Search

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Christ the King – November 25, 2018

2 Samuel 23:1-7 – David’s last words: He has made with me an everlasting covenant. For a post on 2 Samuel 23 click David’s Last Words.

OR

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14– Daniel’s apocalypse: the son of man comes in the clouds to the Ancient One and is given dominion and glory and kingship.

Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18) – O Lord, remember David’s hardships and his faithfulness.

OR

Psalm 93 – Ever since the world began, your throne has been established. (Ps. 93:3)

Revelation 1:4b-8– He is coming on the clouds, and every eye will see him. I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord.

John 18:33-37 – Jesus: My kingdom is not of this world. I testify to the truth. Pilate: What is truth?

Famous Last Words

 

Christ the King Sunday, sometimes called The Reign of Christ today, is the last Sunday of the church year. Next week we begin a new church year, with the first Sunday of Advent. We also begin year three of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary. The gospel readings will soon focus on Luke’s gospel.

It is the last Sunday of the church year. We often focus on last things. The first reading, from 2 Samuel 23, begins, “These are the last words of David…” . Ralph Klein points out that these are the first of many “last words of David,” in the Bible. He counts ten (Exodus 23:1ff, 2 Samuel 23, 1 Kings 2:2-4, 5-9, 1 Chronicles 22:7-16,17-19; 28: 2-10, 20-21; 29:1-5, 10-19; 23:27). Even Luther had some doubt about David’s last words. That’s okay. Jesus had seven last “words.” Wherever you land, it might be a fun and enlightening time to gather together the purported last words of several famous people, and perhaps think about our own last words, our last will and testament, our legacy. What will your last words be? I’ve done a post on this here: David’s Last Words.

The Oldest Fragment of the New Testament

A few years ago Susan and I went down the Houston Museum of Natural History to see a traveling exhibit to view the oldest written piece of the New Testament in existence: Papyrus P52, found at an Egyptian market in 1920 and dated to 125 A.D. It was a bit of a fool’s errand, because, so what? You can see it online, and inspect it in closer detail. I’ll paste it here for you. But it felt like a bit of a pilgrimage for someone who has devoted his life and career to this carpenter from Nazareth who stood before Pilate nearly 2,000 years ago.

The fragment is two-sided. Both sides are from John 18, our text for this coming Sunday. On the front in the image here is John 18:31-33. On the back is John 18:37-38.

In the latter, Pilate famously asks, “What is truth?”

Below I will boldface and underline the words you can see in the fragment:

Front: John 18:31-33

11_25_1png

31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves

and judge him according to your law.” Then replied

The Jews, “For us it is not permitted to kill

anyone.” 32 So that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, that he

spoke signifying the kind of death he was

to die. 33 Entering therefore again into the

Pratorium, Pilate summoned Jesus,

and said to him, “Are you the King of the

Jews?”

31εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Λάβετε αὐτὸνὑμεῖς,

καὶ κατὰ τὸν νόμον ὑμῶν κρίνατε αὐτόν. εἶπον αὐτῷ

οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, Ἡμῖν οὐκ ἔξεστιν ἀποκτεῖναι

οὐδένα: 32ἵνα ὁ λόγος τοῦ Ἰησοῦ πληρωθῇ ὃν

εἶπεν σημαίνωνποίῳ θανάτῳ ἤμελλεν

ἀποθνῄσκειν. 33Εἰσῆλθεν οὖν πάλιν εἰς τὸ

πραιτώριον ὁΠιλᾶτος καὶ ἐφώνησεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν

Back: John 18:37-38

11_25_2

37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king.

For this I was born, and for this I came into the

world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs

to the truth listens to my voice.”

38 Said to him Pilate, “What is truth?”

And this having been said, he went out to

the Jews again and told them, “I find not one fault in

him.”

