Luke 20:45-21:4

The Rev. Helen Havlik     –     18th Sunday in Ordinary Time     –     August 4, 2019

Being physically or mentally fit means that we are in good condition or health. So what does it mean to be spiritually fit? This summer we’re looking at what it means to be Fit for Life—the life God is calling us to live as followers of Jesus Christ. If we want to be spiritually fit we have to clear some hurdles that can hold us back. We’ve already talked about the hurdle of pride—and the perfectionism that goes with it—and the hurdle of conformity to the values of this world. We’ve looked at the hurdle of wealth and this morning we’re looking at the hurdle of attitude. I’m reading from Luke, Ch. 20, beginning with vs. 45.  Here’s the holy word of God.

My dad was a people watcher. He’d notice things about people and then use that information to make some guesses about them. Things like what they were wearing, how they walked, how fast they were moving. See—someone rushed back into that store—they must have forgotten something important. Look—that person’s pretty sad, you can tell by how they’re walking. Sometimes he’d strike up conversations, to find out if his impressions were right: that lady is sad because her grandkids just moved. That man is slumped over because he just had back surgery and can’t get comfortable. More often than not, though, he’d just watch people going by and wonder about them and draw conclusions based on what he saw. Do that long enough and you could get pretty good at figuring out what makes some people tick. The things about ourselves that we show to the world, on purpose and when we’re not aware of it. I don’t know how many of those people knew what my dad was doing. They were just going about their business probably not aware that their attitude was showing.

I imagine Jesus is people watching that day in the Temple. It’s Passover, one of three holy days of the year that required personal attendance and sacrifice at the Temple. The city is packed with thousands of people, from all over Palestine and faraway places like Egypt and Ethiopia. So Jesus is looking at the full range of humanity gathered for this festival of remembrance of God’s saving the people of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh: the humble, devout people from his home area of Galilee—fishermen and farmers, fruit growers, potters, midwives—along with priests and wealthy business owners and scribes.

Jesus can’t help but notice the scribes because they are at the center of the Temple activity—and more than anyone in this crowd of Passover pilgrims, they often attract more than their share of interest. They are the powerful, the celebrated of his day—conversation stops, heads turn as they walk the porticoes and hallways of the Temple with their heads held high. And what’s more, like our 21st century celebrities, many of them probably didn’t mind being noticed. In fact, in the scribes’ case, they live off such attention. The scribes are the church lawyers—the people who study hard and dispense advice on all matters of living a godly life. The only thing is they aren’t allowed to be paid for this—so they depend on the gifts of wealthy patrons. If a husband dies, it’s often a scribe who steps in to handle the wife’s financial affairs—and it’s not unusual in Jesus’ time to see a widow’s income dwindle away as it ends up paraded around in a scribe’s long, expensive robes. As with the political and business scandals we hear about daily in our news, scribes know the law and yet somehow believe themselves to be above the law. While not all scribes acted this way, Jesus is talking about those who feel little or no obligation to practice what they preach.

But Jesus also looks at the people no one sees. We expect him to notice rich people who put in large sums. But it’s the small sum that catches Jesus’ attention and comment. He doesn’t praise the widow as much as compare her to the bigger donors. It’s not how much a person puts in the collection plate that matters—it’s what kind of sacrifice he or she makes to do it. It’s their attitude, the generosity of heart that counts. Like any good people watcher, Jesus sees very clearly, maybe by how she’s dressed, maybe because her head is bowed, but probably because he sees into her heart, that she is making the ultimate sacrifice, giving all of herself to God, putting herself completely in God’s hands. And I think he’s especially interested in this because, in fact, that’s exactly what he’s about to do.

Throughout Scripture, this message rings out loud and clear: posture matters. Those who hardly raise their heads—the ones who appear to be the weakest, the weariest, the lowest on the totem pole, yet who declare their dependence on God by giving all of who they are, are actually the ones who do great things for God and humanity. They do this because there’s nothing standing in the way of God working with them and in them and through them. Jacob is the smaller of two twins who becomes Israel, father of the 12 tribes. David is the scrawny shepherd boy who becomes the greatest king of Israel. The widow of Zarephath saves herself, her son and a great prophet. Mary, probably still a teenager, becomes the mother of Jesus. Jesus, a homeless rabbi from insignificant Galilee, is actually the savior of the world. And what they all have in common is that they are willing to acknowledge their weakness and bow before God in an attitude of sacrifice and surrender.

The widow’s sacrifice in the Temple foreshadows the living sacrifice Jesus will make in just four short days. As she gives her all—so will he: a backwater rabbi, small by the world’s standards, but by God’s standards? By God’s standards, Jesus is Savior of the world. This is the backwards way God does things: the more we give away, the more we have! This posture of giving calls us to offer God our time, talent and treasure, not to boast about ourselves, but to honor and serve God. This posture of giving requires us to be generous toward each other, toward the work and ministry of this congregation, toward the needs outside these walls. This posture of giving depends on our willingness to trust and depend on God and to, when needed, sacrifice for God’s purposes. We can never reach the level of sacrifice offered on our behalf by Jesus Christ, but posture matters as we respond to God’s great blessings, challenging ourselves as individuals and as a congregation to trust in God’s leading and guidance, knowing that God’s interest always is not in how much we have but what we do with it.

I’m sure very few people ever noticed my dad was watching them as they went about their daily lives—I doubt the widow knew that she would forever be known for her generosity and sacrifice simply because Jesus saw her. A question you might consider as we gather around this holy table where Jesus is our host: if he’s watching you and me, and we can be sure he is, what would he say about us?

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