Pharisee or Disciple

given on Sunday, October 16, 2016

Opening scripture: Matthew 25:34-36, 44-46 [NLT]

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ . . .

. . . 44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Scripture connection: Luke 22:37-42 [NLT]

37 As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table.[a] 38 His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! 40 Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? 41 So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.

42 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[b] but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

Plus: I Timothy 4:11-13 [NLT]

11 Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Bishop Bob Farr’s statement:

“Part of the burden of becoming Bishop is learning of other people’s burdens. Watching the pain of our black and brown brothers and sisters has become too much for me to bear. Witnessing our first responders face increased risk due to escalating tensions in many of our neighborhoods has weighed heavily upon me. I have often felt helpless, not knowing what I should do, but that isn’t true. I follow a God who is always on the side of those who are hurting. It is not enough to be non-racist. That is far too passive. As white people who follow Jesus Christ, we are called to be anti-racist. We are people of action and of spirit. As Methodists we are called to both social and personal holiness. We must be wary of what our founder, John Wesley called quietism. Faith without works, he said, was the “the grand pest of Christianity.”

Closing scripture: Matthew 25:40 [NLT]

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

 

Reflection:

One more political ad on television and I may just snap. I listen to the vicious accusations and slamming of one candidate against another and I groan. How can our country hope to reclaim a sense of decency in such a poisonous campaign—not just nationally but also at the state level!

This week the first letter from Bishop Farr arrived in the mail. Missouri has been a focal point for much of the unrest these past two years and now the political arena is creating so much turmoil, too, that it quickly tarnishes the idealism into which baby boomers were born. The decades since the 1950’s have marched on, and the idealism has turned into cynicism.

No, this is not a political commentary; this is a Christian commentary. As Christians we are tasked to serve one another in all the ways we can. Yet, as Bishop Farr mentions in his letter, it is difficult to understand all the injustices that occur because we do not travel in the shoes of others. We travel in our own shoes.

Rev. Cody Collier admonished the newest ordained elders and deacons as well as all church members to walk the walk of Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are to step out of our churches, out of our comfort level, and walk out into the streets to serve. Walk the walk with others, and we will find ways to serve and to introduce others to God.

Today’s scripture from Matthew 25 is so familiar. Many of the verses are memorized and echo in our minds when we hear just a small piece of the verses:

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

Yet, today, do we hear these verses and think we have indeed done all that we can? Or do we hear these verses and cringe knowing we have failed to follow God’s words?

The neighborhoods in which we live are not the same as the ones we knew 10, 25, even 50 years ago. The neighborhoods evolved into unfamiliar communities and we feel like outsiders. The communities no longer look like those etched into our long-term memory. And the memories are so entrenched they are like concrete, and we refuse to see that even those memories are showing wear and tear.

When Jesus was walking the paths in ancient Israel, he did not care what others were thinking about him. He cared what was happening to others. He did not dwell on the fact that he exiled himself from his own hometown; he kept walking, teaching, healing, and preaching.

Scripture repeatedly shares the stories of Jesus being harassed by the Pharisees. They were accustomed to being in charge and their goals were to preserve the status quo. The Pharisees were accustomed to a certain lifestyle, a certain pattern of life in the community, and Jesus was challenging everything they knew. When this young whipper-snapper challenged them, they bristled and defended what they knew.

Jesus stood firm. He refused to be quieted. He refused to follow the legalistic style of religion the Pharisees were preserving. He saw someone sick, and he healed them—even if it was Sabbath. He heard the plea of friends begging that a daughter or brother be healed or returned from death.

Jesus demonstrated how to live a God-centered life regardless of the ancient traditions of the Jewish Pharisees. Jesus called the apostles to follow him in his shoes/sandals and teach others to love one another. The evolution of today’s Christian faith was not easy. It was a life-and-death battle to see that the newest disciples could transform an imperfect world through one simple commandment: Love God above all else, and love one another as you want to be loved.

Today’s church is at risk of being as legalistic as the ancient Jewish religion. The Pharisees could not hear God because they were so focused on preserving the culture in which they had been trained. This was the very tribe, the very profession, and the very way it always had been. Yet, the ancient world was filled with challenges just like today’s world.

The drive to make fortunes in the region around the Mediterranean Coast brought many cultures together as land trade routes connected to marine trade. The same drive to financial success challenges us. The fallout often turns into employment challenges, economic stress, challenges of business ethics, and so much more.

Mix the economic challenges with political power and the problems of Biblical times seems so much like to today’s global culture. The Pharisees were doing everything they could to preserve the social and political culture to which they were accustomed. The message that Jesus was sharing shook the very foundations of their world, so they fought to keep things as they were—even to the point of trying to get rid of Jesus.

Yet, Jesus was teaching a new way. Jesus was showing that as long as one does all that one can to love one another, all the other evils in the world can be avoided. Jesus and his disciples were flexible. The disciples had to step outside of the cultural box in which they were raised and discover that life loving one another could create the kingdom of God the Pharisees kept just out of reach.

Today we must decide whether we are Pharisees or whether we are disciples. We must take an honest evaluation of our personal mindset and ask if we are a Pharisee or whether we are a disciple. Do we do all that we can to reach out to others in the community that no longer looks like the one in our memories? Do we see ways that we can help those in the community or do we just want to keep things like they have been for decades?

When Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, he had to guide this young disciple through the personal experiences he had following Jesus’ example while sitting in a Roman prison. He could not be present in Timothy’s mission field to guide him. So when we read the books Paul wrote to Timothy, we need to see if we are going to be Pharisees or whether we will follow Timothy in an effort to keep Jesus’ work alive even two thousand years later.

Are we Pharisees or are we disciples of Jesus Christ? Be honest. What have you done to see that God is alive in this community just as much today as it was when you were born? You have been active, but what can you do or what can you support being done so that the newer community members are shown God’s love?

Did Jesus ever quit? Did Paul ever quit? Even the ancient Jewish faithful never quit. The Bible is filled with stories of how God taught his disciples to love one another. The Bible teaches us that in the face of every kind of adversity, God is beside us and will be with us and for us as long as we are disciples and not the rigid Pharisees who could not accept Jesus as the Son of God.

As we step forward with our efforts to do all we can for the kids in the community and as we step up to vote, we do so with prayer and with the fervor of the earliest disciples. We must try to do whatever we can, even if we fail, to demonstrate to those in our community God’s love for each and every one. We must pray for our neighbors, for our leaders, and for each other as we challenge ourselves to be disciples.

As we move into the holiday season, we need to consider what we can give to God. Remember, whenever we feed someone who is hungry, clothe someone who is naked, provide a drink for someone who is thirsty, to listen to someone who is lonely, and more, then we are Being God’s disciples.

Do not be a Pharisee who refuses to see the message Jesus shared. Do not be one who turns to God only to say:

‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

Even disciples may not make the best decision every time, but the disciples are willing to take a risk and try to do whatever they can. If a ministry no longer is working, then stop and move on. Disciples moved on from one location to another when the message was ignored. We must be disciples willing to risk doing whatever we can for all we can

Closing prayer:

Dear God almighty,

For centuries your tried to teach your faithful to follow you.

You gave them opportunities to serve as good stewards,

and to follow the Ten Commandments.

Yet, even the Pharisees chosen to preserve the laws

and to lead the community in worship,

did not recognize you as Jesus Christ, the son of Man.

Accept our prayers to stay disciples of Jesus

and to find ways to share your story with others.

Guide us to be your disciples through the power

of the Holy Spirit as we step forward in ministry.

May we discover your kingdom of Heaven

while serving one another in love,

right now, right here in our own community.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen!

 

 

 

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