Posts Tagged ‘Pharisees’

You Are Doing It Wrong 9-2-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23, I explore a debate that Jesus engages in that focuses in on the practices that are acceptable (or not) to God. From here we move into the idea that encounters with the divine through worship look or sound or seem a whole lot different to different people.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/you-are-doing-it-wrong-9-2-18

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Many of you out there know I’m a fan of movies…and that I often make comparisons between them and the scriptures. I suppose you could say that movie acts as a bit of a parable in these instances…and today is no different.

I’m remembering one that came out back in the early 90’s…a movie called Backdraft that focused on 2 brothers who were 2nd generation firefighters in Chicago…the movie opens with a flashback…as the brothers are young…and together they are trying to put on the gear that firefighters utilize for their protection as they battle the blazes…and the younger brother is trying to get the heavy fire-resistant coat buttoned up correctly…his older brother takes one look…and in the condescending way that older brothers often have tells him “You’re doing it wrong” and promptly buttons it up for him.

Now this moment repeats a little later on in the movie, when the brothers, now fully grown and assigned to the same fire station, set off on the first fire for the younger brother, who has just graduated from training…and as they get off the truck, he’s still struggling to button up his coat correctly…and sure enough…once again, big brother, takes over…and buttons him as he says…You’re doing it wrong.

The moment repeats itself one more time at the end of the movie…when the younger brother…who now has lot of experience, is sitting in a truck across from another newbie, experiencing the same problem…and it comes full circle as he leans across to help the new guy after saying…You’re doing it wrong. (Pause)

This repeating moment speaks to a sense of unfamiliarity…of needing to learn the right way of doing things…and it also points us in the direction of certain things that must be done in a certain way…and while firefighting might not have much in common with worship…I had a professor in seminary that reminds me a lot of those two brothers. He was tasked with teaching us the “proper etiquette” for leading worship…and believe me the guy took it seriously…

I remember the way he would correct us in worship lab…yes we had a lab about worship, crazy as that sounds…he was always kind…but he would point out when you did something wrong…like lifting the bread incorrectly during the words of institution…or adding in the phrase “in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit” in a moment when you aren’t supposed to…or the way you hold your arms during the prayers of intercession. If we messed up, we’d hear that same phrase…you’re doing it wrong.

Now…this is evidence of something we call High Church or Low Church…and its essentially talking about the traditions of worship. There are some congregations and pastors who are extremely high church…they wear ALL the vestments…and they follow very distinct rules about things…rules as tedious as which candle you light on the alter first…and whether or not you should lift the offering plates towards heaven before placing them on the altar.

And then on the flip side there’s the low church mentality…one that doesn’t always put a ton of stock in the “right way” of doing things. You might call it laid back…any guesses on which side I fall? (pause)

Here’s the thing…these different practices…different methods or ways of doing things effect how worship looks and sounds and functions…and yet it raises the question…is there a right way and a wrong way? Or are there simply different ways to worship?

And that seems to be the question being hotly debated by Jesus and some of the religious elite in today’s passage. We hear that the Pharisees and Scribes are criticizing Jesus because his disciples don’t go through a ceremonial handwashing before they eat…thereby risking their unclean hands making the food unclean and therefore making them unclean when they eat it.  That’s the initial controversy…and since they are his disciples…clearly they must have learned this behavior from him…and therefore, he gets targeted.

But maybe you’re wondering why this is a big deal…well in the Jewish culture…there is great importance about being ritually clean or unclean…and it goes all the way back to Moses and the law…and it serves a variety of purposes. These were God’s chosen people…and God willingly dwelled among them…but since God is perfect…since God is utterly clean, God cannot tolerate anything or anyone coming near that is unclean…and there have been countless rules and regulations developed to ensure the proper fashion of things…that the proper worship of the divine is happening.

And this rule is one them…but funny enough, Mark has embellished things just a bit by saying that ALL the Jews follow this law…because in actually, even in Jesus time, this particular rule about ritual washing of hands only applied to the priests.

Now Jesus makes a point of this…actually several times over, and in some of the verses that we skip over today, he makes a heck of a point about food being unable to defile…or to make a person unclean…when he reminds his audience that food goes in the stomach and comes out…into the sewer…think about that for a moment and maybe you’ll make the connection of just what Jesus thinks about this whole contraversy.

But there’s also another statement that Jesus makes…one that really caught my attention, as he quotes from the prophet Isaiah…He says “in vain do they worship me.” (pause) In vain.

I thought about that a lot…because at first glance it sorta seems like this prophetic word of the Lord is a bit troublesome…saying that worship is in vain…I mean, God might as well be saying that worship is pointless…that it serves no purpose…that there’s no reason for it…and if that’s all we hear, that’s troubling.

But we’ve got to stop and consider what Jesus is really talking about here. One thing we need to remember is just how utterly connected the Jewish culture is with their religion, and their worship practices…far more than we are in within our own faith tradition…but for the Jewish people, even the what they ate was tied to worship and could effect it.

