Sunday, February 05, 2017

The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees

The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees
         I know you didn’t hear the start of the Gospel, because you’re stuck on the ending… so let’s start there.
         What’s Matthew talking about when he writes, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
         Brothers and sisters, being religious people is a dangerous business. It is very easy to fall into all kinds of traps—traps Matthew’s community knew all too well.

         Being human, being naturally self-interested, we have a tendency to make the faith about ourselves
—why do end times people always claim the end of the world is in their generation—because they are self-interested—it’s all about me.
Likewise, when we do good works, they are often tainted. How many selfies are done at a soup-kitchen? More than you’d think.
         Avoid the trap of selfishness, keep your good works hidden, so that people might see God’s good works done through you.

         Avoid hypocrisy—a term that Matthew invented, he coined it
—it used to be, in his time, a critique of bad actors, actors who would wear one character’s mask and act like they were a different one…
Matthew pointed out that people act that way too, especially religious people
—we act like Christians in Church and cruel at home,
we bring one persona to the pew and another to the park.
         We’re called as Christians to struggle to be a whole person inside and out,
at home and at work,
in your secular and your sacred life
—don’t allow your heart to be torn asunder…
         and brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll remind you there is another side to that, we have to ensure our congregations are places where you can be who you are
—no mask, no pretend nice, none of that
—let’s not force people to be two-faced or hypocrites.

         There is also the danger of majoring in the minors—focusing on the trinkets and outward form of faith, while the core rots away
—as Isaiah writes, what is a proper fast? “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
         Playing church, and forgetting ceaseless prayer, acts of mercy, and working for justice
—that ain’t going to do it.

         Finally, Matthew warns that the cardinal sin of Pharisees of every age is pushing God into the past. The Pharisees, even when they come to Jesus to hear his teachings, don’t see God at work in him…
and how often do we do the same? The Spirit is nudging us a certain way—and we tell her *shhhh* because God acted in the past
—God acted with Moses and Ruth and Jesus and John, but we’re living in the present. I wonder if it is simply a defensive mechanism—following Jesus as disciples today, can be as off-putting as it was 2000 years ago, but that distance makes it all easier to ignore.
         But again, we are his disciples, and we follow him wherever he leads, even when it is unpopular or unpleasant or unexpected.

         So, yes, when Matthew talks about exceeding the righteousness of the Pharisees he’s talking about:
-Pointing to God, not self.
-Wholeness, not hypocrisy.
-The center of the faith, not the window dressing.
-Finding God in the present, not relegating the faith to the past.

         And on that last point, it is worth asking how? How do we stay faithful to the Law and the Prophets? How does Jesus fulfill them, in such a way that they speak to us today?
         According to Matthew, it has to do with story. Jesus’ life and his parables re-interpret God acting, and when we take his life and teachings seriously, we can start to re-tell them in light of the world around us
—a parable of seeds sewn gain new life when planted in our 21st century America soil
—workers waiting for a Lord to put them to work in their vineyard looks very familiar when we see them too in our local Home Depot parking lot.
         Clear eyed about our present realities and captured by a creative biblical imagination
—telling that old old story in a new new way
—we can figure out what it means to be a disciple today.

         And when we get that—when we are caught, even temporarily, by those connections
—our story and God’s story facing each other like a mirror
—it’s a story no man can hide, its worth sharing!
We tell people about this grand story God has allowed us to be a character in.
We witness to the weaving of our lives into the life of God!
         We all are the light of the world
—this good news God has given us through Jesus Christ
—how it gets us through, how it changes you, how it makes our life into a heavenly spotlight
—it can’t be hidden.
When you tell your story, how God enters your story, how the word of scripture lifted up by Jesus, lifts you up
—it is a flame that can light the life of many.
         Don’t hide that story of God and you—someone needs to hear it!

         You don’t like sharing, you say?
You’re an introvert—sharing a flame like that might extinguish your own inner fire… that’s okay—you all aren’t just light, but also salt!...
You are salt!
         In everything you do, being faithfully present with people
—that’s enough
—you are salt and you can spice everything you touch. You might not even notice it, but just showing up, doing all the tasks of life in as faithful manner as you can
—that sanctifies those tasks, it makes holy all aspects of life.
Holy the altar with communion upon it
/ holy too the kitchen table around which you share food and fellowship.
Holy the pulpit,
/holy too a word spoken in defense of neighbor.
Holy the font,
/ holy too the sewers running well, electricity getting to where it needs to go, bridges maintained and streets safe from crime.

Watch out for the pitfalls of faith.
Hear the story of God and find your place in it.
Tell that story.
Live it.


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