Sermon for Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Mark 12:38-44
Sermon Theme: “Life Without ‘Spiritual’ Social Security”
(Sources: Brokhoff, Series B, Preaching Workbook; Anderson, Cycle B, Preaching Workbook; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Believer’s Commentary; Nelson’s Three-in-One; original ideas and examples; Online Jokes: Stewardship of Life; Online Religious Humor about Church Tithing; Luther’s Small Catechism and Explanation.)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
“It’s always about money!,” an early teaching colleague of mine used to say whenever he talked about his church, which was a denomination other than Lutheran. “In my church, we’re always being hit up to give more money, more, more, more,” he continued.
Being Lutheran and having grown up in the Lutheran Church, I searched my memory, and said that I never heard any of my pastors talk about giving more money.
“What did they talk about?” he asked.
“Oh,” said I, “our old Herr Pastors always talked about sin, repentance, hell fire, and get yourself to church!”
As an immigrant church, still holding most of our services in German, and living right after the Great Depression, we couldn’t talk about money, because we didn’t have any.
Before Concordia Junior College in Austin became Concordia Lutheran University, each fall my grandmother would tithe several dozen jars of home-canned pickles to the Concordia cafeteria. As one of only a few musicians in all of Dime Box, my mother tithed her playing the organ for every service all year long. My grandfather would tithe ham, bacon and sausage to the pastor and his wife every time my family killed hog.
You see, while stewardship was expected and talked about, money never was.
During announcements time at the end of the worship service, one rather prominent-looking parishioner stood up and boasted, “I’m a millionaire, and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday.
“I had just earned my first dollar,” he continued, “and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I had only one dollar to my name, and I had to either give it all to God’s work or give nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give all I had to God. I believe God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”
The congregation applauded loudly, and as he took his seat, a little old lady stood up and said, “I dare you to do it again!”
In our sermon text for today, Jesus warns the disciples against the Scribes, who, in their greed, devour widows’ houses. He warns against the prideful hypocrisy so characteristic of their behavior. They love to go about in long robes, pray pretentious prayers and like to be seen in the places of honor. They act piously, but their behavior doesn’t square with their image. For such “spiritual sinning,” they will receive a greater judgment than others.
Jesus wants the disciples to see the contrast between the poor widow who gives two small coins (all she has) and the smug, pretentious Scribes.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus had to struggle with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes, who became His enemies, stirring up the people against Jesus, and eventually being responsible for His crucifixion. In some of His encounters during His ministry, Jesus mentions all three of these groups, but in our text He singles out the Scribes. The fact that He points them out specifically means they were His greatest threat.
So who were the Scribes?
Judaism taught that God’s Law revealed the Will of God. God’s Law was found in the Torah, which, according to the Sadducees, was made up of the 5 Books of Moses (including the Ten Commandments), and all of what we now call the Old Testament, especially the Levitical Law. According to the Pharisees, however, it also included the oral interpretations of the Rabbis.
Since most laws are not always clear, for centuries, priests, prophets, and rabbis of the church interpreted the Law. When the sects of Judaism developed, — Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, — interpretation of the Law no longer stayed in the hands of the clergy. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees acquired “Scribes” (I guess they hired them) to interpret the Law, and these Scribes were laymen, not clergy. The Sadducees were skeptics, so you wonder how “spiritual” their Scribes were.
Perhaps that gives you a little more insight into why Jesus found Himself in such conflict with the Scribes. No doubt their interpretation of the role of the Messiah would not mesh with Isaiah’s and the other Prophets. And the Sadducees of course did not believe in heaven or in angels.
The Levitical law in Leviticus 27:30-33 called for a person to tithe to God ten percent of the grain he produced, the fruit which ripened on his trees, one of every ten of his animals from his flocks, etc., and these must not be the culls either, but of the best quality. A Scribe from the Pharisees and a Scribe from the Sadducees might disagree in the interpretation of this Law.
Christian denominations disagree on the interpretation of the ten percent tithe, — some saying that the New Covenant, which Jesus came to fulfill, no longer calls for obedience to this Law. Others saying ten percent is still required. Individuals within denominations disagree on the interpretation of the tithe. I believe that what a person gives is strictly between him and God.
My parents had a strict interpretation of tithing. When my father went to work for the railroad, and we had more income, I was given an allowance of a quarter each week, and I was to give a tithe from that twenty-five cents, which my math told me was two and a half cents per Sunday.
I asked my mother how I could possible give two and a half cents, and she said I must give a nickel, because God expects a tithe AND an offering, — 2 ½ Cents tithe and 2 ½ Cents offering. So, because my Scribe told me I had to give a nickel every Sunday, I gave a nickel, plus another one for Sunday School; that left me fifteen cents. But, you know, you could get four pieces of candy for a penny in those days, and two dips of ice cream for a nickel.
A little boy’s daddy took him to church for the first time one day, — he’d never been inside a church before. The boy watched carefully as the ushers passed around the offering plates during the service. When one of the offering plates was brought to their pew, the boy said loudly, “Don’t pay for me, Daddy, I’m under five!”
In the modern world, we’ve stopped teaching our children to give to the church. If a child is given an allowance, he tithes that allowance; if he or she has no income whatsoever, the Ancient Law allows him to give no money.
And that was true for the destitute widow in our text. In spite of all the talk about Social Security going bankrupt eventually, most Americans are counting on Social Security for their retirement and many already have Social Security and Medicare. In the days of Jesus, if a widow had no children to take care of her, she was destitute, as there was no Social Security and no Medicaid or Medicare.
Under Levitical law, because of her poverty, she would not have had to give anything. She had three choices, — to give one of her copper coins, to give both of her copper coins, or to give nothing. She chose to give everything she had. Jesus said of her, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The Scribes glistened on the outside, but inside, they were anything but pretty. With great wealth and positions of prestige, they had great financial Social Security. Beneath the surface of their false righteousness lurked pride, lies, jealousy, covetousness, and greed. Because of their hypocrisy and their plots against Jesus, they had no “spiritual” Social Security whatsoever. Because of her love of, and faith in, God, the poor widow had the highest level of Spiritual Social Security.
Keith and Ariana began their Spiritual Social Security today through the blessed Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Four chapters beyond our sermon text in Mark’s gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Acts 2:38 says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The Scribes had no intention of repenting, nor going to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, nor accepting Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
As we remember our own baptism today, we rejoice in our own “Spiritual” Social Security which began with water and the word. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.