Monday, October 26, 2020

Humility vs Hypocrisy

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)

"Do as I say, not as I do."

Parents may say this to their children.  It may be that they tell their kids to go to bed at a set time when they stay up later.  The kids want to know why they get to stay up later.  The parents then have to explain that children require more sleep than adults.  Then their children head to bed grumbling.

Later, when the children are teenagers, they may call out other behavior that seems especially hypocritical.  It seems the best instruction is from a person with the integrity to live out their beliefs.

Jesus seems to be the first on record of saying this although it was surely not original with him.  I observe this because hypocrisy didn't originate in the first century but has been around as long as there have been human beings.  

Matthew's gospel has a strong theme against hypocrisy running throughout.

Jesus states in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:1:    

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

Jesus goes on in this sermon to point out how three spiritual disciplines of the day were misused: charitable giving, public prayer and fasting.  He indicates that if we are doing them to enhance our social standing before others, then we are doing them wrong.

He returns to this idea in Sunday's reading.  The phylacteries were the containers of the Shema that Jewish people were commanded to display.  Evidently, the Pharisees were making theirs ornate as a gross display of their piety.  The fringes were displayed on the prayer shawl of a teacher and were commanded from Numbers 15:38:

Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. 

Jesus must have also worn this as a rabbi as we saw earlier in Matthew 9:20:

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak,

But the length of the fringes must have also been a way to show one's holiness - at least outwardly.  It may have been accepted by the people of that day as a sign of one's devotion to God.  Jesus is more interested in how we practice what we preach.  He deflects the title of teacher seemingly because he doesn't want his disciples to fall into the same trap of seeking after honor as the Pharisees.  Instead, Jesus wants his followers to be life-long learners.

To adopt this attitude does take some humility.  What does it mean to accept that we do not know everything?  That we still have things to learn?

I hope that I will continue to learn my entire life.  I hope that I have the humility to learn from all of those around me.  I hope that I can avoid the hypocrisy that sometimes plagues us as human beings.  I'll try to do as I say!

In Christ,


Photo by Trish Gussler via  Used under the Creative Commons license.   

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 19, 2020

All You Need is Love

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 22:34-46 (NRSV)

"All You Need is Love" was a single released by the Beatles in the summer of 1967 and it epitomized the peace movement in the sixties.  When I first heard the song, I took the lyric, "love is all you need" to be something I received.  As a child, maybe I was more of a consumer of the love of others toward me.  I was lucky to be the recipient of a lot of love.

Sometimes we're not so sure
about our neighbors.
But as I read today's scripture and reflect on the Greatest Commandment by Jesus (as Matthew records it), I recognize that love is something that only increases in our lives if we give it as much if not more so than we receive it.  

As the apostle Paul tries to keep the early church in Corinth from fracturing into separate camps, he extols the virtues of loving one another and declares that it is greater than even faith or hope for our life together.

It is interesting that the scenario in which Jesus finds himself in today's reading is not one where his opponents have an enormous amount of love for him.  It could be that the Pharisees were interested in trapping him (previous verses lead us to this conclusion).  Likely, when they ask about the greatest commandment, their focus would be on one of the purity laws that took so much of their interest.  Commentator Matthew Henry suggests that they might have been looking for a determination between the law of circumcision, the law of Sabbath or the law of sacrifices.  

Instead, Jesus reminds them of the Shema as he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Then we see him include the love of our neighbor as supplement to the Shema.   He includes the last part of Leviticus 19:17-18 which reads:

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

As Leviticus indicates this love was originally prescribed for our kin - our people.  It was utilized to lessen tension among a people that needed to be united in order to survive in a hostile environment.  But Jesus expands this understanding of neighbor in Luke's version of the Greatest Commandment as the lawyer asks Jesus to clarify the definition of "neighbor".  Jesus does this by telling us the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Although they lived in adjacent territories, Jews and Samaritans would not have interpreted this text of Leviticus to refer to one another as "neighbors".

So Christians are stuck blessed with an expanded understanding of loving one another.  

The letters of John define God as love and further bind the tenants of the Greatest Commandment together by stating in 1 John 4:21:

The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

For United Methodists (and other Wesleyan denominations) John Wesley's General Rules, written in the first half of the 18th century, are expressions of the Greatest Commandment.  The first two, do no harm and do good, help us to love our neighbors.  The final one, attend all the ordinances of God (prayer, worship, Bible study, etc.), help us to love God with all our being.  

For the church I serve, our mission statement comes directly from the Greatest Commandment.  It is "connecting people with God and neighbor" which helps remind us of what we are really about.  For some, connection with God leads to a love of neighbor and for others, the relationships we have with our neighbors help us to further see God. 

We'll be exploring Matthew's lectionary text on Sunday.  I have faith that it will be helpful so I hope you'll join us and would love it if you would invite someone to explore it with you!

