Woman at the Well

During Advent the three clergy preached a series on the hallmarks of the New Testament Church that we hope to attain here at St. Patrick’s. They were “Radical Love,” “Gracious Evangelism,” “Joyful Discipleship” and “Sacramental Living.” This famous story today of the woman at the well is a beautiful example of Jesus modeling for us both radical love and gracious evangelism.

The relationship of disciples to Master was that the Master fed the disciples spiritually while the disciples fed the Master physically and so the disciples were off doing their job and fetching food. This resulted in Jesus being alone with a Samaritan woman in the heat of the day and it sets the stage for an astonishing divine appointment.

I call it astonishing because Jews don’t speak to Samaritans as the text informs us. Most of you know why but please allow me to catch up any folks we are new to this story.

In 722 BC many of the Jews in the Northern Kingdom were taken into captivity to Assyria. Those who were left behind eventually intermarried with pagans and so their offspring were considered to be no longer pure Jews. Over time they altered their worship practices and even had the audacity to erect their own temple outside of Jerusalem on Mt. Gerizim. To complicate matters further these Samaritans only accepted the first 5 Books of the Moses as canon and they rejected every Jewish prophet except Moses. In short they were considered ethnically impure and religiously heretical.

The Jewish disdain for Samaritans was so strong that even though the route from Jerusalem, north to the Galilee, took you directly through their region, many would travel east in order to go around Samaria before going north. It would be like us driving around Georgia en route to Florida because we think Georgians are that inferior. Given that our Bishop is from Georgia that would be a very bad thing to think.

Not only is it astonishing that a Jew is speaking with a Samaritan but it multiplied by the fact that it is an unaccompanied man was speaking with an unaccompanied woman and add to that it is a holy man, a Rabbi, speaking to a woman with a questionable reputation. No one would have seen this coming.

His popularity had been growing. Early in this Gospel we see some of John’s disciples leaving John and following Jesus. Then throngs come to be baptized in Jesus’ Name. John’s disciples complained, “Everyone is going to him instead of coming to us.” And yet Jesus was willing to put His growing popularity and His reputation on the line by deviating from accepted social norms and He engaged this woman in conversation.

He could have added to His popularity if while speaking to her He condemned her. Think of all the TV preachers that have huge followings and make boatloads of money preaching against liberals and commie pinko’s. Years ago, out of respect for my Pentecostal clergy friend, I attended a Jimmy Swaggart crusade. It was a stretch for me. At one point in the sermon Jimmy said, “And let me tell you, you liberal college professors” and I thought to myself, “Yea I bet the place is filled with them tonight.” It sure got the crowd stirred up like they were at a wrestling match and no doubt it helped the offering.

But Jesus did not take that tact. If anyone had the right to condemn her it would be the One who will return one day to judge the living and the dead. But He did not. Why? The Bible says “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Jn 3:17.

This brings us the first application of this story for our own lives. How inclined are we to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and break down barriers and even risk our reputations in order to reach out to others? Do we have the courage to challenge norms that may have stood for a long time? Are we willing to do it even at the risk of others thinking that we are compromising our beliefs?

Let me ask this way. Who is welcome at St. Patrick’s? I’m sure that we would all say that everyone is welcome here but what is our unwritten policy? I hope it is the same.

I received a call a while ago from a person asking about our church. Toward the end of the conversation she asked what people wore to church. I said “we have everything from ties to tattoos” and I was happy that I could say that.

I have said before that the way I was raised was that you wore your Sunday best to church. Saturday night was shoeshine time because my father believed that if he had to look sharp for his commanding officer then he should do the same for the King of Kings. I still believe that way but I also believe that even more important than what a person wears is the fact that they have come to worship the Lord. After all, this is a spiritual hospital not a country club.

Breaking down the barriers begins right here and with us and it creates a culture of breaking down barriers out their in the world. When Beth and I first moved here in 1996 we visited a local Episcopal Church. I won’t tell you which one, only that it was in Murfreesboro. (Hint, hint). We attended two Sundays in a row and I wore my clerical collar each time and not one person spoke to us. That shouldn’t happen.