37εἶπεν οὖναὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Οὐκοῦν βασιλεὺς εἶ σύ;

ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Σὺ λέγεις ὅτι βασιλεύς εἰμι. ἐγὼ εἰς

τοῦτο γεγέννημαι καὶ εἰς τοῦτο ἐλήλυθα εἰς τὸν

κόσμον, ἵνα  μαρτυρήσω  τῇ ἀληθείᾳ: πᾶς ὁ ὢν

κ τῆς ἀληθείας ἀκούει μου τῆς φωνῆς.

38λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Τί ἐστιν ἀλήθεια;

Καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν πάλιν ἐξῆλθεν πρὸς

τοὺς  Ἰουδαίους, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἐγὼ οὐδεμίαν αἰτίαν εὑρίσκω ἐν

αὐτ

The word “truth” appears one time in Matthew. Once. Twice in Mark. Three times in Luke. But the word “truth” appears no less than 21 times in the Gospel of John.

Jesus is the word made flesh, full of grace and truth. Grace and truth appear together in the Hebrew Bible, especially the psalms. Truth is the quality of Yahweh, who is faithful to his promises, the covenants. The law is filled with grace and truth in the Old Testament. John transfers this to Jesus. (St. John’s Gospel, R. H. Lightfoot, 1956)

The truth comes from above. Falsehood comes from below. The law comes through Moses, John says, but truth comes through Jesus. True worshippers worship in spirit and in truth. The truth sets you free. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. The Spirit guides us into all truth. In John, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

In today’s passage, Pilate represents the State. The government. Lightfoot sees Pilate/The State as considering the tension between Law and Gospel, as represented by Jesus and his opponents, the religious leaders. The State has no interest in arbitrating this conflict according to Lightfoot. He doesn’t hate Jesus. He’s just uninterested.

Our text is just verses 33-37. The NRSV translates Praetorium as “headquarters” since most people today don’t know what a Praetorium is:

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters[a] again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

I think this text will preach in the current climate of fake news. A political figure asks, “What is truth?”

In a recent interview, President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was trying to explain why the president should not testify for special counsel Robert Mueller. He could be trapped into a lie that could lead to a perjury charge.

Guiliani: “When you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”

“Truth is truth,” Todd responded.

“No, no, it isn’t truth,” Giuliani said. “Truth isn’t truth…”

Todd answered: “Truth isn’t truth?”

Giuliani: “No, no, no.”

The preacher can wade into the bending of truth without naming names or wading into the mud. Politicians of all brands, in all times, have played fast and loose with the truth. Truth may not be truth, but winning is winning.

The preacher could begin with a series of questions. True or false? Ask the congregation. Perhaps choose some common misconceptions. The Bible says, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” True or false? A verbal response is enough. Don’t embarrass people. Benjamin Franklin said, “Pride goeth before the fall.” True or false. (He might have said it, but it was first said a thousand years earlier, in the Bible. Edelweiss is the national anthem of Austria? (False) The Bible says there were three magi. (False) Toilet water rotates in a different direction in the southern hemisphere. (False) Maybe find a few truths to toss in there.

If we are going to be honest, sometimes its really hard to tell the truth from a lie. One person doesn’t acknowledge the other in the grocery store. The second person feels snubbed and tells you. Is it true? The fact is, you don’t know. It might be true. The perpetrator may have intentionally ignored your friend… or maybe didn’t see your friend. You don’t know. You may never know. Even if they were both in the room with you for a counseling session, you may not know.

Or someone says they saw a “big” dog. Was it big? That may depend on the reporter’s experience with dogs. If all they’ve had is dachshunds, then maybe the dog was big. If you’ve only had mastiffs, the dog may be have been small. Sometimes truth is subjective. Sometimes truth is in the beholder.

For Jesus, in John’s gospel, truth may not be a dispute over facts, but something much more profound.

