Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, March 3, 2014


Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara, St. James’s Elmhurst,2/16/14. 
Text: Matthew 5:21-37

In any organization, the church included, there are always three kinds of members: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who don’t care what happens.

Those who make things happen are the pillars of the organization. They work hard and do not care who gets the credit. To them, being a member is a responsibility as well as a privilege. They do their duties with diligence and are concerned about the welfare of the organization. They love their jobs and they enjoy the company of their peers. They desire nothing more but the welfare of the organization and they are willing to subordinate their own self-interests in favor of the values, the visions and the goals of the organization.

Those who watch things happen are those who stand by the side to observe what the others are doing. They are quick to criticize, to point out the mistakes, to judge the actions of those who make things happen. Oftentimes, they love to talk, to whine, to murmur and to find faults. They will be the first to condemn and crucify those who make things happen.

Those who don’t care what happens are those who are members only in name. They come and go and no one notices them and they notice no one. The organization will rise and fall but those who don’t care don’t care. Even when they see their fellow members drowning, they can’t be bothered.

In the gospel this morning, Jesus took a potshot, particularly on the category two. For even as he was talking to the crowd, it was obvious that he was referring to those who are fond of making legal, moral, ethical and religious judgments. It is obvious that Jesus was addressing himself to the Scribes and the Pharisees, whom he also called “hypocrites.”

By the way, in the Jewish society of Jesus time, there were also many religious and political parties but the most notorious among them were the Pharisees. They were experts of the law. They memorized the Torah, even the minutae of the Law of Moses and they interpreted them literally. In some way, they were also the “pillars” of the Jewish society, but in the case of Jesus’ ministry, they acted as watchers of his words and actions.

The Pharisees were there cursorily examining the ministry of Jesus, watching every move and making value judgments on his actions. When Jesus healed the sick, they criticized him because it happened in Sabbath. For them, it did not matter if the patient would die; it simply was not legal to do miracles on the Sabbath. Jesus reminded them that “Sabbath was made for man,” not otherwise. When Mary Magdalene was anointing the feet of Jesus with ointment, they were scandalized; and when the apostles of Jesus ate with their hands, the Pharisees called them ceremonially unclean. 

In this gospel, Jesus called their judgmental attitude in question. “You have heard that it was said” (he was referring to the Law of Moses), ‘You shall not murder’ and anyone who commits murder is liable for judgment.” 

Jesus established his knowledge of the letter of the law, then he followed it up with the spirit of the law, saying “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is already guilty of murder.” The righteousness of Jesus far exceeded that of the Pharisees. Jesus again said, “you have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his eyes, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Sin emanates from the heart, the act of doing it is the fruit of that sin.

What is Jesus’ message with regards to sin and judgment? That we refrain from being self-righteous because no one, absolutely no one is without sin. The Pharisees would say “I did not did not kill; I did not steal; I did not commit adultery.” In God’s standard, however, the very thought of anger or hatred, or malice or covetousness or lust is enough to convict the person guilty. In the eyes of the righteous God, our self-righteousness is but filthy rag.  In this side of heaven, God alone is without sin. So judge not, lest you be judged.

I learned during my recent sojourn in Israel that the typical prayer of the Pharisees is something like this. When he wakes up in the morning, he thanks God, but his thanking prayer was like this:

“Lord, thank you that I am a human and not an animal; that I am a Jew and not a Gentile; that I am a man and not a woman.” 

The Roman Catholic Church has a new Pope who is currently changing the thinking of the world about what a Pope is. His name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, otherwise known as Pope Francis. He was born in Argentina and throughout his public life; he was noted for his humility, concern for the poor and commitment to dialogue with people of other faiths, cultures and ideologies. I think he surprised the world when in one of his interviews, he refrained from passing judgment on gays and lesbians, saying “who am I to judge.” 

Pope Francis, while affirming Catholic doctrines, also commented that for a long time, Catholics have concentrated on condemning abortion, contraception and homosexual acts “but neglected the greater need for tenderness, mercy and compassion.”

This is exactly what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees.  In his time, there was no Pope who claimed to be infallible when he speaks “ex cathedra.” But there were the lay popes, the Pharisees, who passed moral judgments on their brothers and sisters in the faith. They claimed to know more than the rabbis and were quick to murmur. Finally their murmuring led to condemning and then to crucifying. 

It is unfortunate that the majority of the people did not care what happens. In fact, they were misled by this people who watch things happen. At first, they shouted to Jesus, “Hosanna to the son of David.” But when the Pharisees agitated them with their condemnation, these very same people changed their shouts from “Hosanna to the Son of David,” into “Crucify Him!”

The real judgment, the true judgment, however comes from God Himself. Jesus is the One who makes things happen, and even when the Scribes and the Pharisees, succeeded in having him crucified, that same crucifixion became the avenue by which Jesus was able to accomplish his mission---to save the world from sin. The true righteousness ultimately belongs to the one who make things happen, not from those who watch things happen or from those who don’t care what happens.

What is the moral of the story to those who don’t care what happens? It is simple, “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” 

What is the moral of the story to those who only watch things happen? “Judge not so you will not be judged.” 

What is the moral of the story to those who make things happen?  When you do something good, don’t look back. You will incur criticism, you will incur moral judgment, you will incur negative comments, but the in the end, God will vindicate you. 

In a poem attributed to her, Mother Teresa wrote:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Be good anyway. Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People need help but will attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway. 

I pray that at St., James, we will become people who make good things happen. Let us be doers of the word and not hearers only; that together we will make a difference in the church and in the world. AMEN.

No comments:

Post a Comment