The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r144.htm
s144g12 Sunday 32 11/11/2012
‘He .. watched the crowd putting money into the treasury’ Mark
In 1990, Bette Midler sang that lovely song by Julie Gold ‘From a
distance’ (God is watching us). And it is a lovely
song. I can but thoroughly agree with the sentiments:
‘From a distance / You look like my friend / Even though we are at
war / From a distance / I just cannot comprehend / What all this
fightings for / From a distance / There is harmony / And it echoes
through the land.’ But I guess I’m not the only one who
worries that God is eternally spying on us, waiting for us to slip
up, and knowing when we only put a sixpence into the collection
plate, when actually we could afford a shilling. It
seems to me to make God into an ineffectual voyeur, watching
priests, youth group leaders, teachers and television personalities
molest children and NOT DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT! This
doesn’t seem to me the sort of God worth worshipping.
I want to start by saying that Jesus never asked anyone for
money. Jesus didn’t criticise people for putting money
into the treasury rather than giving their money to his
cause. He didn’t criticise people for giving money to
the treasury, even though the contributions would pay for the clergy
who would have him killed as well as for the upkeep of the Temple,
which he predicted would soon be only an heap of stones.
He didn't criticise the poor widow, even as she was a willing victim
of the scribes who fed on the houses of defenceless people like her.
Jesus recognised the contributions people made to God, contributions
inspired not because of peoples' devotion to him personally or their
perception of the gospel, but inspired by their love or fear of God,
however they perceived the divine.
Which begs the question: Do we commend the devotion of others, even
when that contribution doesn't help the perpetuation of our
community or cause? Do we commend the devotion of
others, even when they are not part of my bible study, my prayer
group, or my fete committee? Do we commend the devotion
of parents to their children or criticise them when they can't be
100% committed to the parish like we are? Do we commend
the devotion of others even when they worship differently to us,
call God by a different name to us, or see God in evolution rather
Or are others there really only to perpetuate our standing and
authority? Is this really love?
Jesus notices and commends what seems the most insignificant of
contributions. No doubt the poor widow knew the
insignificance of her offering and would have preferred to be able
to slink away quietly.
I spoke three weeks ago of the sanctified order of precedence in the
church: 'archangels, angels, pope, bishops, priests, deacons, monks,
nuns, missionaries, subdeacons, acolytes, thurifers, servers,
vergers, sides persons, those who tithe and church attenders' - and
do not see that Jesus turns this upside down. I have
witnessed what I can only assume was two lay people in a competition
as to who could pray the longest intercessions, rivalling the length
of the sermon :-) It is those who only attend church who
are those who give most, for they give all they can.
Recently I saw on Facebook a 'Chain of Command within a Church'
diagram. At the top was The Flower Ladies, next the
Churchwardens, next the Vicar, next the members of the Parochial
Church Council, next the Curate, next the regular members of the
congregation, next visitors and people who have walked off the
street, and finally .. the youth worker :-)
Recently we read in morning prayer the words: ‘Whoever teaches
otherwise .. is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid
craving for controversy and for disputes about words.
From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and
wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the
truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.' 1 Timothy
6:3-5 The perception that 'godliness is a means of gain'
is not just confined to clergy, but the number of 'wannabe' clergy
among the laity indicates to me how we clergy have portrayed, and
betrayed, our calling.
Jesus notices the woman who gives least, so God does not love people
in order to inspire their contributions to the divine
cause. God loves in the earnest desire that humans will
love other humans. God loves us in the earnest desire
that we will love other humans - not just other straight, devout,
tithing Anglicans and christians, like us.
And Jesus called his disciples and pointed out to them the
extravagant contribution of this poor widow. Earlier he
had set a child in front of them with a similar message. (Mark
9:36,10:13) Do we take notice of this teaching directed
towards we who consider ourselves Jesus' disciples, or is Jesus'
teaching only for others?
So, far from God being the divine voyeur, Jesus shows us a God
incarnate in the real world, showing us that the important thing is
to love others who are different to us; to love others who question
the existence of God, call God by a different name, are intimate
with people we find strange. We are called to notice and
love even those who have nothing to contribute to 'our' cause.
We, who are followers of Jesus, are called to notice and acknowledge
the devotion of others, however insignificant, however we might
consider that contribution ill-conceived or misdirected.
In an article by J. Barrett Lee entitled: 'A Growing Church is a
Dying Church' the author writes: 'Whenever a congregation goes
looking for a new pastor, the first question on their minds when the
committee interviews a new candidate is: Will this pastor grow our
church? I’m going to go ahead and answer that question right
now: No, she will not. No amount of pastoral eloquence,
organization, insightfulness, amicability, or charisma will take
your congregation back .. to its glory days.' How very
true! That question so frequently asked needs to be
turned back on the congregation, and by extension to the diocese and
the denomination: 'Will the members of this church recognise,
acknowledge and welcome the contributions, insignificant or large,
of other people, whoever they are, and whatever changes such
contributions will make to the life of the congregation, diocese and
And if we are called as followers of Jesus to do this, then we might
well conclude that there is indeed no other way to salvation, except
to do this. Salvation is not just for us as individuals,
congregations, diocese and denominations, for this is what the
scribes and the wealthy contributors to the Temple sought, but
salvation is for others and for society at large.