Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Watching” based on Mark 12:41-44 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, September 22, 2019
The watchful eye of a parent can be reassuring to a child. A young child becomes more brave…more relaxed…more confident when a parent is watching. Imagine a child jumping off the diving board for the first time or playing for their first piano recital. Having mom or dad there makes all the difference. During a lightning storm or in the hospital waiting to get tonsils out…having mom or dad there makes all the difference.
It’s not just kids. It makes all the difference for you and me to have our God close…with us…watching over us. That’s why Psalm 121 is such a favorite psalm. The LORD, who neither slumbers nor sleeps…watches over you…he watches over your life…he watches over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
But there’s the other side to that too. If God is everywhere, then his surveillance camera is running and following me even when my friends and family members don’t see me…when I’m out of the public eye…when I’m behind closed doors. Since he sees and knows everything, he knows exactly how many hairs are on my head; he also knows all those sneaky thoughts that bounce around inside my head. We are open books.
We see that on display in our Gospel for today. As we open up to Mark chapter 12, where is Jesus and what is he watching? Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Jesus is at the temple and he’s watching people bring their offerings. You and I would know better than to put our noses into other people’s private affairs…and to gawk at them when they are participating in such a personal act of worship. But Jesus belongs in our private affairs…he watches intently when we are engaged or disengaged in personal acts of worship. No area of our life ought to be considered off-limits to the One who made us, redeemed us and calls us his own.
But if it surprises you that Jesus pulled up a chair and watched people bring their offerings to the temple it might surprise you even more WHEN he did this. This was Tuesday of Holy Week. In three days he’d be nailed to a cross. He had Pharisees planning his demise. He had one of his own disciples plotting to betray him. In 72 hours the weight of the world’s sin would engulf him. And he’s watching what people are putting into the plate.
What did he see? Many rich people threw in large amounts. And a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. And somehow, as Jesus compared the BIG gifts given by the rich people with the TINY almost-nothing-gift given by this widow, this was his conclusion: this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.
You see, as Jesus watched the people put money into the plate, he wasn’t so much paying attention to dollars and cents…he was paying attention to the heart. That day he saw people who had big incomes. They would go home to warm houses and full fridges and cozy beds. They gave big gifts to the temple, sure, but those gifts were easy for them to give…they required no sacrifice…no planning…no personal investment of the heart….no change of lifestyle. They could live the life they wanted and do whatever they pleased with “their” money AND they still had enough leftover that they could slip God a reasonable amount. Everybody wins, so they thought.
The widow, on the other hand, her gift was so small but it was at the same time huge. Her gift would not pay the monthly utility bills. Her gift would not erase the deficit. Her gift – as far as quantity is concerned — might well have been the smallest gift in history. But her gift was BIG in love and trust. It was obvious who came first in her life. It was obvious how much she trusted her Lord to provide for her future needs.
Children and teenagers, God is speaking to you too. When you bring your mission envelopes…when you take a few dollars out of your babysitting money or your allowance or your summer job and you give that to the Lord as a gift – it may be very small compared to the offerings of your parents, but remember, God’s not counting up the cash, he’s rejoicing at your giving heart. And when the Lord blesses you with regular jobs on day, you’ll be able to reflect that in your gift.
And moms and dads, don’t go away with the wrong idea. Jesus is not saying, “Next time you come to church, please, all I want is two small coins.” Nor is he saying, “I want you to sell your house, liquidate your assets, empty your bank accounts and write out one big giant check to me.” But he is saying, “If I’m #1 in your life…if I mean everything to you…if you are thankful for what I have done and what I have given…if you trust that I will continue to provide for your needs as I have done in the past…then let your offerings reflect that. Don’t just say, ‘Lord, I love you more than anything,”…don’t just sing ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to thee…Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold’ (CW 469:1,4) but live it.”
Why? Because for a moment in history Jesus became poor so we could become rich. He didn’t give us two small coins. He gave us his perfect life and righteousness so we could wear it like a robe. He gave us his perfect death on the cross, paying for every sin. He gave up everything so we could have everything.
We are thankful Jesus Is Watching. That means he sees all the gifts you bring him – gifts of time and talents and treasures. He sees all the genuine tokens of love you lay at his feet. We pray he also sees in each of us a heart willing to be admonished, grateful to be forgiven, eager to show forth expressions of love and thankfulness. “Brothers, sisters, let us gladly give to God, our all, our best” (CW #484:1). Amen.