“Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.” ? Ann Landers, advice columnist
“A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” ? C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“Pride is a perverted imitation of God. For pride hates a fellowship of equality under God, and seeks to impose its own dominion on fellow men, in the place of God’s rule” – Augustine, City of God
Feminist and liberation theologians note that pride as a sin takes its form among the powerful. For the weak and oppressed sin is withdrawing from God and neighbour assuming that they have nothing to offer.
“Sin is … the breaking of relationship both with God and with human beings that can take the form of weakness as well as pride in its denial of human responsibility.” – Anne E. Carr, Transforming Grace
Walk humbly – Audio Sermon
I think pride is one of the principle sins that we see in the Pharisees in our passage this morning. Pride the way C. S. Lewis seems to have described it. The Pharisees are so busy telling everyone else how to behave that they fail to see the damage caused by their own inaction. They fail to look up. Jesus commends the people to do as the Pharisees say. In other words, what they are saying is not wrong. Just do not hold their actions up for an example of model behaviour.
Jesus is asking us to be mindful of our place. To know who we are. This is evident from the get go when Jesus references the seat of Moses that the Pharisees sit upon. We are reminded of the seat of power that the Pharisees occupy. These are not individuals to be trifled with.
Jesus describes the garments that the Pharisees are wearing, with their long flowing gowns. How they seem to love the sound of their own voice and how they need to be greeted with respect and called ‘Rabbi.’ Jesus is making it clear that these individuals make a great show of going through the motions all so that they can be seen to be so wonderful.
Now, and here’s the rub. Some of you might be thinking something along the following: “Aren’t you one to call the kettle black – Reverend.”
And you’d be right.
I have the fancy title of Reverend, which the church has bestowed upon me. It’s right there on the top of you bulletin and it’s on the back as well. Just in case you forget. And I wear these wonderful robes and this beautiful stole.
But I am no better than you.
Despite the honorific of reverend and these robes, I am no better than you.
I think it is easy with a passage like this to pat ourselves on the back and say we are doing ok, or worse to say we are doing it right. Perhaps there are preachers today from their position of power who are chastising the congregation. Friends, I am no better than you.
This morning we celebrated Vienna’s baptism. I received that same baptism by water in the name of God the Father, Son and Spirit as did you. I am no better than Vienna, she is my equal. At five months old, she is my equal. Before God we are the same. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, together, all of us.
Friends, this passage is not about placing and assigning blame or guilt. To be sure Jesus is doing this very thing. Jesus is pointing a finger right at the Pharisees and saying to them I see what you are doing and it is wrong.
But friends it is not our job to put ourselves in the place of Jesus and to do likewise. It is our job to look at this passage and imagine Jesus speaking to us. It is be too easy to preach this passage and accuse everyone else of being the hypocrites. In fact to do so would make me a hypocrite.
As a preacher I am all too aware of the danger inherent in the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do.” My credibility and ability to be your pastor hangs on me not living this way. The reputation of the church depends on us not living this way.
Of course the problem does not limit itself to the church. Politics and celebrity also suffer from trying to keep a spotless public image while the skeleton’s keep piling up in the closet.
Our passage today reminds me to walk humbly with the Lord. To keep thoughts of my own greatness in check with the reality of who I really am and who God has called me to be. To understand myself as God sees me. So that I am ready to receive Jesus, so that I am ready to follow his teachings.
Henri Nouwen was born in Holland and was a catholic priest. A great scholar he taught at Yale Divinity School, he could have written his own ticket, gone anywhere, taught anywhere. The ticket he wrote for himself in 1985 was to join the L’Arche community, eventually settling with their Daybreak community just outside Toronto. He spent the last eleven years of his life living with individuals with developmental disabilities.
His life exemplified the final verses in our reading today. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Friends, this passage addresses two types of leaders:
1. Pharisee’s who quoted the law, but didn’t live out the really important parts. They were more concerned with making life difficult for the average person and enjoying the position of power they held.
2. Jesus who called the Pharisee’s out, ate with the common people, actually taught the people, healed them, walked with them, shared in the pain and in their joy. Jesus who denounced the Pharisees from the humble position of walking towards the cross.
Friends, Jesus does not fit into the category of do as I say not as I do.
Jesus is the message which is both do as I say and do as I do.
Jesus walked humbly towards the cross and God the Father exalted him above all things.
Jesus says if you want to follow me pick up your cross. We need to remember that before any of us needed to pick up a cross, Jesus did it for us. Jesus doesn’t let someone else go forward for us; Jesus goes forward on our behalf.
Jesus goes forward on our behalf so that we do not have to.
Friends as you walk with the Lord, walk humbly, and know that God will lift you up. Amen.
Text: Matthew 23: 1-12