The original version of this sermon was presented at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church E.L.C.A. in Tacoma, Washington on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (July 6, 2014)
THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON
The Prayer: Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
The Text: A reading from the Gospel of Matthew 11:16–19 and 25–30. “To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you did not dance, so we played funeral songs, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”
The Greeting: Grace and peace of your Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.
The Title: Beware of your own self
The Subject: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is the sin of pride and the invitation of Christ.
The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on this matter is so that we may challenge ourselves and resist anything that separates us from Christ.
The Points: 1. The Invitation 2. Pride and Humility. 3. The Father and the Son. 4. Come unto Christ
I will begin this introduction with this thought, how willing are we to make adjustments in our lives and in our relationship with God?
Saint Francis of Assisi was a son of a successful merchant and had all the privileges that came with a successful family. As a young man he volunteered for military service and was sent into battle. The horror of war and the conditions that came with being a prisoner of war broke his health, but waken his soul. After being released from prison he returned home and found that the privileges of wealth and success no longer appealing. Instead, he was drawn to a simpler life of service and dedication to the Gospel of Christ. Francis heard the invitation of God and adjusted his vision.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a teacher and principle of a school for daughters of the wealthy class in India. By all accounts, she had a very successful carrier as a nun and as an educator. In 1946 she took a trip and while on the train she heard God speak to her. Soon she was awakening to an invitation by God to serve the very poor of Calcutta and she changed her vocation to that of a missionary. Like Francis before her, Teresa adjusted her vision.
Throughout our lives, sometimes we get so carried away with what we think is decent or proper that we are unable to see God working in our lives and in the lives of others. It is at these times that we need to walk away and reflect more upon the Gospels and less on our own convictions. We need to listen to what that voice deep within hearts, not our minds, is saying and adjust our vision accordingly. The Gospel lesson today is about self-reflection and making necessary adjustments to our vision of God. It is about looking honestly at out lives and taking a true inventory of ourselves.
The Gospel lesson is also about God being careful about who he reveals himself to; God does not what to reveal himself to individuals who will only reject the revelation and walk away. Therefore, God only wants to reveal himself to those who will trust him in the way a child will trust a parent. This is the true relation between God and humanity, father and child.
Now let us explore the Gospel lesson and what it has to offer our lives.
THE BODY OF THE SERMON
The First Point: The Invitation
Jesus spoke against the attitude of the people of his day, because no matter what he said or did they took the opposite view. He looked right at them and did not allow them to soften or re-direct the message of the Torah or the Prophets. Because of this they were cynical and skeptical towards him because he challenged their comfort zones and self-centered lives.
Jesus compared them to children playing in a public square, who invited others to come and join them, but they ignored the invitation and went on playing their own games. To encourage their participation, they sung festive songs, but they simply would not come over to sing and dance. They sung memorial songs, but they would not participate in the memorial. The people of his day, like the second group of children in the square, were unresponsive and ignored the invitation by both John the Baptist and Jesus.
God wants us to heed the invitation he offers us and come to him. He does not call out to us in a demanding voice nor are his words are harsh or demeaning. God calls out to all of us to come over to his table and take comfort from our long journey and listen to his words of wisdom. Yes, sometimes his instructions to us are unpleasant, but that is because God is not going to hide the truth from us, even if it makes us unconfutable. After all, do we want to be around someone who is going to be honest and open with us or do we want to be around someone who is going to hide the truth (so that we can be comfortable) or have hidden agendas?
Sadly, today there are so many individuals who simply do not heed the invitation from God to come to his table and participate in the assembly that encircles the table. These individuals are so caught up in their own lives and self-sufficiency that they cannot hear God gently calling to them and their busy life styles hinders their ability to give the invitation a serious reflection. For these individuals praising what has been created, such as mountain ranges and open prairie in the spring, is easier than taking time to properly praise the Creator who made them. Jesus taught us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Mt 6:34).” But these busy individuals would respond to this by saying something like, I have an important meeting in three days and I must prepare for it, so don’t bother me with an idea like that. Nonetheless, Jesus still calls out to them and invites them to the table of good fellowship.
