Do What They Say But . . .

From Pastor Todd’s Weekly Email.

“Them.” You know what that generally means. When we divide up between us and them, “them” represents “those” people we prefer to avoid, to whom we pay no attention, and to whom we surely don’t listen. So, how is it that Jesus did not refer to his adversaries as “them” and then told those listening to “practice and observe” what those who have dogged him relentlessly say?

First, Jesus identifies those who say the right things – the scribes and the Pharisees. Evidently in telling the people how God intended them to live as described in the Law the scribes and Pharisees got it right. Pay close attention. When we refer to others as them we pitch people into a category and negate them as persons made in the image of God. When we treat others this way we dishonor God.

Second, Jesus helps his listeners to distinguish between what a person says and what they do. While he suggests to his listeners that they practice what the scribes and Pharisees say, he quickly tells them not to “do what they do.” Jesus describes the visible inconsistency evident in the lives of the scribes and Pharisees as an unnecessary weight placed on those really wanting to know what does God expect from his people.

Surely we can see that the translation from what we say to what we do is important when people want to know “how do I love God with everything” and “how do I love my neighbor.” If these are the linchpins of the Law, then there should follow some leadership moves beyond telling to showing. Immediately we shout, “Hypocrite!” Indeed. But, do not forget that Jesus seems to indicate we do need people telling us the things that are important – even when they fail to live what is important.

This does not give us a free pass to go and do likewise. No. What Jesus does is remove the excuse that says, “They are all a bunch of hypocrites so I don’t participate.” Such a move is an attempt to skirt our own responsibility. If I can blame the hypocrites for my lack of embracing God and his ways then I convince myself I will not be held responsible for living the way God desires for his people. Patently false.

If last week we described the way we suspend belief in order to do what we want, this week we could say that we cannot blame another for our lack. Even more, we should hear Jesus’ words as a way of saying, “Here is what you do.” There is no secret or hidden message. The way God expects us to practice our love for God and others has not changed. Even the scribes and Pharisees get this right. What they miss, is sadly, what we too often miss.

We make more of what someone says than what they do. Read carefully. In modern Christian circles we scrutinize every word. Our leaders may talk about loving God and point us to public stands we must take for the unborn and against same sex practices. But, these same leaders do not demonstrate that same care for those without clean water, those dying unnecessarily of diseases we in the Western world have long ago eradicated, and those right under our noses being trafficked every day for sex and cheap labor. There is an inconsistency that shows up when we stand for life in only one form but not in all others. We like to say that standing for the unborn gives them a voice. Are those same voices being heard for those starving in the Horn of Africa? What about the countless children abducted annually to satisfy the sexual impulses of old men?

Yes, we find ourselves in closer proximity to the scribes and Pharisees than we like. We want to scrutinize the spending habits of the Church without any conscience as to how we as individuals and families account for our dollars and cents. (Before you read something not intended into that last sentence know this, I thought about not typing it for fear someone would think we are facing some sort of conflict at Snow Hill over this matter which is not the case. But, to leave it out was to ignore one way in which we say we participate in the work of God in our local church, but we find ways not to.) I could have easily noted how we want our children to posses a faith that sticks but we have a hard time sticking with our own commitments for them to see what that looks like.

Finally Jesus should be understood as giving a great big, “You get to . . .” We get to practice and observe the ways of God so that we honor others, remove those weights that keep them down. We get to point to the easy yoke with Jesus. We get to point to hopeful restoration. We get to show the kind of love that creates space for the embracing of grace – Jesus. We get to love in ways that don’t makes sense. We get to share with those who have not, be the voice for those who cannot speak, bring life to those on the verge of no life. We get to.

So, about the time we think we escape living the way God intends we are reminded that no matter who is saying it, if they point us to living God’s way we should listen – even if we know well not to do what they do. For in Jesus we “get to” participate and represent him to a world in doubt, despair, and often near death.

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Jesus invites people into his life and his way. He takes what is and points to the new way of the Kingdom of God.  Come see what this journey is all about!

One way to think about the mission of Jesus - He calls into question the way things are and points to the way things may be in the Kingdom of God. 

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