Monday, November 12, 2012

The Widow and the Temple

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 12:41-13:2)

This passage in Mark about the widow and her two copper coins has been used in stewardship campaigns probably for centuries, and this passage holds an essential truth about Christianity.  To give to God means giving everything you have, not just out of your abundance.  It is a powerful message and it deserves to be preached and heard.  However, I want to talk about the story of the widow in comparison with the temple.

The first Bible to have verses was the Geneva Bible in the mid-1500s.  Before that there were no verses.  Before that, in 1227, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton inserted chapter breaks into his Latin Bible. Wycliffe used those same chapter breaks in the first penned English Bible, and those chapter breaks have been used ever since.  Before 1227 there were no chapters.  When the Gospel of Mark was written, we had KATA MARKON at the top of a scroll and then a whole string of capital Greek letters without spaces that told the story of Jesus.  Those scrolls are gone now, but we still have a codex, which looks more like a book.  My point is that until 1227, the story of the widow and her two copper coins at the end of chapter 12 and Jesus' statement about the temple at the beginning of chapter 13 were right next to each other.

So we first have Jesus pointing out to everyone--disciples included--that this widow has just exhibited the true nature of a Christian by putting into the coffer all that she had.  And then those same disciples go outside and marvel at the size of the temple and its stones.  Jesus has to call them on their cluelessness with the prophecy about that same temple's destruction.  The point is that God is with the widow.  He is not with the temple.  God can be found with the old woman.  He cannot be found in the temple.

This has great implications.  If you are seeking God in a building, you are not going to find him, because he is supposed to be with you already.  If he is not with you, guess who moved?  And if you leave one church for another, because the first church is without God, guess what?  The new church won't have God either, because you are seeking God in the wrong places.

This building in which we worship is not very attractive, but that is not the point.  Where two or three are gathered in his name, there he will be in the midst of them.  We bring Christ to this building, and we worship him in spirit and truth.  If we think he is waiting for us in a building, what are we going to do?  We're going to choose the cathedrals to worship in and not the dingy warehouse or community center.

Have you ever been inside a cathedral?  It's gorgeous! It's breathtaking!  Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!  It is awe inspiring.  You can almost FEEL the Holy Spirit moving around you.  It's exciting, and this is the problem with modern American Christianity today.  We are looking for the excitement, and we are marveling at the size of the temple, and the size of its stones, and we are ignoring the widow.

There is an exciting video on the internet.  I just saw it for the first time this weekend.  I must admit it nearly brought a tear to my eye, it was so powerful, and so I share it with you now.  A painter is on a well-lit stage with a canvas.  There is an audience, but they are submerged in darkness.  He dances about the stage, splashing paint on the canvas, Jackson Pollack style, and what he is making looks like a complete mess.  He's dancing here and splashing there.  The image looks like an incomprehensible blob.  Then, at the last second, he whips the canvas upside down and there is the face of Jesus.  The crowd goes wild!  We hear them cheer from the darkness. The painter throws up his hands in praise.

Click here to see the video.

It's beautiful, and Jesus IS EXCITING.  BUT.  If we are seeking Jesus in the excitement.  If we are seeking Jesus in the upside-down canvas.  If we can only find Jesus in the blazing lights and the cheering and the rock song and the painter and the canvas and the splashing paint.  If we cannot find Jesus in the dark, on our knees, at the side of the bed, weeping.  If we cannot find Jesus while doing the dishes.  If we cannot find Jesus in the mundane.  If we can only find Jesus in the massive temple and not by the side of the widow...

When he hung there on the cross, there was no cheering.  Not even the Roman centurions cheered, because at that moment the sky turned black, in the middle of the day, and there was an earthquake, and people saw their dead loved ones.  It was not a time of rejoicing and yet it was the most important moment on earth.  Ever.

When we seek God, not the excitement, we find the widow.  We stop caring about the temple and we find ourselves putting in our two copper coins--all that we have--everything we've got.  Jacob fell asleep, dreamed of the ladder with the angels ascending and descending upon it, woke up, and declared, "surely the Lord was in this place all along and I never knew it."  Such is God with us.  Emmanuel.  He is with us in the dark places and he is with us in the light places.  He is with us for better or for worse.  Those of us who are married remember that vow, but Jesus said that vow, too, when he married the church.  He is with everyone in this room for better or for worse.

He is with us on the boring train ride, not just the exciting stops at new and unique stations. Jesus is on the train, not just at the stations.  Get on the train and seek him.  Surely he was here all along and we didn't even know it.