25th Sunday after Pentecost (B) Proper 27 Text: Mark 12:38-44 November 11, 2018 Rev. Jon Nack
Dear friends in Christ, we just got done two weeks ago with our celebration of the Reformation which was begun by Martin Luther who sought to reestablish the centrality of the Gospel to the church and its teaching and preaching. Most of us who have grown up in the Lutheran Church also know is motto, “We are saved by grace through faith alone, apart from works” which is a quotation for Ephesians chapter 4:8-9.
So to counter the sinful tendency towards seeking assurance of salvation by what we do, rather than what Christ has done, we emphasize grace and faith (and not works.)
It’s interesting that the church responded to the Lutheran teaching on grace alone by accusing her of teaching that works weren’t necessary at all. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, there were those on the fringes of the reformation who taught that good works were injurious to faith. The truth lies in the middle. Lutherans have always taught that good works are not necessary for salvation (you don’t make up for your sins by your works, you look to Christ who gives you His righteousness and forgiveness), but that good works are necessary.
Good works are necessary for three reasons. First, as His creatures, it is His will that we engage in good works. Second, our works are necessary for the good of those in this world who will benefit from them. In so doing, we serve as the very hands of Christ as we serve. And thirdly, the works flow out of faith and are indicators of the work that Christ has done for us, and that the Holy Spirit continues to do in us. It was Jesus who said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:17.
So what is a “good work?” In the explanation to Luther’s Small Catechism, we are told that “In God’s sight a good work is everything that a child of God does, speaks, or thinks in faith according to the Ten Commandments, for the glory of God, and for the benefit of his or her neighbor.” 
If a person has no faith, then he is still under the wrath of God and so are all of his works. For a person must first be acceptable to God and that through the merits of God and then his works are acceptable as well. A person who lacks this faith, though he does a mountain of good in the worlds eyes, is rejected and damned with all of his works before God.
Everything that a child of God does, speaks, or thinks in faith… That faith is the faith that clings to Jesus Christ alone for salvation and receives all holiness and righteousness from Him and in Him.
Now we may begin to see why Jesus commends the poor widow in Mark chapter 12. It isn’t because of the amount that she gave. There were plenty of other givers who gave much more impressive gifts (and these are usually the ones who get the press). It wasn’t the scribes with their fancy robes and long prayers. It was this poor widow who gave two mites. The way they used to report congregational offerings, she would have been at the bottom of the list, but Jesus puts her at the top. Why? Because she, out of faith put in all she had.
Faith is something that the Holy Spirit works in us through the word. And faith produces fruit. Faith isn’t just something that we talk about. It is something that is lived. The Formula of Concord in the Book of Concord puts it this way: [Justifying] faith is a living, bold [firm] trust in God's grace, so certain that a man would die a thousand times for it [rather than suffer this trust to be wrested from him]. And this trust and knowledge of divine grace renders joyful, fearless, and cheerful towards God and all creatures, which [joy and cheerfulness] the Holy Ghost works through faith; and on account of this, man becomes ready and cheerful, without coercion, to do good to everyone, to serve every one, and to suffer everything for love and praise to God, who has conferred this grace on him, so that it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire. 
How else could you explain what she did that way except a joyful trust in the Lord’s mercy. She trusted God’s promise to provide all that she needed. And faith is meant to be lived joyfully. She didn’t go to the temple that day to sing, “I am trusting you Lord Jesus, trusting only thee. These two mites I have to live on, they’re for me!”
That day she did what I call, “Taking her faith for a spin.” I knew a man who bought an commemorative Lincoln Continental. He showed it to me in his garage. It was in showroom condition decades after it was bought, with a grand total of 7 miles. But, there are some who would say, a car is meant to drive. I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t it be nice to take it out for a spin?
Faith in Jesus is meant to be lived – to be taken for a spin! It isn’t meant to be put up on blocks, talked about, dusted off when your sick, or at church.
The widow in our text is one example. She took her faith for a spin and gave super generously. She believed God’s promise and was thankful for the gift of salvation and she took her faith for a spin that day. I knew a mother and father who couldn’t have children. They were presented with the opportunity to adopt two boys from South America. They had been born to a woman who was addicted to drugs. They knew that much would be required. But they rejoiced in what they had been given in their marriage, and the blessings of Christ Jesus that they had to share and knew that they could share the love of Jesus with two more in their home. So what did they do? They took their faith for a spin!
I knew a man who was afraid that if he took time off from his company, things wouldn’t work without him. It bordered on the idolatry of believing the world will fall apart if you aren’t running everything the way it should be run. So what did he finally do? He took his faith for a spin, trusted that God was in control and went on vacation.
Maybe there is someone that you are struggling to forgive. You are afraid of what it may cost you. And yet, you have full and free forgiveness in Christ Jesus. All of your sins washed away. What might you do? Take your faith for a spin! Forgive that person from the bottom of your heart and trust God to work out the healing that needs to happen.
Maybe you are worried and upset by many things. You go to bed carrying a load of anxiety and you still have it strapped to your back when you get up the next morning. What might you do? Listen to God’s promise, “Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you.” And then take your faith for a spin! Drop that load and let Christ bear you up.
Or perhaps there is just the struggle with sin and emptiness that comes with it. The sins of keeping up appearances like the scribes, or works that are done not as a result of faith, but as a means to make yourself feel more confident in your situation before God, or because you think you have to do them. Or, you have simply not done been the most generous, caring person because your heart isn’t in it. And the anemic works should wake you up to an anemic faith. And there Christ is still, holding out forgiveness for falling short His glory. There He is in your baptism in which He put His name upon you. There He is in Holy Communion, offering you His very body for the forgiveness of sins. And even though you haven’t really been hungering and thirsting for it, He offers it What might you do? Come, take your faith for a spin! Come, be forgiven, renewed and restored. Be strengthened and encouraged in your faith. Let the Holy Spirit work in you that which is well pleasing in God’s sight.
Even if no one else is watching, Jesus is! Not as judge, but as the one who is there to encourage you, “Go ahead, take your faith for a spin!”
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.