Monday, November 23, 2015

From the Fig Tree Learn Its Lesson

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. [1] For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants [2] in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, [3] or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:24-37 (ESV)

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves you know that summer is near.” Summer is near. Summer time when the living is easy, the fish are jumping and the cotton is high. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves you know that summer is near. Just doesn’t seem quite as menacing as Ned Stark chanting the motto of his house, “winter is coming.” It’s noticeable that Jesus doesn’t mention the fall colors on the trees, the migration of ducks to the south. Everyone knows this is bringing on winter, and as much as we might like our Yuletide traditions, chestnuts on an open fire, skiing, Gluhvine, Russian tea, sledding and ice skating. Ok, I’m beginning to make winter sound fun. But there is a reason Jesus doesn’t mention the coming of winter. It’s cold, hard to live through. Growing up in Minnesota, March would have the most funerals. The tail end of winter, when the living was hard.  We might look forward to Christmas trees, but we don’t look forward to the cold, the snow and slush, the short daylight hours. Jesus compares the signs to the coming of summer, when the living is easy, floating the river, walking the boardwalk, ice cream in the afternoon, shorts and sundresses, when beauty comes to life and blossoms in the sun. From the fig tree learn its lesson as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves you know that summer is near.
Yes, then you know summer is near, we live in the midst of winter. It’s true. And it has been a long winter. Winter is the season of trials and tribulations. That is the nature of the world. Oh, it isn’t that nothing about this world is enjoyable. Quite the opposite. Sometimes we get so used to the weather that signs of change make us think winter might be coming, rather than summer. I don’t know what it is, but I think most Christians today are afraid of Christ’s return. For some reason the return of Christ has been associated with winter rather than summer. We’ve become so attached to this world that we no longer look forward to his coming. Hope is replaced with fear. Why? Excitement gives away to dread, and those Jesus tells to stay awake, fall asleep.
Stay awake, it means keep the faith, hold on to hope. And what a hope it is! This hope should not be confused with wishful thinking. It is more certain than the coming summer signaled with crocus poking through the spring snow, and yellow daffodils. More certain than the coming summer signaled by the leaves of the fig tree promising summer delights. Our hope, is Jesus Christ, and the promise of his return. Our hope is in his death and resurrection for the redemption of mankind, his return in glory to judge the living and the dead. That is our hope in the face of the death and suffering we experience in this world of winter, when March comes so late upon the heels of January and February. People fear his return because they know he is holy, and they know they are sinners. They fear the judgment because the cross loses focus. The cross, there he tree of life budded and bore fruit in the death of Christ, the fruit we consume at the Lord’s Supper when we partake of forgiveness in his body and blood. Yes, the death of Christ is a sure sign of the coming summer. Yes, Jesus Christ is the Son of man who shall return in glory with clouds for chariots. He will judge the living and the dead, he will examine our works, and we all have that for which to be embarrassed for. But we need not fear. Because our salvation is secure in the resurrection of the son of man, he is our judge, the very same man who in love for you, took upon himself your sin, your cause for embarrassment and crucified it in front of the Father, that in him, you would live even now in the midst of winter ever looking towards summer when Christ returns, when this world will pass away like the snows of winter in the summer sun, because his word remains forever. His word remains, and his word is his promise, his promise of your salvation, and a coming summer when the living is easy.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Evil Lies Close At Hand

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25 (ESV)
“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.”
One of the things I love to do is read biographies. It isn’t too often that your average Joe has a biography written about him. Great people have things written about them. People who have managed to change the shape of the world, to motivate others, to change the way the world thinks about an issue, these are the things of biography. But then one of the things that make so many biographies great is how ordinary the subject really is. People are people. People are sinners. They want to do great things, yet even when they do, their lives are often marked by the annoyances, and sins of everyday life.
The other day, as I was meditating upon the reading of a biography of “Phillip of Hesse” who was at the center of the maelstrom known as the Lutheran reformation, I began to think of all the biographies I read, and started to think great men fall victim to great sins. But that isn’t really true. They fall victim to the same sins everyone else falls victim to, the same sins that tear apart the average family in America, the same sins that so often go unnoticed when an average joe does them. And perhaps that is the shock of it. This man, this woman who we think of as being so above average, suckered by the average. Sort of the talking dog in reverse.
It is actually, one of the things that makes the Bible such an interesting read. To see all these men that God puts before us as being great, and then seeing their sin. It’s shocking at times. It makes us shake our head. How can they be guilty of this and still be called great, by God!

