Readings: 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 23:1-12
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
This is the story as Gospel of Matthew tells it.
When Jesus got to Jerusalem, after his triumphal entry into the holy city, he went to the temple, saw and dealt with the horror of the den of robbers and stayed to heal the blind and the lame. He had a small verbal skirmish with the temple authorities before heading out to Bethany for the night and then the next day he was back in the temple. He told barely veiled parables against the establishment: the wedding banquet, the wicked tenants, the work ethic of the two sons - and had thrown back at him baited traps designed to expose him for the charlatan he was by the priests – paying taxes, resurrection marriage, the greatest commandment – and on it went. And then, suddenly, Jesus has had enough! Enough of the tricky questions and not so subtle put downs and the lack of understandings, enough of the attempts at point scoring around the intricacies of law by the Sadducees and Pharisees. Enough.
Chapter 23 of Matthew could quite easily be described as a rant! And today’s reading is the beginning of it. See these teachers and lawyers – they may well preach and teach what is the father’s will but do they practice what they teach – no way!
They are vain, arrogant and hypocritical – they misuse their authority and need to be called out on it.
The leaders of the synagogue in Jesus time were not alone in this dislocation of behaviour and teaching. We can see it all around us now and throughout history. Faithfulness to God stumbles and instead becomes self interest, comfort, and authority for its own sake. The preachers, teachers at the temple in Jerusalem are expounding the doctrine and not hearing their own teaching.
Pious and authoritative words convictions do not a faithful person make! Delegating the living faithfully to others does not equate to being faithful.
Faithfulness is in the orientation of one’s heart and life – to God. And true faithfulness to God demands of us a form of radical egalitarianism that sees all people, despite our many inequalities of abilities, skill and status, as absolutely equal before God. This quote from Richard Niebuhr says it beautifully: ‘God is the common centre, to which all humanity is related: it is by reference to and in respect of our relation to that creative centre that we are equal’. That is what we do every time we gather round the table – one body unified and equal before God.
Where am I going with this? Well, it strikes me that this has some real challenges for us today – as we look at what it means to be the saints for our day, as we use our skills and capacities in God’s service and how that might look in our future as a church body here in Opoho.
One thing to recognise is that our failure to grasp faithful living in God’s way for all of us is not confined to church leadership alone. While power lends itself to abuse, no less so in the church, it is the thinking that has grown out of the contemporary liberation and feminist theology that there equally can be a form of withdrawal from faithful action by those who consider themselves further down the pecking order. Here the unwillingness to act or live faithfully is manifested in a denial of ability, of a belief that we have nothing to offer and so do not need to contribute. Both pride and humility can equally encourage denial of human responsibility to live as God’s people.
I was walking down to church on Sunday pondering the phrase ‘All care and no responsibility’. It’s quite commonly used in our world now – mostly to stave off any suggestions of culpability when things go wrong – but I would suggest it that for us it needs to be all care and all responsibility for all of us.
Because aren’t we family – isn’t that our strength as the faithful here in Opoho and in the wider church – family that accepts responsibility to not just hear the word of God but to live it and in doing so to share the joy of Christ with positivity, action and enthusiasm. This church body will not survive without all of us actively being the hands, feet and heart of Christian living and action in whatever way we can. We can’t leave the vibrancy of this heritage of faith we have received from the saints that have gone before resting on a few shoulders – it needs all of us to listen and to live out the teachings we hold as the basis of our faith. And we all have something to offer – prayer, engagement, practical skills, time, energy, teaching, listening, pastoral, hospitality. Not just occasionally but bursting out from the core of our faith – God within us.
Furthermore we are at a bit of a crunch time – at our Parish Council retreat it would be safe to say we were all a bit discombobulated by the news that our church building now has an A listing. We were prepared for having to make decisions based on bad news – do we give up on the building, do we spend all our reserves making fixes so we can stay – and suddenly that we have a different question in front of us. Sure there are still questions and challenges about our building but let us concentrate on our living for today. What does it look like for a faith community look like when our hearts and life are orientated towards God in faithful living.
Some thoughts – not to blame but to encourage, not to demand but to see opportunity.
How many of us deep down think that the only time we come alive as a church body is Sunday morning. That worship not on Sunday and not in the format of Sunday is an optional extra. That gathering and exploring and fellowship is best left to Sunday. The doors remain closed the rest of the time. How can we be alive during the week? It doesn’t always have to be our energy or our time – but sometimes it does.
We have just had a working bee – fantastic turnout and much work done. But guess what we didn’t get to the bit of garden that people walk by every day on Signal Hill Rd – two working bees a year are needed but so is a regular commitment throughout the year – and when that happens we see when we look at the Farquharson frontage – thank you to those who do that but we need more people to join in.
Who among us has reviewed, wondered if our giving to the church can increase for this financial year? Do we wait for the prodding or do we take responsibility for meeting the increase in costs that each year brings.
How do we turn to face the world, how do we not just build our faith but also serve the community we live in a way that is faithful to Jesus teachings – grab the reins of mission and run with it, knowing that it will demand all of those things we bring - prayer, engagement, practical skills, time, energy, teaching, listening, pastoral, hospitality.
So for the people of God, the commitment to the continuing of the journey of faith of those who have gone before into our future is the responsibility of us all. It will look different, seem difficult at times but so it was for them.
And here is the good news in which we put our trust and hope. We heard the words of 1 John.
For those who have gone before and we walk in the way of Jesus as the children of God: that is what we are. And as part of God’s creation we are not only held in love but also given renewing strength to be a faithful people in the midst of all that life throws at us. God within us enables us to live in the example of Jesus despite our uncertainties and doubts and difficulties. God within us allows us to live as Christ followers uncertain of the future but trusting in the promise that is a time of complete reconciliation, justice and peace before us. Faithfulness demands of us that we work for the transformation of the world we live in now.
We are the beloved of God and, as such, are the saints of body of Jesus in this place and this time. Praise be to God for the faithfulness of the people of God in the time past, in our time and in the time to come. Amen.