Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Phylacteries Broad and Fringes Long

MATTHEW 23:1-12
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
So the other day I was inspired for this sermon by a bumper sticker on a car I saw on the corner of East Liberty and Negley Avenue. It said, “If you’re following me, you’re lost, too.” Ha. I thought about that in direct relationship to my role here at Greenfield. If you’re following me, you’re lost too…

If I were to tell you the truth, I’d tell you that you should do what I say, but not necessarily what I do. I mean, really, I write sermons because I’m a little bit narcissistic. I write sermons so I can hear what I need to hear. So I can tell myself to do what I need to do. 

So often I talk about grace and freedom and letting go of perfectionism and finding time to BE and to sit in God’s lap and to soak up God’s love and to work for justice and to be the hands and feet of Christ…

And then I get so distracted that I leave my coffee mug on the roof of my car and I always say I’ll start exercising tomorrow, which will match my new “quiet time” regimen, and I’ll have a cleaning schedule that would include scrubbing my kitchen floor twice a week. 

I’ll stop buying Starbucks and new pairs of jeans that I don’t really need even though they were 870% off and I’ll be more patient with the folks who come to The Table and I’ll spend more time really listening to my kids. Heck, I’ll put down my computer and the Lindsay Lohan rumor website and bend down to look in their eyes to really get what they’re saying to me. I’ll start my sermons on Tuesday morning.

Friends. Do what I say, not what I do.

And I think it’s so easy to demonize these Pharisees. They’re the ones who parade around the town and are the religious leaders and who know all the answers and have enough money and are the elite in the Jewish world. 
They wear Nikes and eat Big Macs and drink Starbucks and have houses with backyards and college degrees. Not their houses, they’d have the degrees. 

The Pharisees were the ones who helped interpret The Law for the common folks, they were popular, they had a lot of followers and actually were trying to make The Law accessible and relevant to their contemporary culture. 

They weren’t bad. They were just the ones with the two car garages and the steady incomes and the educations. 

You guys. I hate to tell you this. But. They were us. 

And Jesus tells the crowds, the huddled masses of hungry and poor and homeless and weak and bleeding and blind and broken - do what they say, but not what they do. 

They walk around with phylacteries broad and fringes long.

Now, phylacteries are these boxes - usually containing Bible verses - that are worn either around the arm, or around the forehead. It’s a commandment mentioned in four different passages in the Torah, Deuteronomy 6 and 11, and twice in Exodus. You are to wear God’s word as an emblem on your forehead. 

They walk around with phylacteries broad and fringes long.

They are walking around with boxes blocking their view and tassels on the ends of their robes, tripping them up.

They’re walking around so focused on the “right” things - the right law, the right words, the right places and people - that they’re tripping and blind. And they’re bringing everyone else down with them.

Do as they say, but not as they do. 

Sure. We’ve got a lot of good ideas. A lot of good intentions. 
But maybe we’re tripping over our own tassels. Maybe we’re walking around a bit blind ourselves.

But I think the only real thing that Jesus criticizes here, is that the Pharisees are going around acting like they’ve got 20/20 vision, like they’re graceful dancers, or those runway models who never have to practice walking in their high heels before they go out in public.  They think they’re seeing everything clearly and they’re walking a straight line.

But they’re not, Jesus says.

And neither are the crowds all around them. 
And neither are we.
But do we know it? Do we know how very blind we are? Do we know how very clumsy? 

If you’re following me, you’re lost, too.

Imagine how this would sound to the crowds, to the ailing and the mourning and the lost and the hungry who gather around Jesus, looking for answers, seeking truth and healing and hope from him. Imagine hearing that they and the almighty, all-knowing, respected Pharisees are cut from the same cloth. We’re all hungry. We’re all lost. We’re all blind and tripping over ourselves. 

Jesus has torn down the dividing walls of class and education and self-righteousness. 
He has brought the haughty down low, and raised the oppressed. 

Mahatma Gandhi was quoted once as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” 

Maybe we’ve been tripping over our tassels and we’ve been walking around with only half our sight? Maybe we’ve been acting so unlike our Christ.
Maybe as one of my commentaries states, “Lacking confidence in the divine ‘yes,’ we hypocrites make masks or broadcast our piety in order to win a human ‘yes.’” 

Maybe we’re bringing others down with us because we act like we’ve got it all together. We keep up appearances. We wouldn’t dare being vulnerable with one another.

If you’re following me, you’re lost, too. 
But do you know it?  Do you realize what is tripping you up and making you walk into trees? 
That’s the only difference between us and the crowds surrounding Jesus. They’re a wreck, but at least they know it. At least they admit it. At least they’re not alone in their self righteousness. 

I think Jesus wants us to join the crowds. To realize how very blind and hungry and clumsy and lost we are. Join the crowds that follow him around and beg for his healing and his answers and his forgiveness and his love. Join the crowds and defy the authorities that want to keep us in line, want to keep us on their broken paths. He wants us to quit the robes and the Global Positioning Systems and the Googling and the lattes  and the car payments and follow him. Quit trusting in broken systems of power and oppression. 

It’ll feel like we’re lost. It’ll feel like we’ve made some wrong turns and like we need to get our prescriptions checked at the optometrist’s. 

We’ll be questioning the very people we’ve been told we’re supposed to trust.
We’ll be subverting authority and questioning the status quo.

We’ll not just feed the hungry, but we’ll ask why they’re hungry in the first place.
We’ll not just send a check to the United Way to help support after school programs for kids, but we’ll demand answers for why young black men are dying in the streets.
We’ll not just talk about equality, but we’ll go out into the streets and demand it.
We’ll not just say that everyone needs a roof over his or her head, but we’ll grab a hammer and we’ll start building them.
We’d not just smile and nod at each other on Sunday mornings and be glad that things are as they have always been, but we’d get in the thick of it. Instead of pulpits and altar cloths and thimblefuls of grape juice, we’d share hunks of bread and be vulnerable with each other. We’d build community. Not more buildings. And we’d do church differently.
We’ll not just post political websites and Daily Show episodes on Facebook, but we’ll share a meal with folks who don’t agree with us. We’ll talk out our differences. 
We won’t just proclaim all the right answers and then go home to dinner on the table and extra blankets on our beds. We might have some awkward Thanksgiving dinners with the in-laws, and we might have to worry about getting lice from the homeless man we just hugged. 
We’ll get a little dirty. 
We might get some bruises. Or tear gas in our eyes. We might even go to jail. We’d question authority and do acts of civil disobedience. We’ll get our hearts broken. We might end up crucified, like Christ. 

But we’d know that God is our true Father and Christ our true brother. We’d be empowered to be lost, just like those who gathered around Jesus 2,000 years ago. We’d look beyond the distractions of life and sanctuaries and old crumbling church buildings and see, really see, what God has in store for us. We might have a revolution. We’d be transformed. We’d be resurrected.

Oh God. May they do what I say. And not what I do.

Thanks be to God.

No comments:

Post a Comment