Paul explains that here. When I want to do good, evil lies close at hand. It’s true of your life isn’t it? How often have you wanted to do the right thing, only to find yourself too weak to do it? How often have you wanted to do the right thing, and it blows up in your face? You find out it wasn’t the right thing to do at all? And who knows our weaknesses better than the devil? Why should we be surprised then to find that people in the spotlight fall for such stupid sins when they are trying to do good? No, the sins aren’t great, that would give too much credit to them. The sins are ordinary. And if evil was laying close at hand when Paul was trying to do good, we shouldn’t be surprised when we find the same to be true for ourselves or the great leaders of the world. And all the more can we take comfort that God is much greater than all of this he has overcome the world, he sets us free, and even uses our weakness to shame the strong, but in the end he is victor and works all things for good for those who believe in him. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mad Libs and Romans Seven

 “Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:12-20 (ESV)
“I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
I sometimes wonder about the specifics of Paul’s experience. What sins was he consciously struggling with when he wrote that? Did he give himself over to fantasies of revenge and murder against those who constantly tried to kill him? Did he struggle with lust a bit more than he let on in 1 Cor. 7? (The early Church did believe he later married, and not without reason). Did he struggle with the drink? Did greed consume his heart? Did he just have a problem with following up on commitments he had made? Or was he unforgiving of those who broke their commitments to him? Was he given to frustration with congregation members, baptized believers that just failed?
This whole time Paul sort of speaks about sin in the abstract. But it isn’t really an abstraction he is talking about so much as a person with power, a personal being that reigns over our hearts, and puts us to death with the law. Here he avoids talking about any particular sin in which the problem of sin is made manifest in our lives. Whatever it is he is struggling with personally is rather immaterial. He knows, as any pastor worth his salt comes to know rather quickly, that the struggle is going to change based on individuals, societies and cultures, and the zeitgeist within which we live. It simply doesn’t matter what sin Paul was in conscious struggle with when he wrote this. Because his sin isn’t your sin, and it is your sin that matters.
What does matter is that Paul uses the present tense through out here. He speaks of something occurring in him even as he speaks, and something he assumes is true of the Christians he is writing to. They struggle too. They agree with the law. They know what is right and what is wrong. They know what they are to do and what they are not to do. And they struggle. They simply do not do it. Perhaps they know that quarrels about the law are fruitless, and they go to church and quarrel about the law. Perhaps the same way blogs, and social media are littered with the unprofitable, fruitless arguments. Perhaps they know they are to love their enemies, and even their masters, but struggle with thoughts of revenge in the wake of sexual abuse. (To study the dynamics of society in antiquity with the realization that most of Paul’s congregations would be made up of slaves and women, people who had little to no control whatsoever even over what they ate for breakfast is really an eye opening exercise.)
Paul doesn’t list the sins, and neither should we. It is a temptation, if you will it is a sin that we Christians probably struggle with more than any other sin in our lives as Christians. We want to say it is acceptable for a Christian to struggle against this sin here, but if they haven’t had victory over that sin there, then they aren’t really Christian. We see a brother fall victim to a particular sin and we are tempted to think they really can’t be Christian then. More so, it has the effect of telling them that they aren’t a Christian, that Christ doesn’t care for them, otherwise they wouldn’t be struggling with this sin. In reality it was just that sin for which Christ died.
So in the end, when I indulge the game and look through Paul’s letters to ascertain what sins it was he may have been struggling with, what in particular that thorn in his side was, I’m glad he doesn’t tell. And it isn’t that he was too embarrassed, or didn’t want anyone to know. Paul knew that Christ’s love is made perfect in weakness, he didn’t feel the need to present himself as strong, as if he had no sin and was able to overcome this or that sin. He didn’t confuse sanctification with senility either. He left it blank for you. He left it blank so that when you examine your life, and see some particular sin the devil wants to use to say you aren’t a Christian, that you would put that sin there in place of the generic “sin”. That you could write that sin in there and realize, even in the midst of failure to do what you know is right, that you are still a Christian, baptized in Christ, walking in the newness of life that comes with the forgiveness of sins. He left it blank for you, write the sin with which you struggle in there as if it was a Mad Lib, and then laugh at it. Laugh at it because it has no power over Christ who is your Lord, your life, your salvation. It has no power over Christ who is your sanctification.


Monday, November 16, 2015

You will be hated by all....

