Maria & Pablo

As the story goes, in 1825, Euphorbia pulcherrima (also known as the Christmas flower) was brought to the Americas by Dr. J.R. Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico. The story behind the poinsettia is even better. It teaches us that the gift of love is dearer to Jesus than anything money can buy.

Maria & Pablo ~ December 15, 2019 ~ Luke 21:1-4

This morning we are in the gospel of Luke, Phil’s favorite gospel. Did you ever think for a moment – Jesus’ public ministry really only lasted three years. From the time He left home and He was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, until the moment He was walking towards Calvary to be crucified, it was about three years. That’s it. All during that time, what He said, what He did was not necessarily beneficial for Him; it was to benefit us, to teach us, to show us what we’re supposed to do and be like. I mean, think about it. Jesus got baptized. He didn’t have any sin to confess. He didn’t have any reason to be washed clean of His sin. He didn’t have any sins. He didn’t do it for Him. He did it because He wants us to go through baptism – to confess our sins and to go through baptism.

Jesus did a lot to benefit us, to show us the way to live life as faithful Christians. Well, in that vein, did Jesus have to go to church (or to synagogue at the time)? I mean, what for? To worship Himself? No! Jesus went to church because He wants us to go to church. Now, is church attendance connected to our salvation? No. God is not taking attendance. Can we meet God and talk with God as we’re walking on the beach or as we’re taking a stroll in the woods? Sure. But Jesus knows we won’t. See, I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard people tell me this over my lifetime too. I don’t have to go to church, I can talk to God when I’m walking on the beach near the water! Okay, that’s true. But the problem is, they just use it as an excuse not to go to church, because they never go to the beach and walk on the water and talk to Jesus or walk in the woods. It’s just a convenient excuse. Jesus went to church, because He knew the best way to make sure that we spend time with the Lord on a consistent basis is to go to church. That’s why He always went, and that’s why He wants us to have a regular, ongoing relationship with God.

Well, one day, Jesus is sitting in church. Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray together.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

21st chapter of Luke, kind of an interesting choice for Christmas.

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
(Luke 21:1-4)

Why did I choose this reading? Well, first of all, you’ve heard me say just recently – this story is not about money. It’s really about the heart, because money is relative. Jesus went to church on a regular basis. In this particular instance, He chose – He could sit anywhere He wanted in the synagogue – He chose to sit right next to the collection box, so that He could watch what people put in. That’s an interesting point to begin with. Secondly, He saw a lot of rich people putting in large amounts, and then a widow put in two small coins.

The large amounts didn’t really impress Him, because it’s all relative. I don’t know if you follow the news, or even care, but just recently, the former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, announced that he is going to run for the democratic nomination for president; and because he got into the race so late in the game, he is going to spend 200 million dollars of his own money on television advertising to get his message out, because he’s behind a little bit. Now I know, you and I are like, “200 million dollars? Oh, my word!” Well, Michael Bloomberg, God bless him, is worth 54 billion dollars! That’s 100 million a hundred times, fifty-six more times. Now, I don’t begrudge Mr. Bloomberg his money. He earned it honestly, God bless him. Someday I hope to say I have 54 billion dollars. That’s not my point. My point is for him to spend 200 million dollars is the equivalent of you and I shelling out $200. So, all this money that he’s putting into advertising is like me paying my Cox cable bill once. It’s not hurting him that much. So, don’t get impressed that Michael Bloomberg spent 200 million dollars – it’s like $200.

That’s what Jesus was seeing with all these wealthy people putting these large amounts in. It wasn’t impressing him. And then this poor little widow, who doesn’t have two coins to rub together. As a matter of fact, she has two coins to rub together – that’s all she has. So, these two small coins are Greek currency. They’re called lepta. And to put that in perspective, in AD 30, 33 when this story took place – remember I said when worshipers went to the Temple, when they went to church, they brought something with them to give something to God, a sacrifice of an animal. They brought a bull, or a sheep, or a goat. Most people couldn’t afford those kinds of animals, they were too expensive. That’s okay. There were some cheaper animals you could purchase right outside the Temple. Birds – doves, pigeons, sparrows. To purchase five sparrows, it would cost 16 lepta, which means one sparrow is three lepta. So, the widow’s two small coins wouldn’t even purchase one bird. That’s how little it was.

