Toorak Uniting Church

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Faith and action

Matthew 23: 1 – 12     1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13
Rev. Ian Brown
30 October 2005

One of the personal characteristics that we react to worst of all is hypocrisy. "Listen to the teaching of the Pharisees," says Jesus, "but don’t follow their example!"
Teaching is important, and that’s not just my opinion as an ex-teacher, or a preacher who tries to teach a little along the way.
Jesus says to his disciples and to all who would listen, that the teaching of the Pharisees should be listened to, even if they didn’t do what they told others to do.
Teaching about God is so important, says Jesus, that we should even get over our revulsion of hypocrites to learn what we can, even from them!

Remember that this story is from late in Jesus ministry, in Matthew we are two chapters after Palm Sunday.
Jesus knew what he had to face, he had cleansed the temple, the conflict with the religious leaders was well developed already. Imagine the disciples nervousness and fear of the Pharisees at this time.
Imagine how they felt about those who threatened their teacher.
Imagine the antagonism there in Jerusalem in Jesus last week.
I imagine I would be trying to be as quiet as I could be if I were there. Busy looking for a compromise or peace making.
Death is such a final consequence! And the good gift of life that God gives, such a precious commodity, to be so highly valued.

But Jesus addressed the issues and confronts hypocrisy. Still no shying away from the hard truths, still no avoiding the heart of the matter.
And the heart of the matter here is faithful learning about God and then faithful action.
Jesus even tells his followers to learn from those they didn’t like, "learn what the opposition has to teach you about God! - just don’t follow their example, don’t take on the title Rabbi (which by the way means "my great one", not just "teacher" as it’s sometimes translated) don’t do this because we have only one real "great one," one Lord and God.

Learn from the teaching, but "don’t do what they do" is the way Jesus advises. Assess on the basis of actions – is Jesus formula.
"Do what your faith teaches, not learn what is good and do as you please."

Have you ever been critical of someone for their ostentatious charity work – the name Cherie Blair comes to mind here for some reason – but I wouldn’t want to point the finger at any one person. Have you been critical, … and then found yourself proudly boasting of your own efforts for a worthy cause.
Or even judged the standard of some one else’s giving and then found yourself displaying pride at your church’s wonderful giving.
Have you been critical of another organizations’ standards or other church’s theology and then noticed that you’ve been making a show of your own interests, making sure that others see. We’ve all done such things!
Faith, action, pride – seen or unseen, these are Jesus issues for his followers. "The greatest among you - …. Must be servant of all. And all who exalt themselves will be humbled."

Learn the lessons from the Godly teachers – but be careful to act as the teachings say, not as the teachers do.
Pharisees, ministers, priests or rabbis, it doesn’t matter to Jesus. Leadership is always a conundrum – just humbly do what is consistent with the faith. These aren’t easy issues to deal with.
How do we promote good works and worthy causes without falling into the trap the Pharisees are criticized for? A careful sensitive balance is needed.
And of course what we do is important, not only for Pharisees, Ministers and other teachers – what we do, how we act is all important for all of us.

Paul pleads with his friends in Thessalonica to remember his example – the things he did. He says remember how hard we worked, day and night, so as not to be a burden to you.
And the goal of his teaching; "to encourage you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory."
Do as you have been taught, put your faith into action, do what you believe because of who calls you and because of what you are called into.
The Thessalonians and we too are encouraged to live our way into a new realm, worthy of God, act as citizens of God’s kingdom.
How can we learn to do these things?
I don’t know about you, but I have to confess that there are some people I still have trouble learning from. I don’t need to name names, but it’s true I think that we all have opinions and prejudices that make it hard for us hear the voices of those we might see as "the opposition."
I remember as a young person that learning from "the saints" was definitely not on. But Jesus says, "get over it, get over your prejudiced feelings in order to learn more about God."
I think most people would agree that learning is very important for our young. And more are agreeing now that learning is vital for people of all ages. So what might Jesus have had in mind for his listeners to learn from the Pharisees, was it something that was worth him risking his life over?

I hear Jesus saying, "focus on the object of the learning and the action of an outcome, not on the teacher. Focus on God, not God’s servants - even the saints, for what they teach us of God, not to venerate them for their own sakes. Learn, for the sake of being Jesus faithful follower, not for the power or position it might give in an organization like the church.
Learn because ultimately we might learn from God how to live as the people we were made to be, rather than trying to live as some one else seems to.
We might learn how to live in peace and harmony with each other and to celebrate the rich diversity God has gifted us with, rather than fear difference.
We might learn that love is the essential essence of life, rather than a feeling we might be lucky with or not.
We might learn too that God wants all these good things for us too, and more than we can imagine besides - and somehow find out that good news is real and meant for us all -

good things Jesus wants us to learn well,
as all the saints have before us.

How can we learn to do these things?
It’s a tall order isn’t it; "lead a life worthy of God."
But there is something very important about the way we travel through life and what we see as the destination;
the hope, the goal.

"Lead a life worthy of God" is about living by the values of God’s kingdom because that’s where God has invited us, where we belong and are most truly at home.
"Lead a life worthy of God" is a call to put faith into practice, a call to live towards a high aim.
Indeed, why settle for less if God wants us to give us the kingdom and glory?!!

May our lives be driven by our hope in God. Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005


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