The Widow [All In]
All In - Discovering & Following a God Who Goes All In With Us - The Widow
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • April 10, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
Good morning and welcome to the Vineyard!
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
I’m very proud of our church and what we have been able to accomplish over the past 16 months, but more than the numbers, the baptisms, the conversions, the ministry to those at the margins, I am most struck the most by what I would describe as the coming together of the new and the old forming us into a new community. In one sense, it feels very much like the realization of Revelations 21:5, “Behold, I’m making all things new.”
For me, it’s this idea that God is taking and transforming what was, into what is, and what will be. It’s as if God is planting something within us as a church. He’s forming us into a welcoming, diverse, inclusive community that is committed to inviting everyone into the story of Jesus, which is good news. I have this overarching belief that God has deposited something incredible profound and significant in each and every one of our lives. Part of my task as your pastor and as the leader of our church is to create an atmosphere and an environment where what has been deposited within you can be planted in fertile ground, where it can be cultivated, where it can be given light and water, and where it can grow and flourish allowing your to reach your full potential–your destiny, as it were.
Are you ALL IN? - Oops!
In the middle of a series of passages about the corruption in the Temple–the center of Jewish economic and religious life–Jesus tells the story of a widow.
38As 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, 39and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
41Jesus 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. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44)
On the surface this is the perfect passage for a preacher to use to get you to part with your money. A sermon in this vein would go something like this,
Do you trust God the way this widow does? She believes that God will meet all of her needs. Look at her? She possesses what God loves the most, faith! She trusted God with everything, are you “All IN” like she is? Or are you like the wicked teachers of the law, who only give out of their overflow. The faith of this widow is so important, it’s so powerful that Jesus takes notice, and tells her story and I’m here this morning to invite you to join this widow in learning what it means to live sacrificially. Is your all on the alter?! Or are holding something back? Remember, we serve a God who goes ALL IN with us, are you ALL IN with him? Sometimes, the scripture just preaches itself.
These People Honor Me with Their Lips - Ugh!
If we reduce this passage of scripture to just a homily on sacrificially giving, we may get a good sermon on giving, but we may also miss what Jesus is doing here. We are at risk when we reduce our interactions with God to just transaction. We can miss that the God we serve is alive, not just some sort of idol.
When we mistake God for an idol, we can falsely believe that we are in some kind of “quid pro quo” relationship with God. That goes something like this, “I give God, and his representations–the church, my money, in return I get blessings, good health, and prosperity in my life.”
Friends, God isn’t an idol, he’s alive and he invites us to be in relationship with him.
And when you find yourself in a relationship with someone and they need you, you might be willing to help them, even if that help comes at a great personal cost to you.
As I consider the widow, I’m struck by her faith and what appears to me to be her complete and utter trust in God. This presents a question, “What would a relationship with God like the widow’s look like for us?” There’s a lot of freedom and power present in this widow’s story. How might we live, if we believed that we could trust and have faith in God’s ability to provide for and care for us? Would that change anything within us? Would it change the way we see ourselves and others? Would it change the way we see our stuff?
It sure feels like the widow has this kind of relationship with God, a relationship that allows her to trust and have faith in God’s ability to provide for her, all of which frees her to give everything she has to the Temple. And isn’t it interesting that she is giving everything she has to a system that Jesus judges as corrupt, bankrupt, and broken.
Jesus judges the religious leaders of his day, not because they aren’t righteous enough or for their lack of zeal in their beliefs. He’s frustrated and judges them because their heart’s just aren’t in it.
7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’” (Matthew 15:7–9)
The teachers and experts in the Law may appear to be close to God, serving the religious life of the Temple through the daily rites, rituals, and ceremonies. They just aren’t letting that same Law shape and form their hearts, minds, and actions. They’ve reduced the Law of God to just a set of instructions they perform instead of allowing the Law of God to shape and form who they are and who they will become.
23“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23-24)
Ouch! Jesus isn’t cutting any corners, Matthew, the Gospel writer has Jesus telling it like it is.
“You should have practice the tithe, while also practicing justice, mercy, and faithfulness. It’s not either or, it’s both and.”
The widow in Mark 12, who was anonymous in her love and affection to God until Jesus shines a light on her, helps us see what’s at stake as we attempt to be the people of God. Her poverty in an agrarian society where it was necessary to own and work the land for survival, is a scandal. It’s a scandal because the widow along with the fatherless, and the foreigner were the most vulnerable and dependent among the people of God. The God who goes all in with us had a solution for this dilemma, planted within the Law of Moses were all sorts of safeguards and social safety nets, which were designed to ensure that a widow, the fatherless and the foreigner wouldn’t become destitute and starve to death.