13:1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
 9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:1-13 (ESV)
“And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Enduring to the end. It is really what this text is about. It is Christ’s concern for his disciples, Christ’s concern for you that prompts him to speak of what the future holds, what will happen as this world passes away, as this world experiences the birth pains from which will be born our new habitation the new heavens and the new earth, the birth pains that will steadily become worse, greater and more painful as the world careens to the end that will be cut short with the second coming of Christ himself that the gates of hell would never prevail against his church, the church he established to be the citadel of faith.
Mark thirteen isn’t perhaps the most comforting of passages in scripture, at least not comforting as the world reckons comfort. It speaks of the tribulation that will come upon you, that the world will inflict upon you for his name’s sake. Not exactly the most appealing message to this world. We live in a country and a world where despite the breakdown of the family, no fault divorce etc, or perhaps because of it, it is family that is worshiped and cherished above all. The church even tries to swell its ranks by promoting family values, and in many corners it does this to the detriment of the gospel. And it appeals to the world. And then there is Jesus. Pick up your cross and follow me. Believe in me and this is what you can expect from the world. You can expect your sons and daughters to turn on you and hand you over to the authorities to be whipped, stoned and crucified. You can expect your husbands to leave you, your wives to revile you. Where we can expect that people will attack us like we saw in Paris Friday night.  But endure to the end and you will be saved.
Endure to the end and you will be saved. See the temptation a person has when all this is happening is to think it is happening because God hates you. But Jesus tells us here that all this happens for the exact opposite reason. It happens because he loves you. The world that has hated God, the world that has crucified the son of God, will persecute his children to the ends of the earth. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake Jesus says. For his name sake, the name that was given to you in the waters of holy baptism where you were taken up into his citadel, the citadel of Zion a living stone, made a member of the church he established for you so that you may endure, even as the city walls of this world fall, the great stones of Herod’s buildings crumble.

Yes, as our introit today says, walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, Our God forever and ever He will guide us forever. He will guide us forever, and he does this because he loves you, he prepares this citadel for you, that here your faith may be strengthened in the preaching of his word, and the eating of his body, and the drinking of his blood for the forgiveness of his sin, The supper he instituted that we would be justified by faith alone, we would not be alone in our faith, but that he would be with us gathered together in his name to encourage each other in his love, that we may endure in him together your children, your brothers your sisters husbands and wives enduring the hate of this world in the peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Law Awakens Sin

7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:7-12 (ESV)
“The very commandment that promised life proved to be death for me.”
The law is good and holy, but sin takes advantage of the law to work death within us, to kill us. The law doesn’t do what it promises to do. The promise is tacit, yet sometimes explicit. “Do this and you will live.” But the futility of it! The dos and the don’ts pile up and pile up and a person suffocates under the weight of it all, and it traps you anyway. But more than that, it causes sin to come alive, and it lives at your expense. Its life means your death.
It isn’t that the law is evil, or bad. But sin takes advantage of the law to kill, something the law could not do if it wasn’t actually holy and good, something it could not do if it was not an expression of God’s will. For God alone is judge. It is God alone who is able to kill and raise up. It is in God alone that we live, move, breath and have our being. Our life is in his hands. But our will is not his will. Our will is against his will, and chafes at his will.
But this is a problem in the church today, and a very hard one for us sinners to avoid, especially as pastors. The law easily deceives us with its promise. When things are going wrong we think more law is needed.  We think law will solve the problem. And it never does. It can diagnose the problem, but it can never solve the problem. Most often it complicates and exacerbates the problem.
Sometimes I read articles about Christians and their shortcomings as compared to others. The articles are always problematic on many different levels. But I do tend to think perhaps there is a thread of truth to them, and perhaps directly related to what this passage tells us about the law and how sin works. Today, too many pastors are afraid of the gospel. They won’t preach it. Or they will make you earn it with your repentance. (They need to see it before they will give it, and they determine what it is that will show repentance…) In short though, they will not preach the gospel. They will not preach the forgiveness of sins on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Why? Because they are afraid it will allow for sin. On the other hand, they will tell you they are preaching the gospel which they confuse with the promise of the law, do this and you will live. The result is, not only do their people go home unforgiven, but they go home with sin aroused and made alive with in them. Ad despair to that cocktail, and they may never come back to church. But just as the law does what is counterintuitive to the sinners mindset, awakens sin, so the gospel does what is counter intuitive, it makes us alive which is the death of sin. If sin lives to our expense, we live at the expense of sin. The gospel awakens faith, which is ultimately the greatest expression of repentance there is. The gospel pours the life and love of Christ into our souls and hearts that it my flood over into every aspect of our life, and restore to us the joy of salvation.
When a pastor preaches the death and resurrection of Christ for you. When the pastor freely forgives the sins of his congregation, then yes, they go home and still find sin in their lives. This will be a reality for our entire journey in this world. In fact, they may even find more sin than they previously knew existed. Paul speaks about coveting in this way. He didn’t know he was guilty of it, the law came and he became more guilty of it. The devil has a way of throwing obvious and manifest sins in our face to cause despair in our lives, but often this is just as much his way of distracting us from sin in our lives. The Holy Spirit on the other hand, doesn’t through sin in our face, but leads us to confront sin in ever darker recesses of our souls. Things we don’t think of as sin get brought to our attention, we realize how arrogant and rude we are in our shows of earthly righteousness, often confused in Christian circles with sanctification that pastors try to manufacture with the preaching of the law. We begin to see the lies we tell ourselves to convince us that we are really good, or doing the right thing. And in all this we are put to death by the law. But when we are in Christ this death is a good thing, because only when the kernel of wheat dies and is buried can it be brought to life. And in Christ we are resurrected to walk in the newness of life, to walk in the newness of the Spirit, in the joy of our salvation.

