Weekly Preaching: November 11, 2018

November 7th, 2018
The reading from Ruth would require a retelling of the whole story, which is one of high drama, romance, and wheeling and dealing. Naomi persuades Ruth to get dolled up and seek out her rich kinsman Boaz, and lie down with him in the dark — but not until he’s had a few drinks. The scheme works, they marry and conceive an ancestor of David. Naomi’s bitterness (“Call me Mara”) is turned to joy restored (Naomi meaning “pleasant”). The “point” of so many Bible stories is not “Go thou and do likewise,” but rather noting the pluck, the courage, the resourcefulness of people in our heritage. 
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Hebrews 9:24-28 continues what Hebrews has been reiterating. Christ the priest offers the sacrifice of himself once and for all. Some fresh twists (if you’re preaching the Epistle):
Christ enters a sanctuary “not made with hands,” reminding us of Paul in 2 Cor. 5:1 where the body, your “earthly tent,” has a destiny of becoming a “house” in the heavens. In Heb. 9, heaven is now the sanctuary not made with hands. The temple we know isn’t, as it turns out, the real sanctuary at all, but merely a “copy” of the true heavenly sanctuary. The preacher could explore this, or just name it: we are sitting in a room that is a replica, an imitation, a xerox of heaven, where worship goes on now and will forever. This is a paradise on earth. So we treat the room, and those in the room with us, very differently, finding ourselves together in this copy of heaven.
The Greek word translated “copy” is antitupa, which means literally to strike against something hard and thus form an image. I think of Karl Barth’s powerful thought (in his Epistle to the Romans), that the activity of the Church’s relationship to the Gospel “is no more than a crater formed by the explosion of a shell and seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself…” Oliver O’Donovan (in The Desire of the Nations) suggested ways the society, while not converted, bears the crater marks of the Gospel’s being lived among Christians.
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What do we do together in this copy of heaven? We worship, yes, and we “eagerly wait for him” (v. 28). Are we living, surviving, clinging to life as we know it, anxious for the future, or even hopeful? Hebrews suggests a disposition of waiting — not to die, or for the next titillating experience, or for any thing, but for him, for the coming of Christ. Maybe before Advent arrives we might sing “I’m looking for the coming of Christ; I want to be with Jesus” (“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”).
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I’m preaching on Mark 12:38-44. I preached on this last go-round, pointing (obviously) to myself as one of the guys “in long robes” Jesus warned about. I get and like favored seating. I worry about my prayers being showy. I worry so much that I’m an anxious pray-er in public; I usually try to get others to pray. Often, when visiting in the hospital, the time comes for our closing prayer and I’ll ask the patient to pray. There's no show with them; they pray wonderful, simple, from-the-gut prayers. 
Once there was a boy, born with an acute case of cerebral palsy, who was treated terribly as a young child. He went to another home where his mother noticed how he watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. She believed Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive. Some foundation worked it out for Mister Rogers to visit this boy, and when he did, Mister Rogers asked, “Would you pray for me?” The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for anything. He was the object of prayer, not the one to pray for anybody. But then he prays for Mister Rogers and he doesn’t want to die anymore. A journalist, Tom Junod, witnessed this and privately congratulated Mister Rogers for being so smart. But Mister Rogers didn’t know what he meant. He really wanted the boy’s prayers, saying, “I think that anyone who’s gone through challenges like that must be very close to God.”

Of course the focal point of the text, and the poignant preaching opportunity, is this: “Jesus sat down where they made their offerings and watched.” Without being too manipulative, I will ask people to imagine Jesus watching us and our offerings — which isn’t a fantasy, as it turns out. 
The temple was outfitted with trumpet-shaped offering boxes so that when people “threw” in their coins, the clanging announced loudly the generosity of the giver. It’s hard not to think of Luther’s annoyance at Tetzel and the sale of indulgences: the indulgence hawkers toted around large brass chests and sang their ditty, “When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”
Jesus contrasts the poor widow who would satisfy the old saying that “God notices not how much but from how much.” Of course, in church we have anonymous giving. This worried Martin Luther King Sr. (“Mike”) when he began his ministry at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1931. He believed “anonymous giving” provided a grand excuse for what he called “anonymous non-giving.” So he opened up the registers, and listed what each person gave for all to see. Donations soared in just a week.

What we see in Jesus’ story is the poor giving to support the poor. It’s a Christian obligation for all… incumbent upon even the poor. The preacher can find some story about the poor being in powerful ministry. 

 "What can we say November 11? 25th after Pentecost" originally appeared in its entirety at James Howell's Weekly Preaching Notions. Reprinted with permission.
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