Sermons 2005

"Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Proper 26A 2005 Matthew 23:1-12

On this Halloween night some little people might come to our door holding out bags and chirping, "Trick or treat!" It isn’t really likely, though, since Joel and Sarah and Emma have moved away and grown up and Rachel has grown up. Unless some grandchildren happen to be here,

For some Christians, Halloween has become a bone of contention and a source of divisiveness. Some see it as a pagan virus infecting the celebration of All Saints’ Day. On the other side, others emphasize its origin as a mockery of paganism and its recent status as innocent masquerade. For our part, if we remember, we’ll some less unhealthy goodies, and stand by just in case

I’ll remember my own childhood. "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys." And my brother dressed in Hopalong Cassidy clothes for a year, not just at Halloween.

Imagine Jesus of Nazareth—our eternal contemporary—dressed in Western clothes and joining The Wagon Train of pilgrims headed for the promised land. In today’s text Jesus explains the nature of the conflict. It has to do with stance, with posture and with pose. Jesus casts the Pharisees in the role of hypocritical cattleranch owners. They are the self-righteous pillars of the community. They are settlers who seek to preserve the spiritual frontier for themselves alone. They have the religious range under their control. They do not especially welcome outsiders.

The pilgrims? They are the meek and humble who have entered this dangerous territory to settle down and farm.

The Pharisees are conservative the law-and-order contingent. They hand down the laws but don’t necessarily let the laws interfere with their own agenda. They enjoy and exploit their positions in town. They like to be seen. They wear the best costumes. They are center stage. In their presence, people remove their hats. They are called leaders. They control the territory of the spirit. Really what they have is not so much faith as it is vested interest.

The difference in the two positions is that the Pharisees (range barons) prefer a closed environment with secure places (the best ranches) for themselves, while Jesus stands for an open range for spiritual individualism with all its attendant risks and responsibilities. The way of the Pharisees is safe. The way of Christ is dangerous.for those who enter into this frontier territory of the spirit and faith and seek to remake it in Christ’s image.
But what is this new frontier? It is service and love. Love of God and love of neighbor. The servant is not to be concerned about his or her own welfare or even position. The servants may not play it safe but are to risk themselves in the vanguard to advance the master’s cause. (1)

Rosa Parks, who died earlier this week on October 24, epitomized this servant leadership in and by the Body of Christ. Widely regarded as the “mother of the civil rights movement,” her calm, dignified civil disobedience, as an African- American woman breaking the law by refusing to yield her seat on a bus to a white man, dramatized the injustice of racial segregation in public transportation and galvanized the movement for civil rights. (3)

Perhaps the single most basic Western movie theme is the conflict between two kinds of cultivation of the earth. In the 19th century, the interests of the wide-ranging cattle industry clashed dramatically, and often violently, with the interests of the more apparently ecologically-friendly agricultural communities. And it also has lasting implications for stewardship, when you think about it..
George Stevens's Shane (1953) may be the clearest -- as well as the most subtly nuanced -- expression of this theme. A gentle wilderness settler community in late-19th-century Wyoming, depicted as a virtual extended family that planting crops and raising pigs, is threatened by an invading cattle baron, who, to protect and assert his interests, hires a squadron of amoral toughs. The latter proceed to bully and terrorize the farmers. These farmers are tough and resourceful in their way, but helpless in the face of well-armed professionals.

Into the middle of this conflict rides Shane -- a wandering, enigmatic loner, sent by chance, luck, or God. He not only defends the settlers, but also tries to help them marshal their own forces and organize against the cattle baron. And he seems to try to settle in among them himself.

It seems very clear at first that the settlers are cooperating with the earth, while the cattlemen are exploiting it. It also seems clear that the exploiters are by far the more proficient at violence: it goes with their lifestyle. Shane must, in the end, stand alone against their worst representative. And then he must depart. He cannot be integrated into the creative, nurturing, agricultural community. He cannot become part of a family, and he cannot become a farmer.

Here is where the suggestion of the supernatural, and the very biblical world picture expressed in this film, becomes very strong. Shane's characters, as even the reviewers at the time noted, are all fully rounded and fully human. The settlers are not one-dimensionally good; their weaknesses, their cowardice, and their own species of greed are clearly revealed. Nor are the cattle baron and his henchmen demonized: they are shown as cruel men, but men with their own legitimate concerns and sympathetic humanity.

