|Third Sunday in Advent||December 11, 2011||Third Sunday of Advent, Year B||Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Canticle 15; John 1:6-8, 19-28|
|Second Sunday in Advent||December 4, 2011||Second Sunday in Advent, Year B||Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8|
|First Sunday in Advent||November 27, 2011||First Sunday in Advent, Year B||Genesis 28:10-17; Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37|
|Last Sunday After Pentecost||November 20, 2011||Christ the King Sunday, Year A||Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25:31-46|
|22st Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 28||November 13, 2011||Sermon, Proper 28||Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11|
|21st Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 27||November 6, 2011||Sermon, Proper 27, Year A, All Saints’ Sunday||Matthew 25:1-13; Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-20|
|➤20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 26||October 30, 2011||Proper 26, Year A||Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12|
|19th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 25||October 23, 2011||Proper 25, Year A||Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46|
|18th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 24||October 16, 2011||Proper 24, Year A||Matthew 22:15-22, Psalm 96|
|17th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 23||October 9, 2011||Proper 23, Year A||Isaiah 25:1-12; Matthew 22:1-14|
|15th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 21||September 25, 2011||Proper 21, Year A||Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-8; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32|
|13th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 19||September 11, 2011||Sermon, Proper 19, Year A||Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 14:1-12|
|12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 18||September 4, 2011||Sermon, Proper 18, Year A||Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20|
|10th Sunday After Pentecost – “But who do you say that I am?”||August 21, 2011||Proper 16, Year A||Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20|
|9th Sunday after Pentecost Year A – Canaanite Woman||August 14, 2011||Sermon, Proper 15, Year A||Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28|
20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A, Proper 26
Sermon Date:October 30, 2011
Scripture: Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 26, Year A
In the gospel today, Matthew writes that Jesus takes the Pharisees to task.
Jesus takes the Pharisees to task
Not because they are “were noted for their accurate and therefore authoritative interpretations of Jewish law“
Not because the Pharisees are prominent in public life.
Not because they “are zealous observers of the law and especially concerned with ritual purity, tithing food according to Old Testament law, and the correct observance of the Sabbath” (Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, pages 841-842).
No, Matthew has Jesus take the Pharisees to task because they are set in their comfortable ways and because they do not practice what they teach.
Unfortunately, these hypocritical Pharisees give all of the Pharisees a bad name, in spite of the fact that these brilliant thinkers are the intellectual ancestors of Judaism as we know it today.
The prophets that Micah castigates in the Old Testament reading today are also hypocrites, stuck in their comfortable ways.
Even though they are prophets, appointed to speak God’s truth to the people, these prophets say only what the powerful want to hear. And not only that, but these prophets participate in the effort to make the rich even richer at the expense of the poor.
What do these two hypocritical groups of people from the Old and New Testaments have to do with us, today’s Christians?
We people who follow Jesus have chosen an admirable and difficult path to follow. We have spent this church year reading the Gospel according to Matthew, hearing from Jesus that our deeds on behalf of God are more important than our doctrines.
And people watch us, just as they watched the Pharisees and listened to the prophets in the Bible.
Because people want to know—is it really possible to live a life like the one Jesus shows us how to live, and asks us to live?
Now like the Micah’s prophets, and Matthew’s Pharisees, we like comfort.
Like those prophets and Pharisees, we like being stuck if that means being in a comfortable place where we have all that we desire.
And part of being comfortable also means that we avoid having our beliefs and viewpoints challenged.
We’re comfortable when we’re with people who see the world through our eyes.
Who among us really wants to be challenged into a different way of understanding?
We want to be comfortable. We want our faith to be comfortable.
I’m speaking from experience. Now every Sunday I stand up and preach the gospel. And for the past two Sundays, I’ve talked about stewardship.
If you were here the week I gave out dollar bills, you’ll recall that I talked about how sharing our money is like sharing ourselves—that if one of us sent $1000 to help relieve the people starving in Somalia, that would be like sending 1000 of yourself to help in that situation.
In theory, that plan sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s easy to say, and hard to do.
On Tuesday, I went to the ECW annual meeting in Annandale. That night I had a meeting of spiritual directors at the Washington Theological Union.
So I had the blessing of a few hours in between meetings, and so I went into DC. What a beautiful afternoon!
My plan was to ride the merry go round on the mall, and then go over to the National Gallery of Art to get some notecards for a friend.
I’m incredibly lucky when it comes to finding parking places on the mall. And Tuesday was no exception. Although it was a distance from the merry go round, the park I found was right in front of the Air and Space Museum and directly across the mall from the National Gallery of Art. So saying a prayer of thanks, I got out of the car.
