Year A — The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26)

Commentary for October 30, 2011
Click here for today’s readings

Joshua 3:7-17
Several “quick hitters” that I note in this passage:

  • Joshua had a pretty bad case of nerves about taking over for Moses; after all, who wants to bat clean-up after Babe Ruth? Who wants to coach football at Alabama after Bear Bryant? (I know I’m dating myself with these analogies…but, what the heck…it’s my blog!)
  • But, it was God who “exalted” him; we never will really succeed at pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. That’s just a misconception in popular American culture.
  • Speaking of bootstraps, have you ever noticed that the waters of the Jordan River — at flood stage, no less — did not part until the soles of the priests’ feet hit the waves? God is the original “just in time” delivery system!
  • I wonder how heavy that ark got while the whole nation of Israel took their time crossing the river?

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
Verse 2 is a great reminder: “let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Don’t make God’s work in your lives a secret! It’s okay actually to talk about it. A pastor I met once referred to evangelism as “saying something good about God.” 

I like it.

Micah 3:5-12
Don’t lean on God to cover your own behind. God never owes it to any of us to clean up our mess. 

Psalm 43
There are certainly hope-challenged and soul-disquieting days that come our way. How powerful to pray for the light and truth of God — which is sometimes just knowing that you are not alone, and that God has not given (and will not give) up on you.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Those of us who had uplifting, encouraging parents received a true blessing from God. Not everyone is so fortunate. Whatever our draw in the parental lottery, we are encouraged by this passage to “live lives worthy of God.”

Matthew 23:1-12
I saw this week where Mike Judge, the creator of the infamous comic duo Bevis and Butthead, is working on an upcoming theatrical release of the boys’ new adventures. I can just hear Bevis snorting now, “Heh-heh-heh…you said ‘phylactery!'”

What is a phylactery, exactly? According to the omnipresent Wikipedia (which is actually pretty good on their Jewish minutiae): Phylactery is the English name for Tefillin, a pair of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which are worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers.

Anyhow, the Pharisees are ripped by Jesus basically for being all show (BIG phylacteries, those guys!) and no go when it comes to what counts in the kingdom of God. There really is no better way to say it than v. 12.

Or, you could read Dr. Bubba’s sermon, below…:)

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Those of us of a certain age can still sing along to the Mac Davis’ tongue-in-cheek country song “O Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.”
It was one of those songs that gets in your head and won’t go away.
Our Gospel lesson today is a warning to Christians in general and religious leaders in particular, about the dangers of pride and the call to humility.
I come from Appalachian, Scots-Irish stock and we have a particular problem with this; we are very proud of being humble. Whenever I left the farm to go out for a night on the town, my Daddy would give me the contradictory admonition, “Now son, be proud, remember you’re a Chilton and don’t act like you think you are somebody.”
It made sense to us.
Back before the Civil War there was an exchange in the US Senate that went something like this:
The senator form North Carolina: “I come from North Carolina, a great vale of humility lodged between two mountains of conceit.” (referring to Virginia and South Carolina, for the geographically challenged.)
The senator from Virginia retorted, “That is true, but only because North Carolina has a lot to be humble about.”
In our Gospel lesson, Matthew shows Jesus admonishing his disciples not to be like the scribes and Pharisees in their exercise of the teaching authority Jesus is in the process of giving them. All of chapter 23 is aimed at these religious leaders who are accused of being prideful hypocrites, blind guides and whitewashed tombs.
Dale Allison of Pittsburg Theological Seminary notes, “ . . .one could scarcely find a biblical text so little heeded . . .Christian history instructs us that all the vices Matthew 23 attributes to the scribes and Pharisees have attached themselves to Christians, and in abundance.” (The Lectionary Commentary, The Gospels, p.139)
First thing that needs to be noted is that it is beside the point for us today to beat up on the scribes and Pharisees, for in the words of Huck Finn, “They been dead a considerable long time. . . .(and) I don’t take no stock in dead people.”
Second thing is that for us to fuss about the Jewish religious leaders would be; well, somewhat hypocritical, seeing as how Christian leaders of all stripes have been just as guilty of the same thing.
Third thing is; we need to listen to what this word has to say about us and our pride and humility problems.
Recently I heard of an international study done of secondary, high school level education. I don’t have the exact numbers right to hand, but the students from the United States ranked in the 20’s and 30’s in every category but one. In that one thing we were #1 in the world.
Can you guess what it was? Self-esteem. We have done a fine job of teaching our young people to be very proud of themselves, even when there is no reason for it.
We have created a secular gospel that has moved from teaching people that everyone in America has the right and opportunity to achieve to teaching everyone in America that no matter what they do, they have a right to be proud of themselves and to demand respect from others.
This secular attitude has bled over into the church where a vigorous proclamation of Law and Gospel; sin and salvation; confession, repentance and forgiveness has been replaced with the anemic and insipid blessing, “God loves you no matter what you do.”
This sense that as children of God we are specially favored cuts at the heart of discipleship and servanthood. If we are special and unique and gifted, then it is hard to see where the needs of others fit in.
If you come to church only to get your own needs met, to get your spiritual batteries recharged, to “get something out of it,” well, that’s just wrong
One is also called to membership in a community of faith in order to participate in meeting the needs of others. This is the call to be a humble servant.
The struggle, in all times and all places, is to recognize that our relationship with God is based not on some achievement or quality in ourselves; but is rooted in the immeasurable greatness of God and God’s love.
None of us is deserving of that and none of us is excluded from it.
And it is only when we recognize that we don’t deserve it that we begin to appreciate it and respond to it.
And the only genuine response is to humbly accept God’s love as both generous and undeserved and then to go out and share God’s love generously with someone who really doesn’t deserve it either.
In this way we fulfill Christ’s promise, “the greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Amen and amen.

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