Monday, November 3, 2014

Pentecost 21

23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, [1] and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi [2] by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. [3] 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12 (ESV)

“The greatest among you shall be your servant.”
So here we are trying to remember Reformation Day, and giving a nod to All Saints Day too. The two holidays always go hand in hand and compete with each other for time. Luther chose the Eve of All Saints, also known as Halloween, to address hypocrisy in the church with his 95 theses. This event then marks the beginning of the Reformation, the history of which includes the formation of the Lutheran Church. It was an attempt to focus the church back on to the gospel. Back on to Christ, to do away with the hypocrisy of indulgences and the rest of the works righteousness that had crept into the church where the people now suffocated under heavy burdens, and never heard of the man who is now exalted because he humbled himself unto death that he might lift their burden for them.
This was the real problem, and it remains a problem to this day. Not over there in other churches, but amongst us also. “Practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do. For they preach but do not practice.” Practice what you preach. It has become somewhat of a slogan today, used whenever one smells hypocrisy in or outside the church. You certainly don’t have to go to church to find hypocrites. You can find them at school, at work, at the bar, at protests and in the government being protested. But hypocrisy seems to stink a little more when church is supposed to be about the forgiveness of sins, and people feel like it is the last place they can go for forgiveness. Where instead they often feel burdens are being bound up and laid upon them. And even this phrase has become one used to bind up burdens. To take the focus off of Christ and his death and resurrection and put everything back on you and how you behave. Too often it is those who use the phrase who themselves become hypocrites by it.
And it happens so easily in a middle class church, with middle class values. The pressure even about what to wear and what is appropriate can be subtle, and can become a burden on a person who is shut out of a conversation at coffee because they just didn’t know how to dress for the occasion. In the same way that those who couldn’t afford the fancy robes with the nice tassels couldn’t bother a Pharisee for the time of day. But it becomes more than that when we start classifying sins and making them out to be worse than others. When we begin to think we know what repentance looks like and therefore can withhold forgiveness until someone jumps through whatever hoop we have set up for them to jump through. When in careless reading of scripture we start coming up with rules for how to live and be a Christian that just aren’t in scripture.
No, when it comes to the law, we fail. We really aren’t any better at it than the Pharisees. There really has been only one man able to instruct in the law. And he is our only instructor. The Christ, Jesus himself.  He is the greatest among us because he did not come to make our burdens heavy, but to lift from us a heavy conscience. He is the greatest among us, because he came to serve and not to be served. He is exalted among us because he humbled himself as only he could, humbled himself even to the point of death that we would have life in his resurrection. In him we find a man who practices what he preaches even when we fail to do the same. Because in him forgiveness is preached, and it is he that forgives. And where he is preached, well then there saints are made, who though they die will never perish but have eternal life. Where Christ is preached, there the forgiveness of sins again becomes central to the life of the church, and there the reformation lives, the reformation that was never about Martin Luther, but about Christ and him crucified for your sins, that you too would be a saint.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

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