“Every Day’s a School Day” – Matthew 23:1-12
Sharing Christ’s Love Worship Series
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
All Saints’ Sunday – November 5, 2023
Our Scripture text from the Gospel of Matthew resides in the context of political and religious divisions. The leaders of the day were trying to pigeon-hole Jesus, in order to label him and set him against others. Instead of choosing one of the powerful parties of his day, Jesus spoke for and to the common people. Jesus highlighted the hypocrisy of the leaders as he sought to turn everyone’s thoughts toward the ideal of humble service.
Hear the Word of God. Matthew 23:1-12
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.
They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.
Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Not long after the sermon today, we will gather at the Table and share a special prayer remembering those in our congregation who have died in the past year. Each year, as we review the names and pictures of our dearly beloved church members, I find myself getting emotional.
With a mixture of gratitude and grief, we commemorate these loved ones in an intentional way, recognizing the gift that they were to their families and to this church. Humble Christian servants like these do not come along every day. For the good of our whole community, we remember and give thanks to God for the faithful witness of their lives and for their humble service to God and others.
When I was a teenager, I thought adults had it all figured out. I did not recognize as a younger person that human beings will always need to be learning, that we will always have the opportunity to grow. .
Throughout our lives, we continue to learn and grow, to be challenged and stretched. The wisest ones among us continue to be curious; they want to learn more about life and God and other people every day. They never stop learning and growing. I am always impressed when those in their nineties are keeping up technologically, texting their grandkids, hopping on a zoom call for a meeting.
Not long ago, I was encouraged by a certain couple far older than me, because they were still willing to learn how to communicate more effectively in their marriage. They have been married for decades, but their patterns had been disrupted by illnesses and various life stresses. They found themselves struggling individually, and because they were struggling as individuals, they were struggling as a couple.
But the good news is that they were willing to learn! They were willing to try new habits and practices. Though they are old enough to be great-grandparents, they are humble enough to acknowledge they still have room to learn and grow.
Several years ago, Melanie and I accompanied a number of you to Scotland. We had a marvelous experience. Scotland has such a beautiful and historic landscape. Our local guide for the trip was a professional musician named Lorna. Whenever someone would say something like: “I had never heard that before”, she would reply in her thick Scottish brogue: “Every day’s a school day!”
That’s right. Every day is a school day. We are all students!!, as Jesus proclaimed in this passage. We are all lifelong learners. Especially with the rapid pace of technological and cultural change, we must continue to learn. If we want to be able to communicate with our doctors or shop for needed items or attend church meetings and Bible studies online, we had better learn our way around ever-changing forms of technology.
The whole world changed dramatically 500 years ago after the printing press was invented, putting the words and wisdom of Holy Scripture into the hands of the masses. In our generation, the internet and handheld devices and Artificial Intelligence are changing the world more rapidly than we yet realize. These technological innovations are game changers, world transformers.
We have much to learn, particularly when faced with the complex challenges of a modern, technological world, with changing trends in healthcare, with the quandaries and dangers of a warming planet, with younger generations whose brains are now wired differently than our own. Who among us has it all figured out?
Those who have been elected to lead especially need to learn and grow, to be stretched and transformed. When it comes to understanding persons on the other side of the aisle or ethnicities on the other side of the world, those elected to office need to allow for their minds to be changed every once in a while.
As many of you are aware, one of my favorite passages in the Bible is Romans 12. And I love the way the Today’s English Version paraphrases verse 2:
Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God – what is good and pleasing to God and perfect.
llow God to transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind…
Do you remember the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Covey sold over 20 million of his books worldwide in some 38 languages. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was named the #1 Most Influential Business Book of the Twentieth Century. Millions of people around the world will attest that Covey’s books changed not only their business lives, but their personal relationships as well.
The first habits have to do with becoming a more effective individual: Be proactive, Begin with the end in mind, Put First Things First. The next three habits have to do with how to relate effectively with others: Think Win-Win, Seek First to Understand then Be Understood, and Synergize. How many marriages could be saved by following these simple habits? How many friendships and family relationships could be transformed by these simple habits? What if the members of the United States congress took these habits to heart?
What if they truly thought Win-Win, instead of Win-Lose? What if they all sought first to understand before being understood? What if they synergized, engaging in creative collaboration rather than drawing lines in the sand? The last of the 7 habits is Sharpen the Saw, which relates to how we need to keep learning and keep growing, keep adapting and pivoting, sharpening and clarifying based on new information and changing contexts.
“We are all students”, as Jesus said. We all have much to learn. We have much to learn from other people’s perspectives. We have much to learn from people on the other side of the dinner table, on the other side of the street, or the other side of the tracks, or the other side of the aisle, or on the other side of the border.
Learning begins with humility, having enough humility to recognize that we do not know it all. Humility recognizes that we often do not understand the challenges of life from the perspective of someone very different from us. Humility before God recognizes that all are sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory. And when we are fully aware of our own sin, and our own limitations, then we are far more likely to offer grace to our neighbor.
Peace in our homes, peace in our community, peace in the world will depend as much on the humble willingness to listen and to understand as much as any other habit we can follow. If we would spend more time seeking win-win solutions, instead of win-lose positions, we would save countless relationships, countless lives, and we would find ourselves on the path of better health, and wholeness, and prosperity.
The religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day did not understand the burdens that they were laying upon the common people of the street. In their elite bubbles, they did not see clearly the needs or concerns of their neighbors. To both the established leaders and to the crowds and the disciples, Jesus proclaimed: The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Do you remember one the last actions of Jesus’ in the Gospel of John, the night before he willingly went to the cross? Jesus gathered his disciples in an upper room for the Passover meal. He removed his outer robe. He wrapped a towel around himself. He took a pitcher of water and a basin and he knelt before them. Jesus proceeded to take upon himself the role of the lowliest servant in the household. He went to each of them, one by one, and washed their feet. This forever stands as the most powerful model of servant leadership. The Son of God, the Messiah, the Promised One, the One who is and was and ever shall be, took upon himself the role of the most humble servant, and not long after gave his life upon a cross.
In his honor and for his sake, may we all muster a bit more humility in relating to others. May we all commit ourselves to listen, to seek first to understand another before we are understood. May we all commit ourselves and the nations of the world to seek Win-Win solutions. In our homes and in our communities, in Washington, DC and in our foreign policy, may we learn to synergize, to engage in creative cooperation, seeking teamwork, and open-mindedness, and embarking upon the adventure of finding some new solutions to age old problems.
Friends, the children of the world are waiting for us to do so. The children of the world are desperate for us to do so. To God be the glory as we re-learn humility and collaborate as fellow students of life.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church