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Scripture: Mark 12:38-44
Finding our Place
Where we find our seat is important.
We make half-jokes about having our seats in church.
For those who have been part of this church for many years, we can get thrown off when we find our seat taken or we have to sit somewhere else.
We don't have our normal fidgets to busy our hands at slow points of the service.
We miss the particular nicks and grooves in the pews or chairs in front of us.
The lighting is different depending on where you sit, and the sound reaches us in different ways as well.
Some of you have seats that allow you to be close enough to come up and help lead in the service.
Even more important than the physical location of your seat is who you sit with.
For some of you, it is family.
Many of you sit with friends.
I've noticed a few of you move around a little bit and sit with new friends occasionally.
Who you sit with can be an important part of your experience at church.
You may be an important part of church for the person sitting next to you.
I remember having assigned seats throughout grade school.
There were moments as we got older when we could choose our own seats in the cafeteria, but they made sure we were not sitting next to our best friends during class so that we would pay attention and get our work done.
Smart teachers.
That changed by the time we reached high school though.
By then, we were on our own to try to find a good seat near friends we had made over the last decade.
Then college came along, and entering the work force, and suddenly we were starting all over again, looking for our seat among lost among strangers again.
We grew up, moved away, and suddenly we were the strangers looking for a seat in a new church among people we did not know.
Who we sat with would go on to determine how the new community viewed us for the rest of our time there.
Why is this important?
Because every day we have opportunities to change.
When we change who we sit with, we are making a subtle but important statement about who we claim to be and to whom we claim to belong.
We can use that to our advantage.
However, who we claim to be is not always who we really are.
Where we want to be
Our gospels have multiple stories and outright lessons about seating places, both in public, and at home.
Across cultures, almost without exception, you can walk into any room and quickly figure out who is in charge.
Whoever is at the table.
Whoever is front and center.
While some of us are quite content to stay out of the spotlight most of the time, most of us seek to at least move a little closer up the table over time.
No one wants to be left at the far end of the table forever.
It is not just about a desire to be in charge.
It is a desire to be heard.
The kids, at the end of the table, or perhaps not even invited to the table at all, do not lead the discussion.
Sometimes they don't get to participate at all.
Although some of us may act childish at times, no one wants to be stuck at the end of the table forever.
We want to contribute.
We want to belong.
The scribes were the people who wanted to lead and shape the conversation around what it meant to be God's people in Israel.
Jesus called them out on their untamed ambition to be in the speaker's seat.
In their efforts to do this, they took advantage of widows and other vulnerable people, so that they could appear more prominent.
They would show up to help grieving widows, and offer their legal assistance for a price, take payment from the estates, and accept those gifts (on behalf of the church) and use that to further their own ends, leaving the widows with nothing at the end.
Our Lord and Savior tells us that it is better to be stuck at the back of the table than to step over people trying to get up front.
This doesn't surprise us.
As I said, Jesus taught this many times and we may remember the passage where he explained (at a dinner party) that it was better to take a lesser seat so that the host at the head of the table might invite you forward to join the VIP section.
That is the discipline of humility keeping our ambition in check.
But in this lesson, Jesus shows us that it is even more.
Long, lofty prayers will not make up for mistreating others to get to where we want to be, to get to where we want to belong.
Where Jesus sits
So where does Jesus find his place?
The Temple in the time of Jesus had a seat for God in the Holy of Holies, the center of the entire temple.
Just outside of that was the court of the priests, which had an altar and a slaughterhouse for the offerings made in worship to God.
Outside of that area was the court of the Israelites, where the Jewish men could watch the work of the priests.
Next there was a section, mostly cut off except for a balcony that overlooked this area, which was the court of the women.
It was like the porch of the house of God.
Beyond that was the court of Gentiles.
Where was Jesus hanging out?
In the court of the women.
We know that because that was where the money was collected and because Mark tells us specifically that there was a woman here coming to worship and bring her offering, and she could go no further than this point.
I have always wondered where Jesus thought his place was in the Temple.
He was the one living being in all of creation who could have rightfully walked into the Holy of Holies and sat down in the seat there.
But He didn't.
He did not bask in the worship offered in the court of the priests and Israelites either.
But Jesus isn't a total egalitarian either, cutting the corners off the table and making it round so there is no head.
No, this Jesus can rearrange the seating chart around him no matter where He sits down.
So there He sat in judgment over the offerings given.
He knew where He belonged.
But who did He claim belonged to Him?
Not the scribes or religious teachers with the long prayers and fancy offerings.
No, he claimed the widow, because she put in all she had.
A Place of Gratitude
Now, we feel the tension as we talk about money, finding your place, and Jesus judging us by some kind of standard.
You may be struggling to discern where your place in God's family is.
Put your fear and anxiety aside because the answer is far less complicated than you think.
In fact, we can pull together what determines our true belonging with one word: Gratitude.
We show where we belong by what we are thankful for.
We show who we belong with by who we are thankful for.
Think about it.
You cannot be thankful for something you don't even claim to have.
You can't be thankful for a person who you don't even claim to know.
Many people came every day to give an offering at the Temple in the time of Jesus, and for some, it was all about the show.
Look at me! Look how good and faithful and generous I am! Surely this helps move me up to a better seat in the house.
Jesus sat there, knowing those offerings were given on God's behalf... on His behalf.
Yet Jesus showed no gratitude for them.
In fact, He warned His own disciples to steer clear of them altogether.
Those people did not belong with Him.
Then this woman came up and put in two small coins, all she had.
She did not do it begrudgingly or out of fear.
She did it intentionally out of a love for God and gratitude for how God provided for her.
She did it out of trust that God would continue caring for her.
Of all the crowd, she was the one He was grateful for.
She was the one that Jesus pointed out as one who belonged with Him.
This woman did not get a good seat in God's house.
In fact, she barely made it into the door.
That did not stop her from claiming her place in God's family with her gratitude.
What are you grateful for?
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