Yes, preach forgiveness of sins and your people will still sin. This is true for the law too. Both congregations will go home that afternoon as sinners. But preach forgiveness and your people go home forgiven, and forgiven they are given a good conscience, and a clean heart from which love issues, and that is the aim of our charge. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In the Newness of the Spirit

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. [3]
(Romans 7:4-6 (ESV)

So we have died to the law, we are no longer bound by the law. We died through the body of Christ to which we were incorporated, embodied in baptism, and that body died fulfilling every aspect of the law. So we no longer serve the law.
It has to be noted when dealing with this passage that it is the law that arouses sinful passions. Far from doing what we seem to think the law does, the law does the opposite. We think the law should put down sinful passions. This is what drives much of what passes for Christian preaching these days. That if we just preach enough law, our members will be adequately warned and they will avoid the sin in question. But the law doesn’t do that. The law actually arouses the sinful passions within us, the law makes us more inclined to sin. It increases sin.

But we have been released from the law, we serve in the newness of the Spirit, which would be a better manner of translating this as “way” is a word that the translators seemed to have added for clarity. But this isn’t a matter of a way of serving, it is a matter of a new state of being from which we serve. It is harkening back to the “newness of life” in Rom. 6.  And this is contrasted to “and not in the old written code.” Here Paul is talking about the law as it is written in the Old Testament, and especially about the law as it was written in stone by God himself.  This means it is no longer a condition that we have to follow if we want to earn heaven. We don’t get to heaven by the law. The Bible is not in this sense “basic instructions before leaving earth” (I really hate American evangelical cliches). It isn’t that we are “freer” in regards to the law, that we get to basically tweak it this way and that to suit our own needs, and use it the way most of us use speed limit signs as a guideline…. The law doesn’t work that way. The law kills that way. And the law is an all or nothing proposition. Either we are beholden to it all or we are not. But now we are free from it. Now we serve God in the newness of the Spirit as we walk in the newness of life. Now the law has nothing to do with our salvation because our salvation has been given to us freely apart from it. Now the law can never be anything more in our life, but an expression of our love for neighbor. It’s no longer about us, it’s about our neighbor. Or to put it this way, following the law can’t save us, but us following the law might save our neighbor, in that in showing love for our neighbor they come to want to hear us when we speak the gospel of Christ’s fulfilment of the law for us.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Two Farthings