So what is truth? Merriam Webster says truth is,

  1. The body of real things, events and facts…
  2. The state of being the case
  3. A transcendent fundamental spiritual reality

It may be that Jesus is more interested in the third definition than the first two. He’s less interested in a dispute over whether there are 8, 9 or more planets, than a more transcendent truth, like God is love, or being in relationship with God is what life is about. There are larger, transcendent Truths with a capital “T” that make our myriad of truths with a small “t” less pressing. The number of planets is interesting, but unlikely to change the course of your life. Love could be a matter of life or death, for you, and for those around you. To wit: facts about this or that don’t often set us free. The truth with a capital T can set you free. It can transform your life.

 

Pentecost 28B – November 18, 2018 (Ordinary 33B, Proper 26B)

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – Barren Hannah goes to Eli the priest, then returns and conceives Samuel with her husband Elkanah. Click here for a post on Hannah’s Prayer
OR

Daniel 12:1-3 – Michael, the great protector of the people is coming. Everyone whose name is written in the book shall be delivered. (I find both of these posts difficult to follow if you’re preaching on Mark 13. I propose Micah’s parallel prediction of the destruction of the temple in Micah 3:9-12.)


1 Samuel 2:1-10 – Hannah’s song, source material for the Magnificat.
OR 

Psalm 16– My heart is glad and my spirit rejoices; my body shall rest in hope. (Ps. 16:9)


Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25– We have confidence to enter God’s sanctuary through the blood of Jesus. If you are preaching on Mark 13, I suggest 1 Peter 2:1-5, “living stones” as the second reading.)

Mark 13:1-8 – The end is coming. Not one stone will be left upon another.

 

Mark’s Little Apocalypse

This year B in the Lectionary, we began with Mark’s Little Apocalypse in Mark Chapter 13, and this week, as the year comes to an end, we return to it. This week we read Mark 13:1-8. Verses 9–23 do not get read in the Lutheran lectionary. Advent I, December 3, 2017 we read Mark 13:24-37. Here are verses 1-8:

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Jesus walks out of the temple with his disciples. They are gushing about the magnificence of this building. Isn’t it just fabulous?

11_18_1

The temple was a sight to behold. It was one of the largest construction projects of the entire first century. Indeed, the temple probably took up 1/6 of the city of Jerusalem. Ben Witherington III says it would’ve looked like a mountain of white marble decorated with gold, from the Mount of Olives.

Some of these huge stones are 25’ x 50‘, weighing as much as 160,000 pounds. This article in from the Biblical Archeology Society might spark your interest. Josephus says that as many as one thousand oxen were used to move one stone.

11_18_2The preacher might want to bring a 25’ tape measure, and asking member to hold it, so the people can envision how big the large stones are. Walking down the center aisle 25 feet, running out of tape, and having to do it again may give you some dramatic effect. That’s just one stone.

And yet Jesus predicts that one stone will not be left on another. In John’s gospel (2:20), we are told that the temple had been under construction for 46 years. Not a big surprise, given the information we learned above.

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.

Jesus is not the first prophet to predict the temple’s destruction (Jer. 7:14; 26:6). Or hear Micah 3:12:

9 Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob

    and chiefs of the house of Israel,

who abhor justice

    and pervert all equity,

10 who build Zion with blood

    and Jerusalem with wrong!

11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,

    its priests teach for a price,

    its prophets give oracles for money;

yet they lean upon the Lord and say,

    “Surely the Lord is with us!

    No harm shall come upon us.”

12 Therefore because of you

    Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

11_18_3Later (Mark 13:30), Jesus will say, “This generation will not pass away before these things come to pass.” If we are talking about the destruction of the temple, Jesus is spot on. Generations are forty years in the Bible. Jesus would be speaking in 30 AD and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. While Jesus words are certainly his usual hyperbole, the Romans did throw the smaller stones that were used to build the temple itself down. The larger stones were used for the retaining wall. Some very large stones are still in place, as can be seen in this photo.