But that’s all she had, and she put it in the offering plate. That’s why Jesus was moved. It wasn’t a money thing; it was a heart thing. In the big scheme of things, her two lepta really wasn’t going to help the church that much. It wasn’t going to help them pay their light bill, or their oil bill, or the salary of the rabbi. Less than the money for one bird? It really wasn’t that much help. But the heart that gave it touched Jesus deeply.

So, whether we put $200 or $20 in the offering plate, it really is not about money, but about the heart that gave… or did not.

Now, if you remember a story back in 1 Kings, there is a story about another widow. She lives in Zarephath, and the prophet Elijah was sent to her house and when he gets there, he says to the woman,

“Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” As she was going to get it, he called out to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.” And she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single [piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”

That’s how desperate she was.

But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son.”
(1 Kings 17:10b-13)

And she went ahead and did it. And because she did, her container of flour and her container of oil never emptied. There was always some there when she went back for more. She was blessed with a miracle because she was willing to give it all to God, just like the widow in the Temple. “Here’s my two small coins.”

Well, in 1825, Euphorbia pulcherrima (also known as the Christmas flower) was brought to the United States by Dr. J.R. Poinsett, the first US ambassador to Mexico. We all recognize them every season. The story behind the poinsettia? Even better.

You see, in Mexico there is a tradition that you are to bring something for the Christ child on Christmas Eve for the service at church. And there was a poor little Mexican girl named Maria, and she didn’t have anything to give. As she and her cousin Pablo were walking to church, Maria was really sad. Pablo tried to cheer her up by telling her, “Listen, Maria. I’m sure even the smallest gift given by someone who loves Him will make Jesus smile.” But Maria didn’t know what she could do, because she didn’t have anything to give. She looked down the side of the road, picked a small handful of leaves, made them into a little bouquet. She started carrying those. She was embarrassed because this was all she had, but as she walked toward the church, she remembered what Pablo had told her. She began to feel a little better.

When she got to the altar, she knelt and laid her little bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene. Suddenly, that small bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers! Everyone who saw this was absolutely certain they had just witnessed a Christmas miracle; and from that day on, Euphorbia pulcherrima was known as “Flores de Noche Buena,” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.” Today, we know them by the common name poinsettia plant.

A miracle, because a little girl gave all that she had to the Christ child. That’s what that story, the story of Maria and Pablo teaches us. The amount doesn’t matter. The gift of love is dearer to Jesus than anything else, and when we love Jesus more than anything and willingly give Him all that we have and all that we are, He will work miracles in our lives.

Beginning on the inside! If we put Him first. First! Above everything else.

What do I mean by that? Well, let me tell you what Jesus meant by that. Jesus says in Matthew 10:

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”
(Matthew 10:37-39)

Now, I’ve got to tell you, that is tough to hear. And for many years, I did not understand these verses. It took a long time for the Lord to make it clear for me. I finally realized – if we put anything above Christ, that’s idolatry. Even your family, if it is above Christ – I’m an idolater. We are to love Jesus more than anything else, first; and when we do, I will be the best husband, the best father, the best son, the best pastor, the best friend humanly possible, because Christ is first in my life. When you give everything you are to God, completely surrender to Him, which just means you are going to listen to Him, you are going to follow what He says, you are going to seek His wisdom before making decisions, you are changed on the inside, because that’s where the change happens.

Remember when the Grinch was just about to throw all the presents off the mountain because he thought he had ruined Christmas for the Whos in Whoville? And then all of a sudden, he hears that they’re singing joyfully! (We’re going to light the candle of joy in a minute). They’re singing joyfully without their presents, without their packages, without their boxes, without their bags. And he says, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas means a whole lot more.” And his heart grew ten time that day, because he got it on the inside!

The same thing happened to Ebenezer Scrooge, right? In one night, he’s visited by three ghosts of Christmas, and he’s completely transformed from the inside. It’s amazing. When our hearts are transformed, we suddenly find ourselves doing things we’ve never considered before. We finally find ourselves wanting to read the Bible. Where did that come from? Because I want to be in a conversation with God. We find ourselves getting up in the middle of the night and showing up at Sparrow at 4:30 in the morning, or whatever ungodly time you guys show up! Because you want to feed hungry people in this community. Suddenly, you find yourself helping our M25 Haiti mission, making sure that our brothers and sisters in Camp Perrin have a Christmas dinner together. Suddenly, you find yourself praying for your friends, or you’re so bold you’re at work, and you may even ask your friend, “Can I pray for you?” And you do so. You come to Bible study because things have changed for you on the inside. Because that’s what matters.

