The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Pentecost XXIV – 11 November 2012 – 11 / 11 / 12 – Veterans’ Day
I Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 127 Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44
From the Book of 1st Kings:
God’s prophet, Elijah, commanded the widow who had only a handful of flour and a bit of oil for both her and her son, to prepare a cake for her family but first make me a cake of it and bring it to me…. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, “The jar of meal shall not be spent and the cruse of oil shall not fail….”
From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so 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.
From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
Speaking of the poor widow who contributed only a penny to the Temple treasury while some rich people gave large sums, Jesus said, For they contributed out of their abundance; but she out of poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our strength and our Salvation,
One of the several preachers whose sermons I read on the Internet is a young preacher – and by young I mean in his late 30s – who, although a very sophisticated individual, nonetheless has a tell it like it is and, at times, almost confrontational preaching style. I enjoy reading his sermons – his doctrine is exact, he always makes a good point and I very much appreciate his candor and lack of any pretentiousness.
So I am going to preach this morning in his kind of style – or at least make an attempt at it – to just lay it out and tell it like it is. So here goes. He often begins with My friends – so that’s how I shall begin….
Well, my friends, we have three scripture lessons here that demand our attention. The Gospel lesson tells the story usually called The Widow’s Mite. It’s usually kept for stewardship Sunday, but we can preach on it any time – so with stewardship Sunday coming up, now is as good a time as any to talk about it.
Now, being poor she put in two coppers coins, each worth about ½ a cent. Permit me a little bit of Bible humor here – she didn’t even get her two cents in – the two coppers made one cent – oh well, get it?
The point is – she gave all that she had. She gave everything in her poverty putting to shame those who gave much more – but proportionally much less – than she since they gave out of the abundance. She set the example of perfect faithfulness. The rest of the people look like a bunch of cheapskates by comparison.
Her faith allowed her to take the risk to put in all that she had for the sake of devotion to her God. But she was not the first widow to set such an example of faithfulness. Nope!
About 800 years before her, the prophet Elijah met up with the widow of Zerephath. She had it tough just like the other widow. She had it so tough that she had just one measure of flour and one small jug of oil left to make a cake to feed both herself and her son; that’s all she had – when that was gone, so was life. You cannot live without food. End of story.
And it would have been the end of her story – literally – had she not met up with Elijah. Before she met him, she had decided that she would make this one last cake for her son and for herself – eat it – and then die.
That’s just how it was for her – and for many others in the country as well. Life was hard and short. Might as well accept it. I guess that there’s some comfort knowing that you’re not alone in your misery.
Now, there had been a drought in the country impacting the availability of food especially for poor people – and that meant pretty much everyone. You see, in that kind of society a few ruling class people had all the money, the rest of the people just had a bad lot – constant struggle.
The government was a monarchy. Yes, politics always plays the major role in the ongoing wealth / poverty debate. When a monarch – or anyone by any title – of any style – even a President who functions as a dictator – has direct access to the money of the people, they will take it. Simple as that. Always happens.
Free markets solve this economic problem but the rich rulers want no part of that. Never have. Never will. Well, back to this poor widow and Israel’s rich ruler – the king.
You see the new King of the country was a fellow named Ahab – He loved to spend everyone else’s money on himself and on his great looking, self-indulgent- spoiled brat wife. Oh, he had lots of ladies in his life but this one – well, she was special. No one cold ever measure up to Jezebel.
She was a super-pagan; in fact, a super duper pagan – the pagan of pagans. She loved all her gods and goddesses because they let her do whatever she wanted to do. They blessed her selfishness and self-indigence. And now, married to the wealthy King of Israel, she had even more power and even more money to live on her own terms.
Although the King was supposed to set the example for being a faithful Hebrew King, serving the One True God, he gave in to get out – he gave in to her paganism to get out his satisfaction. Or, you might say, he went along to get along. You see, his beautiful wife had a real bad temper – explosive; don’t get on her bad side. Ahab might have said to himself – you know, to keep the peace at home – These foreign gods give you what you want – why bother being faithful to a God who sets high standards for living and doesn’t let you do anything that you want to do.
Well, we know that Ahab was a fool -a stupid fool. Don’t get me wrong – He was an intelligent man, but he went stupid for a beautiful woman – for a
willful wife. Not the first time that has happened in human history; and most certainly not the last. Intelligent people so often do really stupid things. It works both ways. Smart women go stupid for the wrong man as well.
This bad King compromised his relationship with God for a relationship with this Phoenician princess- now his queen who was totally in love with herself. She believed that she was entitled, because she had been a princess of Phoenicia and now the queen of Israel – well, she should get what she wanted when she wanted it and have the people pay for it. If that impoverished the people, tough for them. Too bad. The gods made me the queen – not them. So there!