I know it can be difficult. We have three different services and so it is impossible to know everyone. It’s like the first time you ask a woman how long she has been pregnant and she tells you that she isn’t. You decide right then and there to never ask that question again.

Similarly most of us have asked someone if they are new to the church only to be told that they are a founding member or the Senior Warden or something equally embarrassing. It is all too easy to decide right then and there to never again greet a person that you do not recognize. But we must not give into that temptation. It is a loving act to risk a little embarrassment and reach out to a stranger. It is pride that would keep us from taking a risk. You can do what I do. When I ask if we have met before and they say that we have I just give a little laugh, point to your head and say “mad cow.”

The other act of love that Jesus does for this woman is that at the appropriate time He points out that her lifestyle is not right before God. Jesus did it in a very subtle way but He loved her too much to leave her in her sin because sin is a devourer and a destroyer.

Often people today reject the notion that you can love the sinner but hate the sin. Many believe that loving someone includes accepting all that they do. They argue that to love someone unconditionally is to accept them as they are. But that stops short of the full story on unconditional love.

When my kids were growing up I loved them unconditionally but I did not accept all that they did. I loved them too much to passively sit by and allow them to do things that were self-destructive or immoral. If someone came up to me while I was correcting my child and said, “But you are not supposed to judge” I doubt that I would have received it well. Discerning what is harmful to my children and showing them a better way is an act of love not an act of judgment.

We see this in our own relationship with God. Sure God loved us and accepted us as we are. The Scripture says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” But that is not the end of the story. God loves us and accepts us as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us where He finds us. He calls us to be cleansed from our sins. He calls us to walk in the way of righteousness. This is how St. Paul described the Church in Corinth.
“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” But then he goes on to say, “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

We recognize as our Collect said today, that we have no power within ourselves to change ourselves. We need God to intervene on our behalf and that is just what Jesus did in the life of that woman, and it is what He continues to do in the lives of people today who call upon Him. To her credit, the woman “fessed up.” She did not lie or deceive, she did not even try to sugar coat it. “Well he’s sort of a fiancée.” She told the truth and Jesus took it from there. Conviction, confession, absolution….that is how people are made free. That is radical love.

I also want to point out how this whole story is that of gracious evangelism. We should learn from the Master here.

First notice that He did not meet her in the synagogue. The synagogue was a house of worship. Evangelism is done out there in the world. Jesus went to her. In the St. Mark’s version of the Great Commission Jesus told the disciples to “Go out into all the world.” Thus we make a mistake if we think that all we have to do is build houses of worship and they will come.

I was once asked to do a little consulting with a church that was struggling. When I asked what they were doing for outreach they told me that they had just built a new gymnasium and their plan was to give out free tickets to invite their neighbors to tour the gym. I told them that I did not want to hurt their feeling but the reality is that their neighbors could care less that they had a new gym. People want to know how faith is relevant to them. They want to know how it will make their life better. They want to have hope. That was what Jesus was doing when He sought the woman out and spoke to her of the gift of living water.

We need to learn to be as intentional in seeking others as Jesus was. I’m not talking about standing on a street corner and passing out tracts. Gracious evangelism is based in love and love can be creative in how it is expressed.

Most of you know Don DeWolfe who taught Alpha. Don is a vet and has become a chaplain’s assistant at the VA. He goes each week to the VA both in Murfreesboro and in Nashville and visits vets who are from liturgical churches. He offers them communion or prays with them or both. He builds friendships and looks for opportunities to share the Good News. He is using his experience as a vet to draw other closer to Christ, which is a creative way to use his life experiences. I think that he is a great example to the rest of us.

Second we notice that Jesus began where she was. She was there to draw water so Jesus asked for a drink. Then He moved the conversation to living water. He didn’t start out talking about sin. He didn’t hit her with a lot of theology. He didn’t even call on her to respond. He offered her a gift using language that she could understand.