And so when the Pharisees accuse Jesus and the disciples of eating with unclean hands…of being defiled…of being unacceptable…they are essentially saying that if you don’t do it this way…then God will not hear you…God will not see you…or on the flip side that if you do not approach God in this way then you do not approach God.

And when I start to hear things like that, I get a little nervous…because it seems to indicate that worshipping God…that experiencing the divine comes with an owner’s manual…and that there’s a checklist to it all…that God can only be found in this specific box…but if the scriptures tell us anything, its that God will not be contained…God will not be found in a box…and if the life death and resurrection of Jesus shows us anything…its that there is no length that God will not go in order to encounter us. (pause)

Now…as I say this…maybe you’re sitting out there thinking about the traditions and the rituals that are important to you…those aspects of worship or prayer or quiet time or reflection…those aspects that have become vital for you…and not only that, but they have become life-giving for you because you experience the divine within them.

I’ll never forget the time, very early on in my experience of leading worship at a tiny country church near where I lived…and I dove right into the liturgy, but skipped over the Brief Order which we also use here every week…and they stopped me…and I had to go back and do that…because for that congregation…for that small gathering of believers…that moment of confession and the announcement of forgiveness is vital. And its not my intention to say that those things are not important.

But what I will is this…that thing that is vital to a divine encounter with God…that looks different for different people or different groups or different denominations.  God shows up in many mysterious ways…some of which might trip your trigger…some of which just seem odd or foreign…and maybe even prompt to think “you’re doing it wrong.”

But thanks be to God that God shows up…because when God shows up…hearts are changed…and that’s the point of this whole deal…and I believe this is what Jesus is talking about as he reminds us that it is not what goes into the body that defiles…but what comes out…because what comes out is a reflection of the heart that lies within us…a heart that can and does reflect the light of life…but can and does reflect the brokenness of the world…brokenness that manifest itself in these different traits that Jesus talks about…attitudes or behaviors that hinder our relationship with God and with our neighbors…these evil things come from within. (pause)

But remember…God shows up…and somehow, someway, we have a God who changes hearts…and our amazing God does this out of a perfect, all in, love for each and every one of us…there is nothing that you can do or say or think that will make God love you any more…and there is nothing that can make God love you any less…and this is the promise which has been made real for us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…when God shows us that there is no box…not even a tomb…that can contain the divine from showing up among God’s people.

We all worship a little different…but the one that we worship is the same…and when you encounter the divine, in whatever way is meaningful for you…in whatever way touches your heart…God will never say You’re doing it wrong. Amen.

Who’s Are You? 10-19-14

In this sermon, taken from Matthew 22:15-22, I explore the conflict between Jesus and the joint effort of the Pharisees and Herodians. They intend to trap Jesus over a question of taxes, but as per usual, he simply points out a new way to think about the truth of the situation.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/whos-are-you-10-19-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

It never ceases to amaze me when I think about different groups that have come together in and around an issue…Groups of people that ordinarily wouldn’t be in the same room with one another find common cause against something, and because of this, they wind up working as a team. (pause)

Perhaps the most prominent example of this in recent memory occurred in 1985, when a committee was formed in Washington aimed at controlling and possibly even censoring lyrics of songs released in the public media.

As concern grew, particularly among the music artist community, about the actions of this committee infringing on 1st Amendment rights, an unlikely trio banded together in opposition. Frank Zappa, an unorthodox musician producer…Dee Snyder, the loud and gaudy front man of the popular heavy metal band Twisted Sister…and in a shock…mild mannered John Denver, a folk icon…these three men who had nothing in common except a connection to the music industry…banded together in opposition.

And in today’s story, we see a similar situation…individuals that normally have nothing to do with one another binding together in opposition of someone that they seem to hold equal distaste for…the Pharisees and the Herodians…working together with common cause…to discredit Jesus. (pause)
Now this is an interesting pairing to be sure. One group that we’re pretty familiar with…another…not quite so well known. (pause) Now the Pharisees, we know all about them don’t we? The religious elite…the upper end of the social spectrum in Jewish culture…the ones who knew…and followed the law to the letter…and all too often…the recipients of a certain stigma in today’s reckoning…slammed with the nickname the Biblical Badguys.

They are forever hounding Jesus, opposing his teachings…questioning his motives…and hounding anyone that aligns themselves with him…and on the other hand, we’ve got the Herodians…a group that, admittedly, we aren’t all that familiar with…We only hear about these guys a couple times through the entirety of the four gospels…this story and one other brief mention early in Mark…but what we do know about them is who they represent…Herodians…sounds like Herod doesn’t it?

While we might not know the specifics of just who these guys are, we can assume that the represent Herod Antipas…a “ruler” in Israel at the time…but more accurately, a Roman stooge…someone set up to help maintain the peace between the Roman control and the Jewish people that suffered under it.

