Gospel Lesson: Luke 11:37-44
37 While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”
If you were not with us last week, we have begun a sermon series looking at the marks of the church using the Nicene Creed. In the Nicene Creed it talks about the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. These marks of the church have been marks since the 4th century and continues to help us define who we are as a church centuries later. As I had mentioned last week, these 4 marks match up well with 4 marks of Methodism as we saw last week how one matched up well with us being a connectional church. This week we begin to embark on the second mark of the church which is holy or as Methodists would closely assimilate it to being disciplined.
Before we delve into this Methodist meaning of Discipline, let us begin first with our scriptures as we seek to understand holiness. In our passage from Luke, we have Jesus accepting a dinner invitation from the Pharisees. The Pharisees as much of them as we know were a group in the 1st century that were dedicated to teaching and interpreting the law of Moses. They were not priests, nor were they lawyers. We actually know very little about this group from other writings for all we know is the things that were said from Jesus, Christians, and the Sadducees which was another even more conservative group than the Pharisees. But what we do know about the Pharisees, is like the Sadducees, they took very seriously the fine points of the Law. So Jesus begins to eat without first doing the ceremonial washing of hands. This is not like washing the dirt off after a long hard days work, but rather a ritual that was done previously before a meal. Jesus notices the Pharisees taking notice that he did not follow the law to the T but he seems though to take this as an opportunity for a teaching moment. We see here Jesus giving evidence with some harsh words to the character of the Pharisees.
Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.
But as I stand here and think to myself, “Thank God I am not a Pharisee getting slammed by Jesus” It makes me think, am I really that different than these Pharisees? Does it maybe make you think, have I put on a Sunday face today and only today, and then go home to put on my Monday – Saturday Faces? Have I only cleaned up my outer appearance without going in deeper to move towards holiness in all aspects of my life? This moving on toward holiness is not an option in the Christian Life, but rather is required of us as individuals and as a church. But what is Holiness? I want to read first a definition and then I will begin to explain it. “The NT people of God are related to this Holy God because they are beneficiaries of this activity and thereby granted a status as holy. Enabled by the Holy Spirit, they are called to express this holy status: 1) by corporately modeling God’s telos for humanity, exhibiting compassion, reconciliation, joy and peace; 2) by embodying a pattern of activity analogous to that of their Lord’s becoming channels though which God continues God’s reconciling, redeeming purposes.”
This definition simply states that one, we do not place ourselves holy, but because of the work of Christ through his suffering, death, and resurrection do we benefit from God and are made or granted the status of being holy. Two, through the work of the Holy Spirit we are called as a people to show this holiness in modeling GOD’S vision of his final kingdom for our friends, our community, and our enemies. We as a faith community do this with showing compassion, forgiveness, joy, and peace. That word telos may have thrown some of you off, but once explained it is quite simple you will see. What is the purpose of a telescope? (To see things far off in a distance). God’s kingdom for this world is much like seeing something far off, but we as a mark of the church are to model that distant future NOW. We are to act, look like, be, the kingdom that God desires for eternity.
Thirdly, we model our behavior and our actions is alignment with that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not too tall of an order eh? I am sure like myself you are thinking this is impossible for me to do by myself. If this is what you are thinking then you are absolutely right. Then HOW do we work towards holiness?
Discipline. This word often is associated with a negative feeling because as I am sure many of you growing has heard, if you don’t shape up, you father is going to discipline you when he gets home from work…alright so there may have been a different word than discipline used there, but that association has been made. Discipline in the Methodist Church means quite a number of different things. Sometimes it’s a noun, other times it is used as a verb, and still others time a Pronoun. Firstly, we have seen the word probably used to refer to a book. This book is written so that we as a body of believers have an understanding of who the church is and disciplines us when we falter from that communal understanding. Another sense of discipline is that we have a judicial meaning of the term. I do not tell you this to scare you, but we have a branch within the church, actually the highest branch within the church that is setup much like our courts and judges of the US. And as a professing member of a local church you are subject to being charged and on trial if need be with the following offenses: “immorality, crime, disobedience to the order and discipline of the UMC; dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established doctrines of the UMC; sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, child abuse, harassment…racial or gender discrimination, or relationships and/or behaviors that undermine the ministry of persons serving within an appointment.” Again, I do not mention these as threat, but yet another understanding of our Discipline within the UMC to keep us accountable to being the model of the kingdom of God.
Finally, although this list is not exhaustive by any means, I want to talk about one more understanding of Discipline as this is our we work out being holy. This type of discipline is called Spiritual Disciplines. This understanding of discipline is I believe one that is slowly being lost in our world of fast pace living and no longer giving ourselves the chance to hear God. Trust me when I say I am guilty of this just as much as probably any of you. But it is the Truth and something we need to hear and not only hear but listen to. Mr. Wesley when forming these societies called Methodists had generated three simple rules to follow that outline the way in which he had interpreted holy living. A central part though to living this life striving towards holy living was living in these small groups called classes. Our Sunday School classes sort resemble these classes, but these small groups were meant to be accountable small groups. People within their own faith community who they could tell their story to, discuss spiritual issues, confess to their brothers and sisters of sins, as they together worked toward holding one another accountable to holy living. I often think of it this way. Have any of you ever tried to start an exercise plan…by yourself? It’s not always the easiest. But when you begin to add other people to that plan, you begin to hold yourself accountable because you know other people are there to support and watch after you. This doesn’t mean we will slip or mess up, but it DOES mean you often get back on that track a lot quicker. Anyways, back to these three simple rules. They were, do no harm, do all the good that you can, and keep the ordinances of God. Underneath of those three general rules were many explanations of what that entailed. I believe though the first two may be pretty self explanatory, but this third one I believe speaks using the spiritual disciplines in a way that furthers our relationship with Christ and our work towards being like Christ to the world. Those ordinances of God are: The public worship of God, The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded. The supper of the Lord. Family and private prayer. Searching the Scriptures. Fasting or abstinence. These ordinances you could say are spiritual disciplines that we are to follow as we use them to deepen this relationship with God. I do not think that they are meant to become a chore or a hardship, but rather a blessing. At times it may not be enjoyable because it may reveal to you some tough truths about yourself that have to change, but all works of the Spirit bring out the Fruits of the Spirit. Let’s see who can name them with me: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.
I as Wesley also believed, when we put these three general rules and our disciplines into action, our faith will begin to deepen, and as our faith deepens we will begin to see and understand the church that God desires for Red Valley to be, The United Methodist Church to be, and the Holy Church of Jesus Christ to be.
As a final note, I would like to recommend a book about spiritual disciplines to you all. It is a book called Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I promise you this will not be the last time you will hear of this book as I hope to use it as a study sometime while I am appointed here with you all. Let us now close this time together as we affirm our faith with the Nicene Creed.