This was a woman that was so full of shame that she came in the hottest part of the day to draw water. She didn’t want to hear the tongues waging. In offering her a gift of eternal value, Jesus values her as a person. She needed to know what she was turning to before being convicted about what she needed to turn from. Once a person sees the banquet that is set before them, it is not difficult to let go of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that they are clinging to.

A third lesson on evangelism that we can learn from Jesus’ encounter with this woman is that He stayed on target. At one point she insults Him by asking if He is greater than Jacob. It was a kind of “and who might you be?” question. He ignores that and keeps speaking to her of the living water. Next she tries a theological debate about where the proper place is to worship.

I have seen this many times. When people start to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit they will change the subject to get the focus off of themselves. If you try to chase those rabbits you will never get back to the real point of the discussion. So here we see Jesus bring her back into focus by telling her it is not where you worship but whom you worship and He tells her the kind of people that God is seeking to worship Him. This opens the door for her to ask about the Messiah and Jesus reveals to her that He is the Messiah.

Jesus keeps giving her the Good News without shaming her or introducing any form of fear, which too often is thought to be necessary for evangelism. In this encounter Jesus models for us radical love and gracious evangelism and we have every reason to believe that those are as effective in changing lives today as they were 2,000 years ago at a well in the middle of the day. Amen

The Annunciation

Annunciation 2

We often talk of “the Christmas miracle” but in reality it is the event we celebrate tonight that is the miracle. The birth of Jesus was not miraculous because it was a birth like any other. What is miraculous is that the Holy Spirit came to Mary and she conceived. This is what the angel announced and Mary was a humble and obedient servant. This is a miracle like no other and the idea of God becoming flesh is so profound that the altar party kneels when we come to that place in the Creed. It is a wonder that this is not the day that we exchange gifts and sing carols and know that because of tonight, the world will never be the same.

Temptations – Not From Motown: Power, Sex and Money

The Temptation of Eve

Text Matthew 4:1-11

While it is true that our Lord was tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin, we cannot say that the opposite is true. Let me speak just for myself. I have not been tempted as He was and yet I have sinned.

Jesus was tempted to turn rocks into bread. I tried to bake bread once and managed to turn it into rocks. I have never been tempted to misuse my power over nature because I don’t have any.

I am deathly afraid of heights. A few years ago Beth and I toured the Cathedral in Florence and without thinking I decided that we should get in line and take a tour of the dome. I didn’t realize that meant that we would walk up dozens of flights and then out on a catwalk on the INSIDE of the dome. We were so high up that the people on the Cathedral floor looked small. When I realized that the concrete catwalk we were on was built in the Middle Ages, I nearly had a heart attack. We could not get down fast enough. So I’m thinking there is no way that the devil could get me to the pinnacle of the temple to begin with.

And what about the whole world bowing down to me? I can’t even get my dogs to listen to me, so there is no real temptation there. So no, I have not been tempted as He was and I doubt that few if any have. But that does not mean that this temptation story is irrelevant to us. I would argue just the opposite. This story demonstrates clearly why He is the One to whom we turn, not only during this penitential season, but also at all times.

If we are not tempted in the exact manner that Jesus was tempted, then in what ways are we tempted? One of the greatest privileges I have been given was to be a representative to the Convention in Texas that founded the Anglican Church in North America. The day before we met to establish our Canons and Constitutions we caucused to see what we were facing. When I asked the Bishop what the sticking points might be that would prevent us from coming together as one body, he described a number of them. As I thought about the points of disagreement it dawned on me that it was the usual unholy trinity of power and sex and money. Years ago I heard a Bishop say that about all of the problems in the Church fall into one of those three categories and I believe. They come up so frequently that I would suggest to you that they are common to us all. So lets put the skunk on the table and talk about them.