In light of this passage, our challenge is to ensure that we are able to hear the “still small voice (I Kings 19:12 RSV) of the living and eternal God. There are times when God is calling to draw us near to him and other times God is attempting to guide us on a matter. Therefore, the first step in this listening process is to make ourselves available to God through prayer, especially prayer during quite times.
Now let us turn to “wisdom” in this matter. Wisdom is shown to be correct though its results. In other words, actions speak louder than words. In this context what else can be said about wisdom? Listen to the Book of Proverbs. In the eighth chapter we read this about wisdom, “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment. I know where to discover knowledge and discernment. All who fear LORD will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech (12-13).” This passage from Proverbs confirms that good decision making is grounded on knowledge and discernment. Making good decisions requires that we first step away from ourselves and then look at a matter from all sides and opinions. The people whom Jesus was addressing had their own understanding of what was a good decision and it was grounded in their very narrow view. They did not hear that still small voice in their hearts and this led them to ignore the invitation they were offered. Rather than intellectually engaging John and Jesus, they engaged in throwing insults at them. They said John was possessed by a demon and Jesus was a drunk. Although they had seen and heard both John and Jesus, they did not allow themselves to be spiritually awaken. Instead they allowed their pride and arrogance to be awaken, they had no desire to adjust their vision.
The Second Point: Pride and Humility
Jesus said in his prayer, “I thank you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent.” Listen to the commentary written by Don Schwager about this verse, “Jesus’ prayer also contains a warning that pride can keep us from the love and knowledge of God. What makes us ignorant and blind to the things of God? Certainly intellectual pride, coldness of heart, and stubbornness of will – shut out God and his kingdom. Pride is the root of all vice and the strongest influence propelling us to sin. It first vanquishes the heart, making it cold and indifferent towards God. It also closes the mind to God’s truth and wisdom for our lives. What is pride? It is the excessive love of oneself at the expense of others and the exaggerated value of one’s own learning and importance.”
Jesus was grateful that true spiritual wisdom was kept hidden and not revealed to those who would not properly receive it. He knew that those who were filled with intellectual pride would not be able to hear his words and understand his teachings. No matter what John and Jesus said and no matter how dire their warning, these cold hearted intellectuals would not adjust their vision. Pride is the ultimate expression of self-centeredness, when I was a younger man we called it “me, myself, and I.”
There are seven deadly sins, sometimes called cardinal sins. They are wrath, greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony; and many theologians consider pride as the worst of the seven, because it makes the heart cold and indifferent towards the living God. There is a kind of blindness associated with pride, it is mentioned in the Book Proverbs, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (6:18).” There are individuals who are so full of pride and confidence that they believe it is in possible for them to make a mistake. When they do make a mistake, rather than admitting it and adjusting their vision, they often make it appear that someone else did it.
The simple message of the gospel which Jesus proclaimed was being understood and joyfully received by the common everyday person in the market place. But the sophisticated intellectuals who should have recognized it immediately, dismissed it. They may have done so because of its lack of complexity or their unwillingness to associate with those who are not as sophisticated as they were. Regardless of what excuse was used, it would still be an expression of a haughty spirit.
Jesus offered praise to his Father for keeping spiritual wisdom hidden from those filled with intellectual pride, and revealed it to those who are child-like. This brings to mind what was written in the Gospel of Mark, “Anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it (10:15).” There are two characteristics of childhood that are of great spiritual value, they are humility and simplicity.
To be child-like is to accept the words of your Father without question or hesitation. It means that you will not only listen to what the Father has to say, but you will listen attentively. This is how we are to listen to the Scriptures and that gentle call from God. Responding to God our Father in the manner of a child is an act of humility and it demonstrates that we are willing to be taught by the Scriptures and the Spirit. Those who walk with pride and a haughty spirit cannot respond to God in humility and they find it very difficult to approach God in a child-like manner.