Sure glad this attitude does not exist among anyone today in our society. It’s wonderful how all of our nation’s leaders – and their wives – set great examples of self- sacrificing giving. Surely no first lady of this nation would spend extravagant amounts of taxpayer money on herself – you know, clothes, travel, gifts for friends, lavish parties, multiple vacations – multi-million dollar taxpayer paid for indulgences. Pardon my sarcasm – but the more things change the more they remain the same. You can fill in the blanks. (Just a note. Jezebel came to a bad end – something about dogs and stuff. Lord have mercy!! That’s all I can say……………………….. and, Nice doggy.)
You see we’re all pagans to some extent or another. Not one of us automatically rises above self-centeredness of the worst sort – self love, self-devotion, self-worship, self-gratification, self-interest and selfishness. All of us want what we want when we want it. Sort of built into our nature – it’s just, after all, human nature.
But we do have a few people who are different in the way they live their lives – men and women who live their lives following the good examples set by the widow in the Temple and the widow of Zarapheth. Such people most certainly share in the essential corruption that characterizes all men and women – but they rise above it because they hear a prophetic word coming from the One True God and – most important – they obey that Word. They obey God’s word rather than their own baser impulses. They have the ability to tell the difference between the truth and a lie – or the God’s absolute TRUTH and the big lie.
Only a few people in any generation have that ability to see through the deception and get to the truth. And these authentic truth tellers – following the tradition of God’s great prophets – men like Elijah – well, they’re usually not very popular especially among the rich and powerful who get rich and powerful off the backs of the people.
But the basic human nature of essentially corruption – that’s called original sin – that sinful nature is no longer definitive for us. God has taken dramatic action in human history to allow you and me and everyone else who will respond to His prophetic Word. God took His Word and made it into human flesh in the Word made flesh to dwell among us full of grace and truth.
The Word made flesh was – and is – and will be forever – God Himself who came to us in our history as God the Son and who lives with us now as God the Holy Spirit. The Word made flesh was – and is – and will be forever Jesus Christ.
He came for everyone but not everyone will go to Him; only those who can hear the Truth and then tell the Truth.
Only those will go to Him who want Him – truly and deeply want Him – who want to know Him – who want to love Him and who want to serve Him. And in order to know, love and serve Him, you must obey Him. That’s the key word missing from most of our speaking and most of our living – obedience. We MUST OBEY HIM – if we are to be blessed with salvation.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer – probably St. Paul – a man who knew the Lord and loved Him and served Him because he obeyed Him – told his reader and tells all of us that God has come to us once to remove the barrier of sin from our relationship to and with Him. He died on the cross. He gave everything – including Himself – to reconcile all of us who have sinned against Him.
As we say in the Communion liturgy, he presented Himself as the one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world – a sacrifice once offered meaning offered just once. IT WILL NOT BE OFFERED AGAIN.
The next time He comes – and He will come again – the next time He comes will be to save those who eagerly await Him. Those eager souls will be the ones who have received Him – who do love Him – and serve Him – and here’s that word again – OBEY Him.
Remember St. Paul’s words – It is appointed for men to die once – and after that comes judgment…. Obedience. Judgment. – Two unpopular words – but two words essential to eternal salvation.
God sent us examples of faithful men and women who set the highest standard. People like the two widows – like Elijah, the other prophets, and men – the true saints – men like St. Paul and so many, many others. They set the example.
But more than, He sent His Son to live for and to die for your sins and my sins. In Him and in Him alone can we live forever for only in His blood can our sins be washed clean.
He sacrificed Himself once. It will not happen again. The next time, judgment.
Take it or leave it. Simple as that.
Well, I don’t know how successful I have been in imitating that Internet preacher’s style – I’m sure I fell back into my own. In fact, I know I have minced words that he would not; he’s just bolder that I. But I can imitate him and do a better job because he has set a standard. All of us need to be bolder because we’re living in dangerous and anti-Christian times. It’s going to get much worse in every way before it gets better – if it gets better.
So hope in the Lord. Believe in His Truth in a world of lies. Love Him. Serve Him. OBEY Him.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, bless us with the courage necessary to face the lies with your Truth. Raise up leaders from among your people to challenge the deceivers and defeat them. Deliver us from compromise with the evils that you deplore. As you have granted to us an eternal victory, grant also that we will be obedient to You and in that obedience change this world for your sake until you return to reign.
In the meantime, make of us your disciples.
We ask this in the name of
and for the sake of your Son,
Jesus Christ the only Saviour
of the whole world.