A Message From “Old Long Robes”

Mark 12:38-44
As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 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.”

Pent22 / First Lutheran Church / 11-8-15 / John Stiles

Children’s Time: Have you ever made a tent? It’s fun! I brought this blanket from home so we can try it. And I have this flashlight, too, since it can get dark. Should we invite anyone else in? Maybe mom or dad? What about a friend or even a stranger? You see… if we just keep the tent for ourselves and no one else, it can get lonely and even a little stuffy in there! Plus, others might need a friend and would love to join us. In our lesson today, Jesus was worried about people in church who cared only for themselves. They had a lot of nice things (fine clothes, fancy dinners, and they were famous – everybody knew their names) but they didn’t even notice this poor woman in need among them. Did you know that we have a Food Shelf drop off in the main office? You can bring a can of soup, a box of cereal or a turkey for our Thanksgiving Baskets and leave it in the office and we deliver it to people who are hungry. That’s just one way we’re helping others instead of just ourselves. Can you think of anymore? So, having a tent is great – but let’s not get so turned in on ourselves that we forget the rest of the world.

06 Mar 2015 --- Parents creating fort over sleeping children --- Image by © Hero Images/Corbis

06 Mar 2015 — Parents creating fort over sleeping children — Image by © Hero Images/Corbis

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God our First Love in Christ Jesus. Let all who hear say ‘Come!’ Amen.

When I was a little boy, we used to love making a fort in the basement out of blankets. It was the perfect activity for a snow day off from school. We would raid the linen closet and bring out every blanket and sheet we could get our hands on. Then we’d drape them over chairs and stretch them out into hallways and secret chambers – making sure to weight down the sheets with copies of the Sears-Roebuck catalogue, The Encyclopedia Britannica, Webster’s Dictionary – the bigger the book the better to hold up the walls of our fortress!

And if we were lucky, we’d find a fitted sheet we could install over the entryway of our fort – right in front of a box fan set on ‘high,’ so it would poof out into a great, billowing drawbridge. I’m telling you, it was the best – except for one small thing: the older kids got to go in in at first. They had to ‘check things out’ and make sure it was okay. Well you can imagine how that went over with the younger ones… No one likes to be left out in the cold, excluded or ignored.

So, who gets to come into our tent this morning? Who’s invited? Isn’t the church just one big tent? And yet, who’s on the outside looking in today? Who might we be reluctant to welcome because they’re ‘like us’? Or they might not want to play our games – or they might knock something over – or fart and stink up the whole tent! Each week, on Sunday morning we gather for coffee hour in between services in the Koinonia Hall. That word, koinonia, literally means (in Greek) ‘community.’ The church desperately needs opportunities to simply be together and to lift each other up in the Body of Christ. We come to belong to something greater than ourselves… and only then are we sent to become who God intended us to be.

Because we all know that if it’s only “about us” then we’ve already ceased being that Body – the church of God in this place. If it’s all about self-preservation then we’ve already lost our way. The classic definition of sin is to be turned in on oneself.  It’s bound to happen – we’re made that way – to bend inward, toward self-preservation – to look after our own interests. Heck, even Jesus reminds us of the greatest commandment: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – and love your neighbor as yourself. And I’ll be the first one to say, “You’ve got to take care of yourself or you’ll be no good to anyone else!”

(half) The Widow's mite. (Woman placing coin in box for the poor at church graveyard as ghost of woman watches.) Stereo, c1876 by Melander & Bro. (no --- Image by © CORBIS

(half) The Widow’s mite. Stereo, c1876 by Melander & Bro. no — Image by © CORBIS

And that’s well and good – even necessary for healthy living – but… then there’s this widow giving her two copper coins. All that she had to live on! And I’m not sure what to make of her. I got to preach this sermon yesterday at the Woodland Good Samaritan Home at the 4:00 service where, wouldn’t you know, half my audience were widows. Hoo boy!

Who’s invited into your tent today? In what way is the Holy Spirit prying your fingers open – from a posture of fear and hoarding, turned inward – to a posture of abundance, turned outward, where all are welcome? Jesus doesn’t hold back. He goes right for the scribes, in their vain attempts to get attention and care only for themselves. And, for me, this hits close to home:

Long robes? Check.
Respect in the marketplaces? For the most part.
Best seat in the synagogue? Yep.
Says long prayers? We’ll see.
Devour widows’ houses? Where did that come from?

Nobody said anything about hurting poor old widows. That’s the rub in our gospel lesson for today. They didn’t even notice the plight of this poor woman among them. Jesus makes sure to point out this widow to the disciples, but it’s easy to miss the tone of his voice. Is he saying, “Look at that widow who gave more than all the others – you should go and do likewise?” Or, is it a tone of disgust: “Look at that poor widow, being taken advantage of by these ungrateful brats in their flowing robes!”

I don’t think it’s about the amount that poor widow put into the treasury. No, one of the mistakes we make with this lesson is that we assume we, too, should “dig deep” and give away all that we have like this widow. I think it’s more about the motivation behind the gift that matters.

It reminds me of Stumpy & Martha. Stumpy and his wife Martha went to the state fair every year. Every year Stumpy would say, “Martha, I’d like to ride in that there airplane.” And every year Martha would say, “I know, Stumpy, but that airplane ride costs $10, and $10 is $10.”

One year Stumpy and Martha went to the fair and Stumpy said, “Martha, I’m 71 years old. If I don’t ride that airplane this year I may never get another chance.” Martha replied, “Stumpy, that there airplane ride costs $10, and $10 is $10.” The pilot overheard them and said, “Folks, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take you both up for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say one word, I won’t charge you. But if you say one word, it’s $10.”

Stumpy and Martha agreed, and up they went. The pilot did all kinds of twists and turns, rolls and dives, but not a word or a squeal was heard. He did all his tricks over again, but still not a word or a sound. They landed and the pilot turned to Stumpy, “By golly, I did everything I could think of to get you to yell out, but you didn’t. I can’t charge you the $10. The ride is free.”

Stumpy replied, “Well, I was gonna say something when Martha fell out back there, but $10 is $10.”

Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also?” (Mt. 6:21) Yes, the money is important, and yet, wealth is about more than just money. Untold wealth was in the members of the AME church in Charleston, SC who gave that shooter the undeserved gift of forgiveness. It’s all they had to give him. He’d already taken the lives of their loved ones. That’s a wealth that is immeasurable. People think you need money to get something off the ground. And yet, most of the movements that changed the world didn’t come out of financial gain. Paul was a tent-maker who received donations from the church in Macedonia. MLK, Ghandi, all of those guys didn’t have a lot of funding. But they were wealthy in other ways.

So, how do we better steward our money? How do we make room in the tent until no one is ignored or overlooked? We commit ourselves to pay better attention. We notice the least of these who have been forgotten – before it comes down to their last two pennies! We watch for our veterans returning home and we provide support groups for them to re-learn how to live with PTSD in civilian society. We give a turkey or prepare a meal this Thanksgiving so a family won’t go hungry in this land of plenty. We open our hearts to Syrian refugees, refusing to paint all Muslims as terrorists, as we welcome the stranger.

Don’t take it from me, “Old Long Robes.” No, take it from Jesus who once said, “I came as a guest, and you received me.” (Matt. 25:35). Let’s build a tent big enough for all to come and find peace and belonging this day. Let us pray:

O God, you gift us with many things. May we use them as stewards – to your glory – and toward the betterment of those in need among us – so that all might be welcome in your kingdom, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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