I like the legendary story of an elderly woman, traveling by bus, who had a layover. She purchased a package of Oreos from a vending machine in the bus terminal and sat down, placed her cookies on the table, and proceeded to read her newspaper. She was joined by a young man, who, to her surprise, opened the package of Oreo cookies and began to eat them. The woman, saying nothing, gave him an icy stare, and grabbed one of “her” cookies. The young man, with a funny look on his face, ate another cookie. The woman again glared and grabbed another cookie. The young man finished the third cookie and offered the last to the woman. Completely appalled, she grabbed the cookie and the young man left. Outraged, the woman threw down her paper, only to find her unopened Oreos on the table in front of her.
I do not know how to change society, but I can ask the Lord to constantly correct me, to show me the better way, to continuously ask the purposes behind my patterns. The way forward is to ask the Lord to give me a genuine and true heart before him.
The Pharisee is sincere… he is in the marketplace, he has his finger on the pulse of what is going on…He opens his home to Jesus!!!!!!! the only way I can read this is that the Pharisee is genuinely surprised when Jesus does not conform to the customs of the day. But he invites Jesus into his home as an honest desire to entertain and perhaps even learn from him. The Pharisee is doing his best to be faithful to God in the everyday world. The Pharisees care about holiness, purity in a disappointing world as they live in a Jewish country occupied by the Romans. They just have wrong expectations and lose track of what is most important.
The trick for us is to remain strong Christians in a world that is increasingly more and more challenging. The temptation is to compromise. One way to stay strong is to live by disciplines. The problem is if we lose sight of the purpose behind the rules/patterns then we are missing the mark. The substance of the Christian life is a transformed heart, not a formality.
By using the example of Pharisees, the lesson to all disciples is to keep the main thing the main thing; do not forget the purpose behind our traditions and actions. How easy for me to go home on a Sunday afternoon and be pleased if a good amount of people came together, enjoyed the singing, a few found the sermon inspiring and there was a lot of chatter in the fellowship hall afterwards. If that what it means to be successful and I am content, then I am no better than the Pharisees who “clean the outside of the cup but inside you are dirty” (Luke 11:39). Better questions: was God was glorified? Were lives changed? Did the spirit of God speak to your heart? The purpose of worship is to glorify God and allow him to transform the human heart, not impress people.
I like the story of the student that asked the evangelist Dwight Moody how to include an invitation in his message that would lead people to invite Christ into their life. “But you don’t really expect people to become Christians every time you preach, do you?” Moody said testing the man. The young man, caught off guard, hemmed and hawed and stammered, “no, I guess not” to which Moody quickly replied, “That’s your problem.” Let’s never forget the purpose of preaching, let’s never forget why we open the door of the Clothesline, let’s never forget the purpose of Sunday School. We must leave the results up to God, but when the musicians stand in front and lead a song, if the only goal is to sound good then that is not much of a goal… the purpose is to give us a glimpse of the Resurrected Christ, to invite the Holy Spirit to prick our hearts…
In my personal life, why do I read the Bible? Pray? Go to Church? Anything we do has the potential to be a formality. It is possible to help those in need and have a lousy attitude, secretly looking down on those whom you serve. Jesus says we can do better.
If the Pharisees are not all bad, why is Jesus so harsh against them? He gives them an opportunity to change. One of my teachers 30 years ago said, “The reason Jesus is so hard on the Pharisees is because they are so close to the Kingdom!” Doesn’t that make sense? The people who we love that are closest to us need to hear….
This week Oscar told me a story of driving his truck/big rig when an elderly driver in an RV towing a boat cut him off. The driver obviously forgot about the boat! Oscar had to slam on his brakes to avoid an accident; the man kept going, oblivious to the accident he almost caused. Oscar recognized the man from His Church. The next Sunday he went to the man and was hard on him, telling him it was only by the grace of God he was spared. At first the man downplayed what Oscar was saying, but Oscar persisted until the man could see his major blunder of forgetting about the boat. This was extremely important to Oscar and he knew the man so he was hard on him, and should be…Whether the man ultimately listened and changed is up to him, not Oscar…
That’s how I see Jesus with the Pharisees. He is hard on them because he cares so deeply. Jesus holds them accountable. Jesus gives them an opportunity to hear the better way. Later many Pharisees reject Jesus and his message, but Jesus gives them an opportunity to reform, to assess what is most important, to consider the purposes behind the rituals… There are times when we don’t need a hug to get us moving forward in our Christian walk, we need a swift kick in the pants! That’s what Jesus is doing.