Ironically, in most situations, these two groups would want nothing to do with one another…The Herodians, being loyal to Rome, not only represent the oppressive government, but they also represent the alternate view points of the Romans, up to and including what gods they paid attention to…To them, the Pharisees are old fashioned…stuck in their old ways of thinking.

And on the flip side, for the Pharisees…arguably the most pious of the Jewish people…possessing the most “cultural pride,” they would see the Herodians as traitors at best…loyal to the rulers of the day, but far to willing to compromise in order to get along. (pause)
But despite these differences…it seems in this case…that both groups…the Pharisees and the Herodians start listening to that old question “is the enemy of my enemy my friend or my enemy.” And in the very least…within today’s story…they decide that the answer is…friendly.

And so they take common cause in opposition…to Jesus….and they’ve devised a trap for him…a trap that, ironically, highlights the very differences between them that they are choosing to ignore…and after some initial…and likely quite snarky…flattery…they pose Jesus with a question…Tell us what you think…is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?

At face value…this seems like a pretty logical question…but in their minds…they’ve got Jesus in a corner, because either way he answers, he’s going to land in hot water. On one hand…just as the Pharisees despise Roman rule…the latest in a long line of conquering empires…the rest of the Jewish culture is equally hateful…and the mere fact that they are required to pay taxes to the very people that are oppressing them…supporting that very oppression…is a slap in the face to the Jewish people…and so, if Jesus comes out and says “well yes…of course it is lawful to do so,”…he’ll lose credence with the people…and the Pharisees will gain the upper hand over him.

But on the other hand…the Herodians…well their interests were certainly more…politically minded…they represent the “king,” even if he is a Roman lackey…and so if Jesus makes the statement opposing paying taxes…well, in their eyes, that’ll land Jesus in some political…perhaps even legal…hot water. (pause)

Two different groups…who normally fall on opposite sides of the fense…joining together in opposition…to Christ. (pause) But of course…not wanting to seem too bloodthirsty…they begin their scheme with flattery…and reading this almost makes me laugh…just thinking about how thick they’re laying it on. (pause)

“Teacher…we know….that you are sincere…and teach the way of God in accordance with truth…and show difference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” (pause) It had to be dripping with sarcasm…and yet…do they say anything that isn’t true? (pause)

Jesus is always sincere…people might not like what he has to say all the time, but he’s nothing if not sincere in his interactions…and of course his teachings are true…and yes he teaches the way of God…HE IS God for pete’s sake…and truly, he shows no partiality but deals with each and every individual as God sees them…as a beloved child of God…worthy of respect…and time…and relationship.

And thinking about this…about how Jesus’ opponents are trying to be funny and yet they still speak truth…and not only that but also about how their well devised plan, where they are working together…really does nothing except point out their respective differences in loyalty…I realize that when we deal with Jesus…the truth is going to be revealed…whether we want to…whether we intend to…or not. (pause)

Not only does Jesus make a point with the coin about the importance of giving what is due to any individual, whether Caesar or God or anyone…but he also reveals the truth of just where our loyalties really lie.

As Jesus talks about the coin…he’s talking about ownership. “This coin has the face and inscription of Caesar…so its his…so give him his due.” And in the same sentence he also tells us that we are to give God his due.”

But then this raises the important question of just what is God’s due? So let’s think about that for a bit…we know that it is right that we offer God our worship and praise…that’s a no brainer. And perhaps we can use this to talk about stewardship and offering our gifts back to God…or maybe we expand it a little bit and think about the notion that everything in the world belongs to God and we shouldn’t hold anything back. (pause)

While these are all valid thoughts, I think today that Jesus takes us beyond that…and just as he proposes that the coin belongs to the emperor because it has his name on it…I think we need to ask the question of who do we belong to…who’s got their name…on us? (pause)

And perhaps that’s hard to think about…after all, we are constantly drawn in so many different directions at any given time…but in the end…its important to remember the words and the promise that was made for each of us in the waters of our baptism…when God claims us as His own…when we are marked with the cross of his son Jesus Christ and we hear the promise that we are sealed in his love forever. Pause)

We celebrated a baptism just last week in worship…and while that is a wonderful reminder…we must each remember our own baptism day by day…when we put to death the sinful self…and we received the mark of Christ upon us…and in doing that…we remember not just who we are…but more importantly, we remember who’s we are…and today, here in this sanctuary, we remember in who’s name we gather…the one that names and claims us…even in those moments when we overlook it…or forget it…or even turn our backs on it…the name of God…the cross of Christ…and the seal of the Holy Spirit remains upon you…to carry with you as you go through this life…and what joy we find in knowing that God shows no partiality…and because of that…we too…are included in his number…and that is a truth, which will not…be denied, no matter how hard the world tries. Amen.