Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on 1 Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, and Mark 12:38-44
Dear people with faith: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We heard of the faith of two widows in our Scripture lessons this morning – the widow of Zarephath who gave all the food she had to Elijah, trusting that God would take care of her, and the widow at the Temple who put all the money she had into the offering, trusting that God would take care of her. They both demonstrated by what they did, that they had faith that even though their circumstances seemed dire and hopeless, God would not forget about them or forsake them.
This was a faith that God shaped in them through suffering. That’s the thing about widows with faith. They have a wisdom of experience, and I’m not talking only of old age, but of fighting the good fight of faith. They are veterans of the war with sin and death. They have accompanied their spouses through the process of dying; and that last enemy, that has somewhat kept its distance from the rest of us, they have seen face to face. They know death. They know what is at stake. They know what in the world is truly important, and for them in their wisdom, they supported the preaching of God’s Word.
The widow of Zarephath supported the prophet of God, Elijah, in a time of drought and famine. She had intended to make a last meal for herself and her son before they would starve to death. Instead she made a little cake with her last flour and oil for the prophet of God, and God took care of her.
The widow at the Temple supported the work of the Temple and the worship that took place there. What happened to her is not told to us, but we can know for sure that God took care of her.
In her case, it was not a time of drought or famine. She was not supporting a prophet in need. She was giving offerings at the Temple – offerings which the greedy scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests used for their long robes and their lavish feasts. Indeed, Jesus accused them of devouring widows’ houses.
They made long shows of prayer and piety, but it was all a hypocritical ruse and a scam to get more money from poor widows. We are told they were lovers of money and they ridiculed Jesus for telling them that they cannot serve two masters; that one cannot serve both God and money (Lk. 16:13-14). They were so greedy for gain that they preyed on the poor widows, taking the little the widows had to add to their own wealth and riches.
What a stark contrast to the poor widow who trusted in God and gave everything to God. She gave herself to God. She entrusted her life to Him. She was thinking about eternity, not her earthly needs, knowing God would take care of both.
These two believing widows knew their Saviour from death, and they knew that it was of the highest importance that the message of salvation and the promise of forgiveness be preached by Elijah and flow from the Temple before death sticks his face into the lives of others.
Widows have a faith that has been tried and tested and strengthened by the Lord through tribulations that we have yet to experience. They trust God to get them through their current trials and tribulations, just as He has gotten them through all their previous trials and tribulations.
Where would we be without widows? Widows make up a large percentage of the hearers in the pews on Sunday morning [in many congregations, certainly at Zion]. Widows support this congregation with sacrificial offerings and with their time in preparing meals for events and sandwiches for funerals. Widows have told me that they pray for me and for my pastoral care for you. Widows volunteer at the nursing home and gather the residents for Divine Service in the chapel. They volunteer at the thrift shop and in the community in many ways I don’t even know.
Now, I don’t want to downplay the many contributions of those who are not widows. That is not the point. Rather, I want to highlight what a blessing faithful widows are to the church; what a blessing they are to me. They have seen our heavenly Father get them through at least one battle with death, and as they await their reunion with their husbands in heaven, they serve their neighbour and serve the church as the two widows did in our lessons.
God blesses the church through widows, and He blesses widows, and all of us, through the church. Church is where our sins are forgiven – our sins of not trusting in God when our situation seems dire and hopeless; our sins of clinging to mammon; our sins of being angry with God when we have faced trial, tribulation, and loss. All our sins are forgiven.
Our sins are forgiven because Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Your sin has been put away because Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for you. It was a once for all sacrifice. No more sacrifice is needed. Your sins have been paid for in full.
Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb. 9:28). We eagerly wait for Jesus to return. Jesus dealt with our sin the first time He came, so now when He returns there is no more sin to deal with. Our sin has been put away, so Jesus returns to take us to Himself, so that we will be with Him in heaven. There, believing widows will be reunited with their believing husbands. Believing widowers will be reunited with their believing wives. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith.
For that day we pray. For that day we wait. We wait with widows. We wait with widowers. We eagerly wait with the whole Church on earth for that day when Christ returns. Then death will be no more, only life, and we will live forever with our Saviour who has saved us from sin, death, and the grave. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
[A note to readers: We will being following the One-Year Lectionary in Advent. Also, as always, I am indebted to the many preachers with which God has blessed our church. I regularly steal ideas from the sermons of others that I find insightful or helpful. For this sermon, I stole entire paragraphs from a sermon by Pastor Kurt Lantz related to widows.]