Power. In one sense we share in Jesus’ temptation here because He was being tempted to misuse His power. Of course we do not have the supernatural power that He was being tempted to misuse but we are tempted with power nonetheless. What is the famous truism? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Last November the Congressional Approval Rate fell to 9%. 9%! Why are 91% of us so unhappy with our governing officials? In part because rather than doing what is best for us, the people they are supposed to serve, they are up there locked in a power struggle like a couple of bucks in rutting season.

Consider what is going on now with Russia and the Ukraine? What is the revolution in Syria about? Professor Joshua Goldstein of International Relations.com had identified 13 major wars that are going on around the globe at this moment. He is not referring to minor skirmishes, but wars where thousands are dying. And in most if not all cases it boils down to power and control.

But this is not just a problem of governments; it is also a problem of the Church. One of the more surprising discussions we had at the Convention I just mentioned was rather or not Bishops were necessary. It never dawned on me that we would try to be Anglicans without Bishops but some low church folks were trying to take us there. The goal was, if not to get rid of them, at least to make them almost irrelevant. I reminded them that Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of John the Evangelist said, “Do nothing without the Bishop.” So first century Christians certainly saw them as necessary. But what was this discussion really about? It was a struggle over power between clergy and laity.

Let me take this to a more personal level. What are so many of our own interpersonal conflicts about? What are so many marriage problems about? What negatively consumes so much time and energy in your office or in your business? A struggle over control. And how old is this temptation? “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it you eyes will be opened and you will be like God…”

If the temptation of power is that old and that universal how can we hope to resist it? We do so in two ways. First by acknowledging that both in the 40 days of Jesus’ temptation and through the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus Christ broke the power of Satan. Until He freed us we were slaves to sin but no longer. The cartoons paint a picture of us as having a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, with both powers being equal. That is a false image. We may indeed have a little devils on our shoulders but we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and we stand under the shadow of the Cross. The powers of good and evil are not equal in our lives. God is mighty to save. The Bible says, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”

The second way we resist the temptation of power is to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and like Him become servants. In his letters St. Paul would call himself an Apostle but He would also refer to himself as “doulos” which is a servant or slave. When the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest, Jesus took up a towel and washed their feet. We avoid power struggles when rather than pulling on our end of the rope we drop our end of the rope and we pick up a towel.

The second universal temptation is sex. I don’t think I need to take any time to convince you how prevalent that temptation is. It even in our commercials, which makes me wonder if the ad agencies understand how the mind of a man works. They put some gorgeous blond on a truck commercial but after the commercial is over, if you asked the typical guy if it was a GM or Dodge that they were advertising, he would have no idea.

As important as it is for us not to be driven by lust, it is important to clarify Jesus’ teaching about it so we don’t live under false guilt. In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard points out that Jesus says if a many looks at a wife to lust after her, he has already committed adultery. The key here is why he is looking at her. If it is in order to lust after her, then it is a sin. But that is very different from finding another person attractive or even being sexually attracted to them. Those are built in reactions that God has placed in us. That’s chemistry. It is what we do with those reactions that can be sinful. Martin Luther had a saying, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head but you can keep it from making a nest in your hair.”

How do we keep the bird out of our hair? We follow what Jesus modeled for us when He refused to turn the rocks into bread. In doing this He declared that He was not governed by His passions, wants and needs but rather He was governed by the Word of God. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

If you think about it then you will realize that this is a more dignified way to live. In our over-sexualized culture you would think our appetites are all that we have. But as Christians we have higher standards than that. We are children of God not alley cats! Time magazine had a lead article a few years ago stating that science has discovered that men are not genetically wired to be monogamous. Well I may not be genetically wired to be monogamous but the Word of God tells me I had better be if I want to enter the kingdom of heaven. And Beth Kasch tells me I better be if I don’t want to get there sooner than I expected.

The third universal temptation is money. It is noteworthy how much Jesus taught about it, used it as illustrations and warned about its misuse. People all the time misquote the Bible as saying that money is the root of all evil when in fact it says it is the LOVE of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. It is said that half of divorces are over money. Think of the risk of life that criminals are willing to undergo for it as they sell drugs or rob or steal. Credit Card Breach Fraud has increased 320% between 2010 and 2012. Love of money is a great problem.

