"YOU MAY BE A PHARISEE IF"

LUKE 11:37-54

MAR 16, 2014

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            Years ago, when our son was a student at the University of Kansas, we saw Jeff Foxworthy perform at the Lied Center in Lawrence, Kansas.  To this day, that was one of the more enjoyable performance related two hours of our lives.  We laughed and laughed and laughed.  I'm sure you have heard his "You may be a Redneck" schtick.  Things like ...

 

            You may be a redneck if your lifelong dream is to own a fireworks stand.

            You may be a redneck if you ever made change in the offering plate.

            You may be a redneck if you spent more on your pickup truck than your education.

            You may be a redneck if you ever cut your grass and found a car.

            You may be redneck if your stereo speakers used to belong to the drive in theater.

 

            I could go on, but I won't.  Instead, I want to borrow Jeff Foxworthys bit and apply it to our passage to today.  I'm subtitling our passage:  "You May Be a Pharisee If."  Let me set the scene.  Jesus was at another dinner party at a Pharisee's home.  He attended one in chapter seven and he will attend another in chapter fourteen, and like the first party at a Pharisee's home, things went south quickly.  They don't even get to the first course before the host criticizes Jesus for not properly washing his hands before dinner.  Now, this was not about hygiene.  It's always a good practice to wash one's hands before eating, but this is not about that.  It's not a matter of cleanliness, but rather a matter of ceremonial law.  The law held that a person must wash his or her hands before eating, and that person must also wash his or her hands between courses.  Furthermore, it had to be done in a certain way.  First, the water must be poured over the hands beginning at the tips of the fingers and run right up to the wrist.  Then the palm of each hand must be cleansed by rubbing one fist into to other.  Finally, water must again be poured over the hand, this time beginning with the wrist and running down to the fingertips.  To the Pharisee to omit the slightest detail of this ritual was to sin.  That's what Jesus had done.  He hand not performed the ritual cleansing.

            In response to the criticism, Jesus goes on the offensive, and in so doing he points out some problems he has with Pharisees, and for good measure he takes on some lawyers at the dinner party as well.  Borrowing from Jeff Foxworthy this morning, let's summarize what Jesus says.

            First, he says, we may be a modern day Pharisee if we work harder at looking good than doing good. 

           

            Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are all full of greed and wickedness.

 

            Remember Billy Crystals old line when he played Ricardo Montalban on Saturday Night Live?  He would say, "It's better to look good than to feel good."  Well, for this particular Pharisee who got into Jesus' face for not washing properly, it was it's better to look good than to do good.

            A few years ago, a barber's supply association had a convention in Chicago.  As a publicity stunt they went out to skid row and found a man living in the gutter, filthy dirty and filthy drunk.  They brought him back to the convention center and cleaned him up.  They shampooed and shaved him.  They washed him with a new kind of soap they were trying to sell.  They put cologne on him, bought him a new suit, shirt, tie and shoes, and then proclaimed to all the world, "This is what our barber supplies can do for you."

            The next day when they looked for him again, they found him right back on skid row, lying in the gutter, filthy and drunk.

            It's not just enough to clean someone up on the outside.  It's what's inside that really counts.  And that concerns Jesus.  He challenges the dinner crowd to pay attention to the inside not just the outside. Unfortunately, some today are making the same mistake that the Pharisees made.  They put their Sunday clothes on, and come to church every week, but in reality all theyre doing is playing church.   One Christian leader put it this way.  He said, It has never ceased to amaze me that we Christians have developed a kind of selective vision which allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet be almost totally pagan in the day in, day out guts of our lives and never even realize it.

            Second, we might be a modern day Pharisee if we major in minors.

 

            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.

 

            The Jewish law prescribed the tithe, the giving of ten percent of what one grew or raised or made to the Temple and synagogue, and the Pharisees even tithed the smallest of plants: mint, rue, herbs.  Now, note Jesus does not condemn the tithe.  He just says you are so focused on these small things ... can you just see it, "Nine seeds for me, one seed for God.  Nine seeds for me, one seed for God," ... they focused on such small minutia they missed the big things, things like doing justice and extending God's love to others.  They got so caught up in their religiosity they missed the bigger picture.

            Sometimes we've done that in the church.  I think of the woman who came up to her pastor and said, "I'd like to try Jesus if I could ever get by the religion."  She speaks for thousands of people.  She may even speak for you.  We do all sorts of religious activities but miss Jesus.

            We can also do that with our lives.  I received an e-mail from Bill Hutto on Friday.  Hes on his way back right now from Florida, and the e-mail included ten things God wont ask you when you die.  Heres a sample.  God wont ask you the square footage of your home.  God will ask you him many people you welcomed in your home.  God wont ask about the clothes you had in your closet.  God will ask you how many people you helped clothe.  God wont ask you what your highest salary was.  God will ask you if you compromised your character to obtain it.  God wont ask you about the neighborhood you lived in.  God will ask you how you treated your neighbors." 

