October 18, 2017- Double Standards- Matthew 23:1-4

Double Standard

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:1-4 (NRSV)

We all remember double standards as we were growing up. Kids had to be in bed by 8:30, but Mom and Dad could stay up as late as they wanted. (Now we know that Mom and Dad would have rather been in bed by 8:30 themselves, but there’s too much work to be done to go to bed that early!)  Kids had to sit at the kids’ table with all the other screaming rugrats to eat holiday meals, and kids had to wait to be excused to get up from the table no matter how annoying, obnoxious and loud the other kids were.  Adults got to sit at the civilized adult table, and got to get up from the table when they were done eating.

More than once I heard, “Do what I say, not what I do,” from my parents and grandparents. We know what we should do, but actually doing it is quite another thing. Nobody likes being on the short end of a double standard.  Double standards offend our sense of justice.

I am sure that the people listening to Jesus that day as He was telling them to do what the scribes and Pharisees teach them to do probably were rolling their eyes. There were probably people who were thinking in the back of their heads, “Why should I listen to so-and-so about this or that rule when so-and-so doesn’t follow it himself?”

Jesus had some of his most harsh critique for the religious authorities- the scribes and Pharisees. In many instances he spoke more highly and with more compassion toward tax collectors and prostitutes than he did of those who should be living by the rules.  It’s easy to tell other people what to do and what standards are expected of them.  It’s not so easy to apply those standards to ourselves first.

God put His rules in place for us for our own protection, to set boundaries around our behavior so that we don’t cause harm to ourselves or others. Rules were not meant to be oppressive or punitive, but protective.

Every human being alive today is a sinner and a hypocrite, including those in leadership in the church, and in secular government. However, it is important that those who are in leadership pay special attention to the standards they wish to impose upon others.  Leaders are called to be good examples and should strive to live by the standards they teach and expect of others first.

One of the important concepts of the Reformation was the realization that everyone who follows Jesus should be held to the same standards- not one set of rules for the ruling class, and another set of rules for everyone else.

If we are to look at Jesus’ example and if we are to follow Him, shouldn’t we as His followers make it easier for each other to live in ways that honor Him, rather than piling on the burdens and doing nothing to help each other?

October 13, 2017 -Surrender Our Burdens, His Yoke is Easy, Come to the Table- Matthew 11:27-29

burdened.jpg

(Jesus said): “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.” Matthew 11:27-29 (NRSV)

The Sacrament gives us life-giving healing, comfort and rest. Like manna given from heaven to the Israelites in the desert, Jesus gives us sustenance and life and renewal for this journey on earth when we come together as a community to share His Body and Blood.

We all carry the burden of our sins, our sorrows, our trials and the weariness of living life on this earth. When we come to the table we are given a precious gift- Jesus in the flesh- taking our burdens and carrying them along with us.  The illustration of taking on a yoke implies that it is far easier to pull a load with two or more oxen rather than by only one.  When Jesus is walking with us, and we are (figuratively) yoked to Him, our burdens may not disappear, but they will be lighter and more bearable.  He gets us through our struggles and delivers us from the ones that would destroy us.  In the Sacrament of the Altar He comes to us in the most intimate way- His Body and Blood literally become part of us, body and soul.

While we should examine our hearts and minds before we come to the table and we should acknowledge and confess our sins, we need to come to the table to be nourished- and often, precisely because we cannot live up to God’s perfect standards.

We also come to the table in faith. Even though we really don’t understand the whole mystery of how Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament, we take him at His word. When He says, “this IS My Body, given for you,” and “this IS My Blood, shed for you,” Jesus means what He says.

For here He offers to us the entire treasure which He has brought for us from heaven, and to which He invites us also in other places with the greatest kindness, as when He says in St. Matthew 11, 28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…– from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism

For if you would wait until you are rid of such burdens, that you might come to the Sacrament pure and worthy, you must forever stay away. For in that case He pronounces sentence and says: If you are pure and godly, you have no need of Me, and I, in turn, none of thee. Therefore those alone are called unworthy who neither feel their infirmities nor wish to be considered sinners. – from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther’s Large Catechism