Notice what Jesus talks about when He warns about the temptation of money. His warning has to do about protecting our hearts so that money is not what we treasure. He said, “For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” His warning has to do about what we trust. Our trust is not to be in our bank accounts and our 401K’s. Even our money tells us where our trust is to be!

You hear folks all the time speak of “the Almighty dollar” which sounds like an idol, and sadly for many it is. The question is how do we make the dollar no longer almighty?

Jesus gives us the answer when He preaches about it. The dollar is no longer almighty when we see how vulnerable and how temporary it is. Jesus describes earthly wealth as something that moths and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal. Do you really want a god that moths can eat or that needs a regular shot of WD40? Do you really want to trust in something that is so easily taken from you? Of course not.

The antidote to the temptation to worship “Almighty Dollar” is not poverty. The antidote is to store up true riches in heaven, a place that is free of moths, rust and thieves. The antidote is to replace temporary earthly riches with permanent heavenly riches. God wants us to be rich, but as 1 Timothy 6 tells us, we are to be rich in love and good deeds. We store up treasures in heaven when we take care of the widows and orphans. We store up treasures in heaven when we do it unto the least of these His brethren. We store up treasures in heaven when we use our earthly treasures to promote the kingdom of God, that kingdom that we are to seek above all things.

I saw a most moving video on You Tube last week. A documentary guy arranged with a minute market owner to pretend that a lottery ticket was a winner and to give out the money. He then went to a homeless man and told him that he didn’t have any cash but he thought that he had a winning lottery ticket and wanted to give it to him. The homeless guy said, “Are you sure man.” The other said, “Yes” and they went together to turn in the ticket. The minute market owner pretended to check it and said, “You are a winner” and he counted out for the homeless man ten $100 bills. At first he was just frozen. He didn’t touch the money. He just kept saying, “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” Then when he was handed the money the first thing he did was to count out half of it and try to give it to the documentary guy. The documentary guy asked him, “What are you doing?” The homeless man said, “I want to share.” The documentary guy refused the money and the homeless man said again, “I want to share.” After it was clear to him that the documentary guy would not take the money the homeless man embraced him and they both broke down in tears. It made me wonder if Ray Kasch’s first act would be to share like the homeless man. Somehow he had become so free of the love of money that his basic instinct was to share. If someone who has nothing can be free of the love of money surely we who have way more than we need can be free also.

I know we all feel strapped at times but here are some startling facts that come from an organization called Remember the Poor.

• If you made $1,500 last year, you’re in the top 20% of the world’s income earners.
• If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy.
• ‬If you earn $25,000 or more annually, you are in the top 10% of the world’s income-earners.
• If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy.
• If you earn more than $50,000 annually, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income earners.
This means ½ of Americans are in the top 1% and yet when you teach about tithing Americans act like God is asking the impossible. If we can’t tithe then no one can and yet Christians all over the world tithe and do more. We will never get there until we are free from the love of money.

Okay enough about the skunk on the table. Let me end by making this suggestion. If you agree with me that these three temptations are that prominent in our lives, wouldn’t it make sense, during this penitential season, to seek victory over them? Wouldn’t it make sense to ask the same Lord, who triumphed over His enemy to give us that grace to triumph over ours? And can’t you imagine that is exactly what He longs to do for us? Amen.

Is Lent Unbiblical?

Lent - 4 Parts

A parishioner sent me a copy of a statement against keeping Lent, declaring Lent to be a perversion of the true repentance and fasting to which Christians are called. We see these kinds of challenges every year but with the advent of social media, they are receiving wider attention. This response is intended to defend Lent as a holy season.

First the writer describes Lent as “the 40 day Catholic season of preparation.” I’m sure it would come as a surprise to our Orthodox brethren that they are observing a “Catholic season.” No, it is the universal Church’s season of preparation. Since the vast majority of the Church observes Lent, critiques of it come across like the boy in the marching band that complains that everyone else is out of step. Of course numbers do not determine truth, so we need to dig deeper. The anti-Catholic tone throughout the critique is regrettable given Jesus’ Prayer for unity in John 17.