17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17–18)
22“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:22–24)
Note: Isn’t it ironic that God who vows to protect widows is willing to become the widow-maker in their defense.
28At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 14:28–29)
The scripture continues to note over and over again God’s special concern with the widows, the fatherless, and the foreigners, it’s as if they hold a special place in God’s heart and mind.
Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness - Aha!
When we see the widow giving her all in the court of the women, we may want to pause to consider that Jesus may just be using this widow to represent something, she might serve as a signpost of just how far we may have missed the mark. Part of the shalom that God promised his people included a blessing to bless the land with enough harvests, more than enough to meet the needs of everyone within the community, this always included the widows, the fatherless, and even the foreigners.
Did you notice that when Jesus calls his disciples over, he doesn’t conclude the widow’s story by telling his disciples to follow her example? Jesus doesn’t say, do what the widow did. I believe he tells the widow’s story as an example of what someone who trusted and had faith in God looks like. Her act of generosity serves as a condemnation on unbelief and empty religion.
It feels like something that James, the brother of Jesus says,
14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
As we think through what it means for us to be a church in this place, at this time, I hope we want to be a church that is full of faith and full of works. I want us to be a community that is willing to trust Jesus with everything as he calls us to follow him into life through the narrow gate.
More than anything, I want us to be known by our generosity. I believe we are blessed to be a blessing. We are still struggling as a church, we have lots of needs, lots of gaps and holes, but at the same time, I am aware that we are also so rich. God has blessed us and I believe that he has much more in store for us.
I would love to see our church continue the proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit by making this church a place of healing and welcome.
I would love to see our church continue to grow our ability to continue to bless our city. Last month, in partnership with the Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice we hosted a first of kind “Connect & Act” summit bringing together all kinds of people with the purpose of addressing the issues of economic and racial injustice. And just yesterday, we hosted our community partner, Our House which exists to create space, support, and love for youth who are aging out of the foster care system.
I would love to see us welcome and train more interns. Our interns have been such a blessing to our church. Daily they remind us to tell our story and the story of Jesus in new and inspiring ways to make this a place for our friends and neighbors to come to know and experience the Good News in every part of their lives. And practical they bless us as they imagine and launch new ministries and programs like the College and Twenties ministry and Let’s Do Lunch.
I would love to see us plant some new churches. I know it seems so pie-in-the-sky ridiculous to imagine planting new churches when we are still fighting for the survival of this church, but as kingdom people living within the world not as it is, but as it should be, we are called to use our prophetic imagination to imagine a reality that could be.
When Kingdoms Clash - Yeah!
As we make our forward, we must be aware of and open to the reality that kingdoms will clash. God’s kingdom will often and quite powerfully collide with the systems of this world. In particular, this happens when people of faith, declare, “Enough is enough” and refuse to be league with a system that undermines, distorts, and destroys the things that the King and the Kingdom of God values.
What would it look like, if we were so full of joy that our default instinct was to share rather than hoard, to give rather than receive, to bless rather than to curse?
God’s kingdom is different from the Empire. The Empire wants to convince us that there isn’t enough, because when there’s not enough, we won’t see each other as participating in the shared humanity. Instead, we will see each other as competitors fighting over scarce resources. The idea that my gains come at the expense of your losses. When we think like this, we will never be willing to give, to give sacrificially to anyone, let alone to give sacrificially to God.
God says there is enough in his kingdom, enough for you, for me, and for us.
Friends, we have to resist the Empire’s hold on us. The Empire is pervasive and perverted. The Empire says, “Hoard, so you have enough,” and the King says,
“Give, so that you have enough.” This way of living requires us to reorient our lives, ourselves, and our priorities to experience what we want: God’s kingdom come to earth.
Practical Tips - Yeah!
Start dreaming! What has God has planted with you? What are you holding back as you consider what’s been planted within you?
Try a fast.
One of the most important tools in finding out “how much is enough” in the different areas of our lives is fasting—simple abstinence from food, television, negative behaviors, telephones, unnecessary doing, spending, and so on. To fast is voluntarily to deny ourselves something we normally do, for the sake of spiritual growth.
We add fasting to our spiritual practices to help us identify with our need of God. We willingly deny ourselves to identify with those who go without. It helps us center ourselves and reorient ourselves to the King and his kingdom. In the midst of fasting, we become more open to God and his desire to influence and transform us into a people who love and live generous lives. We don’t want what the world offers, we want new hope, new peace, new joy, and new love.
Fasting, more than any other spiritual discipline, reveals what controls us.