This leads us to a reflection upon humility. Humility is not just placing others first, but it is also the practice of placing oneself on the lower step. Humility is the opposite of our human nature. Human nature wants to focus on its own self, first and foremost, for all to know and see. Human nature does not want to think of others, but instead wants others to think of it. While humility is content to wear colors that do not draw attention to itself, human nature wants to wear the bright and unmistakable color that boldly proclaim its presence. Time and time again Christ teaches us place others first, and his entire life among us was a sacrifice that placed mankind before himself. When we practice placing ourselves on a lower step we will be walking humbly with our God.
Saint Francis was born into wealth and entitlement, he did not have a need and those around him served him without question. However, the Holy Spirit wakened his soul and it became humble and “filled with renewed joy from LORD [and he understood that] the poor will rejoice in the Holy One (Isa 29:19).” Once that wakening broke forth from his soul, Francis dedicated himself to walking humbly with God. At the end of his life he understood that “humility and reverence of LORD [has its own kind of] wealth, honor, and life (Prov 22:4).”
The Third Point: The Father and the Son
Let us begin this review with verse twenty-seven of the Revised Standard Bible, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father.” Jesus now changes gears and speaks to the people, but now tenderly, like a Rabbi with his students. In the Gospel of John Jesus clearly stated his union with the Father when he said that we must always believe that he is in the Father and the Father is in him (14:11). Here in verse twenty-seven Jesus clearly states his relationship to the Father, and makes three unmistakable claims to having a special union and relationship with God. They are: The Father has delivered all things to him, his relationship with the Father, and the ability to reveal the Father. Jesus has a strong and very personal relationship the Father, and he is very knowledgeable of his true Father.
Listen to how The One Volume Commentary explains this verse: “Jesus now declares that the same authority belongs to Himself, because all created things have been delivered to Him by God. This supreme authority over the universe, which was delivered to Him. Such power could not be given to just any creation, and the possession of it by Christ can only be explained by assuming that He is, as the Gospel of John and the Epistles represent Him as being, both the creator and sustainer of the universe.” This is confirmed in verse three of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, it reads, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” The first chapter of Colossians also confirms this in verse sixteen, it says, “In him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible … all things have been created through him.” Indeed, all things in heaven and earth have been delivered to Christ; and this means that Christ has full and complete authority over everything.
This universal authority of Christ is recognized by both the apostles and demons. In the Gospel of Luke, a demon says to Jesus, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God (Lk 4:34)” and in the Gospel of John, Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Holy One of God (Jn 6:69).” While demons and apostles are generally opposed to each other and have very different agendas, they both clearly agree on one thing, that Jesus is the Christ and the Holy One of God!
Before moving onward to my next point, I am going to say a few words about the Kingdom that has been delivered to Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is realized in this present world, among the human community. In his book Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Brad Young has this to say about this realm, “For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is: 1. The Power of God – that is, God doing what he wants. 2. The People of God – that is, people doing what God wants.” Simply put, God commands and the people obey by doing it. With this in mind, it is only natural for someone to ask, what are the principle commandments that Christ wants us to obey? The Gospel of Mark answers this for us, in chapter twelve it is written, “What commandment is first of all? Jesus answered, “Hear, O People: LORD is our God, LORD alone. You shall love LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There are no other commandments greater then these (12:28-31).” Therefore, as the Father loves the Son, and has placed all things in his hands (Jn 3:35), we are to love God and humanity.
Now let us explore the statement, “No one knows the Son except the Father.” A Father, like any parent, knows his children; he knows their habits, their dislikes, and their strengths. A father knows these because he was there before the child was born and once the child came into the world, the Father witnessed every little detail of the development of the child. For an example, he not only knows the child does not like strawberries, but has witness from the beginning how this dislike evolved into what it is. With this in mind, we have an understanding that no one really knows an individual except the parents.
