All In

3rd Last Sunday 

 Mark 12:38-44

Well…by now I think we have heard from all the voices.  We have heard the victory speeches and the concessions.  We have heard a good bit of gloating from those whose candidate was successful, and a good bit of disappointment (mingled with anger) from those whose candidate was not successful.  The pundits have weighed in, pro and con.  There have been voices of optimism (perhaps a bit guarded) and there have been voices of cynicism (perhaps less guarded). 

And, of course, there have been Christian voices…most of them taking a kind of “God is still on His throne” tone of voice…although if you listen closely it sounds something more like “our Jesus always wins,” complete with artwork of heaven and glory and trumpeting angels.  Well…certainly Jesus is the victorious Lamb of God.  But…we do well to remember that in this world the more accurate artwork is always a crucifixion scene.   That is how our God reigns in this world…from a cross…hidden under suffering and death…no matter which candidate wins or loses.

Because the reflective Christian voter knows full well, that with any candidate, in view of the Christian faith, there is something which attracts and something which gives us pause…even among the best of them.  It is the nature of the political game among us sinner/saints.  But…but it’s always a fool’s game to try and second guess the intentions of the Almighty on the basis of something like the outcome of an election!  No matter who wins!

The poor widow in our text today is a good reminder of this!  Over the past several weeks, the Readings from St. Mark’s Gospel have featured varying levels of commitment…or lack thereof. In response to Jesus’ ministry, some people were all in, some were all out, and others…well, a bit of both.

The rich man back in Mark 10 went away grieving because he had many great possessions.  He was all out.  The brothers, James and John, later in Mark 10, are willing to be all in if Jesus will promote them to the corner office. They’re all in if He meets their conditions.

Blind Bartimaeus, at the end of Mark 10, on the road to Jericho, is like our poor widow today.  He’s all in.  When Jesus calls him, the man throws off all his earthly possessions (before he even finds out what Jesus intends), throws them off and scrambles up to Jesus.  A prudent man would have taken his cloak along…just in case.  If Jesus couldn’t heal him, he’d still have a back-up plan. He’d still have his money, his shelter, his bed—which is what a 1st Century beggar’s cloak represented.

Then there’s the scribe in the verses just ahead of our Reading today.  He is on the brink of being all in.  He had said to Jesus, “You’re right, Teacher; to love God with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all sacrifices.”  Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  Ooh, but the word “all” appears an awful lot in that short text!

Today being Veterans Day we have a powerful example of “all in.”  When it comes to the military, there’s no hokey-pokey of keeping one foot out while the other is in.  When you’re in, you’re all in!  Body and soul.  You are recreated.  Even a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine out of uniform is still every inch a soldier, sailor, airman or marine.  They are all in.  Even at great personal cost.

I think of my maternal grandfather, just 5 years after he had emigrated to this country he was back in Europe, in the trenches of France with the American Expeditionary Force.  I can only imagine what he experienced, because he never wanted to talk about the war.  But huddled in a trench, when that whistle blew, he and his fellow doughboys would go over the top into the mouth of hell.  They were all in!  He came home.  Many did not.

Or those who hit the beaches of Normandy, Guadalcanal…when the gate dropped they were all in.  Or the hill in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, or that line in the sand at the mission of San Antonio de Valero, or Old Ironsides trading broadsides with the frigate Guerriere, or those militia men holding fire until they “see the whites of their eyes.”  That’s close!  They were all in!

So too the widow in our text, she is a lot like a paratrooper jumping in behind enemy lines.  Like them, she is all in.  Oh sure, she’s poor.  2 lepta, as they were called, is all she has.  Together they add up to one Roman penny, the equivalent of about 10 minutes of a day’s wage.  Pocket change.  That’s all she’s got.

But still she jumps.  And into the temple treasury go both little coins.  She doesn’t keep one, just in case.  She doesn’t hang onto it, little as it is, as a kind of good luck piece, in case God or the priesthood or the government or her family don’t come through for her.  She’s all in.

She jumps into enemy territory, into the hands of men who, as Jesus said, “devour widows’ houses.”  The priesthood of Annas, Caiaphas & Co. was thoroughly corrupt.  Her country was governed by tyrants, the Romans and Herod’s family.  Still…she is all in.

No wonder Jesus praises her.  She is so very much like Him!  He freely gives Himself into the hands of sinful men.  Gives His body to their torture, without holding back His divinity.  God dies there on the cross in Jesus, unfathomable as that may seem.  God is all in.  For had He not been all in, we…well…let’s say, it wouldn’t be pretty!  Jesus is the ultimate Veteran, having laid down His life for the sake of all people, friend and foe alike.  All in!  For us…He is all in!

While Veterans Day is our American national holiday, this day, together with this particular text from St. Mark, is welled summed up in words from a man whose country is an American ally, though at one time a dread foe: Great Britain.  The man, Sir Winston Churchill.  In his speech to the British House of Commons, June 18, 1940, two days after the fall of France to the German Wehrmacht, Churchill spoke these words which marched to a Biblical cadence:

“…the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization…. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” 

But in June, 1940, things did not look good at all.  France had fallen.  Two weeks earlier the British army had narrowly escaped destruction at Dunkirk.  Still Mr. Churchill appealed to his fellow Britons in words that have become immortal: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.”  They were all in!

On this day, November, 2012, it is not at all clear how the future is going to unfold.  We have heard the voices…voices of hope, voices of despair.  The election is over.  The governing begins.  And we…we citizens are going to be sorely tempted to be part in and part out, perhaps all out…tempted to keep ourselves safe.

Even for us as Christians, we will be sorely tempted in the time to come, sorely tempted to use faith as an escape from the world and its messy, messy problems.  The Church will be sorely tempted to become a little happy-clappy never-never-land, something entirely apart from the world.

But on this day we see a poor widow who is all in.  We remember our veterans who were all in, so many of them giving the last full measure of devotion.  But above all, we see Jesus.  Not a Jesus who is an escape from the world into sugarplum visions of glory, but the Jesus who, on the cross, poured out Himself for the sake of the whole world.  All in!

To borrow Mr. Churchill’s words, then, let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties as Christians, as Christians who are at the same time Americans.  And let us so bear ourselves, that if our nation last for a thousand years, and if the Church that bears Christ’s name goes on to see days of great successes in this world…still men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”  Because in Christ, we are—and dare not be anything but—all in!