I appreciate that many wise members and friends of Trinity who have led worship and preached over the past few months. I loved hearing the gospel proclaimed and the word of God preached by many different voices and perspectives. Thank you to everyone who volunteered to be brave and lead – they say public speaking is one of the most stressful activities people can take on, and everyone did a wonderful job of leading worship.
This morning, we turn to the Gospel of Matthew. The passage we read comes from teachings Jesus said to crowds gathered in Jerusalem – Matthew situates this teaching after Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and before the events that led to Good Friday. In today’s teaching, Jesus emphasizes that his followers must strive be humble and to practice what they preach. Jesus’s words are just as relevant today as they were in the first century.
Hear Jesus’s teaching as we turn to Matthew chapter 23 verses one through twelve:
Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.
So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;
they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;
they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.
And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.
The greatest among you will be your servant.
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Here ends this reading of the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Sermon “Partners in Service”
Americans love stories of people whose hypocrisy is revealed in ugly ways – we have tabloid magazines and 2020 “ex-po-ses” that delight in describing the path to destruction once great people followed – powerful Harvey Weinstein, a renowned film producer, who was revealed to be a sex offender who hurt countless victims– Reverend Jim Bakker, a famous pastor and televangelist, who was outed as someone who fraudulently gained personal riches by exploiting his followers – pastor and weight-loss guru Gwen Shamblin who cruelly exploited her church members to gain personal wealth. We read articles in People magazine and watch documentaries about great people whose lives imploded and their hypocrisy was exposed.
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus challenges his followers to not be hypocritical….don’t show off how pious you are in public – don’t put on a show for others about how wonderful you are when you may not be so wonderful in reality. We are not supposed to be showy with our faith – instead we are called to follow God in our words and actions without making a big deal out of what we are doing. Jesus knew all people are a mixed bag – we have our moments of faithfulness and we have our moments of selfishness. We don’t always do a great job of following the scriptures, of following the teachings of Jesus. We make mistakes, we hurt other people, and we hurt ourselves. So, we shouldn’t pretend to be perfect in our faithfulness when we are constantly working on doing better without ever completely achieving our goal.
Things get yucky for people whose identity is tied to their perfection – no one can maintain perfection forever. Our tv screens and Instagram feeds are full of people who are trying to achieve the perfect body or trying to pretend like they have more money than they actually have or trying to show they are the one parent who has everything figured out. But, people who are reaching for perfection have flaws and make mistakes. And, sometimes people’s public posts or presentations are just fake – the posts are just masking the brokenness of the poster’s life. They may be a tad hypocritical in that what they post on a screen is out of sync with what is happening in reality.
As followers of Jesus, we don’t have to be perfect. We are just supposed to be working on following Jesus, working on following the teachings of the Bible and the teachings of Christianity. We are all a work-in-progress. We are called to personally make choices that don’t just serve us, our wants and our needs, but we are called to be generous and do things that result in helping other people, especially people who don’t have the advantages we have.
Part of practicing what we preach is to work to be humble, and to be modest in our needs. This teaching of Jesus goes against the grain of our mainstream American cultural goals – The world tells us to stand out, to strive to be the most popular kid in the class, to be the maverick employee who climbs his way to the top of the pack – but, Jesus says: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” So, instead of striving to become a Kim Kardashian or a Serena Williams, we are called to be humble….it is better to be known as the person other people can count on, other people can trust, other people can turn to for help, than it is to be person with the fanciest car or the poshest house. It is better to be the kindest kid in the class than the trendiest kid in the class.
This morning, we sung the hymn “Let Your Heart Be Broken.” Even though it is in our hymnal, this was a new hymn for me. But, the words resonate with today’s teaching from Jesus – we must practice what we preach – feed the mouths that hunger – soothe the wounds that bleed – give the cup of water and the loaf of bread – be the hands of Jesus, serving in his stead.
Jesus is present on earth right now as he lives in each of us. We are called to patiently and humbly care for each other. We are called to care for people in need. This is why the work of the church is so important: together we can accomplish things that are very difficult for individuals to do alone. We may not personally have the tools to help a young mother in need develop the skills and find the resources to pull herself out of poverty, but as the church we support the work of Every Good Gift and help many young women every year. We may not have enough food in our cupboards to support the hungry people who live around us, but as the church we support the work of the Daily Bread Food Pantry and help feed over a thousand people every month. We may not have the connections or resources to personally help refugees from Ukraine or Afghanistan, but as the Church we support the many agencies that receive financial support through our One Great Hour of Sharing and Neighbors in Need offerings and do the work of helping refugees throughout the world.
Today, we are honoring the Saints of the church, good Christian men and women of time immemorial. This is the day we remember the people who have passed away who made a meaningful impact on our lives – our parents and grandparents, our childhood Sunday School teachers and Boy Scout leaders, the co-workers who rooted for us and the neighbors who were there to help us shovel our driveway when it was too much for us to do alone. This is a day when we remember and thank God for people who humbly demonstrated faithful living for us. Most of the people we remember today were not movie stars or record breaking athletes – they were regular every-day people who were loving, kind and generous. They weren’t perfect, but they were able to teach us despite their imperfections. We have many role-models in the faith who humbled themselves and taught us attributes that are truly important – sincerity, kindness, generosity and grace. Let us humble ourselves to be like them. Amen