Second the writer points out that “Lent” and “Ash Wednesday” are not in the Bible. “Bible” is not in the Bible. That argument proves nothing unless you are the kind of literalist that believes we can only do what is in the Bible, rather than the more biblical approach that we can do all things except what the Bible forbids. Paul points out that for the Christian “all things are lawful but not all things are profitable.” Thus if we find Lent profitable, then it is biblical to observe it (I Corinthians 10:23-33).

Third he says that when we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday that it is a violation of Jesus teaching on fasting. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18.

It seems like he has a point here. Jesus tells us to wash and we are putting ashes on our foreheads. Are we therefore disobeying Jesus? Let me answer that question with a question. When the critic of Lent fasts, is he disobeying Jesus if he does not put oil on his head because Jesus said to do that also?

This points out that Scripture must be interpreted and not just parroted (“if your eyes causes you to stumble, pluck it out”). Through proper interpretation we seek to understand the intent of the passage so that we are keeping the spirit of the law and not just the letter of the law. Jesus’ point in this pericope is that we should not be overtly practicing our religion to gain the approval of man, but rather we should practice it privately for the approval of God. Earlier in Matthew 6:6 Jesus says when we pray we shouldn’t pray in the synagogues and street corners, we are to go into our room or closet and shut the door and pray to our Father in secret. So are we disobeying Jesus when we pray in Church? Are we wrong to pray anywhere except in our closet? And what if our closet doesn’t have a door to shut? Again, these texts need proper interpretation.

The issue according to Jesus’ teaching is our intent. What is our intent in receiving ashes? If we are doing it to gain the approval of man then we would be wrong to do it. But if we are doing it as a sign of our repentance then not only is it lawful but it is profitable to do. When my son was small we received ashes together and on the way back to our pew he said to me “Dad, I feel weird.” I whispered back, “You’re supposed to.” I think it was the first time he faced his own mortality and according to the Scriptures, that is how we gain wisdom.

It is important to add that we receive ashes as a Body and not just one person in Church drawing attention to himself, which would also violate Jesus’ teaching. But what does the world think when they see the signs of our repentance? Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

Fourth, he critiques Lent saying that it is wrong to give up eating certain foods because Paul says so in I Timothy 3:1-3. (So all you gluten free folks are going to hell!) This is a classic example of how you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say if you take it out of context. First of all there is a difference between a voluntary fast and requiring abstinence from certain foods. If you voluntarily give up meat for a season as a partial fast that is different from being forbidden to eat shellfish.

What is the context of Paul’s statement? “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.”

Just before this passage Paul gives the qualifications of a deacon and just after it he elucidates on being a good servant of Christ. So this passage juxtaposes the true Church with a demon inspired apostasy. This abstaining from certain foods, like the forbidding of marriage, is referring to a permanent law of a cult. That has nothing whatsoever with the temporary fast of the Church.

Fifth he critiques the Church for designating 40 days for fasting and repentance when we should be repenting “all year round.” In this critique, he insults our intelligence. Of course we realize that we should be repenting “all year round” (even though there is not a specific verse in the Bible that tells us to repent “all year round”). But just as our Lord set 40 days apart for fasting and prayer, the Church declares a special season for it as well. In the end we are merely choosing to walk in the footsteps of our Master. How can that possibly be wrong?

The Messianic Secret

Messianic Secret

Text – Phil 3:7-14; Matt 17:1-9

This is an astonishing event. Jesus has been proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is inaugurated and now His disciples get to see that reality acted out before them. They witness Him transfigured and talking to Moses and Elijah. What they see is a living icon of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Additionally in speaking with men who long ago had entered the larger life, they see Jesus joining heaven to earth and earth to heaven. And then, right after they have this amazing experience, Jesus says to them, “Now don’t tell anybody.” What?