In Christ,


Photo by Vicki Lackey via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

All scripture quoted is from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Can I Have a Little Peace?

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 22:15-22 (NRSV)

Political maneuvering is on stage in today's reading.  The context of this scripture is that Jesus has been in the temple teaching.  He's been telling parables that call to light the hypocrisy of the chief priests, elders and Pharisees.  They would like to do away with Jesus but they are afraid of the crowd.

So they are trying to turn the crowds against him with the question of taxes.  It is fascinating and a little humbling to realize that taxes have always been present in political wrangling!

If Jesus sides with non-payment, he could get arrested by the Romans and the Pharisees can wash their hands of him.

If Jesus sides with paying taxes, he could stir up the wrath of the zealots in the crowd who were against this foreign intrusion.  Then the Pharisees could orchestrate a stoning while seeming to stay neutral.

When Jesus asks them to produce a coin in the vicinity of the temple, this is the whole reason for the money changers in the previous chapter.  Roman money should have been removed from the temple and thus the profitable enterprise that Jesus disrupted.  When he calls upon them to produce a coin, the Roman emperor was self-deified.  This was blasphemous for them to have.  His example reminds them (and us) that we are stuck together.  Their presence is everywhere.  So how are we going to get along?  Pay the taxes so you don't face jail (or worse).  But pay to God the larger portion.  

What does God require?  Micah reminds us justice, kindness and humility.  

It is a transformation of our lives - more than any earthly tax.

If we take this transformation seriously, it will overcome our enemies.  As Abraham Lincoln apocryphally queried, "do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

Dogs also practice politics

As election day approaches in the United States, we see a lot of political maneuvering.  I wish we had a law that prevented political ads from maligning the other candidate.  It would be nice just to hear what a candidate stands for than what they stand against.  Then the constituents could decide which figure inspires us more.  Which vision for our country will get us where we need to go?

I would also like to hear how a candidate will work with others who disagree.  Polarization is not serving us well in congress.  As it increases, so does our disfunction.  What does it mean to pray for peace in our world today?

What does God require?  The larger portion.

I look forward to wrapping up our series on the Fruit of the Spirit as they relate to the Gospel lectionary readings as we think about peace this Sunday.  We'll release worship online on Sunday and would love to have you join us anytime!

In Christ,


Photo by This Year's Love via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

I'm Outraged!

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Lectionary Reading: Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSV)

Okay, this was a bait and switch.  I'm really writing about joy as one of the Fruit of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians.  But no one wants to click on an article about the things that bring me joy.  It is more satisfying to find out about what has ticked me off.

You may want to know if I share your values on the latest news.  Are we disgusted by the same things?

Outrage has become the American drug of choice.

As we have isolated from one another during the pandemic, we are having more conversations with people with whom we agree and less conversations with those we don't.  This tends to further polarize us as we find ourselves in self-selected echo chambers.  Algorithms in internet platforms such as Facebook or YouTube also tend to show you what you like.  The more clicks you make means the more ads they can sell.  So while we have been unable to socialize normally, we have doubled down on our social media.  Only, we shouldn't pretend that this is the same as physically gathering with our friends.

And the changes we have experienced are stressful.  We are not in our normal patterns or routines.  And while you may appreciate wearing your pajamas to worship on Sunday afternoons, the interaction with people who see the world differently has a value that we may have overlooked.

And so we have unwittingly turned to outrage to calm us.

This sign may make you
feel deficient for remaining calm.

This rather dystopian thought signifies the relief from the stress that we're all seeking.  If I see something that I don't agree with, can I express it in forty characters or less in such a way that will strike a chord with you?  If I word it in just the right way, you'll be outraged too!  And it is equal opportunity outrage.  A political leader can comment and spark the controversy.  We may agree with him or her and be outraged alongside.  Finally, they are telling it like it is!  I'm glad someone finally had the courage to say what everyone was thinking!  Or we may disagree and our emotions may boil just as quickly.  How dare they say this thing?!?  Can you believe a person would actually come right out and say this in the open?

It seems that we're staying in a constant state of being stirred up.  This is not healthy for individuals and it is certainly not healthy for a nation of diverse people.  As Americans, we have more common ground than that which divides us.  We are just not being reminded of it.  As Christians, we have even more common ground because it is shared in the belief that God is the one who helps us realize it.

What does it mean to celebrate joy in the midst of chaos?  This Sunday, I examine Matthew's parable of the wedding banquet.  It may not seem very joyful at first glance and in fact, it may seem to lean more toward outrage.  I do think joy is present and I hope to expose this theme within my sermon on Sunday.  I would invite you to join in - we all need to detox from the outrage for at least a little while!

In Christ,


Photo by MrReebdoog via  Used under the Creative Commons license.