… is why she’s the hero.  She’s a follower, and this story is about following more than it is about money.  What Jesus wants most are followers.  In fact, three different times in his ministry he gave what we call Calls to Discipleship (Invitations to follow him; clarifications of what this means).  First, he said “If any want to be my followers let them deny themselves, take up the cross and follow me.”  The second time he said, “Whoever wants to be first of all must be last of all and servant of all.”  And the last time, he said “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” 

These three things were so important to Jesus because he modeled them for us in this life.  He denied himself (his own life and his own future) in taking up his cross.  He was willing to be last (to die on that cross) so that we could be first (that we could be saved).  And he came not to serve his own will; his own plans, but to serve God and to serve our best interest.  He chose to model this life for us and he deeply desires that we choose to follow it in the way we live. 

That’s why, mostly, this story is about choices – and what we choose to do.  Today is week 2 of a November sermon series called “The Choice is Yours” at Central.  We don’t always choose the way life unfolds for us but we can choose how we respond.  Last week we talked about how we choose to respond to adversity – the adversity that death creates in our lives when a loved one leaves us.  Today our focus is on making the choice to serve and not to be served.  The scribes are condemned by Jesus because they chose to be served – Everything they did was about them; furthering and bettering themselves at the expense of others.  The widow was praised because she chose to serve.  She got Jesus; understood him; and was following him already without ever speaking a single word of confession of faith in him. 

And Jesus’ implied question to us is: What are we choosing to do with our lives?  Are we choosing to be served?  Are we here so that others affirm us, praise us and support us and all of our ideas and positions?  Or are we here to serve?  To give?  To share of whatever it is we have for the betterment of others?  To be willing to be last; to step back so that others might shine?  In this case there really is only one right answer.

Next week we will celebrate Thanksgiving.  This is the time of year that we focus on gratitude; how we are grateful for our harvests of the past year.  Literal harvests and metaphorical ones.  Being thankful for however we see ourselves as abundantly blessed.  One of the abundant gifts with which God has blessed us as a church is you!  And the choice you have made to serve others through your participation and involvement through Central Christian. 

Sometimes that’s service done in very public, formal ways that everyone can see – on Sunday morning, as greeters, ushers, deacons, elders, musicians, liturgists, and hospitality.  Sometimes in in behind-the-scenes ways like working in the kitchen and teaching in classrooms; or working on the property or serving at Good Sam; or keeping our finances in order; or visiting hospitals and sending cards of encouragement.  And sometimes its in very informal ways, like inviting friends to worship; making donations; offering prayers that others may never know your speaking; being a role model for others by attending bible studies and small groups.  But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, want to say “thank you” to everyone in the church for the choices you make to serve others through this church; for the choice you have made to be more like the poor widow and less like the scribes.  And as a way of saying “thank you” we have pens to give out to everyone.  A small gift from us to all of you as a gesture of thanksgiving for all the ways you Choose to Serve.