Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Mark 12:38-44 11/08/2015

After our Reformation and All Saints readings in the Gospel of John the last two weeks, we’re back in Mark, and Jesus is now in Jerusalem, just a few days before his betrayal and crucifixion. After his triumphant entrance into the city, he’s been teaching in the Temple, debating with the religious establishment.

In the verses before today’s reading, Jesus has just set them straight as to what it means to be the Son of David. They had figured that a great-great-great grandson of David would show up and lead them to overthrow the Romans. These scholars in the temple were looking for a powerful human figure to be their Messiah. A warrior king to free them from oppression. They never dreamt the Messiah would be the Son of God, and there would be no formidable and mighty ruler.

Their Messiah is to be a servant king and Son of God. Definitely not what is expected.

In these final few days before he goes to the cross, Jesus is working at shifting people’s reasoning. The old ways of thinking just don’t cut it anymore.

So now in today’s text he goes after the scholars for their “so-called spirituality”. And he’s pretty blunt about it, pegging them as vain, pompous, and arrogant. They’re a bunch of hypocrites, they’re fakes and swindlers in their flowing robes and seats of honor, men who “devour the homes of the widowed” and then pray showy prayers.

Nice.

We’re not sure just what he means by “devouring the homes of the widows”, but we do know a bit about what life is like for the widows in Jesus’ day. They really can’t inherit property. If a widow has no son or other relative to take care of her, she is vulnerable – no financial means, no family support system.

So what we gather from these words is that the religious leaders are doing something that makes these already-vulnerable widows give more to the Temple than they can possibly afford. This is the system in Jerusalem. And the widow participates willingly. She is giving everything she has to God. She is truly a disciple.

So is this a good thing? Yes…         But.

Jesus is pointing out that maybe this reality isn’t such a good one. A religious institution that requires its poor and vulnerable to give everything they have? This widow has given away her last two coins to the Temple because she’s obligated to by the Temple system.

As Jesus says at the end of verse 44 – she’s given “all she had to live on”.

How far off track is this?

Another one of God’s children – this widow who is God’s precious child – she walks away with nothing.

The Temple system is guilty. The leaders are perpetuating a system that hurts the most vulnerable. It has been that way for years, maybe centuries. They see no need to change. The old ways aren’t even questioned. That is, until Jesus arrives on the scene.

I’d like to tell a short personal story about being caught up in old ways and traditions.

I grew up in a Lutheran tradition very similar to yours here at Bethany. In fact, my childhood church was another Bethany Lutheran. It was a big church with its heyday in the 50s and 60s. Things were still going strong well into the 90s, and I was rooted in that institution. I loved God and wanted to give of myself to God through the church, so when my children were raised and off to college, when I found myself with extra time on my hands, I knew that I would give that time and my talents to Bethany.

I was a servant extraordinaire . . . I served on many committees: personnel, helping with job descriptions and policies and benefits for the three full-time lay personnel … I took my turn with stewardship, once coordinating a Rally Day church fair that included twenty-five booths showing off all the programming and activities of our church … I helped with their complicated budgeting process … there was altar guild and funeral service and the staff appreciation team. I even did the impossible, coordinating eight usher positions every Sunday and six for every special service.

A good thing right? Giving all of my free time to God? I felt it was expected of me given my situation and tradition – helping maintain the way things had always been done.

But things weren’t going well. During the years in the period 2000 – 2010, things were changing in our church. And they were changing rapidly. People weren’t interested in spending their free time with church activities – they weren’t volunteering because they were busy with their children and their work and their lives. They no longer saw church as relevant.

The old way wasn’t working anymore, but I was so caught up in what I was doing, sure that I was following the right way, that I refused to recognize it and instead simply pushed on, not cluing in. I was certain there should not be any need to change. Other people needed to change and adapt to the right way of doing things, the tried and true. Sooner or later people would come around and figure out that church was really good for them.

Over time, though, my frustration did start to grow. I realized things were very wrong when I was no longer worshiping but instead checking out who was in the pews – who could I approach to bake something or take a turn at ushering?

It took awhile, and it actually took a pretty serious incident, but I finally figured out that I was missing what was truly important by perpetuating traditions that no one cared about. Things needed to change. The church needed to take a look at itself and begin focusing on what was relevant. And this was a painful, difficult task, to begin discerning how to truly improve things instead of wallowing in longing for the good, old days.

I give this Bethany so much credit for what you have focused on – good preaching, really good preaching thanks to Pastor Geier; education, through your Bible studies and Lay School; outreach with quilting and prayer shawls and social ministry; fellowship opportunities.

It seems to me that you’ve done a very good job adapting. You’re even giving ideas I bring you a chance to take root and grow. Like the streamers we’re using to praise God. Sometimes things have gotten, and will continue to get, a bit rambunctious when our youngsters are overzealous and the ribbons reach out a bit further than expected … So thank you for your patience and your willingness to speak gently to a child.

And sometimes it’s a bit awkward as we try new things like supporting our young usher volunteers who are helping us with bulletins, noisy offerings, and the communion elements... All of you who are our ushers, I thank you for mentoring the youth and helping them feel comfortable as they take on these responsibilities.

And of course that’s not going to be all. I’m afraid that as your intern, there’s more to come. I bet you never dreamt that when you got someone as old as me, I’d have much to offer in terms of new ideas. But it happens when a person goes away to a wonderful seminary like Luther. What I bring you is never really mine but the ideas of some very bright people at seminary who work with kids, who work with young adults, who work with the disenfranchised, those without hope – these educators are people who make it their life work to care about what seems to be working in today’s church, all of our churches which are trying to respond to all the rapid changes in so many areas of our lives.

The widow in today’s text loved God and gave everything she had to God – her last two pennies. Is that a good thing?

Yes. But . . . with Jesus on the scene, things get turned around. Jesus is ushering in a new way of thinking and a new way of being. It is time for a change in the Temple ways: the leaders in their flowing robes and places of honor, their long prayers while ignoring the least among them – no longer relevant.

Yes, in my remaining ten months here, there are more ideas to come from this seminarian, and I hope you’ll take them in the spirit offered: that is, what I bring to you, I want and hope to always be centered in Jesus Christ and what Jesus has done for us through his life, suffering, death, and resurrection, the good news that we all need to hear again and again. The good news that a stranger who may walk through our doors and sit in our midst, what he or she may be aching to hear. The good news that it is through the grace of God in Jesus Christ that forgiveness and eternal life are for you.

Christ died for you, wiping away all your sins, and Christ is with us now in Spirit, supporting us in our challenge to be church.

Amen.

Vicar Terry Frankenstein

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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