38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. [6] 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 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.” (Mark 12:38-44 (ESV)
 “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.”
“But she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
We can see it, there in the outer courts of the temple, where the unclean, the gentiles, the women, the sick and infirm and pious Jews who touched nothing dead, would not enter a gentiles home, gathered in the midst of men selling pigeons, sheep, cattle, and goats for sacrifice. There where you could smell the salted sacrifices roasting on the massive BBQ they called an altar, where you could see the smoke billow up, and if you looked real hard within the dim light of dusk you could even see the offering of incense burn before the curtain that hid the holy of holies with in this grand complex of ornate gates, golden limestone and marbled colonnades and grand staircases made of cut stone. This is as far as most people could go on any day of the week. And here, so that everyone who visited the city had equal opportunity to give to the temple, to donate to its building and upkeep the treasury was set up. Jewish sources from the first century don’t provide a whole lot of detail, about it. But they do tell us that that it was a box, or possibly a series of boxes, with thirteen trumpet like holes protruding out of it, and a person could choose where they wanted the money to go by choosing to deposit the money in one of these thirteen trumpets. Jesus has been watching for a while.
You get the impression that perhaps he is watching because of a bit of cynicism. He has just finished berating the scribes for devouring the houses of widows, and for a pretense saying long prayers. Scribes and lawyers were one in the same in first century Judea. They were called scribes because they copied the scriptures letter by letter, so careful not to lose a letter that when the oldest manuscript of Isaiah now known to exist was found in the Qumran, the famed Dead Sea scrolls, it was compared to the oldest manuscript we had up to this day, the manuscript which provides the basis for the Hebrew Old Testament I have in my office, a manuscript from the tenth century called the Leningrad Codex because it has been in a museum in St. Petersburg since the 19th century, originally purchased in Cairo. In any case, the comparison was done between these two manuscripts that had at least 1,000 years of separation and were found to have almost no differences whatsoever, a couple changes to spelling. It was an absolute incredible discovery that blew that whole telephone game theory of text corruption, that is still heard today touted by ignorant angry atheists, out of the water. The scribes were meticulous in their copying of the scriptures, and that made them experts in the law of the land. They knew it inside and out and could argue for it and against it three ways from Sunday. So they knew how to plunder a widow’s house. I mean essentially what Jesus is berating them for is breaking the tenth commandment, taking their neighbor’s house in a manner that appears right, has the appearance of looking legal. Perhaps the way a developer uses imminent domain to scuttle off the poor and move them out of the way so he can build a shopping mall for the good of the community. And they were rich. It was a rich man’s occupation.
Jesus watches them, one by one. All their fine long robes, dressed to impress. It was funny I once had a Baptist pastor berate me for wearing long robes during the service because Christ spoke against it. Evidently, according to his mind, Christ wore something like the seven hundred dollar suit he was wearing. I think he missed the point. Everyone wore robes in Christ’s day. And Christ himself would be found wearing a robe so valuable the soldiers ensuring his execution would play a game of craps for it rather than cut it up to be sold by the yard. One wonders where the son of man would have received such a gift, but there was evidently a rich man somewhere that loved him enough to give his best, perhaps like the woman who during these last days of Christ’s life that he spent in the temple would pour the expensive nard worth the years wages of a common laborer over his head to prepare him for death. These were men and people of means not unlike these finely dressed scribes dropping their denarius’s with a loud thump echoing out of the trumpet like mouth of the coffer. Jesus could hear their offerings drop, as they congratulated themselves. But he watches because he sees a widow in mourning for her husband.
God showed up in her life and now she has nothing but the long nights of the soul known to Job. Jesus, of course, omniscient as he is, knows everything even of this woman. But she had to look out of place visiting the temple during this festive time. Out of her poverty she gives all she had to live on, more than all who have given from their wealth. Two farthings, make an empty din among the loud thumps of the heavy denarii, but that thin din lifted Christ’s chin.  These were the thin and small penny like copper coins for which a person could buy two sparrows with in the market place, according to Luke she could have bought five for her two farthings, some sort of first century baker’s dozen I don’t care to ever understand. Sparrow, it’s what’s for dinner! Maybe they made for a good pot pie. But she doesn’t buy the pauper’s meal, the po’boy sandwich. Perhaps because she knows she is worth more than two sparrows, or even five.
It’s funny, when I read this story and think of what possesses a woman to do this? The first thing that comes to mind is complete frustration. It’s almost worthless. A penny saved is a penny earned we say. But we rarely if ever think a penny is worth saving. If all I had left to my name were two pennies, I don’t know what I would do. But Jesus praises her. It isn’t frustration. It’s gratitude in the midst of distress, the kind of gratitude that stems from a profoundly deep faith and trust in a God who considers you far more valuable than any two sparrows that can be purchased for a penny, any two sparrows for which God himself cares and provides for, allowing them to life within the rafters of his glorious temple, watching as any one of them falls from the sky, or makes dinner for a feral cat. Here she is in the temple, the blood of the sacrifices slaughtered that day still sizzling upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, coagulating in the trench at its base. Here she knows her value to God.

No, she won’t hold on. She won’t try to carve ten percent off a farthing. She won’t let the rich despise her gift. If she is worth more than a sparrow to her Lord, then she will trust, she will give when most think she should be receiving. And the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world looks on, praises her faith. He too knows that she, whom the world despises is worth more than all the gold or silver the rich poor into the coffers of the temple. For her life, like yours, is a life he will redeem, a life he will purchase from slavery to sin, slavery to death, slavery to the devil, not with gold or silver but with his precious blood, with his innocent suffering and death. He doesn’t die for two sparrows, no farthings, or denarius. But he dies for you. And a God that loves you to death, is a God to trust.