Sermon. November 1, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
Last week we focused on the Great Commandment, loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This highlights the centrality of Love in Jesus’ Way.
In the gospel passage today Jesus brings our attention to how we practice our faith, and the importance of doing this with humility. This passage addresses the crux of the problem many people have with the church.
“For they do not practice what they teach” (verse 3). The problem is not with Jesus’ ministry and teaching. The problem is a failure to practice the Way of Jesus while telling others what to do and what to believe.
How can we practice the Way of Jesus with humility?
First, we need to ground ourselves in the Great Commandment, and the Love Commandment.
We need to ground ourselves in being a people of Love. Loving God with our whole selves. Loving our neighbor as ourselves. Loving one another as Jesus loves us.
This attention to love not only grounds us and anchors us to firm foundations. This attention to love balances us.
For example, we could put all our attention on loving God, and end up insisting on a very particular way to worship God. Those who do not worship God in the exact way we do are cast out or even seen as enemies.
This is a dynamic that happened in Jesus’ day. Religious leaders insisted that worshipping God, the technical details of how we express loving God, needed to take certain forms to be legitimate, even as these forms placed huge burdens on common folks.
This dynamic has happened in church history. Much blood has been spilled between Christians over worship. “If you don’t worship God the exact way we do, which is the only true, right, and holy way, we will kill you.”
Less extreme, but happening all the time, is Christian bodies splitting over how they worship together. So it is that we have 30,000 different denominations. We are split over baptism by immersion as an adult vs. baptism by sprinkling as an infant. We are split over instrumental music vs. singing with no instruments allowed. And each side is convinced that their method is the true, right and holy way, and that any other way not true, right or holy.
Without humility we insist that our way to worship God is the only way. We focus so completely on our understanding of how to love God in a particular way, down to the technical details, that we fail to love our neighbors, and we fail to love one another.
An attention to Love with a spirit of humility gives us balance. Loving God is joined with loving neighbor and loving one another. If I truly believe, as the Quakers say it, “that there is God in each person,” I cannot demonize another for holding views different than my own.
These different views might be on how we worship God. These different views might be on politics. When there is that of God in each person there are no deplorable people, no disposable people, no excluded people.
We practice the Way of Jesus with humility because this allows us to love God, love neighbor, and love one another in harmony or balance. Balancing humility with love leads to nonviolence. Disrupting domination without doing harm.
Practicing the Way of Jesus with humility doesn’t mean we refrain from making decisions. We make decisions open to the suggestions, corrections, and feedback of others.
The human tenacity is to try to over-power those with different viewpoints. To gain advantage and the ability to use power and control to force your way.
Jesus is calling his disciples to live with a different understanding of what really matters. At the Last Supper Jesus washed the feet of the disciples to model humility. “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23: 11).
The prophet Amos shared this word from God:
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5: 21 – 25).
Surely God is less impressed with the method we offer God our worship than if we ignore injustice and harm doing. If we love our neighbors and love one another, the technical details of how we express our love to God in worship are less important.
There is a very human tenacity to focus on the form without caring about the function. Form here is a technical problem we can control. Function on the other hand is an adaptive challenge that requires humility.
The form that Amos critiques is worship that ignores and even blocks the flow of justice. The form Jesus critiques is teaching that is not actualized in practice.
Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice they aren’t.”
Teaching a set of doctrines about God without practicing our faith is just a set of theories. Loving neighbor, and loving one another, and doing this with humility puts theory about God, and loving God, into practice.
“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Jesus is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20 – 21).
Let us love God, love neighbor, love one another, and practice the Way of Jesus with humility.