Pastor Sherry’s message for November 1, 2020
Scriptures: Joshua 3:7-17; 1 Thess 2:9-13; Matt 23:1-1
Back before the Civil War, there was an exchange in the US Senate that went something like this: The senator from North Carolina pontificated, “I come from North Carolina, a great vale of humility, lodged between two mountains of conceit.” The two mountains of conceit he was referring to were his neighboring states of Virginia and South Carolina.While there is nothing new under the sun regarding human nature, how gentlemanly an insult that was compared to the way our politicians attack one another today. Not to be outdone, the senator from Virginia stood and replied,“That is true but only because North Carolina has a lot to be humble about.” The Virginian meant his remarks as a slur, thereby missing the point that, according to our Lord, It’s Good to be Humble.
Several of our Scriptures today testify to this point. In our Old Testament lesson, Joshua 3:7-13, the people of Israel are poised to enter the Promised Land. As we read last Sunday, Moses has died and has passed on the mantle of leadership to his assistant, Joshua. Now Joshua announces to the people how the Lord intends for them to proceed into Canaan: The Jordan River, massively swollen from Spring rains, is at flood stage. Rivers at flood stage flow quite quickly and carry a lot of debris. You don’t want to step into one as you might be swept off your feet by the current or hit by a floating tree truck. Nevertheless, the priests are to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the midst of the river. Once they do, the river’s flow will stop and the people will pass over on dry land. From the time the Ark had been constructed, it had been carried on two long poles supported by priestly shoulders and suspended from golden loops—i.e., it was not to be touched by human hands. The Ark of the Covenant was holy—set apart—for the Lord.
Now remember how God had parted the Red Sea: Moses held out his staff and a strong wind separated the ocean. Crossing the Jordan perhaps took more faith as there was no such demonstration. Those poised on Jordan’s banks had only heard the stories of the Red Sea Crossing and the 10 Plagues upon Egypt.
Only Caleb and Joshua had actually experienced these miraculous events. So, what was God demonstrating by leading His people with His Ark? All throughout the wilderness wanderings (40 years), the Ark had traveled, or rested, in the middle of the camp. This had signaled to them that God was in their midst. Now, though, the Ark was to go first, signifying:
(1) God is leading His people (as Hebrew shepherds do).
(2) He is more powerful than the gods of Canaan. Baal, chief of the Canaanite gods, had—by legend–defeated the gods of the sea. So the Canaanites believed the flood waters of the Jordan were Baal’s efforts to prevent the Israelites from entering what they considered to be their land. God is going to demonstrate to everyone that flood waters are no barrier to Him.
(3) Additionally, God will assist them in overcoming the tribes who now occupy the land (Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites). No doubt the folks in Jericho thought they had plenty of time to prepare for a big fight. It would never have occurred to them that the God of the Israelites could or would stop and cross a flooding Jordan.
(4) And since God was leading the Israelites, He is claiming Canaan—the Promised Land—as His own (which of course it was). The people were to pass by the Ark about 3,000 feet distant. Scholars tell us the Ark is a “type” (symbol) of Christ; after all, Jesus is Emmanuel, GOD with US. (By the way, when the Israelites camped, they arranged the members of 3 tribes to the North, three tribes to the South, 3 tribes to the East, and 3 tribes to the West of the Ark, which was in the middle of all 12 tribes.)
(5) Finally, since it occurred just as Joshua predicted, God is demonstrating His confidence in Joshua as Moses’ successor. Joshua is actually a great example of a humble leader. He does not assert himself as God’s choice, but instead obediently follows through on God’s instructions; and he allows God Himself to confirm him as God’s choice of a leader.
Our Epistle lesson today is from 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13. In it, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Thessalonica for their faithful obedience to the Word of God. Paul had brought them this word. He thanks God for them because they believed the Gospel. He commends them for faithfully serving God, and for being humble and obedient to Jesus. He reminds them that he was simply doing God’s will and God’s work when he came among them. Paul claims to have ministered to them in humility and encourages them to follow his example.
Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 23:1-12 shows Jesus publically denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees for their overweening pride. Remember, they have dogged Him as he has attempted to teach in the Temple, and have asked numerous questions to try to entrap Him so they could have Him arrested. The role of the Pharisees and the Scribes was supposed to have been to teach the people how to live in relationship with God. They were to explain who God is, what God expects of us (the Law), and how to talk to Him and hear from Him. That’s pretty much what the job of a pastor is today.
Jesus first commends them, saying (v.1) they…sit in Moses’ seat….
Moses collected and taught the meaning of the 10 Commandments. They are continuing his function as teachers of the Law. Jesus is saying they have authority to do so. However, He goes on to qualify this in (v.3) So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. You see, the Scribes and the Pharisees made two mistakes:
(1) They preached religiosity (live by the rules) rather than relationship;
(2) And they didn’t live up to the standards they taught–like the politicians and news commentators who have condemned us for not wearing masks, then were caught on camera not wearing masks themselves.
We look at folks like that and say, “Hypocrites!” Rather than remaining humble and obedient to God, the Pharisees wore large symbols of their special office, to draw attention to themselves. They also enjoyed special treatment, privileges, and deference. Furthermore, they gave themselves special titles: Rabbi/teacher when only Jesus is our Rabbi; and Father when only God is our Father.
Now I wear robes and you call me Pastor—is that bad? No, some terms and clothing help us both to remember the duties of the office. What Jesus has a problem with is pride that comes from such things. He clarifies this when He says, (vv.11-12) The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus does not want us to get carried away with pride. Jesus wants us to stay humble. Jesus wants us—like Joshua, Paul, and the Thessalonians—to remain obedient to God’s authority.
Today the Christian Church celebrates All Saints Day. I believe one of the marks of a true saint is not so much holiness (who of us is truly holy?) as the recognition that we are set apart for God. God has done this for us. Our appropriate response is our humility. We are all called to be humble servants of God. In our country today, we have replaced our belief that we all have equal rights and opportunities with the secular notion that–no matter how we behave–we have the right to be proud of ourselves and to demand that others respect us. Even in the Church today, we have replaced an awareness of our sinfulness and our need for a Savior—and gratitude for the great gifts of Jesus’ sacrifice and of His forgiveness and grace–with the simplistic notion that “God loves you no matter your behavior.” He does love us just the way we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us that way. So, unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, or any other proud and puffed up religious leaders, we want to be humble. We want to remember and emphasize loving the person over the rule. We don’t want to be “all show and no go.”
Today, All Saints Day, let us humbly remember that God’s love for us is more a function of His grace andmercy than of anything we have done or deserve; that we are all called to love and serve others—not as arrogant or proud persons–but as Servants of Christ. And let us remember that it’s good to be humble!
Copyright 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams