Joshua 3:7-17 and Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
Micah 3:5-12 and Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Peace be with you!
I love older architecture from the early 1900’s. The craftsmanship of the wood trim and the elegant woodwork for the pulpit and baptismal fond is amazing and feels worthy of God more so than modern day church buildings. Oh, and the stain glass windows always take my breath away.
While doing my masters at Luther Seminary, I loved going to daily chapel. There is a big pipe organ, which just captivate us as we enter and leave chapel. My favorite part is the baptism fond with its grand size and water fountain, which you cannot miss when entering chapel. Our professors would take turns preaching in chapel; their sermons were always elegant, captivating, and true to gospel. Chapel at Luther Seminary has a special place in my heart.
Then I read the gospel reading for this week, and I find myself feeling guilty for loving Luther Seminary’s chapel and the professors so much. In Matthew 23:1-12, Jesus challenges the Pharisees and their scribes for their practices, even when the Jews give them the authority to interpret the Torah for good reason. Jesus is pointing to the Pharisees’ “Do as I say, not as I do” practices.
For Jesus, the biggest issue is that Pharisees expect to be wined and dined in their fancy robes with the highest honors at banquets and in the synagogues (Matthew 23:6). They expect to be greeted with respect in public (Matthew 23:7). Jesus admits the Pharisees speak the truth about the Torah, but their actions do not always match with what they do. For instance, there is one rabbi (or teacher) according to the scriptures, which they preach, and yet they expect to be called rabbi. Jesus points out we, even the Pharisees, are all students to God the Father (Matthew 23:8), and we have one father in heaven (Matthew 23:9) and one instructor who is the Messiah (Matthew 23:10).
Can you image the Pharisees reaction? Wait, we have studied the Torah and have been given authority to teach in the synagogues. How dare you call us students? We have done our masters and received honors for our research and our thesis papers. We deserve the title rabbi as ones who have the knowledge to interpret after doing all of our studies.
I wonder what Jesus would say about us adding “pastor” or “reverend” in front of our names and PhD, MA, etc behind our names. We use titles as a way to distinguish ourselves. I inform individuals who I meet in public that I got my MA in New Testament from Luther Seminary, so they treat me as an able adult and not as an a child or an individual who is mentally challenged. My MA title also entitles me to hold conversations with other Biblical scholars.
Maybe it is the feeling of entitlement that Jesus is speaking out against. As a college student, my marketing professors taught that learning never ends, especially since the marketing field is always changing. As a Biblical scholar, I understand there are always new and different ways to interpret Bible passages, and the meanings change over time, culture, and context. Scholars are always reading commentaries and talking to individuals to stay on top of new scholarship. So would Jesus speak out against our titles? (Please discuss through the comment box.
The second issue Jesus seems to be speaking out against is the Pharisees’ presuming expensive and fancy robes (Matthew 23:5b). Jesus seems to think the Pharisees are sticking their noses in the air and acting as if they are better than others. Jesus says the first shall be last and the last shall be first (Mark 10:31; Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Luke 13:30; Revelations 22:13).
I wonder if Jesus would speak out against our fancy sanctuaries. Would he view the sanctuaries as honoring God the Father? Or are they too showing? This leads us to the question: What do we really need to worship the Triune God? (Again, please discuss through the comment box.) In my humble opinion, all we need to worship God is Bibles, belief in the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and community of individuals share our faith and support our personal faith journeys.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20). Therefore, a church is the individuals who gather together to worship and to honor the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The community is the church, not the building, the stain glass windows, or the African handmade communion cups. The community of believers in the Triune God is what defines a church.
In Philadelphia, the community of the Welcome Church gathers outside with just a table, communion cups, and sometimes a cross. The individuals create the church as they gather for worship. Reverend Violet Little started two years ago by going to bus and train stations to do ministry in the world. Reverend Little even provides shoes for the homeless and works with different churches to provide the homeless with a meal and a safe place to gather. The homeless feel welcome to join in the worship service, because the Welcome Church has a “come as you are” policy. In the past two years, Reverend Little has married homeless couples, seen a community of Christians form with unlikely individuals, and worked with church, which have walls, to provide meals for the homeless weekly. It is truly amazing what a community can do when the individuals rally together.
So I challenge you to go out this week and look for ways individuals worship God in public.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the ministry Reverend Violet Little does in Philadelphia. Help us to become the community of believers that can carry on the church. Thank you for your ever-lasting love for your community. Amen.
Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
Please feel free to answer the reflective questions through comments. Please agree to disagree and be respectable to each other. Please take a moment, if you have not already, to sign the covenant. You can answer all or just one of the questions.
1. Would Jesus speak out against our titles?
2. What do we need to worship the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?
3. How do individuals worship God in public? How does it transform the way you want to worship