If you are a pastor or lay person who wants to use this to preach in church – that is why I posted it. I don’t care about credit, I only care that God’s word is preached and Christ is glorified. I pray He uses this sermon in a mighty way through you. You have my permission to alter it and use it however God leads you. God bless you in your ministry. You can listen to the actual sermon by clicking here or download it as an mp3 by right clicking and clicking “save as” here. (My sermons are never exactly as written.) You can also bookmark this to check out the other free written sermons on my blog.
As a pastor, I’m going to make a confession to you today that is sad to have to address. Some of you are going to say, “I knew it!” Others of you are going to have your innocent view of the church shattered and think there’s no way this could be. Here’s the confession: People use religion to manipulate others. They always have and I’m guessing they always will, at least until Jesus comes back. Of course, everyone doesn’t do it. Jesus certainly didn’t do it. The problem is it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the difference between those with a pure, sincere heart for Jesus and those who only have their own self-interest at heart. There are Christian bands and singing groups that claim to be doing what they’re doing for Jesus and they really just want to be rock stars. They act like it’s all for Jesus, but the truth is they love the adoration of the crowds. Some of them travel around with outrageous prices for tickets and outrageous demands for their dressing rooms. Some preachers are no better. Not too long ago I heard about a famous preacher, who most of you would have heard of, who was supposed to go to a prison to talk to the prisoners. A problem arose when the people wanting to bring him in to the prison and the preacher couldn’t agree on the money. He didn’t go to the prison. We can turn on a religious channel just about any time and see a man and woman sitting at a table in a family room and they’re telling you that you will receive a blessing when you support their ministry. Just the other night, I saw some on daystar wanting to “give” me a gift of a study Bible for my $125 gift to their ministry. It certainly seems like a scam, especially when they promise you that you will receive 100 fold in return. It all appears as legitimate as Bernie Madhoff’s Ponzi Scheme.
All across the country, normal everyday pastors like me aren’t immune, sometimes look suspicious, and truth be known are probably guilty as well. Some pastors can be accused of just moving up the ladder to bigger and better churches. Reverend Randy Flanagan told us in our Administration Class in seminary that it’s funny how God always calls pastors to bigger churches with a higher salary. Rarely is a pastor called to a smaller church with lower pay. And Pastor David Platt of The Church at Brook Hills took a beating from the Southern Baptists because he was bad mouthing the “Salvation Prayer.” He said that pastors will lead people in a prayer, telling them exactly what to say, tell the people they are saved, and go around bragging how many people were saved in church Sunday or at the revival. Pastor James McDonald at Harvest Bible Church in Chicago says that pastors don’t tell you that you’re saved. Only God can tell you that you’re saved.
In his book Exiles, Michael Frost says that too many clergy don’t even believe what they preach anymore. But they’re trapped in their job and their finances dictate that they keep perpetuating what they see as a myth. Or I might add, they keep hopelessly preaching what they believe to a society that no longer has ears to hear, who don’t want to hear, who just want a social club that poses for the church, which is now nothing more than a formerly powerful institution that seeks to ensure its own survival.
And before those who are in the “Christians skeptical of the church” category get too comfortable, the truth is we as individual religious people often try to manipulate God and each other. We do good deeds trying to earn favor with God. And we like for others to see our good deeds so they will be impressed with us. We’d sometimes rather do things for people who can pay us back than doing things for people who can do nothing for us.
And lost in all of this greed and yearning for attention and favor that calls itself religion is the person truly trying to follow God, to loyally live like she trusts God to take care of her, and she doesn’t seek the approval of anyone else, just God.
Brothers and Sisters, I have just summed up today’s Scripture. Here it is from Mark 12:38-44:
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
And to be even more honest, today’s Scripture is one that has been used, and in full disclosure one that I’m sure I have used, to give an example sacrificial giving. It has been used to spur on the congregation to make them feel like they are holding out on God if they aren’t “giving til it hurts.” Or to say to most people, look – if you only give 10%, you’ve still got a whole lot left, enough for expanded basic cable, an iPhone, a 50 inch television, or a couple of them, a nice car, or a couple of them, a nice vacation every year, or a couple of them, and everything else your heart desires. The mere fact that it’s the lectionary Scripture for November is telling. I’ve covered this before, but for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s a pattern of Scripture that is on a 3 year rotating basis. It’s suggested Scripture from which to preach. And I’m running out of time for my Board of Ordained Ministry assignment in which I have to video a worship service and I have to give a lectionary sermon. If you were here last week, you know I started it last week and the video camera quit working. So that’s why I’m preaching from this text today. I have to preach from the lectionary. Now the question is, “Why is this Scripture in the lectionary here at this time of the year?” It’s believed to occurred the week Jesus was going to the cross! Why is it here to be preached in November? Because that’s when preachers preach about giving money to the church because many churches are asking their congregations to pledge what they’re going to give for the next calendar year. Even the fact that this is placed here is odd, given the fact that Jesus is warning the common folk to beware of the religious establishment.