I admire the Pharisees and their desire to live out their faith in the marketplace. We at SACC are also are trying to live out our faith in the community, to be in the world but not of the world., constantly facing the challenge of being faithful to Christ in a world drifting away from Christian values…
A.W. Tozer adds insight into the Pharisees way of thinking that explains some of the problems with the Pharisees: A pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself. YES. This is a challenge for us to be hard on ourselves. The way forward in our Christian walk is to open our hearts to hear the hard questions. To hold ourselves to high standards. May we never lose sight of the purpose. Not only WHAT we do, but WHY, whether it be the patterns and disciplines of my life, or the church, or the Christian community…
For over half a century we have had the practice of a Potluck Dinner on the first Sunday of the month…why? For fellowship, for connections, for the Lord to be among us… When you pray for the church picnic next week, I sure hope everyone is safe and has a good time (and that I can reclaim the croquet trophy!), but more importantly/// I pray that God will be glorified and people will find a measure of hope by connecting with others. If all I do at the end of the picnic is say, “whew, I can check that off for the year…” then I have missed the point….
Jesus ticks off one by one a number of traditions practiced by the Pharisees that have lost their meaning. READ Luke 11:42-44.
Jesus talks about tithing as a formality. I’ve always been so happy to be a part of a church that does not require a certain amount of giving but we truly want people to give form your heart …Jesus clearly advocates tithing in this scripture (one tenth of your income) but it must come from a pure desire, which is far more important….
In Luke 11:43 Jesus gives them a swift kick in the pants for loving attention, the seat of honor. The Jesus way is to be motivated in loving others, not building up oneself. When it becomes all about me, how I look, that is a problem…
Luke 11:44 is a summary of the dangerous path the Pharisees walk: READ. “YOU are like a hidden grave…” Sobering words….Jesus is referring to a command of the Old Testament which instructs people to not touch graves… a modern example might be to say you are like a disease that people are unknowingly exposed. This highlights the importance of walking a path of faith with a heart to serve and lift up others as opposed to lifting up yourself and forgetting the purpose behind our actions.
Years ago I read a wonderful essay that made a lot of sense in explaining the difference between the Jesus way of living your faith in the world and the Pharisee way of living your faith in the world. The essay was by an awesome woman named//// Sally Crouse. The theme of the essay: There are two ways to stay pure in the world. The Pharisee’s way is to stay away from that which is dirty. Don’t touch this, don’t do that, don’t pollute yourself. If we never touch people that are messy then we won’t get messy, like when you send your kids outside and tell them not to play in the dirt.
Then there is the Jesus Way: cleanse everything you touch. Jesus stayed pure by purifying everything he contacted. The leper, the sinner, the woman at the well, the Samaritan, the children…. “Give to the needy what you greedily possess” he says in Luke 11:41. Luke 11:42 says “you forget about justice and the love of God.” This is all about focusing on others, meeting there needs. The way forward is summarized in the 2nd half of Luke 11:42: “You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things.”
Jesus cleansed everything he touched. He served the needs of others. Like the disciples, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. The world is challenging as our culture is shifting away from Christian values. The way forward in our Christian walk is to keep the love of others as a priority, helping others, spreading justice, lifting others up, meeting the needs of others. We must not be afraid to get dirty by getting out with people. It is challenging, as we face one dilemma after another, trying to maintain standards but serving people. It is a lot messier to care about people, but that is the Jesus way. The way forward as followers of Christ is to not keep doing anything as a formality, but to always keep in mind the purpose for why we do what we do and not neglect that which is most important. Amen.