Bethany Lutheran Church, Bigfork, MT


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Sermon – 11-11-2018

Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – Mark 12


Pastor Christopher Miller

Today's Gospel reading from Mark can be easily broken into two parts. As you'll see, the two parts seem to not necessarily be related, but they are actually so related that they have to be together. I want to look at Jesus' warnings first, then move on to his praises.

Mark 12:38-44

As we begin today, Jesus is teaching in the temple courts. That's important for us to know, because this isn't just a teaching for disciples. This is a teaching for everyone.


Jesus is specifically focusing in this teaching about teachers of the law. I think it might be more important for us today to look at the descriptions of what they do. Let's look at one at a time. "Like to walk around in flowing robes." Well, I'm usually the only one around here who walks around in a flowing robe with any regularity. But there are modern versions of the robes as well. It could be anything from the very identifiable collar to the sharp suit to the t-shirt and skinny jeans. If there is a way to dress for you to have more "cred" in a church community, that's a flowing robe. Next is "be greeted with respect in the marketplaces." That's when we want to be seen as the "good guy" out in the world. You know I struggle with this, and there are many who want to have that peerless reputation in the community. Not because of anything Christ has done, mind you. Next is "the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets." This is where your voice is lifted up as the most important, and people celebrate you. You could almost rephrase this one as "on stage at the conferences." Now in verse 40, the tone shifts. "They devour widows' houses." They're not actually eating anything. They're taking away resources and livelihood. This is the scam phone calls. And "for a show make lengthy prayers." You always see how holy they are, supposedly. The people that I have described are ones you know.

Now, I mentioned I struggle with some of these things. This might mean that I will be punished most severely. My response, when I realize I'm doing some of these things, is to repent, and work to avoid it in the future. The ones Jesus is talking about are the ones who see nothing wrong with any of this, because it benefits them. Because everyone one of those traits that Jesus warns against is ultimately about that person, and their need to be seen, and their need to be taken care of, and their need to have status and power. This is why it's not just teachers of the law, or even modern leaders, that need to think about this. This is a universal condition. These are things that deep down we all want. Even on the smallest scale. You want your friends to like you, right, or at least the people who run in your circles? Sorry to tell you folks, but high school doesn't end, it just morphs. We try to impress with our possessions, our profound statements, and our personal piety. Because we want those seats. We want that money. We want that respect. And what does God say to those who believe themselves worthy of all this?
Isaiah 2:10-18

This is part of the section that is subtitled in our pew bibles as "the Day of the Lord." Keep that in mind.


The last verse is amazing here: the idols will totally disappear. He's not just talking about blocks of stone and wood. He's talking about the people that set themselves up as idols. That's what Jesus is decrying back in Mark. People set themselves up in society as things to be worshiped. Why is that? Because we worship ourselves, and we want outside confirmation of that. Ultimately, this is why God has to do work that is alien, foreign to him. He is a God of creation, not destruction. But in order for us to see that our ultimate idols, ourselves, are fake news, he has to crush them, and every vestige of it that surrounds us. The Lord alone is to be exalted.

But where does that leave us? What does that leave us working with? Well, there are two parts to it. The first is back in Mark.

***read 41-44***

Jesus is not saying, "OK, if you're worried about your status, give a whole bunch of money to your church, and you'll be fine." He says to us, "Give everything you have." This is the relationship between these two sections of Mark. You want to gather stuff and accolades and acclaim to yourself, because you consider yourself an idol. Therefore, if you really want to not do that, push things away from yourself. Be resolute in giving not just some of what you have, but everything that you have. Paul witnessed some of this in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

In this section, Paul actually describes the generosity of the Macedonian churches, and uses that as a demonstration for the Corinthian church.


Paul is literally playing these churches off of one another for generosity. He's not bucking for a raise. He's not wanting to build bigger buildings. He's wanting the church and the proclamation of Jesus Christ to thrive, and for the needs of the people to be taken care of. He even uses the word "equality." The blessings that God gives are supposed to flow between the people. When you are blessed, pass that blessing on, and when others are blessed, they're supposed to pass that blessing on too. And notice, you will not be hard-pressed! God will provide from the generosity of others. Give your stuff away, and you will find that you still have enough, because of the blessings of God through others.

And this is where the second part of how we get away from being our own idols comes in. We get away from being gods when we realize who it is that is providing everything for us in the first place. We can give everything away when we trust that there is someone out there, beyond all comprehension, who has given everything away to us, and for us. Yes, that is this very same Jesus Christ. Our God is a giver, and did not even withhold his own son from us. He has given us everything beyond what we could ever want to acquire for ourselves. And he continues to give into our lives every day, through his creation and through our brothers and sisters in Christ. If this is what he does as an essential part of his nature, that will show up in us, as we give away those things that give us status, so that others may live, and we may rely on him alone. AMEN.

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Audio Sermon - 11-11-2018 - Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 12

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AUDIO Sermon - 11-4-2018 - All Saints Sunday - Isaiah 25

PDF Sermon - 11-4-2018 - All Saints Sunday - Isaiah 25

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Audio Sermon - 10-28-2018 - Reformation Sunday - Isaiah 55

PDF Sermon - 10-28-2018 - Reformation Sunday - Isaiah 55

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