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Twenty-Fifth Service after Pentecost

Depending on the particular denomination, there are a number of different doctrines or beliefs, that make up the Christian Faith. The one belief that I’m the most passionate about, is that God calls every human being to be in a relationship with Him. In order to have a relationship with God though, people firstly need to be open to the idea that there is a God, and secondly, they need to make time in their life for God each day.

For as long as I can remember, I have always believed in the existence of God. Initially that belief came from my religious education at a Roman Catholic primary school, but as I became a teenager and then a young adult, my belief was more based around my own personal experience of God’s active presence in my life. 

And even though I didn’t consciously set aside time as a teenager and young adult to specifically be with God, I was blessed in those years with an awareness of God’s presence in my life. In those days I used to spend a lot of time listening to music and reflecting on my life in the privacy of my own room at home, and I think it was in those moments of reflection that God revealed Himself to me in different ways. But as I got older, and assumed the responsibilities of a husband and father, I had less time to listen to be on my own, and so I found myself being less conscious of God’s active presence in my life.

However that didn’t mean that God was not actively present in that period of my life; it just meant that I wasn’t aware of it at the time. But when I look back on those years, and the subsequent years of my life, I can clearly see the moments when God’s fingerprints were all over several significant events in my life, which were each major factors in leading me on the path to ordination. 

I consider myself blessed that, by His grace alone, God has called me, not only to be one of his people, as a member of the church, but that He has also called me to a vocation of ordained ministry. I can now say without question, that I trust totally in God, and that I have given myself over completely to Him. 

The Roman Catholic theologian Brendan Byrne, whom you have heard me mention in several previous sermons, uses similar words to mine, to describe the offering of the poor widow in today’s gospel reading. He writes, ‘In terms of monetary value her gift is paltry, yet in the eyes of God who sees the heart she has put in “more” than all the rest because her offering represents total trust and abandonment of herself to God’. 

The gospel reading focusses on the final two episodes of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple, before his arrest and crucifixion. It is the second of these episodes that relates to the story of the poor widow. By way of background, let me tell you that there were thirteen different chests, in the Temple treasury, into which people could make donations. Two of these chests were set aside for the annual Temple-tax: one being for the current year and the other for the past year. Another was reserved for the equivalent, in monetary terms, of the cost of a turtledove, which was used as a burnt offering and sin offering. Yet another was used to receive the value of the offerings of young pigeons, while a further two were used for contribution toward the cost of timber and incense that was used in the Temple. One other went towards the cost of the golden vessels used in worship in the Temple, while the remaining six were destined for what was left over from various other forms of offerings.

Jesus is watching people depositing money into these various chests, and he notes that many rich people have put in large sums of money. But then he also makes the observation that a poor widow puts two copper coins (which are only worth a penny) into the treasury. He compares the widow’s contribution to those made by the rich and wealthy, noting that her offering is worth far more than theirs, because while they are generous in their offering, it is still only a small portion of their total wealth, whereas she has given all that she possessed. 

Jesus contrasts the action and attitude of the widow with that of the scribes in the first episode of the reading. The scribes were members of the religious leadership in Jerusalem, and their legal expertise, in relation to the Law of Moses, gave them great power, prestige and influence over others. Jesus attacks the scribes, because instead of using their expertise for the honour and glory of God, they use it to draw honour and attention to themselves. They make themselves out to be holy and pious men so as to win the trust of the vulnerable in society, such as the widows, and then they use their legal expertise to exploit the vulnerable and take what little that they possess.

Through his own sacrifice on the cross, Jesus brought to an end the sacrificial cult of the Temple which relied so heavily on donations to the Temple treasury to maintain its tradition of sin-offerings, burnt-offerings and other such offerings. I talked about this last week when  I discussed how the author of the Letter to the Hebrews described the transformation that had occurred in Jewish religious practice through the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

In particular I talked about the practice of the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies once a year, on Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), to offer the blood of sacrifice and incense before the mercy seat of the Ark of the covenant. The author of Hebrews told us that Jesus entered the Holy of Holies, not with the blood sacrifice of animals, but with the blood of his own sacrifice, and therefore obtained eternal redemption for all people.

The contrast between Christ’s sacrifice and the Day of Atonement ritual continues in today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. Christ’s single sacrifice as compared with the annual repetition, and his offering of himself as compared with the offering of animal blood. The point is therefore further underlined that Christ’s heavenly ministry is not like that of an earthly high priest, which is one of offering sacrifice. Christ has sacrificed himself, so no further sacrifice is needed. And what he has done through his own sacrifice, is to redeem all who have sinned. 

Just like the poor widow in today’s gospel reading, Jesus’ offering of Himself represents total trust and abandonment of Himself to God. That’s what each of us are called to do as well: to totally trust and abandon ourselves to God. Not in exactly the same way that Jesus did mind you, when He sacrificed His own life. But we are called to make some self-sacrifice; to sacrifice some of things that we currently devote time to, in order to make time to devote to our relationship with God. 

As I said at the beginning of my sermon today, God calls every human being to be in a relationship with Him. In order to have a relationship with God though, people firstly need to be open to the idea that there is a God, and secondly, they need to make time for God in their life each day. How will you make time for God in your life each day?

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