The relationship between Jesus and God is truly a Father-Son relationship. Like an obedient child, Jesus does nothing without first presenting the matter before God the Father. By living in this manner, Jesus found great favor with God, his Father, who acknowledged this favor at the Baptism of Jesus by saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, whom I am well pleased with (Mt 3:17).” The communion we see in the Gospel stories between the Father and the Son is the core of their relationship; and this union between them points to their unity in the Trinity. Their shared divine knowledge also points to their shared divine nature; as the Gospel of John stated, Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. Needless to say, this is a great mystery.
The degree in which Jesus was obedient to God the Father was both deep and profound. His desire to please his Father not only meant that he did nothing without first presenting matter before the Father, it also meant a life of self-sacrificing, placing the requests of God before his own wants and needs. This is confirmed in the Gospel of John, when Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, of all those He has given me I shall lose none of them, but raise them up at the last day. For the will of my Father is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (Jn 6:38-40).”
In this context Jesus is the example we have concerning our own faith journey. God is to be at the very core of who we are and what we do. We are to bring everything to God, through prayer, and lay it before him. We are to avoid the arrogance and pride of the sophisticated intellectuals, and submit our hearts and walk according to the will of God and not ourselves.
The Fourth Point: Come unto Christ
In verse 28 we read about a gentle call from Jesus to his followers and apostles, the words of this call are some of the most compassionate words found in the Christians Scriptures. Here we clearly see the pastoral nature of Jesus and his desire to serve humanity as a shepherd and not as an overlord. Listen to what the Life Application Commentary has to say on this verse, “These words focused on Jesus’ care and concern for his followers his promise of guidance and presence, and the ultimate future rewards. Jesus said, ‘Let me teach you.’ Jesus, their leader and example, was also the ultimate servant, humble and gentle. His path of humble service is the pattern for us to follow.”
In these comforting words of Jesus we also find a harness (the yoke). Here Jesus wants to remind those who welcomed him and received his good news about God are “yoked to his message and his life style.” Through embracing him they are now associated with him and carry his yoke. For many Christians today the yoke is a neckless with a cross and for clergy and preachers the stole is sometimes referred to as a yoke. If you look closely at your lives, you will notice he is not the one placing burdens and heavy yokes upon your life, instead you are. Christ wants us to freely accept him and freely place his yoke upon ourselves. Throughout the Gospel stories Christ invites us into relationship with him, but he does not demand it. We are free draw near to Christ or to separate ourselves from Christ. It is completely our choice, to choose either to come closer to the Light of Christ or to walk away from him. Regardless of what we choose, Christ will always call out to us and invite us. The arrogant sophisticated intellectuals of the story decided to walk away, may we not follow their example.
Now for a final thought on comfort and I will begin with a quote from Billy Graham, “God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us the comforters.” Saint Francis makes a similar statement, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.” While God indeed wants to offer us comfort and rest, he does not want us to be in full communion with the soft and comfortable chair nor does he want us to become disconnected from both the pain and the joy of humanity. He wants us to respond to is Word that gives us comfort and spiritual renewal by going forth and serving those who are in most need of our talents and his Word, our Master.
In our Gospel lesson today Jesus is challenging our attitudes and wants to make any necessary adjustments to our vision. Christ does not what us to become so focused on what we think is decent or proper that we ignore his invitation and any possible relationships with our neighbors. God is always inviting us and stirs that small voice in our hearts. What we may experience as an annoyance or inconvenience may well be our heavenly Father trying to get our attention. When we think that God wants our attention we need to say, speak Lord, your servant is listening. Finally, I encourage each and every one of us to develop a strong and healthy relationship with our heavenly Father, for as Christ made his relationship with the Father the center of his life, we should do the very same. Amen.
Written by Dave Pflueger July 6, 2014 © copyrighted by Pflueger