This is called the Messianic Secret and it is not the only time that He did this. In Matthew 9:30 the text says that He sternly warned two blind men that He healed saying, “See that no one hears about this.” In Matthew 12 we read “And many followed Him and He healed them all and ordered them not to make Him known.” (15,16). In Matthew 16, after He praised Peter for his confession, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” verse 20 says “Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.” There are more examples than these but I think you get the gist. It doesn’t make sense. We are singing “Go Tell IT On The Mountain” and Jesus is saying, “Hush child.”

There is, of course, a purpose for this Messianic secret. I want to argue that as we see what those purposes are then also we will see that even in this Jesus is our model and we can learn from Him.

What do we see in the Messianic Secret? First we see His humility. We get a compliment from the boss on a job well done and it goes on Facebook within 15 minutes. Jesus heals a bunch of folks and keeps it on the QT. It takes humility to do that. St. Paul says in Philippians that Jesus humbled Himself and became a servant and the Messianic Secret highlights that fact. His ministry was not to fulfill His ego. He didn’t measure His success by how many stadiums He filled. In fact when the crowds got very large He made His sayings even more difficult to hear and they left Him by the droves. Why did He do this? Because He didn’t come to make fans, He came to make disciples.

One of my favorite preachers is Max Lucado. He is among the most gifted communicators I have ever heard. A while ago Don and Dorrence led a class called Grace that was a DVD of Max teaching on that topic and it was extremely edifying. One of the things that endeared me to the series was the setting. As a world famous author and teacher Max could have recorded the series in any size venue that he choose but instead we see him teaching to about a dozen people in what looks like his study in his home. It is clear that Max’s goal is for us to understand grace, not to highlight himself, or to impress us with how famous he is.

To be honest, I think one of the ways that we stray from this kind of humility in Anglicanism is in our titles. I use them and I comply with them because who am I to change our traditions? Nevertheless I think sound like something that Monty Python made up. A deacon is the Reverend Mr. A priest is the Reverend Father. That’s weighty but not too bad. In fact I hear “Father” as a term of endearment more than a title. But then it goes down hill from there. If you are a Dean you are the Very Reverend, if you are a Bishop you are the Right Reverend and if you are an Archbishop you are the Most Reverend. We just need one more rank and we could have an “Exquisitely Reverend.” I love it that when our Bishop calls me he says “Hi Father Ray this is Foley Beach.” Out of respect for his office and for him as a man I do not call him by his Christian name but I think he is modeling Jesus’ humility when he speaks to me as a brother and a friend and not as a title.

Another aspect of humility that we see modeled by Jesus is that His secrecy is just the opposite of the very human temptation to win an argument, to prove ourselves right, or to give a perfectly timed “I told you so.” He didn’t heal the blind men and turn to the Pharisees and say the Aramaic equivalent of “booya.” Servants don’t have anything to prove, they just have a job to do.

We can follow Jesus example today in our personal relationships and in our use of social media. Humility should be our guide. One of the many things that I admire about my wife Beth is her humility and trust me that is NOT to be confused with her being a doormat. I can testify that you don’t want to try to walk on Beth Kasch. But where her humility shines is in her interactions with others. Although she has very strongly held convictions she does not feel a need to make them continually known. She does not enter every argument that she is invited to nor does she try to straighten the world out so that we all see things her way (even though she knows it would be a better world if we did). This type of humility is the kind that Jesus modeled for us. It is an all to rare attribute today, even in the Church, but we are better for it when we follow in His footsteps.

A second quality that we see modeled by Jesus in the Messianic Secret is wisdom. In John’s Gospel we read that when the people saw the signs that Jesus was doing many believed in Him. But then the text says this in the New Living Translation. “But Jesus didn’t trust them because He knew human nature.” He kept His signs as secretive as possible because He could not trust people to respond to them in the right way. They would follow Him because of the signs He was doing and not because the signs revealed who He is. They would follow Him because He healed them or because He cast out their demons not because He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.

