“A Time to be Humble”
November 1st, 2020, Matthew 23: 1-12
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear these words regarding an early teaching by Jesus, as written down in the gospel according to Matthew.”
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
“Having listened with our ears, let us now open our hearts to grasp the message Jesus has left for us to ponder.”
“A Time to be Humble”
To ease us into our discussion this morning, I have chosen to begin with the words of another Preacher. Her words shall help us set a tone which fits into the heart of our lesson. The Rev. Karoline M. Lewis is the Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary. Karoline suggests we look to the writings attributed to Jesus as “‘statements of hope and promise’ which are exactly what people need to hear as they reflect back on those whom they have lost this past year, even on those they might be currently losing or expect to lose.” Clearly, we need hope, all people need hope! Hope gives promise to a life which we as a people need to see and hear as we all seek that ‘lift’ out from under the dark shadow of the pandemic, and the devision, the tension within our communities throughout our great nation! These past eight months have been very difficult for tens of millions of people here in these United States of America. And it is far from over. We need hope, new hope! The gospels speak of promises which can change lives. With a little bit of faith and some humility, we can once again become the people of hope, for not just ourselves, but for a world filled with people whom are suffering under the effects of this current pandemic – which is raging virtually out of control!
When the pandemic first hit, we were left unaware of its pending impact. All too soon, we as a people began to realize that things were out of control. As that feeling of impending doom grew a great many of us felt helpless and humbled. Truly the first element in humility is becoming humbled into knowing that we, you, and me, we are not in charge. And yes, sometimes the pathway to becoming humble is through humiliation. Just for the record, there are and there have been many powerful leaders throughout history, some were humble leaders. Yet, many needed to go through a period of humbling humiliation first! Let me point out for us all, our scripture lesson was not meant to only speak to a particular group at a specific point in time. The message Jesus left for us is timeless. All who hear his words, we who hear the words, the message of Jesus as passed on to us, these lessons are meant for our consumption also! There are many things that we still need to grasp and perhaps learn for the very first time. If you already understand this lesson and grasp its meaning, then in true humility, start being that power of example for others to follow. We cannot afford to keep these teachings to ourselves. A time for change is upon us. Let us grasp the moment and be part of the crowd! Let us join with the faithful as we seek to follow in the teachings of Jesus.
Pastor Todd Weir speaks to an ‘old-adage,’ “You have to walk the talk. Do what you say, or you lose all credibility.” At the time of Jesus’s ministry this was not happening. Those that were to lead and care for the spiritual needs of the people, were preaching from the scriptures, yet they were not living into the words they spoke. We need to be sure we are not caught up in this same demise. Jesus was and is warning us to not get caught up in human failings of greed, and injustice; human failings that often flair up for those who forget why they have been put into positions of power and influence. Hear again the words of Jesus as spoken in verse four of our lesson. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” /Matthew 23:4/ Our ‘calling’ as followers of the teachings of Jesus, is to serve the needs of others. We are not called to torment, tyrannize, and marginalize those we are charged to serve! Forgive me if these words strike home, as the perils of the people in ancient times, the time period when Jesus walked the earth, these hypocrites, these double-dealers, they suffered from human arrogance and disrespect for the rights and freedoms of others. Saddly, these human weaknesses and shortcomings still exist in modern times.
D Mark Davis tells us that “The challenge which Jesus is addressing… is a human challenge to embrace that ‘honor’ is the result of ‘humility’, not of exalting oneself.” All too true. Ego and pride are often the side effects of power which has gone unchecked. Richard Beck tells us the all too obvious! “Power affects us. Power tempts us to take more cookies for ourselves. And power tempts us to leave messes for others to clean up.” As we move toward what experts expect to be a record vote, possibly the largest number of Americans voting in a national election, certainly in my lifetime; as we go to the polls to vote, we are all too conscious of this truth! How we respond is a personal choice, one in which we all need to heed. Let us all pray that the voices of ‘all’ the people of our great nation are heard. And let us also pray that when the counting is done, our democracy will stand true to its heritage. The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Is this not the ‘American Dream’ our forefathers all sought? Is this not still what we the people want? Equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Michael Anthony Howard, he has offered us some hopeful thoughts! “This God sees something in us worth rescuing, that there is something in us of such unsurpassable value that it is worth going to any length to ensure that we are rescued.” These words ought to instill within us hope; hope for what still can be! We have come a long way since the time of Roman occupation in the region of ancient Palestine wherein Jerusalem and the subjugated and defeated tribes of Israel resided, under Roman oppression. Yet. there are still many within this world who even now feel the pangs of classism, racism, and bigotry. We see this in our own society. The current Black Lives Matter movement shines a light on the evils of White Supremacists who still band together in our society, influencing the minds and hearts of our very neighbors about misguided notions. Racial profiling still flourishes – simply because of the color of one’s skin! Despite all of this, God has not given up on us! Let us not give up on the promises of our God!
William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia speaks to us of the importance of what we do. He begins by saying “When we move towards seeing God’s interests and our best interests and the best interests of others, when we get in touch with God’s being as love, when we see that this is not a distraction from life but being truly in touch with life and the life giver, then we will take a big breath and dive.” He is telling us to suck it up and dive into action! Be part of the solution! Do not sit quiet and passively by, while allowing evil to live in our own communities! Remember to vote on Tuesday, November 3rd! And when those we elect, as a free society, take the oath of office, it is our responsibility to hold them to the promises they are making today! Remember, God is on our side. Remember, Jesus was calling out the corrupt leadership in his community during his lifetime. We need to begin by setting the standards within our own lives. We need to live a life worthy of God’s grace. We need to judge ourselves first, before we judge others. Better yet, we need to let God do the judging. Our responsibility is to follow the teachings of kindness, compassion, and service to others which Jesus taught, while clearly speaking the truth and standing up for the needs, the rights of others!
Raise up in your personal consciousness the closing words of Jesus in today’s scripture lesson. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” /Matthew 23:12/ Live life with humility, recognizing that we are not in control of the big picture – God is. If we follow in the light of God, as taught by Christ, we shall find ourselves on the Godly side of the answers we are seeking.