We are so obsessed with the outside. We really are. I looked up some statistics. The best I could find was from 2017, a survey in Forbes magazine. Did you know in 2017 we spent annually 445 billion dollars on beauty products? Because we want to look good! We are so obsessed with the outside. We spend hours at the gym (well, I hear people do, but…); We go on the latest diet. Right now, it’s Keto. I thought that was the Green Hornet’s sidekick. Anyway, we’ve got Keto. Got to lose weight, because the outside is so important to us. I say things like this, and people say, “Well, pastor, I just want to be healthy.” I’m going to officially call bologna on that. I don’t believe that. Why? Because I’ll bet you a billion dollars – I’ll bet you Mike Bloomberg’s 54 billion dollars – if somebody developed a pill that had no side effects that you could take and would leave you your ideal svelte weight, how many would take it? And you could eat doughnuts, and pizza, and fried chicken as long as you take the pill? Wouldn’t you eat the doughnuts and pizza and fried chicken? Of course! So, don’t tell me it’s about health! It’s not about health! We want the outside to look good.

What about the inside? You see, when God was choosing the next king of Israel, remember, He says to the prophet Samuel, “People judge by the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.” One time, when Jesus was calling out some religious leaders, He says in Matthew 23:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.”
(Matthew 23:25-26)

You see, they were all checking the blocks so as to look holy, but it was an act.

We can get caught up in that sometimes too, friends. Wearing our cross; coming to church; putting a bumper sticker on our car; wearing our Jesus t-shirt; sometimes that can be the same thing, an act. Because it’s as if even though He clearly says He does not, somehow, for some reason, we still think the Lord judges by outward appearance!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am certain that God loves it when we wear our cross; when we proclaim our faith through our clothing or through whatever we listen to on the radio, or through jewelry, whatever, through going to church. I’m sure that brings a smile to the Lord’s face; but only if it’s genuine. Not if it’s for show. If our hearts are still hardened by bitterness and anger and unforgiveness – if that’s the case, like with the teachers of religious law or the Pharisees, you’re just better off staying home. If we want to see a miracle in our life, if we want to be blessed like Maria and Pablo, we have to trust God wholly and completely.

Pablo didn’t say to Maria, “You know, maybe if you do this…” No. He said, “I’m sure that even the smallest gift given by someone who loves Him will make Jesus smile.” I’m SURE. That’s faith. His proclamation of faith followed by Maria’s offer of everything she had led to a Christmas miracle we remember tot his day. Maria was all in. The widow in the Temple with the two lepta – she was all in. We’ve got to be all in.

Many of you know that back in the late 70s through the early 90s, I was trying to make it as a musician. And I’m telling you, we weren’t all that terrible. That’s not terrible! I wrote that song! So, it’s not that we weren’t bad, we were actually pretty good. But has anyone ever said this to you? “Reach for the stars but keep one foot on the ground.” Worst advice ever. That’s what I did. I wanted to be a full-time musician. I also wanted a wife and children, and a car and our apartment. And all of those come with financial obligations, so I needed a steady job. So, I got a job in the Post Office. That means I can’t just go on tour to New York, to Los Angeles where all the hair bands of the 80s and 90s were being discovered. We had to limit ourselves to Boston to Portland, Maine – places you could go to and then get back because we had to be at work the next day.

So, the reality is this: I said I wanted to be a full-time musician, but I guess I didn’t really, because I didn’t give it my all. I wasn’t all-in. I tried to do it part-time. Six years after I left the band, God called me into the pastoral ministry. This time, I did not keep one foot on the ground. I packed up everything I owned into the largest UHaul trailer that you can physically drive, and I drove up to Bangor, Maine to go to school. I did not have a job. Renée did not have a job. I had three small children. I had just walked away from all my health insurance. We had nothing! We laid it all before the Christ child, and God blessed us beyond measure, because we were all in.

When you choose to start following Jesus, don’t try and keep one foot on the ground. Not if you want to see and experience things you never thought possible – like miracles. The more you trust God – like the widow in the Temple, like the widow of Zarephath, like Maria and Pablo – the more God will use you and bless you, because He knows now that you have put Him first. You are all in. so, don’t hold back in 2020. Give it all to Jesus, 100%, and then watch the small bouquet of weeds that is sometimes your life burst into bright red beautiful flowers. That’s what I want you to think of this season when you see poinsettia flowers. I want you to be reminded of what God has done and what God will do for those who trust Him wholly and completely and put Him first above everything else. Would you stand and let us pray together?