Let us be authentic, humble and kind…
November 5, 2107
Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12, James 2:14-18, 26
Our gospel passage from scripture today is saying simply and basically that Jesus’ followers should not follow the actions of the priests who were called to teaching in the Temple but rather adhere to their words, which were in line with the Jewish Law. Jesus indicated that their teachings were not matched by the priests self-serving actions and desire to maintain control over the people. As much as what they were teaching might have been drawn directly from the Law and the Prophets, the lifestyles and the witness given by these teachers of the faith did not at all match up with what their words. And unfortunately it seems that this is still the case, at least occasionally, with some of today’s teachers and their visible witness as well. Far too often we hear of corruption or scandal which rocks the lives of some of the largest ministries in our nation.
For purposes of clarity and better understanding however, I think that it is also possible to read this passage in the obverse or opposite fashion. Instead of just saying ignore the teacher’s actions and try to focus on their words we can hear it in a positive guiding way. We can also hear that it is therefore even better to take great care to align your actions with your words so that what you say and what you do in your service of the Lord are one and the same. ‘Do not do as they do, but as they say’, is therefore recast with the same intention as ‘Do as they say, as evidenced by the things they do, for both are of the Lord’. The call to Jesus’ followers both then and now is very much to be an authentic witness of grace and to live out our faith openly and actively.
Now when it comes to Jesus call to not only be authentic in our faith expression but humble as well there is much to consider in how this may affect our outward witness. In Jesus’ example regarding the priests he was calling for his followers not to ask others to do something they would be unwilling to do themselves. The teachers of the faith to whom Jesus was referring were making the faith extremely burdensome for the common person to follow. Unfortunately they did not intend by their instruction and witness to make God openly available to the faithful but rather made it almost impossible to believe that anyone could really please God. The reasons why they did this are probably many but I would suggest that chief among them was that in doing so they were able to exert a greater level of control over their flock. If they were able to make following the rules and doctrines of the faith difficult to follow, then those trying to be faithful would always be in debt to and at the mercy of those in charge.
In other passages on Jesus’ call to be humble we hear him teach his followers to always seek the lowest place among those at a gathering, and not to elevate ones self over others simply for selfish reasons. And particularly, if one was in a leadership role then they were to follow the example of Jesus who led by serving those who followed him, being willing to assume the lowest place and to take on the most menial of tasks as an example of loving grace towards others. Just before his arrest on the same night as the Last Supper Jesus surprised his disciples as well as made them extremely uncomfortable as he sought to live out his call to love one another by disrobing, picking up a basin and towel and washing his disciple’s feet.
In my career in business prior to taking on my responsibilities over at Cascade Farm, I found that I could make other employees much more at ease if I intentionally sat or knelt down so I was physically eye to eye on the same level or even slightly beneath them. In my position as Vice President it was important to me to be sure people were not intimidated by my position and that they felt they could be open and honest with me in conversation. And also, as anyone who has been a parent knows, little children are much more comfortable when we get down on their level to talk or to play with them…something that is still possible I suppose although getting back up is harder than it used to be.
In truth, anytime we ‘stand tall’ intentionally over someone else, anytime we lord our position or authority over them like this, it is most likely because we wish to control the situation or to gain the upper hand. Jesus tells us that as his followers this is not the way to share the loving nature of our God or to follow the two greatest commandments.
Another critically important way we can love each other and serve one another in humility is by respecting them enough to allow them to fully express themselves. We need to learn that we do not always have to be right. Sometimes in beginning to listen to someone our inner radar picks up that we do not agree with their line of thought, and instead of letting them finish we interrupt and begin right then to point out the error in their arguement. Taking the lowest place as a follower of Jesus means being willing to listen attentively to others, to respect and to value them enough to fully hear them out and to covenant to consider carefully all of the input before being a part of a particular action or decision.
And then of course there is that bit in our passage where Jesus warns about the acquisition or use of ‘titles’. We know this passage has always been there but it seems as though it is one of those that is most ignored, for so often we insist on elevating or ascribing honor to others through the use of titles. Jesus was clear however in saying that such things were not helpful and in fact could be quite distracting; saying that the greatest among his followers would be a servant to the others and that all those who insisted on exalting themselves would be humbled.
In our walk and in our service towards others the only ‘titles’ we should use often are ones such as, ‘friend’, or ‘sister’ or ‘brother’…not the many-layered ones that are sometimes cited, seemingly to signify just how far above everyone else a particular person or priestly office is. Titles such as Right Reverend Doctor or Senior Pastor or similar all come with a heavy weight of responsibility if they are to be true to the call to humility and to demonstrate the proper dignity such a servant of God must have towards all others.
So, in looking at the reverse positive of Jesus’ instruction, when your actions in faith are fully lined up with the words you use, what does that look like? When we begin to live lives that reflect and preach the gospel witness of Jesus what are we actually doing? We are doing good and holy works. The work we do in actively serving one another will be the substance and demonstration of our faith, fulfilling Jesus’ words when he said, “This is how they will know you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”
In other words an authentic and humble faith must consist not only of the words we use to share with others but also that which we do to further the presence of Christ within our community along with our efforts to draw near to the promised ‘kindom’ of our Lord. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all you need shall be added unto you”, says Jesus in Matthew 6.
Each and every time we reach out to assist another or to lift up one who needs help, either as individuals or as the church gathered, we are living into the words of James the Apostle. His strongly worded affirmation of the place of action within our faith, which we heard earlier, sought to demonstrate that true Christ-like faith cannot be a matter of words or of so called ‘personal belief’ alone but rather must be grounded as well in actions of mercy and grace intended to enhance the lives of all those we encounter on the pathway of our faith
And finally, let us be kind to one another. Let us acknowledge the gift of blessed family which we celebrate together here each week and work diligently to be a witness of compassion and kindness befitting our Lord to our community as a whole. For in a time of great promise as well as great worry, in a time of great need and lacking for some and much self-accrual by others as well, it is we as followers of Jesus who truly have the most to offer to a world and a time so much in darkness and need. Let us strive together to usher in a day of peace and hope through our authentic witness of humility, kindness, justice…
…and dedication to the call to love one another as we have been so loved.