Bottom line, Jesus doesn’t seem all that impressed with the façade. He is more interested in the beating heart of the faith. This is in line with what Jesus says in other places. He warns about the religious leaders of his day, who he says are like white-washed tombstones, beautiful and impressive on the outside, but rotting on the inside. White-washed calls to mind the polished limestone of the temple. God’s words to Samuel come to mind (1 Samuel 16:7):

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

I have often said that the church has an “edifice complex.” Perhaps this has been true of every religion of every time. We are hung up on our buildings. Architecture is propaganda. One of my mentors, Bill Waxenburg used to say of the church we once served together, “We should rename it ‘Pretty Wedding Lutheran Church.’”

Often when congregations are ready to close, we remind them that they don’t have to close. “We are only a couple dozen people now; we can’t afford the expenses,” they often reply. “Well, you can’t have a huge building with pews, maintenance and a pipe organ, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a congregation.” They ask where they would meet. “Your house, or another congregation.” They rarely take me up on it. They cannot imagine themselves without their building. The building sometimes becomes the mission.

Jesus had no buildings. He doesn’t talk much about buildings, except in passages like this. We often forget that for hundreds of years the church didn’t have buildings. In many cases the church was outlawed. They met in homes, in catacombs, or “down by the riverside,” as the song says. The church is not a building. It is ‘wherever two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus said. It is wherever people gather around Word and Sacrament to hear grace and hope and resurrection proclaimed, and are sent out to be bread for the world in Jesus’ name. That is the church. Buildings are not actually required.

Young people sometimes find the building obsession a turn off. Church members are a couple decades older than the general population. The average age in the US is about 35. The average age in ELCA congregations is about 55. Less than one out of ten congregations in the US match the age demographic of the general population. Young people are opting out of church. They find it out of sync with life these days.

Don’t think, however, that they are atheist or even agnostic. Most believe in God, and 1/3 still say religion is an important part of their lives. They are very interested in faith, prayer and spiritual practices. They just aren’t sure the church is. They go with their spiritual quest, and find a community focused on budgets and parking lots. When they make suggestions, the majority of older members push back. They have the money and the numbers. Young people aren’t sure the building is worth fighting for. Most aren’t interested in grandma’s china or grandma’s church building.

A church that is focused on Christ, and his vision for a new world, will make different kinds of decisions with regards to budgets, property and programming. They will do what it takes to reach a younger and more multicultural demographic. They will be engaged in the pressing issues of the world today, especially those in greatest need. They will not shy away from these issues.

The prophets, Jesus, Peter and many who have followed them view the church as a community, built with living stones. Peter puts it this way (1 Peter 2):

Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

So, living into this text might mean getting crystal clear about your mission in the community. It might mean listening very carefully to the community itself, to find out the spiritual questions and yearnings. It might mean thinking outside the box, and serving outside the box, the church box. It might mean bringing young people into leadership in any way possible to get their perspective on things. Who knows what God might do? But most of all, it means loving the world that God loved so much he gave his only Son. It means trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit in life and in death. Because, as Jesus said, when the temple is destroyed, and not one stone is left upon another, that is just the beginning.

St. Paul Lutheran Church of Rehburg In Burton, Texas

Founded in 1870, St. Paul is located north of Burton in rural Washington County.

Recent Pastors

• Robert Sorenson (1987-1996)

• Larry Henrichs (1999-2007)

• Pastor Steve Cox (2008-2011)

• Interim Pastor Erbey Gonzales (2012)

• Pastor Denise Seymore (2012-2018)

Some confirmation classes:

Pentecost 25B (Ordinary 32B, Proper 27B)

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 – Ruth and Boaz give birth to Obed.
OR
1 Kings 17:8-16
— Widow of Zarephath

Psalm 127
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain. Sons are a blessing.
OR
Psalm 146
– The Lord watches over strangers, and upholds orphans and widows.

Hebrews 9:24-28Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made with hands, but into heaven itself.

Mark 12:38-44
Beware of the Scribes who devour widow’s houses. The widow’s two copper coins.

