Luke 21:1-9, 25-28
These are exciting times at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Every Sunday you can see progress on our new building addition. Just a few weeks back the foundation was poured. Now walls have arisen. This week the first bricks have appeared. Next week there will be more.
In our Gospel reading for today Jesus, like us, is standing before a new building. The great Temple of Herod in Jerusalem had been built during Jesus’ lifetime and was now mostly complete. The people loved their new Temple, which was magnificent in its size and beauty.
Jesus hears the people marveling over their new building and decides it’s a moment for teaching. So he says: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
These words no doubt caught the people’ attention – and probably made them angry too! Who wants to think about a beloved new building being torn down? But Jesus knew they needed to think about such things. Not only was he predicting the destruction which would occur at the hands of the Romans, who would tear down that Temple within the next generation, but even more, Jesus was simply reminding them that earthly things don’t last. As their prophet Isaiah had once told them: “The grass withers, the flower fades – only the Word of God stands forever.”
Jesus goes on in the following verses to talk specifically about the destruction which will come at the time of God’s final judgment. We read some of these verses, as the church’s calendar directed us, for we need to think about such things too. Like the people of Jesus’ day who loved their Temple, we also love our possessions. But they won’t last.
We must also remind ourselves of the reason possessions don’t last. Destruction takes place because of sin. Sometimes we see that connection very clearly, as when an invading army topples a beloved building. Other times we just experience the effects of living in a world broken by sin—the illness, natural disasters and aging that eventually affects us all.
All of this destruction is a sign of God’s judgment on the world. As Paul once explained to the Romans: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And again as we say in the liturgy: “In God’s righteous judgment He condemned the sin of Adam and Eve, who ate the forbidden fruit, and justly barred them and all their children from the tree of life.”
Thankfully, God does not let us suffer destruction without also offering us salvation. Today’s text may be mostly a warning, but it also contains words of Gospel. “When these things begin to take place,” Jesus says, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” These words point ahead toward the fulfillment of our redemption on the last day, but they also cause us to look back at what Christ has already done as a guarantee of our redemption.
Jesus died on the cross, and rose from the dead, to overcome the curse of sin and death. Those who place their trust in the victory of Christ will be saved. We will be judged innocent on that last day, having been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Indeed, we who have faith are judged innocent even now. As surely as we have been washed with the waters of Holy Baptism, and as surely as we take and eat the body of Christ and drink his blood offered for us in the holy sacrament as signs for us today, so also are we redeemed even now.
It is because of this redemption that we can encourage each other to be, among other things, generous givers. Like God himself who gave His only Son, we also are to be generous and sacrificial givers. Let us not horde our good health and possessions but share them freely. Let us follow the Lord’s teachings and care for the widow, the orphan and all those less fortunate than us. Let us discover the joys of sharing our gifts with others.
On this the culminating day of our stewardship emphasis I want us to overcome our fears and give generously to God’s work as a sign of faith. But I also want to make another point about giving. We should give generously to God’s work of proclaiming the Gospel, because this is the best way to help build lives.
The Church year calendar has us read Jesus’ words to those who were admiring the great Temple. But I also had us read some of the previous verses which describe another observation of his. Here Jesus observes a widow placing two small coins in the Temple offering. And then he says, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Here we get a picture of the faithful Christian life. The woman faithfully followed her religion and gave as she had been taught. The people may have been moved by the building of a Temple. But Jesus was concerned about building lives, and so he commended the faithful widow as an example of a well-built life.
Jesus compares the poor widow with “all of them” who gave out of their wealth. The verses previous to this text show who the “them” are. Jesus says: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Jesus is pointing out the difference between pretense and action; between show and service. There are many in our world, too, who talk a great deal about their giving without actually giving all that much. Just about every organization in existence these days talks about how they are “giving back” and “doing good” as a way to earn your respect. But how many of them are building lives? How many of them are operating from the principles on which true life is built? How many of them proclaim the Law and the Gospel? Part of being a good steward is to be discerning in your giving.
I referred earlier to the enjoyment that comes from seeing the progress of the St. Paul’s building addition each week. But I hope that what you truly enjoy seeing when you come to this place is lives being built which reflect God’s love and care. This kind of building truly gives God glory. As pastor of the church I can tell you that it’s happening all around us, for I’ve got a great view.
I get to see how people bring meals to those who are sick, and how young people grow in their ability to express their faith, and how children learn the great stories of faith and apply them to their own choices each day. I get to see people in tough times continue their good spirit and their giving. I get to see people in times of abundance share from their wealth toward a particular need. And this short list I just shared I gave to you without particulars, but I could put names with each of these examples from a particular experience I have had with our church in just these past few weeks.
The widow Jesus observed gave all she had to live on. The cynics will scoff and say that just means she’s eating her next meal at the public’s expense. But that’s a modern day assumption. And it misses completely Jesus’ point.
Jesus commends her for giving what she has and for giving out of faith. She holds back nothing from God. She knows that it’s right to give to the Lord’s work and so she does. She can’t imagine showing up before God in His Temple and not giving, even if it’s her last two coins.
I’m not recommending to you today that you put every last penny of yours into the offering plate. But I am suggesting that you give your whole life’s effort to God’s purposes and that you give generously out of faith.
This woman, too, is giving out of her giftedness. As we’ve emphasized this year in our stewardship program, God gives gifts of talents and abilities to everyone. This woman’s gift is obviously faith. She doesn’t know where her next meal will come from but she believes God will provide. And so she gives.
What are your gifts? Do you have the gift of faith? Do you have the gift of speaking about faith? Do you have the gift of building or fixing or figuring things out? Do you have the gift of leadership or service or patience? Do you have the gift of music or kindness or observation? There are many, many gifts, all of which can be used to God’s glory.
As we think about the woman who gave her last two coins, we may wonder if we could ever be as gifted as she was. This brings up a common misconception—that we really aren’t gifted because others seem so much more gifted than we. But that’s not the case. We should learn to discover our giftedness first in comparison to ourselves. “Of all the things I do, what am I best at?” is a much better question to ask ourselves than just simply “what am I good at?” There will always be people whose best seems better than our best. But our best is a gift nonetheless.
God calls us to be generous givers, because our possessions don’t last and because by giving we help build lives. St. Paul himself often used the idea of building to talk about what we do as Christians. In our second lesson today we heard him reminding the Corinthian Christians that no one can lay a better foundation than what God has done in Jesus. Knowing this, we ought to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and to do so thoughtfully.
This past week we in the church office have watched the work being done in preparation for the pouring of the main floor foundation of the new addition. You can look outside yourself today and see how everything is just about ready. It looks like it’s going to be a very solid foundation. We certainly pray that it is. The remaining walls will then go up soon. How exciting to see this all happening!
At the same time, we in the church are also watching closely to see what kind of ministry building we’ll be able to do in the coming year. We’re praying for the resources to build. We know we’ve got a solid foundation—Jesus Christ our Lord. We’re counting on the congregation to supply what’s necessary to build on that foundation. May God lead you to give wisely, generously and sacrificially of your time, talents and resources. In the name of Jesus. Amen.