Beware the Scribes


Biblical Text: Mark 12:38-44
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon includes an larger explanation section than I normally try to enter. There are two things that need to be understood to grasp the text. Just what is a scribe in the time of Jesus, and the role of polemic in the ministry of Jesus. And neither of those things are immediately clear to us today. This sermon attempts to alert us. And then it attempts to translate to a more likely modern analogy. More likely than what our simple “religious bad guys” definition would mean. Part of that is drawing some distinctions between scribes and two other groups, Pharisees and Chief Priests, that they are often connect with. As with any speech where you are explaining, you are losing. One thing in hindsight that I would have added might be an elaboration on the “lay holiness movement”. The holiness part includes a code or an imbedded polemic. Every such movement thinks there is something in the society that is drastically wrong. We only call people Pharisees today whose code is obnoxious to us. And we do that because of the success of Jesus’ polemic.

But what this passage really attacks is corruption. Because of the fallen nature of the world, that corruption is inevitable. Even holiness movements are corrupted. The gospel focus is two fold. That corruption will be judged and dealt with. We believe in the life of the world to come. The second part is that we have been freed to make our own choice. We can be complicit in the corruption, or we can live lives of simple faith and charity. Because God sees the widow putting in her mites. Yes, the institution is corrupt. But her heart is not.

A Widow & a Scribe – Vocation and Providence

Biblical Text: Mark 12:38-44
Full Draft of Sermon

We collected the pledge cards this week. Believe it or not, that was planned before actually looking at the text. If I had looked at the texts first, I’m pretty sure I would have said, “can’t do it that week”.

There is a really crisp and clear direct application that feels just a little too easy. You could say, like Jesus did, look at the widow and go and do likewise. But to me the widow is not where most of us Americans are at. We are not that poor. We are not forced by circumstances to completely trust on the providence of God. Most Americans are more than likely in the scribal position.

So here I concentrated on scribe a little bit more trying to illuminate the vocational problems and the problems with providence. The law in both cases is clear and comes from the larger context. At the start of the larger section the text comes from Jesus answers what the most important commandments are – love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. The first is reliance upon providence and the second is carried out in our various vocations. What the scribe was doing, what we do so well, is instead of using our vocations for our neighbor, we use them to avoid or deny providence. The good news is that none of us have the vocation of messiah. That is Jesus alone. So we are still called to reliance upon providence and vocations of service to our neighbor, but when we fail Jesus is our salvation and our righteousness, because he did not fail.

On a grading note, that above paragraph is a better summary than is probably in the sermon itself. The spirit of the staircase rules this week. As I left the pulpit certain things became clearer. But the Amen had already been said.

Thoughts on messages that connect…

Matthew 13:52 is one of the oddest verses in the bible – And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” My head is stuck thinking of “odd sayings” of the bible after last week’s sermon.

How do we take that? Is it an excuse to change everything and abandon what was done in the past? “I’m just bringing out new treasures”…says every heretic, two bit prophet and over-educated under-excited pastor. That should be an obvious dead-end, although the American church seems to be by heresies greatly distressed without the ears to hear. Well then, is it an excuse to formalistic legalism? (Chair: Say what parson? You lost me there. Me: Ok chair, I’ll rephrase.) Do we take that passage as the warrant to torture everything slightly different until it looks just like what came before? The trained scribe is the one who makes everything old new again. If that was the case, I should be able to dust off “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (look it up, chair) and call a generation back to God and shake them out of their lethargy. (Chair: good luck with that.)

Why did a Monk in a backwater part of Germany nail 95 sentences largely unreadable on door and 4 years later the entire world was aflame? Personally I like money motives, the new burghers and the old aristocracy saw a way to stop sending money to Rome. (Chair: personally I like the freedom message, like when you get your big backside off me. That message got every two bit aristocrat and priest’s backside off of simple Christian. Me: okay, I’ll lose a little, and your reason isn’t bad either, chair.) But there is a shelf full of books on my wall that will swear up and down that justification by faith alone was exciting news.

So what does an over-trained scribe think? (Chair: You mean other than when you can get to 5 Guys next? Me: Ha ha) It’s like translation. The well trained scribe must know in his bones the old without losing touch with the time he actually lives. We have this treasure found in a field, or I prefer held in jars of clay. The jars of each generation break. New generations make new jars. Some generations have shockingly bad taste. But the treasure held remains the same. And the treasure is this: I tell you a mystery, we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed. The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable. Because God has given to us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.