+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 12:42
Theme: Two Sacred Mites
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God has His eye on those in need. They never escape His notice. Widows and orphans are special cases. They give the most despondent souls reason to hope. About this widow we know nothing at all. What as her history? Was she stricken with grief? Was she overcome with desperation? Had she endured many years of poverty and hardship? We know nothing of her particulars but we know a great deal about the general status of widows in ancient times. There was no government welfare. Widows depended up male relatives for their livelihood. When that support was not available their situation could become dire. The bible makes many references to the care of widows by believers.
So what was the crux of the issue in today’s gospel account? It was not the quantity of her gift, it was the quality. Her two small coins were nothing in and of themselves but what they represented was an enormous treasury of trust. Possessing nothing she gave everything and in so doing she cast herself completely on the mercy of God. Vulnerable to the world as a result of her circumstance she made it clear she wished to be vulnerable to God as an expression of her faith. Having nothing to offer God faith receives the righteousness of Christ.
If we read this account of the widow’s offering only as an example of comparative generosity we miss the point almost entirely. The wealthy were giving far more but needed not to rely on God’s grace. Proud of their earthly riches they were missing out on heavenly treasures. But this widow entrusted her whole livelihood to God. Materially poor, she was spiritually rich.
Now here is where the rub is: Our sinful nature will not allow us to entrust our livelihood to someone we do not fully trust. And so we turn to other sources of security. Sin, by definition, means the sinner doesn’t fully believe he or she is in God’s good graces. We doubt God’s intentions or His capabilities. God becomes an enemy, or at best is kept at a distance. In fact we can’t even believe God is trustworthy on our own. The Holy Spirit must break our hardened hearts. He points us to the cross. And there we see that the equality with and independence from God that we seek by nature is an illusion and a dead end. Yet we doubt the integrity of His forgiveness because it leaves us indebted to His mercy.
Forgiveness always involves unequal partners. By its very definition it involves a willingness and capacity to forgive on the one side and a desire for forgiveness on the other. At the heart and centre is the reality of an undeserved favour. God’s forgiveness towards us in Christ is not conditioned by our value, worth or efforts. We have no right to it. We can make no claims on it. Christ’s forgiveness is not even predicated on our repentance. It is by grace. It is available to all. “[Christ] died for all.”1 Repentant souls will never fail to find it. The beauty of forgiveness is that it gives all repentant souls equal standing in God’s sight.
Forgiveness is by grace. It sets us free. But do not abuse it for something it is not. Do not trivialize it. Repent honestly. Rejoice confidently. And resist sin steadfastly. Forgiveness does not equal tolerance. Love does not mean tolerance. God forgives the repentant sinner; he does not tolerate the sin. God absolves the person who repents; He doesn’t give him permission to go on sinning. When forgiveness is equated with tolerance and love is equated with license then the church becomes an enabling institution in the worst sense of the term.
We may hear much about being forgiven in God’s sight for our sins, and as well we should. If we do not hear about forgiveness the gospel is not being proclaimed. But we may not hear as much about forgiving those who sin against us. Though we find this imperative is at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”2 how often do we take this to heart? How easy it is to hold grudges! How easy it is to want satisfaction or revenge on those who have wronged us! But to withhold forgiveness from those who seek it is not a right we possess. Even when we are painfully hurt we do not have authority to deny pardon to others. In fact, it is a sacred privilege to grant to others freedom of conscience by assuring them they are forgiven.
The forgiveness of God is not pie-in-the-sky, wishful thinking. Jesus Christ assumed our humanity so that we could have the favour of the Deity. He was crucified in the flesh. He rose in the power of the Holy Spirit. His forgiveness is offered to you in the concrete means of bread and wine. The body and blood of Christ imparts to believers pardon, peace, and strength. At His altar you have exactly what He promises to give- the food of immortality.
The baptized are consequently no longer ruled by fear. We have had the threat of condemnation removed by the blood of Christ. The baptized have citizenship in His kingdom. In baptism we go from being vulnerable to the accusations of Satan and chaos of the world to the protection and stability gained for us by the cross. This is a communal reality shared by the fellowship of believers. We do not live an abstract faith. We live in real time and space interacting with real people in our lives. We share joys and sorrows. We have a purpose in God’s kingdom; vocations in which we embody the love of Christ to the world.
We may wonder if we are cut out for the task or if it really makes a difference. But think of this widow. And never underestimate what God can do. God sometimes uses the most unlikely people for the most important tasks. Moses never thought he could lead the Israelites out of Egypt. And today we heard of another widow. Ruth was the daughter-in-law of an important biblical widow named Naomi. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David and David was an ancestor of Christ.
Dear friends, the church- the bride- will never be left widowed. She will never be abandoned. She will never be forsaken. The only-begotten Son has sacrificed everything for her well-being. He lives to give her life. Widows were examples of vulnerability. As such they were illustrative of all sinners. At the mercy of those who had the means and willingness to show compassion they were dependant on benefactors. And so too, we who are lost apart from the mercy of God in Christ Jesus can be confident we are never overlooked or forsaken. The Bible says, “He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself…He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”3
Our livelihoods are in God’s hands. And that’s exactly where we want them to be. He never fails to come to the aide of those who are vulnerable. He seeks those who are lost. He comes for sinners and He welcomes them into His eternal kingdom. May the Holy Spirit clothe our hearts with those sacred wedding garments that transform His church from spiritual widow to cherished bride. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Twenty Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
11 November 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 2 Corinthians 5:15
2 Matthew 6:12
3 Hebrews 9:26-28