The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r144.htm

s144g15  Sunday 32  8/11/2015  Halswell  s144g12mod
 
‘He .. watched the crowd putting money into the treasury’  Mark 12:41

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.’  (1)   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 acknowledges the contribution of a woman.   In the patriarchal society of that time, which we often refer to as the ‘good old days’, this was remarkable.   Women didn’t count, as they so often don’t still.  Nurses and teachers, often predominantly female occupations, have traditionally attracted a lower salary and looked down on my male doctors and administrators.   And of course women often still are forbidden to have a recognised role in church.   Recently I came across this word of the Lord: ‘If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.’ !!  (2)

I note 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 seeming 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?   As we continue our search here in this parish for a new vicar, is the ‘best’ candidate the one who is most likely to support my ministry over the ministry of other members of the congregation?   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 than creation?

Or are others there really only to perpetuate our standing and authority - which is really by divine osmosis - God’s 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 some time 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 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.'  (3)   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 people 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, baptised, confirmed, communicant, devout, tithing Anglicans and christians, like us.   God loves so that all might become part of the solution rather than those who perpetuate the divisions within society and faith.

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. (4)   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, to love those who call God by a different name, to love those who 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.'  (5)   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 denomination?

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.

1.  http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/bette+midler/from+a+distance_20016990.html
2.  Deuteronomy 25:11-12
3.  1 Timothy 6:3-5
4.  Mark 9:36,10:13
5.  http://hoppinghadrianswall.com/2012/09/04/a-growing-church-is-a-dying-church/