Rev. Harry Currie
Nov 5, 2023
Matthew 5:1-16, Matthew 23:1-12
I have sometimes been accused of showing off. Face it. I like attention and I like to be noticed.
It actually is pretty hard to be a minister and not get attention and not get noticed.
The minister is the one who leads in worship and preaches and wears robes.
The robes are actually supposed to detract from one’s individuality, but whether they actually do is a good question.
The minister is seen and heard every week.
And I suppose everybody who performs, or stands up in front a crowd to act, sing, speak, play, perform, coach, lead or whatever has faced this: someone in the crowd thinks they are showing off, or conceited or think that person is just wanting attention.
Everybody who is noticed and draws attention because of a performance or act, no matter how much they are praised will also find those who are critical.
But I ask you: what is wrong with being noticed? What is wrong with getting some attention?
Doesn’t the scripture say the God notices even the sparrow, how much more will God notice you.
Isn’t our faith all about the fact that God loves everyone and nobody is exempt from God’s love. God sees everyone. God turns God’s attention to everyone.
And isn’t the church supposed to be a place where we listen to everyone and notice everyone and give attention to everyone, so that everyone knows that they are noticed, seen, loved and cared for…
There are those who crave attention because they don’t feel loved enough, or they have parts of their lives where they don’t get the attention they need or deserve.
And there are those who try not to be noticed. But often those who don’t want to be noticed really want to be noticed, loved and cared for by certain people, but they dodge notice most of the time because they are scared of unwelcome attention, or that someone will put them down, or make fun of them.
While maybe it feels good to get noticed, if it is positive; at the same there almost the worst thing in the world for some, is to get noticed and have the world’s attention on one in a negative way.
Well today’s two gospel lessons are about people getting attention.
There are a certain crowd who get unwelcome attention from Jesus in one of our lessons. The scribes and the Pharisees.
And there are a whole bunch of people that are on the bottom of the who’s most noticed in society list, to whom Jesus draws attention.
So, we turn first to the Scribes Pharisees.
These are religious leaders. And these are political leaders.
The Pharisees were laypeople who came to prominence after Israel was briefly independent in the middle of the second century BCE and they helped maintain the scriptures and the law and the tradition of Israel outside the temple.
They were not considered bad people. Mostly they were considered good people, who were very religious, and kept all the laws and commandments and rituals and gave a tenth of their income.
They tended to come from rich families and be rich themselves for it was often rich families who were able to set time aside for study and devotion and ritual.
As rich people and religious people they became part of the political elite of Israel at the time of Jesus.
“Pharisee” means separated one and as they interpreted the law and tradition and writings and prophets, they believed that all Jews should keep ritual purity and remain separate from Gentiles.
The scribes were the ones who actually copied out scripture. They were the ones who knew it best. In those day 1400 year before a printing press, scriptures were not in the hands of everyone but just a few. Maybe a synagogue would have scrolls of scripture. So, the scribe was important as the one who knew the scripture and therefore knew the law.
And Jesus does something Jesus hardly ever did. He castigated these people. He kind of tore a strip off them.
It even seems to fly in the face of how Jesus treated people generally. He was kind and merciful to traitors and criminals and sinners and enemies.
So why was he so hard on this group? Maybe the key is found in the line: “on the seat of Moses sat the Scribes and Pharisees.”
While nobody really knows what the seat of Moses is, it can only be assumed that it was some kind of seat of authority, and as such it was supposed to be a place where one spoke on behalf of God dispensing justice.
And I think Jesus took issue with those who are supposed to act for and like God, but instead act in very self-serving ways.
And Jesus said they talked a great game, about holiness and separateness and justice and being like God, but that they themselves were hypocrites and that their actions did not correspond to their words.
That was one complaint.
Yet Jesus makes another complaint. It was that they laid heavy burdens on the ordinary person. This could be that they expected washing rituals, or Sabbath rituals, or exclusion rituals from people who had to work hard to feed themselves and did not have the time and money to practice all the rituals, nor could they turn down Gentile business when they needed to feed their families. And they expected these poor people to give lots of money to the religious institutions of Israel.
And I third complaint of Jesus, is that they like to show off and flaunt their wealth and power and have the best seats in the house, and been seen and noticed, and even called “Rabbi” as a spiritual leader.
So, the way I handle this is that Jesus is not calling out specific scribes or Pharisees, but that Jesus is calling out the system of power, and that the system is wrong, the system isn’t working, the system feeds the rich and powerful and takes from the poor and powerless.
The system serves the rich, the scribes and the Pharisees, when Jesus says that the way it should be is the rich and the powerful should serve the weaker.
Religious leaders should be leaders because they speak up for the people, advocate for the people, defend the people, educate the people and generally serve the people.
And yet the system just serves the rich and powerful.
And Jesus has some very harsh words.
And to be perfectly honest, we all need to stand up and say that sometimes we are more like the Pharisees than the people in the beatitudes.
Most humans like to climb the power and wealth ladder, and enjoy being served rather than serving. Most humans have their own hypocrisies, and can be selfish and power hungry.
Jesus, I think, is especially upset with the Pharisees, who because of the holiness rules excluded the sick, the sinner, the foreigner, the enemy and anybody without their little circle.
And in contrast Jesus blesses all those who might not be seen to be blessed at least to the Pharisee’s way of thinking.
Blessed are the poor, in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… “Blessed are the merciful. “Blessed are the pure in heart . “Blessed are the peacemakers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you
It just strikes me that the real beef with some of those Jewish leaders is that instead of blessing others and especially the needy, the suffering, the poor and disposed, they just bless themselves.
How different this world would be if we blessed everybody, we came in contact with…
We blessed people with food…
We blessed people with justice…
We blessed people with peace…
We blessed people with love…
We blessed people with education…
We blessed people with freedom…
We blessed people with praise.
I am reminded I once heard about the Suzuki Method of teaching music. Violin in particular, although other instruments were used.
And frequent performance was part of it.
And if a child could only come out and play one note, then they would come out and play one note and get thunderous applause.
And those that could only do simple tunes, would receive the same applause, even if they made mistakes.
And so, it went for all levels. Everybody received lots of praise.
Suzuki was teaching that all students can play, and all can be noticed, and all can be appreciated
What if we did that with all people? We blessed everyone we met with praise or thankfulness, no matter how small or large, no matter how great or ordinary their gift.
I recently read an article about a school in Nevada, where after class the teachers would sit down and go over a list and see if they knew the names of each of their students, that they knew the faces of each of their students, that they knew something of their story, their family, their likes and dislikes, their hobbies etc…
This was a strategy developed because only about 55% of students were graduating from high school.
And they came across research suggesting that if students form meaningful connections with a teacher or adult at school it significantly reduces the student’s risk of dropping out of school and even significantly reduced the risk of suicide.
So, the school’s goal was to notice every student and let the student know that they are seen and appreciated for who they are.
So besides creating a kinder, more personal, more caring space, the graduation rate went up 18%.
How important is it for a child to know they are seen, they are notice, that someone cares for them.
And it is really powerful when someone who doesn’t have to care for them goes out of the way to see them and notice them and care for them.
It is really any different for you and I, or for adults. To have someone see you, notice you, care for you, befriend you, go out of their way for you… Wow!
So maybe today, take a risk, speak to someone at church you have never spoken to. Ask their name. introduce yourself. Share something about yourself.
Notice others. Care for them.
Believe that you are a saint and live like one.
It is a very reformed Christian belief called the priesthood of all believers, that we are all saints, and we are called to care.
We are all called to serve one another, see one another, love one another, praise one another, cry with one another, support one another, help one another.