            We might be a modern-day Pharisee if we major in minors.    

            Third, we might be a modern day Pharisee if we seek the attention of others. 

                       

            Woe to you Pharisees!  For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplace.

 

            I know this is difficult to imagine in a Presbyterian church, but in the synagogues of Jesus' day, the best seats were the front seats, and the seats increased in honor the further back you sat.  Why were they seats of honor?  The closer you were to the front the closer you were to the Sacred Scrolls and the closer you were to the front, the better to be seen by others, and the more noticed you would be by others when you were in public.

            One of my pet peeves has to do with drug company advertising.  They coin a catchy name for a physical disorder, like "restless leg syndrome," or COPD or ED.  In researching this message I came across another ... HPD.  Histrionic Psychological Disorder.  It's somewhat of a catch-all acronym, but at it's core it refers to those who have an excessive need to be noticed, to be seen by others.  Furthermore, like the Pharisees, people with HPD are usually high-functioning, both socially and professionally.

            Of course, we all want to be noticed and not ignored, but that does not mean we suffer from HPD.  We might be a candidate for it, however, if we think we should be sitting at the head table or if we are not able to let someone else get the credit or if we need a plaque with our name on it to commemorate a financial gift we gave to the church.  We might be a modern day Pharisee if we seek the attention of others.

            Fourth and finally this morning, we might be a modern day Pharisee if weigh people down rather than lift people up.  When an expert in the Law of Moses, tried to come to the Pharisees defense, Jesus said,

 

            "Woe also to you lawyers!  For you load people down with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to help them.

 

            As a quick aside, I know lawyers take a beating in our society, and I know these arent the same type of lawyers we think about today.  These are not criminal attorneys or civil attorneys or tax attorneys, no, these are experts in the law of Moses, but nonetheless maybe you heard the story of the collapse of the wall between heaven and hell.  Peter was insisting that the devil was responsible for the wall's collapse and should repair the wall, but Satan wasn't interested in repairing the wall, at all.  In fact, he wanted it kept open. So they argued and argued.  Finally Peter threatened to take him to court and bring a suit against Satan.  Satan, however, was very calm. "I'm not worried," he said, "You'll never find a lawyer up there to prosecute."

            Sometimes I think I may need a lawyer when Im driving down the road, and glance in my rear-view mirror and notice a police car behind me.  Has that ever happened to you?  If so,  what's your reaction?  For me, I get immediately uncomfortable.  I watch my P's and Q's, hoping my brake lights were working and hoping not to do anything wrong while the police office is behind me, and when the officer passes me or turns off, I breath a sigh of relief.  The threat is gone.

            I tend to think that's how it was when a Pharisee or an Expert in the Law of Moses showed up at at gathering.  You had to mind your P's & Q's.  You had to watch your step.  There were so many rules to obey, so many rules you could not keep track of all them ... think of the NCAA rules committee and you get an idea.

            How are you when it comes to following the rules?  Katherine Hepburn said, "If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun."  Thomas Edison said, "There are no rules here - we are trying to accomplish something."  On the other hand, the Right Reverend Richard C. Meyer, as his wife Trudy well knows, says "Rules are our friends.  Without rules to follow there would be chaos.  Even someone like me, however, who loves the rules and obeys the rules knows the Teachers of the Law went a little overboard.  They added 613 rules to the Ten Commandments.  That's a lot of rules, a lot of laws.  No wonder the people felt weighed down, burdened. 

            What a breath of fresh air Jesus must have been at the dinner party if you weren't a Pharisee or an Expert in the Law!  Dr. Karl Menninger, in his book, The Vital Balance tells a story about President Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions traveling on horseback.  They came to a river which had left its banks because of a recent downpour.  The swollen river had washed the bridge away.  Each rider was forced to ford the river on horseback, fighting for his life against the rapid currents.  The very real possibility of death threatened each rider, which caused a traveler who was not part of their group to step aside and watch.  After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river.  The president agreed without hesitation.  The man climbed on, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side. 

            As the stranger slid off the back of the saddle onto dry ground, one of the group asked him, "Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?" 

            The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea he was the president who had helped him.  "All I know," he said, "Is that on some of your faces was written the answer "No," and on some of them was the answer 'Yes.'  His was a 'Yes' face."[1]

            May we be more and more like Jesus.  May we develop "Yes" faces rather than "No" faces.  May we lift people up and not weigh them down.  May we be the furthest thing from modern-day Pharisees.  Amen.



[1] Dr. Carl Menninger The Vital Balance, New York: Viking Press, 1963, Page 22.