And then I saw him, sitting on a bench, at the very moment he saw me—an obviously homeless man, with several bags crammed with all of his worldly possessions clustered around him. He was sitting on one of those benches that lines the mall pathways.
And, yes, I had on my collar, having just been to that ECW meeting, which is probably why he felt free to beckon me over to him and why I did not feel free to do what I’ve done so often, passing by a homeless person as if that person did not even exist.
“Are you Catholic?” he asked. “No, I’m an Episcopalian,” I answered.
“Well, could you give me a little change for some food?” he asked, looking at me hopefully.
Now I’m ashamed to admit that I just stood there. I’m sure that I looked like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.
There I stood, not just me, but “The Christian Church” because I had on that visible sign of the collar.
My head was full of chaotic thoughts. I didn’t have any food in the car that I could give to this man. Immediately, I didn’t want to give the guy cash—but if I got him food, where would I get it, and how much would it cost?
I stood there in silence for so long that he assumed I was going to say no and so he said, “Well, thank you anyway, I appreciate you stopping.”
And I said, “I’m not saying no—but I’m trying to figure out the best way to help.”
By this time I had decided that I would get the man some food, that it was the right thing to do, and so I asked him where I could get some food around there. He told me there was a McDonald’s several blocks away from the mall.
Promising to be back in a little while with some food, I left. I could tell he didn’t believe that I’d come back.
I went into the Air and Space Museum because I had a vague memory of a food court there, and sure enough, to my left was a huge McDonald’s. So I went in and was horrified at the prices, which of course are jacked up for the tourists. I had no clue what the guy would want. So I guessed, and got the meal with the two cheeseburgers the fries and a large Coke. And I got some coffee. I couldn’t go back into the museum with the food, so the guard let me out through a side door and I walked around the corner to get back to the mall.
“That guy had better still be there,” I thought to myself.
The guy was still there, and he was talking to a woman who had come up—who was also obviously homeless. He got up to meet me, and took the food, clearly surprised and pleased that I had come back. He told me that he was going to share the food with the woman.
She looked pretty spooked, but she said that I had truly blessed the man, and that I had taken care of him. Then they looked at me like “You can go away now,” so I took my coffee and sat on down on the next available bench.
In spite of the fact that I no longer had the time or the money to ride the merry go round, just getting to sit outside on such a beautiful afternoon was a total pleasure.
In a little while the homeless man came over. “She left,” he said, and I asked him if he’d sit down with me.
He asked me where I’d gotten the food, and I told him I’d gone into the museum.
“But the food there is really expensive,” he said.
And out of my mouth popped the following words—“Well, it’s not my money, it’s God’s money,” I said, and at that moment, I realized how much I really don’t live into that fact, and at the same time how much I believe that those words are true.
I realized what a selfish person I really am, deep down inside.
So we shared the bench and he ate the cheeseburgers and I drank my coffee and he told me a little about himself. After the conversation had gone on for a while, he said, “My name’s Eli.”
I was mortified. I am ashamed to admit that during the entire conversation, I had thought of him only as a homeless man, a category. I hadn’t even thought about asking him his name. I introduced myself.
After a while, he went back to his bench, and I headed over to the National Gallery to do the errand for my friend.
This small incident made me realize that I have got a lot of Pharisee in me. One of the least of these had challenged my comfortable existence. He may have not even said anything to me if I hadn’t been wearing the collar, and I can guarantee with a great deal of shame that I would have been a lot more likely to do nothing if I had been my usual anonymous self. He wouldn’t have known just by looking at me that I was a Christian, and his hope and expectation that I would help may not have been there.
But the hope and the expectation were there.
People watch us all the time. Can they even tell that we are Christians by how we live our lives?
And if they can even tell, then they watch with expectation to see just how we really do share ourselves.
Will we practice what we preach?
You know, those uncomfortable things that Jesus tells us to do.
Things like “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”
Things like “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”
Things like “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Things like feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison.
The Pharisees wore the scriptures across their foreheads as a sign of their piety, but they did not practice what they preached. The words they displayed had not entered into their hearts.
What do people see when they watch us, the Christians?
Will they see us wearing God’s words like fine jewelry, a sign of our comfortable self-righteous lives?
Or will they see us living out God’s words?
We can take God’s words into our hearts as the Paul tells us the Thessalonians did, accepting the word not as a human word, but as what it really is—God’s word—which is also at work in you believers.
My prayer today for us is that the world will indeed see that
The Word is at work in each one of us in the ways that we share ourselves.
And I guarantee that taking the God’s words in and living them out in this lifetime will make us uncomfortable, and yet at the same time will fill us with the deepest comfort and the greatest joy we can ever know until God brings us at last to that holy hill and into the dwelling places that God has prepared for each of us.