The more I studied this Scripture and read it, the more I’m convinced that my preceding assessment, the one before the Scripture reading, is what is really going on in this Scripture. I don’t know if it’s meant to be used to goad people into giving more money to the church. I do know it warns us against people in positions of religious leadership, of which I am now one.
I remember seeing a t-shirt one time that said, “I’m the one your momma warned you about.” I don’t want to be the person Jesus warned you about. I also don’t want to take my bat and ball and go home. I want to faithfully and truthfully as best the Holy Spirit gives me the ability, proclaim God’s word.
That’s what I’ve done and what I’m doing with this Biblical text. Staying as true as I can to the way I understand today’s Scripture.
And you may be sitting there wondering if I’ve painted myself into a corner. As I was writing this sermon, I was wondering that. Have you ever painted yourself into a corner? Where do we go from here in this sermon? And what does it have to say and what is the relevancy to us today?
Then I realized that in these seven verses Jesus was pointing out to us two possible ways for us to live. And it’s not just about being a religious leader. On the one hand, He saw self-righteous, self-important, self-serving people, posers if you will, who put themselves first. Not only putting themselves first, but only worried about themselves! People who would do things only if it benefited themselves. They would appear to glorify God if it was in their own self-interest. Everything was about them. It was never about others and most assuredly never about God. They invest in themselves, their confidence is in themselves, they are made worthy in their own eyes by their own actions. They are really self-sufficient, not even in need of God. Look at how holy and honorable I am! Lord, I thank you I am not like that sinner!
Then, there’s another option, another way to live. And that’s to write a check. And it’s not a check written out to the church. It’s a check written out to Jesus. A check for everything you have and everything you are. And quite frankly, it’s a check that would bounce if not for Jesus. You’d better make it a blank check. It’s funny, this term “blank check” was on my mind this week as I studied this Scripture. Then I saw this post on my ex-brother-in-laws Facebook page. He served 24 ½ years in the Marine Corps. And he wrote this: Some may ask “What Is A Veteran”, so here is the definition: A “Veteran” – whether active duty, discharged, retired or reserve – is someone who, at one point in their lives, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America”, for an amount up to and including their life. As we remember those that had come before us, and those that will come after. We will always write that check for freedom.
When we write that blank check, giving it all to Jesus, all that we are and all that we have, we realize He is all we need. Jesus said that the rich give out of their abundance, and this poor widow gave out of her poverty. And she gave everything she had. And 2,000 years later Jesus has made her an example to us. Not necessarily in the way I might use this Scripture so that you will give more money to benefit the church. But so that you would give everything to Jesus. If you find this church worthy and believe in it’s mission, then by all means, I believe you’re called to support it financially, I’m called to support it financially; and with our time; and with our talents; and with our prayers; and with our witness; and with our faithful presence – with EVERYTHING. And if you don’t believe this church is doing the work of Jesus and you don’t think you should support it in all these ways, I pray that you will do some soul searching. I think we need to ask, “Lord, is it me or is it this church?” Is this church the poser or am I? Is this pastor a man of God speaking the Word of God or not?
So here we are with a choice to make. I say we, but it’s really an individual decision. Do you believe Jesus is only the Son of God? Do you believe He died on the cross to pay for your sins? Do you believe he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do you believe you can trust Him? If you answered yes to those questions, how can you not give yourself fully as the widow did? Isn’t that what you really want? To live under the Lordship of Christ? And ultimately you’re not putting your faith in people, in a denomination or an institution, or in a pastor. The denomination and pastor are just tools to help you connect with and find the will of Jesus.
Will you do as my brother-in-law said, and write a blank check? This one payable to Jesus, for an amount up to and including our life? To rely on Him, to honor Him, to work for Him, to be used by Him, by giving everything you have, your whole life.