Generosity

Before I get into the story, I’d like to share a few stories about generosity. Our brains are wired for stories. Telling stories about generosity may be more effective than telling people what to do. The story of the widow’s coins is one of the stories Jesus told. Here are some more:

Stories of Generosity: Benjamin Franklin’s actual Estate Plan

It’s not exactly the widow’s coins, but the story of how Benjamin Franklin’s charitable giving spanned two centuries after his death is inspiring. Telling the story of Franklin’s generosity may be just the thing to spark our people’s imaginations. READ IT HERE.

Stories of Generosity: John Wesley

John Wesley’s (1703-1791) story is a bit different than Benjamin Franklin’s story. Wesley is best known for being the founder of the Methodist Church. As his income grow significantly, he continued to live at his normal standard of living, and gave away much more than he spent. It is an inspiring story. READ IT HERE. 

Stories of Generosity: Gander on 9/11

I told this story earlier this year, around September 11, but if you did not use it then, use it now. It is a heart-warming story of generosity, from both sides of the equation. READ IT HERE.

The Sharing Experiment (Video)

What happens when one child gets a sandwich and another doesn’t? How do children respond? I also shared this heartwarming video earlier this year. WATCH IT HERE.

Get Service (Video)

This video is more about generosity of time and how we see the world through new lenses. WATCH IT HERE.

coins

The Widow’s Coins

The Old Testament reading from the Hebrew Bible is either Ruth and Boaz, or the Widow of Zarephath. I would suggest that if you are going to preach on the Widow’s Coins, the latter option fits more nicely. It is astonishing how much concern the Bible has for widows. A quick word search at BibleGateway.com in the NRSV renders 126 references to “widows.” (And 134 for “aliens.”) That’s a lot.

Evangelical preacher Rick Warren had a stewardship conversion of sorts, that led him to reverse tithe (see Wesley article above). True to his Baptist upbringing, he went to Scripture and saw something he had not seen before. An October 2005 article in Christianity Today, “Purpose Driven in Rwanda,” by Timothy C. Morgan, reported:

“Around this time,” Warren says, he was driven to re-examine scripture with “new eyes.” What he found humbled him. “I found those 2,000 verses on the poor. How did I miss that? I went to Bible college, two seminaries, and I got a doctorate. How did I miss God’s compassion for the poor? I was not seeing all the purposes of God. The church is the body of Christ. The hands and feet have been amputated and we’re just a big mouth, known more for what we’re against.” Warren found himself praying, “God, would you use me to re-attach the hands and the feet to the body of Christ, so that the whole church cares about the whole gospel in a whole new way—through the local church?”

In an interview with Oprah, recounted in an NPR article, Warren said,

I had to repent… I had to say, “God, I’m sorry, I can’t think of the last time I thought of widows and orphans.”

Such is the plight of pop Christianity today, which can tend toward a self-help gospel. It’s about fire insurance from hell, or “pie in the sky when you die,” as Anthony Campolo often says.

How does your church minister to widows?

One of my favorite commentaries on Mark is Ben Witherington III’s The Gospel of Mark, A Socio-rhetorical Commentary. Pricey, but worth the price. Witherington points out a pattern in Mark’s stories:

  1. Jesus is approached by the religious authorities
  2. They challenge him with a question regarding authority
  3. Jesus poses a counter question which reveals their own priorities and loyalties
  4. The opponents respond
  5. Jesus answers the original question

He calls this Jesus’ “sandwich technique,” what my New Testament professors called an inclusio. In general, the religious leaders want to know by what authority Jesus is doing the things he is doing, including healing, preaching, forgiving and his actions in the Temple.

In my introduction to the Gospel of Mark, Mark moves from Galilee, to Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem, to Jesus in Jerusalem, to the Passion and Crucifixion. These are the four major bodies of material in Mark’s gospel. Mark 12 is in the Jerusalem section (11:1-13:37), prior to the little apocalypse (Mark 13). Most of this material takes place in the Temple Court.

