Home Service for Sunday 7th November 2021

Prayers of Approach

Eternal God, you call us at this time and place, to still our minds and gather our thoughts, to see the immensity of your giving to us. You are the giver of life in all its fullness; the giver of gifts beyond compare; the giver of more than we can imagine or comprehend.

We come before you now, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in three and three in one, we adore you – for you are light in our darkness; you are the calm in our turmoil; you are the wealth in our poverty; the meaning in our pointlessness; the hope in our despondency; the meaning in our being. For all of this and so much more, we worship you.

Generous God, we come, individually and together, as your people to be resourced, inspired and blessed. We come, thankful for the self-giving love of Jesus. Inspired by his example, may we be generous and giving, with no reward other than knowing we are doing your will. We ask this in his name. Amen.

Hymn: Great is thy faithfulness (R&S 96)

Readings: 1 Kings 17:8-16

Mark 12:38-44

Introduction

In today’s stories from 1 Kings and Mark’s Gospel, we are asked to consider two widows who give everything they have. The one who so generously cares for Elijah is left only with God’s promise, delivered through Elijah’s prophetic words. The generous action of the other is used by Jesus to teach about sacrificial giving.

The scene in Mark’s Gospel takes place just after Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in the last few chapters before his death. The crowds love him, but the religious teachers are threatened and now begin, in earnest, to try to find ways to trip him up so that they can legitimately silence him. But Jesus continues to speak out. Jesus is critical of the greed he sees in Jerusalem and its Temple; he contrasts the showy donations made by the rich elite with the tiny, but proportionally much greater, amount given by a poor widow. In giving all they have both widows put all their faith in God and his provision.

Hymn: Father I place into your hands (R&S 518)

Sermon/Reflection

We’ve all grown used to charity ‘telethons’ such as Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children in Need (which will be on our screens once again on 19th November) and no doubt many of us will be moved to contribute by the heart-rending and heart-warming stories we are shown. These days it is not only the people in the studios who can be seen to hand over their contributions, there is often a rolling strip across the bottom of the screen with names of people who have donated. But how much farther could these displays of ‘generosity’ go? Just imagine the scene:

TV Presenter: Welcome to ‘Comics in Need of Sport Relief’: the well-known opportunity for everyone to do impressive stunts of mad-cap activity, show massive magnanimity and be photographed with giant cheques to show just how generous they have been.

As we say, on ‘Comics in Need of Sport Relief’, ‘the ego’s the thing!’ Why not feel good about yourself and tell anyone who will listen just how much of a difference you made to the overall total raised; just how deep you have dug into your pockets? It’s the giving-thing that just keeps on giving-in-return! And if you manage it as a tax write-off, so much the better! So much broader the smiles on your faces!

Here, at ‘Comics in Need of Sport Relief’, it’s the millions we measure by. Oh yes, of course, the pennies count, even the pounds. But it is the mega-gifts that make all the glitz and the glamour

worth it. What better way to end poverty and combat hunger than by arranging a black-tie feast for all your most influential friends, so they can splash the cash on expensive auction items donated by those who can most afford it for those who can least do so. As the food and the drink and the bids flow, poverty is made a little more history and famine a little less acute. Ironic? Not at ‘Comics in Need of Sport Relief’. And remember: the photos with the giant cheques may seem ten a penny until it is your smiling face behind one of them. As we at ‘Comics in Need of Sport Relief’ like to say: ‘Feel the (generosity) fame!’

What if our ministers made a special offer today: if you want to be particularly generous in the collection, then we can put your name up on the church notice board and thank you in the church magazine. Why not consider doubling what you were going to give and all the people in the church will be able to read your name. How could you resist? Any takers?

In our reading from Mark’s gospel Jesus accuses the religious leaders of his time of exploiting their position in society for personal gain. He warns the people not to be taken in by their outward show and their patronising demeanour; their attitude of entitlement and demands for the most important seats in the synagogue and the places of honour at banquets. This was all a front, said Jesus; the long pious prayers a sham that hid avarice and pride. The poor, including vulnerable widows who gave generously to the leaders out of respect, were in reality being cheated. The hypocrisy of the religious leaders is contrasted with the genuine sacrifice of the widow who, despite her dire poverty, gave everything she had in the service of God.

The rich people’s giving in the Temple, like that in our fictional charity ‘telethon’, was a giving to gain, generosity with a self-regarding edge. The two examples are a warning against people who think of themselves as much better than others; those who delight in demonstrating their status, demanding respect and giving from a calculated desire to gain status. The widow was the total opposite of this and, in Jesus’ eyes, she was the more genuine and generous.

Hymn: The kingdom of God is justice and joy (R&S 200)

Prayers of Intercession

God of the poor and defender of the weak, whose laws protected the widow and the orphan, we pray for those who have little, and all who struggle to make ends meet.
We give thanks for those who work for the relief of poverty, for those who provide food for the hungry and facilitate development among the disadvantaged.
We pray for all who work to bring an end to injustice through lobbying, awareness raising and education.
We pray for provision and assurance – that all may know their value, how much they have to give and the difference they can make, so that no one feels small and useless, but affirmed as precious children of God.
Help us, as individuals and as church, to be prepared to walk on the margins of life, to befriend the outcasts, to notice the invisible and to share what we have with others. Amen.

Hymn: Christ for the world we sing (R&S 599)

Blessing.

Generous God, make us generous. Make us generous in joy, and generous in love. Remind us, every day, that we need to share our love for you with others, that we need to give and live generously – for you are generous God, our God. Send us out, God of the poor and exploited, to act with justice, to love being merciful, and to walk in humility with you.
Be with each one of us and all whom we love, this week and always. Amen.

Prayers and other material (adapted) © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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