All but one: Wilson. Tall, serpentine, clad in dark monotone, he is played by Jack Palance and has nothing sympathetic about him, no legitimacy, and ultimately nothing human. He laughs sadistically at the misfortunes of others, increases conflict wherever he goes, and kills -- simply because he likes killing. In all this, he more strictly fits the biblical concept of the demonic than the various devils who have populated more recent "exorcism" movies. He is less spectacularly, but far more effectively, evil. Wilson’s appearance in the wilderness, where conflicted humans are tempted, and must make decisions, should surprise no reader of Genesis.

No biblically literate person will fail to recognize Shane -- and to understand why he cannot join the family. Because Shane also is inhuman: he is of the same species as Wilson. The difference between them is only that Shane is not a fallen angel. He is an avenging angel of the Lord in the biblical tradition and style. He is serious, dangerous, very powerful, and more than a little frightening. He is a Godsend, all right, but one that makes everyone, friend and foe alike, uncomfortable. Shane has been sent to restore Biblical order - divinely ordained human dominion - in the wilderness. When he defeats the devil, he must leave: real, biblical angels are not welcome for long in human dwelling places. (2)

Now back to the Gospel: Probably the most important issue is whether Jesus actually engaged in this black and white, not at all apparently subtly nuanced, rant against the religious leaders of the synagogue. And more than that, how do the harsh condemnations of this chapter fit with Christ’s great Summary of the Law about loving God and neighbor?

It is probably best to consider the bulk of this chapter as Matthew’s elaboration upon some harsh statements of Jesus against some of the religious leaders. The angry rant is more that of Matthew and his community against the religious leaders of their time than it is that of Jesus. The harsh anger toward the religious leaders reflected the actual sentiment of Matthew’s community facing persecution and abuse by both religious and political officials. Nevertheless, the faultfinding also serves as a negative example of leadership for the leaders of that community.

This is likely in light of the exclusion of Jewish-Christian members of the early church from synagogue worship and the collusion of some Jewish leaders with Roman officials in persecuting the followers of Jesus in the latter first century AD when Matthew’s gospel took its final form. In its context, it served Matthew in several ways. First it continued his differentiation of the Christian congregation as distinct from the Jewish synagogue. And second, it served to warn the leaders of the Christian congregation not to become like the Pharisaic rabbis of the j\Jewish synagogue from which Matthew’s Christian Church came.

It is worth noting that Jesus commended the actual teaching of the religious leaders, respecting their authority as successors to Moses; it is their failure to practice what they taught that he condemned, along with their making the demands of the law “heavy burdens, hard to bear,” compared to Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden.

It is part of the human condition that we spend a great deal of time and energy ranting against our leaders. It does not matter whether the leader is the President of the United States; another national, state, or local elected or appointed official; our employer or our supervisor; the bishops and other clergy; or whoever.

Most often, the rants occur in the absence of the leaders who are their subjects and with the assumption that the participants will not report the content of the rants to their subjects. Rants against leaders are a form of gossip that is very popular.

We’ve seen a number of recent examples: whether or not false or misleading information was used to justify acts of war; lack of preparation for and inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina; policies, programs, and budget priorities that that are said to favor the wealthy, but neglect the poor; attempts to legislate or codify values or beliefs that are not universally held, without respect for different values or beliefs; and indifference to the loss of human life by violence, and a world where too often law and justice do not seem connected.

But where were we servants, the Body of Christ? Where were we? Were we fast enough? Could we have been faster? Could we have done better? With any of it?

Teresa of Avila put it this way:
Christ has no body now but yours
no hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours." (3)


1. Adapted from Lection Aid for Proper 26A 1999
2. Adapted from The Revd Dr. Clair McPherson, ‘Hollywood Classics to Set the Stewardship Mood”, Trinity News, Vol. 52, No. 2, pp 14-15.
3. Adapted from The Revd Theodore W. Johnson, “Ranting against Leaders”, Bodybuilding for Proper 26A 2005

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579