Sunday’s sermon: For the Sake of Generosity

two coins

Text used – Mark 12:28-44

I don’t have an audio recording of the sermon this week and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, our worship services will be virtually attended only until further notice. (See our Facebook page for more details.) Our virtual worship is a pared-down version of worship – opening prayer, Lenten reading (for now), Scripture, shortened sermon, prayer, and blessings. Sometimes, I’ll stream a hymn, too. So instead of an audio recording of only the sermon, I’ll be embedding the YouTube video of the whole service.

  • Since September of last year, we’ve been following the Narrative Lectionary – a pre-selected collection of Scripture readings. The reading for today has literally been set for years – since the Narrative Lectionary was created in 2010. And today, not for the first time, we find ourselves reading a pre-selected Scripture passage that speaks so powerfully and so meaningfully to what’s happening in the world today. → today’s Scripture = 3 short stories drawn together with a common thread: generosity
  • Flip things around today start with last story and work our way backward
    • 1st story we’re going to tackle = story of the widow with the 2 coins[1]
      • Basics: Jesus and his disciples are hanging out in the Temple grounds across from where the collection box sits (think a slightly more sophisticated version of the donations mailbox that we set out during Gold Rush! – locked box always available for faithful worshippers’ offerings) all the rich people are going by the collection box and ostentatiously tossing in whatever spare coins they’ve got in their money pouches (lots of money, to be sure, but nothing compared to what they’ve got stored up at home) enter the poor widow approaches the collection box and puts in two small copper coins that equal only one single penny together
      • Often talked about in sermons as a story of financial generosity – “See how generously the widow gave? I pray that you be inspired by the widow’s generosity as you consider your own giving.” (popular one on stewardship Sunday, right?)
      • But I think there’s a greater generosity underlying that financial giving at play here. Jesus makes it clear that this widow is giving despite having next to nothing to give – text (Jesus to the disciples): She from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”[2]  The poor widow’s generosity of finances is a symptom of a greater generosity: generosity of trust. She lives a hard, hard life. She must. As a widow in that society and time, she has no husband to support and protect and shelter her. She must have no male relatives or sons to care for her either because she is clearly destitute. If she had another male providing for her, she would have had more to put in the collection box than just a few half-penny coins. But clearly, she has nothing. And yet she is unwavering in her trust that God will care for her. She is wholehearted in that trust. She is generous in that trust, dolling it out with great abandon, with a heart that is all in.
    • Backing up in Scripture a bit = 2nd story (a bit trickier than the story we just talked about) story of Jesus criticizing the Pharisees and the Sadducees again
      • Basics: Jesus is teaching in the Temple pointing out what he sees as some flaws in the Pharisees’ logic about the identity of the Messiah denounces the pretentious, deceitful, and conceited way the Pharisees conduct themselves – text (Jesus to the crowd): “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off, they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”[3]  Jesus is calling out the Pharisees because they are dishonest and disingenuous. They are false in their actions. They are false in their dealings. They are false in their prayers. In contrast, Jesus is encouraging the crowd to a generosity of truth. Unlike the Pharisees, who are stingy with the truth, Jesus is encouraging the crowds to be generous in the way they live and portray and enact the truth.
        • Be truthful in dealing with one another (unlike the Pharisees!)
          • Sharing the truth of who they are (instead of pretense and façade of the Pharisees)
          • Sharing the truth of experiences and business practices (instead of the cheating and swindling of the Pharisees)
        • Be truthful in dealings with God (unlike the Pharisees)
          • Sharing the truth of their hearts and their faith with God in ways that are genuine (instead of long-winded and showy like the Pharisees)
    • Along these lines – 1st story in the reading = Jesus’ teaching about which commandments are the greatest probably familiar because it’s in this part of Mk’s gospel that lays out the Golden Rule
      • Basics: one of the Pharisees asks Jesus which commandment is the most important Jesus’ response: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”[4] Pharisee actually agrees with Jesus Jesus praises the Pharisee for his wisdom
      • In this part of our passage today, Jesus is talking about a generosity of love.
        • Love for God no-holds-barred, whole-self kind of love (all your heart, all your being, all your mind, all your strength)
        • Love for one another This is that agape kind of love – love that places Other above Self, love that acts for the good rather than for the gain.
        • Between these two commandments – love God and love your neighbor as yourself – there is literally no one not covered by this generosity of love.
          • God? Covered.
          • Neighbor? Jesus has made it clear throughout his teaching that that means anybody and everybody, no restrictions.
          • Self? Yup. (“Love your neighbor as yourself” implies the importance of being generous with your love for yourself as well)
  • Jesus is speaking over and over again about all the ways in which we need to be generous – generous with each other, generous with God, generous with our trust and our truth and our faith. In all times. But especially in this time. Be generous with each other – helping each other; connecting with each other in ways that are safe but meaningful; checking in with each other by asking, “How are you?” and being generous enough with our trust and our truth to truly response and truly listen to the response. We are living in times like none of us have ever lived through before, friends, and above all, they are times that will take abundant faith, abundant hope, and abundant love. God is beyond generous in sharing these things with us. So let us be generous with one another. Amen.

[1] Mk 12:41-44.

[2] Mk 12:44.

[3] Mk 12:38-40.

[4] Mk 12:30-31.