By the time we reach today’s story of the Widow’s Coins, the questions are over. They have been asked, and Jesus’ opponents appear to have been “silenced” or outmaneuvered (11:33, 12:12). Jesus has just dealt with the question of the Greatest Commandment. There was much dispute in early Judaism about ranking the 613 commandments. The scribe did not raise a hypothetical question. Jesus answers with the Shema, the morning prayer for every observant Jew from at least the second century B.C. The scribe seems impressed and moved by Jesus answer of love. This is the only place in Mark where a scribe agrees with Jesus.

I think it is vitally important, given the infection of anti-Semitism in the world, one of oldest bigotry, given Luther’s anti-Semitism, and given the recent shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, that we continue to be very careful not to misrepresent, or allow our people to misunderstand, Jesus’ relationship to his own religious community. He did not oppose “the Jews.” He was one. His beef seems to be with the leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem of his time. He is calling them to a pure form of Judaism. Consider reading the ELCA’s repudiation of Luther’s writings on the Jews, and Eric Gritsch’s book Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism, Against His Better Judgment. Learn more here.

While the questions are over, Jesus is still responding to them in 12:35ff. He goes on the offensive. Witherington calls 12:38-40 “a rebuke to scribes who love perks.” They like their status, which they tap into by way of their long white robes and position. Accordingly, they get great seats in the synagogue, in front of the Torah. An observant Jew would give them choice seating at wedding banquets and other big events.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:5

Those who are charged with being guardians of widows’ estates have become profiteers. Devouring widows’ houses means cheating them out of their due. He is accusing them of extortion. This would undoubtedly land him in hot water. Calling out corruption doesn’t usually go smoothly.

So Jesus contrasts the sketchy religious leaders with a poor widow at the Temple treasury. Here is the text:

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 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. 44 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.”

Mark not only contrasts the religious leaders with this widow, he also the contrasts the rich in verse 41 with the poor widow in verse 42.

Many rich folks are putting significant sums into the offering plate. This impresses people. Someone of means writes a big check to a cause. We’re impressed. But what if the amount is .05% of their income? The minimum wage person who wrote a smaller check for 10% of income got overlooked. Not so impressive, but significantly more generosity. One person made a generous, but relatively painless gesture. The second person made a personal sacrifice that affected the bottom line.

Enter the poor widow. She gives two “lepta.” Mark has to explain to his hearers what this is. They do not use this coin. A lepta is half the value of a quadrans, which is 1/64th of a denarius, which is a day’s wage. So 1/128th of a day’s wage, an infinitesimally insignificant amount.

As Jesus made a child a model for servanthood, Jesus makes this poor widow a model for generosity. Proportionally, she has given more. This is why we so often talk of percentages.

The widow, in fact, could have given one coin and kept the other. 50%. In Jesus’ view, she has given more than all the others, combined. She gave 100%, everything she had. They gave out of their abundance. She gave out of her poverty.

Jesus calls out false piety, boasting and self-indulgence. Witherington:

Jesus’ special concern and admiration for women is perhaps nowhere more striking juxtaposed with his disgust over certain groups of privileged and supposed pious men than here…

This is not a story about law. A story about law would be a story about the tithe. This is a story of love and grace, which always lead us to give more than the law demands. The law does not inspire. When you appeal to people legally, they will only do the least that is required to make the grade. When we love however, we pour ourselves out. Jesus is pointing to such love.

The preacher can tap into this gracefulness by telling stories of lavish generosity, stories like those above, but also personal stories that can be told in the first person. And of course, we have our master story, of Jesus who gives it all, even his life.

The 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht

On November 9 in 1938, a pogrom was carried out against Jews in Nazi Germany. This large scale attack was carried out by German Stormtroopers (paramilitary) in Berlin, and aided by German citizens. The night became known as Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass.”


The attacks went on into the next day. The public joined in voluntarily. Stores were smashed and looted, synagogues were burned and Jews were beaten and murdered. It was after this night, that the US recalled its ambassador permanently. It was the beginning of the worst chapter of 20th century history

A few days later the Nazis reported 7,500 businesses destroyed, 267 synagogues burned and 91 Jews killed. Some say the losses were much higher. Some 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps.

