Saturday, October 29, 2011

Instructions For True and Laudable Service

30 October 2011/Proper 26A- Joshua 3:7-17, Matthew 23:1-12
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
You Have One Instructor
From our collect for today: “It is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service…” We are those people called to true and laudable service. And today we find Jesus once again giving some shape to just what that means. He says, “You have one instructor.” Guess who? Surprise! It's the Pharisees!

Jesus is usually arguing with the Pharisees. Here Jesus surprises us when he says to do what the Pharisees say and teach. Just don’t follow their example! One of the things they teach, of course, is tithing - and not just 10% of your wages, but of every little thing: crops, herds, dill, mint, mustard seeds, you name it. He also speaks of them laying heavy burdens on others without lifting a finger themselves to help those others. Jesus is into helping others. Just what might tithing and helping others have to do with each other?

Elsewhere he speaks of his burdens being light. Make no mistake about it, however, his burdens in and of themselves are heavier than anything the Pharisees ever thought of or conceived. For starters, Jesus says those who believe in him will do the things he does, “and greater things than these will you do.” John 14:12

He says we are to include all people in the life of His community, especially sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, widows, orphans and illegal aliens, i.e., people not at all like ourselves. Oh yes, and we are to love our enemies.

We are to turn the other cheek, which, by the way, does not mean becoming a kind of “doormat” rolling over in the face of oppression. In the Roman culture of Jesus’ day, a superior could slap an inferior person in the face with the back of the hand. When one turns the cheek, however, it forces the person to slap with the palm of the hand. To slap with the palm of the hand was to acknowledge the other as an equal. To turn the other cheek is to challenge all false authority.

Therefore it was an act of defiance or civil disobedience, much like Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. That was what Jesus meant about turning the other cheek: asserting righteousness; defiantly not letting others determine your worth or value in the eyes of God.

One can easily see that Jesus calls us to a much higher, and potentially “heavier,” standard. The difference is that he not only lifts a finger to help us, but is in it with us wherever we are, even allowing himself to be lifted high upon a Roman cross to suffer capital punishment as a way of making our burdens light.

The problem of the Pharisees, which is a long time historic problem for the church, is doing things to be recognized as religious, or pious, or a good person, or a superior person, or Number One, or worst of all, The Only One. John Chrysostom in the early church put it best, “Not only does he forbid setting the heart on first place, but he requires following after the last.”

And as another wag has put it, “Many want to be pious, but few want to be humble.”

The church with its titles, its vestments, its pomp and its ceremony, all mimicking something more like the processions of Emperor Caesar or Constantine than the servant of God entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, needs to be careful.

This problem stretches way back to Joshua and then the period of Judges when the people demand that God give them a king like all the other countries. God says, “This is not a good idea.” But the people persist, they get a king, and then the troubles begin.

All because they would not trust God to raise up the leadership they would need at any given time. God must often wonder just when we might be willing to listen to him?

Today’s lessons call us to a good degree of self-evaluation and rededication to the kind of life Jesus calls us to live. One good place to look would be our catechism. Please turn to page 855 in the Book of Common Prayer and read along together:

Q. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
A. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.

Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church;
to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship and governance of the Church.

Q. What is the duty of all Christians?
A. The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

Jesus calls us to be the least and to be humble. Being least and being humble does not limit our generosity, nor stop us from doing greater things than Jesus does, or living to lighten the burden of others. The Pharisees teach tithing, giving 10%. Jesus says do what they teach. Jesus gave more than 10% - he gave it all for you and for me.

As to burdens, we have a heavy load. We have been carrying a significant deficit budget since 2005. And we can anticipate a significant deficit in our budget for 2012 unless we all look into our hearts and consider what it is we can give in 2012 to fund the kind of “true and laudable service…” we pray for today. The duty of all Christians is to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

We have a heavy load. But if we let Jesus into our lives and into our midst, we will remember that he lifts more than a finger to help us live into the kind of life he calls us to live. Amen.

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