Saturday, November 01, 2014

Servanthood - Matthew 23:1-12

Matthew 23:1-12
23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,

23:2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;

23:3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

23:4 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.

23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.

23:6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,

23:7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

23:8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.

23:9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father--the one in heaven.

23:10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.

23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.

23:12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

A Texas rancher met up with a Vermont dairy farmer. 

The two men began talking about their land and the dairy farmer told the cattleman that he operated his business on 125 acres.

The Texan scoffed at such a small parcel of land. He said, "Yankee, that ain't nothin'." 

On my ranch I can get in my truck at sunrise and I won't reach the fence line of my property until sunset." 

The dairy farmer snorted, "Yeah, I used to have an undependable truck like that."

Bragging rights, Bragging rights everybody wants them. 

Whether it is the biggest house, the fanciest car, the most impressive wardrobe, the most well behaved children, everyone wants to be top dog in some aspect of their life. 

I read not long ago that in the Olympics, the first prize winner is the happiest of the three who stand on the podium and receive a medal – well of course.  How could it be otherwise?  The second happiest is not the second place silver medalist, but the third place bronze – because that person is just so happy to be on the podium at all.  The second place Silver medal winner is jealous and upset.  And why not – in the Olympics the difference in first and second may be a microscopic fraction of a second.

Athletes love to be first. 

And that is fine. 

In business, employees strive to be the employee of the month, the salesman of the year, the most productive and the most efficient.

And that is wonderful.

In school there is nothing more satisfying than a report card with all “A’s” – something I never knew from first hand experience until I was in Seminary.  And then once I made all “A’s” in my first semester, it became a competition with myself to see how long I could keep it up.  I kept it up for three years and finished with a perfect 4.0 gpr – and I’ve got to tell you – it was exhausting!

Being best in anything is tough.

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders were very competitive and worked hard for those bragging rights. 

They wanted to be looked at and treated as though they were a step closer to God than anyone else. 

Just like many people today, the Pharisees wanted others to see them as special and treat them as though they were closer to God than anyone else.

They wanted others to be impressed with their piety and impressed with their holiness. 

They wanted others to think they had some special bragging rights that the common man lacked.

They were chest thumpers you could almost hear them say: “Hey, look at me! Look at how important I am!”

In the words of the New Testament lesson, they wanted to say to others, “See how broad my phylacteries are and how long my fringes are?” 

Say what?

These are two words that probably don’t mean anything to most of us today.

Now, phylacteries were small leather boxes.  Inside they contained portions of Scripture – the Word of God.  The fringes – well, that means what it means today in clothing, those fringes that adorn sleeves and other material.  In the Old Testament, Moses (in Numbers 15) instructed the children of Israel to put fringes on their garments to remember, not only the law in general, but also the smaller parts of the law.

So the Pharisees made their phylacteries broad. They put more writing on them or made the letters larger and thus more visible, to appear more holy. 

And they made their fringes longer to show the world how they followed the finer points of the law. 

Jesus looks at these people and says this is not how one attains greatness in our faith or in the Kingdom of God.

You want to be great in the Kingdom of God

You want to really be something special?

Then you have to become humble.

You have to become the servant of others.

Miss Thompson taught Teddy Stallard in the fourth grade. He was always dressed in sloppy clothes.  His face and hands were always dirty.  His homework was always a mess.  None of the other students seemed to like him that much.

The year before arriving in Miss Thompson’s class, Teddy’s mother had died.  Other teaches said that what little motivation he had had previously disappeared with his mother’s death.

Teddy had an obnoxious way with him, and none of the teachers really cared for him.  Miss Thompson was the same way – there wasn’t much hope for Teddy and she had other students to attend to.

But at Christmas time Teddy brought his teacher a small present. 

It was typical of Teddy.  All the other gifts were nicely wrapped, his came in a plastic grocery bag. 

The teacher opened the gift and it was a mess.  There was a tacky, cheap, gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume that had already been opened and was only half full.

The children began to snicker but Miss Thompson realized that here was one of those people that Jesus called “the least of these.”

You remember that verse?

In Matthew 25 Jesus says that whenever you show love “to the least of these my brothers, you show love to me.”

So she quickly splashed on some perfume and put on the bracelet, pretending Teddy had given her something special.

At the end of the day Teddy worked up enough courage to softly say, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother . . . and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. 

There was something in that acceptance of a lowly gift that seemed to have such an impact on this young student.  And his reaction had an impact on the teacher.

Miss Thompson began to pay more attention to this wayward student.  She prayed for him daily.  She gave extra time to Teddy.  And it seemed to work because by the end of the year he had caught up with most of the other students.

Then as often happens, Teddy moved up a grade, was assigned another teacher, and then life moved on.

Miss Thompson didn’t hear from Teddy for a long time. Then she received this note: "Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating high school.  I’m second in my class. Love, Teddy Stallard." 

Four years later she got another note: "Dear Miss Thompson, They just told me I will be graduating college, first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard." 

Four years later: "Dear Miss Thompson, As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard." 

Miss Thompson went to the wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat.

She made a difference. She let God use her as an instrument of his love an instrument of encouragement.

Some of the greatest blessings in life come when you humbly realize someone else is more important than you are. 

If you want to be somebody, put others before yourself. It is as simple as that.

What influences do you have or could you have with others?

Your influence is measured by your willingness to serve others.