Decrees were made barring Jews from public transportation, schools and hospitals. Burned synagogues were turned into parking lots. It was determined that all insurance proceeds from the damage would be confiscated by the state. This, of course, provided military resources to prepare for war and the conquest of Europe.

2018 marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. It is essential that we remember. Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.  When public sentiment turns ugly, very bad things can happen.

In light of the recent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg last week, Lutherans should pay special attention to this anniversary.  Martin Luther’s own writings were used to justify such actions. Late in life, Luther wrote a pamphlet that demonized Jews with age-old superstitious stereotypes. While he did not call for physical harm, he advocated for the expulsion of Jews from Germany, as well as the burning of Jewish synagogues, schools, homes and books. While Luther’s ideas were reflected by his followers, and thankfully not carried out in his day, they were trotted out 400 years later.

Many Germans in 1938 were Lutherans. Luther was a national hero who had fought corruption in the church. His writings were held in high regard. Not all Christians participated in the November 9 pogrom, but many stood by silently. This is an important lesson for today. Like Kennedy said,

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

The modern Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejects Luther’s anti-Semitic writings. 24 years ago, in 1994, Lutherans in concert with the Lutheran World Federation, put this repudiation of Luther’s writings in print:

Lutherans Publicly Repudiate Founder

Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community

Luther scholar Eric W. Gritsch wrote Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against his Better Judgment.

Image result for martin luther's anti-semitism against his better

Lutherans are linked to Luther by name. While we don’t hold his writings to be sacred or infallible, we must speak out against his anti-Judaic writings.

The ELCA Declaration to the Jewish Community says:

As did many of Luther’s own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther’s words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day.

Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people. We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us. Finally, we pray for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community. 

Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community and Change

Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry have given us in Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community and Change, some thought-provoking and challenging ways to live out the gospel in our everyday lives. How might we be salt and light in an evil and unjust world?Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community, and Change by [Graham-Washington, Reesheda, Casselberry, Shawn]

The authors are coming to our Tri-Theological Conference on Galveston Island January 28-30.

Inspired by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, the authors suggest pivots, or course changes to move us to soulful living.

These pivots move us…

1: From Fear to Freedom

2: From Barriers to Bridge Building

3: From Self-Centeredness to Solidarity

4: From Hurt to Hope

5: From Consuming to Creating

6: From Charity to Change

7: From Maintenance to Movement

Fear freezes us, keeping us from being the light and salt we yearn to be. The first pivot encourages us to love beyond fear and find the courage to unapologetically be who God has called us to be.

The world needs bridge-builders more than ever; those who focus on collaboration rather than competition. Can we learn to connect, rather than demonize?

Solidarity is moving from I to We. It recognizes that there can never be true justice for any of us until there is justice for all of us. The authors engages us in seeing other other, loving the other and belonging to one another.

One of the hardest pivots is moving beyond our hurt, to hope. The authors offer five practices for healing.

It’s difficult to overestimate the power of consumerism in our culture. We view the world and one another as commodities. Focusing on beauty, simplicity, and sustainability can make us come alive.

Last year a number of us read Toxic Charity, learning how charity can do more damage than good. Think about it: If you wanted to change something, say gun violence, in your neighborhood, would you be more effective writing a check to a local charity, or mentoring kids? The first is easier. Real change is hard. It requires change in us.

Maintenance is necessary, but all too often becomes the biggest rock in an organization. A movement however goes viral. Movements are transformational, subversive, risk-taking and liberating.

These pivots challenge us to live our faith, rather than just discuss it. I’m excited Reesheda Graham-Washington and Shawn Casselberry are coming to our Tri-Theological Conference on Galveston Island in January. Prepare to be challenged.

[If you’ve read “Soul Force” and want some more reading to get ready, consider “The Strength to Love” by Martin Luther King, Jr. and “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.]

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