His wisdom is revealed in that He loved people but He didn’t trust them and we could learn from Him here as well. I’m not advocating that we become cynics and curmudgeons rather that we become realists.

When I was first in ordained ministry I would find myself being wounded all the time because I believed the best about everyone. So it would crush me when folks acted self centered or vengeful or got on a power trip and came after me. That was a major reason that for a time I left ministry and went into social work. I didn’t want to become a cynic and I didn’t want to keep getting wounded and so it was easier for me to take my ball and go home. But then the light came on for me when a mentor said to me, “Ray what did you expect? They are all sinners and so are you.” So I had to learn the difficult lesson of distinguishing between loving people and entrusting myself to people. I love the sheep of Jesus’ fold but I am no longer surprised when they act like goats. I’m also no longer surprised when I act like a goat. What do I do? I repent, pray about it and move on. Otherwise you get stuck in goatiness.

The third and I think most important quality we see about Jesus in His Messianic Secret is His priorities. The longer that He could keep His true identity a secret, the easier it would be for Him to fulfill the will of His Father. We see two occasions in Scripture where crowds that realized who He was had a very different agenda for Him than that of doing the Father’s will. On one occasion they realized who He was and they tried to throw Him off a cliff. On another occasion they realized who He was and they tried to crown Him king. The irony of these two reactions was that He had come to die, but not by their hands and He would be crowned king but also not by their hands. It would be done in the Father’s timing and in the Father’s way.

Pleasing His Father was His main priority and that meant that He could not make it a priority to please the people. I saw a great T-shirt. It said, “I can only please one person per day and today is not your day and tomorrow is not looking too good either.” That is a pretty good motto to have if the one Person that we please each day is the Lord.

Most of you know I have a close relationship with Pastor Ronnie of Springhouse in Smyrna. He has quite a large church that I would estimate to be around 800. We have talked a lot about Church and I have seen him relate both to parishioners and to leaders over the years and I believe him be very Christ-like in his priorities. It would be very easy for Pastor Ronnie to think that with 800 parishioners that he has 800 bosses and his job is to make as many of his bosses happy as possible. It would be very easy for him to be a yes man and a people pleaser and preach whatever it is that would keep them coming back. But that is not how Pastor Ronnie is wired. He is a man of character and strength and he will tell you in a heartbeat that He has only one Boss and so there is only one Person that he needs to please. There is no pretense in him so what you see is what you get. If you like what they do at Springhouse he would love to have you on board but if not there are plenty of other churches to chose from. His vision for Springhouse comes from spending time with the Lord not from taking a poll. Back to point two, like Jesus, Pastor Ronnie knows human nature. Polls tell us what the crowd wants, they do not tell us the Father’s will. That is discovered through reading Scripture, prayer, fellowship and watching which way the wind of the Spirit is blowing.

I bring Pastor Ronnie up as an example to encourage you that it is possible to follow Jesus’ example in making the Father’s will THE priority of your lives. Isn’t that what we are praying for every day when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Thy kingdom come, thy will be done? That what we are doing when we follow Jesus example in the Garden and pray, “nevertheless not my will but thine be done.”

How do we go about living this kind of priority? St. Paul gives us a very practical example in his letter to the Philippians. He says that compared to the value of gaining Christ and being found in Him he considers everything else to be junk. There may be a little hyperbole here but he on to something.

I worked hard to get my degrees and they have served me well but which of them is going to get me into heaven? Beth and I have worked hard over the years and we have a nice home and some nice possessions but how many of those things will we be taking with us? I have some hobbies I enjoy like fishing and shooting and working with my bees but honey will never wash away my guilt and shame. So there truly is nothing of greater value than gaining Christ and being found in Him and in fact there is not even a close second. Therefore this makes seeking first the kingdom of God the most sensible thing that we can do in life.

One final point about the Messianic Secret. Jesus told them to tell no one until after the Son of Man is raised from the dead. That has happened so please feel free to share. Amen.