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Sunday Message for 11 November 2018: “Spiritual Abundance”

What contributes to your spiritual wealth? The scripture selection from Mark 12:38-44 reveals relevant insights. Before wading into this topic it’s good to mention one type of religious bureaucrat, a group Jesus singled-out for criticism. Jesus said “[b]eware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces ” (Mark 12:38). A scribe in Jesus’ day was like the combination of a theologian and religious jurist. Scribes interpreted the Jewish Old Testament, especially the seemingly endless religious rules.

Jesus criticized the scribes when he called attention to their hypocrisy. Jesus emphasized the scribes’ behavior as showmanship designed for public consumption. Oddly, ministers and priests throughout Christian history have followed in the footsteps of the wayward scribes. Consider just one troubling area, that of the peculiar habit of Christian religious officials wearing impractical, fancy robes, a practice flatly contradicting what Jesus taught. This situation is just one among many where the clear message of Jesus is ignored, even among people in the Church who should know better! A lesson here is that the Church can be doing the wrong thing in plain sight and people accept it because the practice is traditional, they grew up with it, perhaps also because some don’t know Jesus’ teachings and are fearful of calling attention to something for which they don’t wish to be socially ostracized.

Jesus’ outrage doesn’t end with ministers strutting around in velveteen clerical robes. Speaking of those ancient scribes, Jesus also stated that, “They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” Mark 12:40. Here Jesus suggests that praying in the wrong way for the wrong reasons results in judgment, which is not something most of us are used to hearing in relation to praying. The scribes’ pretense-filled prayers were done intentionally to garner social status and for the sake of elevating themselves at the expense of an impressionable audience. Public prayer never substitutes for personal and private prayer coming from the sincere heart of an individual. All of this suggests that spiritual talk with God is legitimate when it demonstrates the vulnerable openness of each person’s spirituality.

In contrast to the wealthy scribes who were all about self, Jesus elevated the act of a destitute widow whom he saw giving a donation at the great Jerusalem Temple. All sorts of people were milling about, including many wealthy people who publicized their giving so that all could witness their largesse. Then a poor and elderly widow put in two small coins, a mite, worth about penny. As he watched, Jesus said of the woman that she was rich toward God because of the level of her personal sacrifice (she had given all she had). The elderly woman didn’t call attention to herself nor did she seek status. Imagine, as she gave her meager coins she was also creating a heavenly reward that earned Jesus’ rare praise.

There’s a great lesson in the example of that poor woman. The idea is that you are spiritually rich when you offer God what you have, and when you do so be careful lest you wrongly call attention to yourself. Your most valuable gifts are most appreciated when they are done for reasons other than public consumption. The silent, anonymous widow who gave her last coins knew she wouldn’t obtain public acclaim, yet God was watching and Jesus singled her out as an example for all of us to follow. What is God asking you to sacrifice?

Is your spirit rich toward God and others? It is not easy to live a self-sacrificing life or else everyone would be doing it. Although you can garner the world’s wealth, that doesn’t automatically generate spiritual richness. Being rich in spirit certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t also be blessed on earth. Some of the most contented and joyful people also enjoy God’s favor in their worldly abundance. When you give back to God your attitude and behavior are aligned with heaven. Richness of spirit is a state of mind wherein you crave God’s love and truth more than public acclaim.

Therefore, all of us are encouraged to be more like that ancient widow, uncomplicated in our devotion and rich in spirit. In following her example, the blessings you’ll reap far surpass anything you’ve sacrificed. One of the marvelous ways in which God’s kingdom works is that you always get back more than what you have put in. As you give of your time, talent and treasure, God’s miraculous blessings exceed what you’ve given. The sense of completeness and satisfaction from serving God is priceless, above anything you’ll find in any temple treasury.

-–Reverend Hoxey