Updated: Jan 30
I was born in the capitol city of my home state. I spent the first three years of my life living in an urban, midtown apartment, where there was much hustle and bustle about.
There were streets that had cars passing by, which made crossing the street a hazard.
I was taught, “Do not cross the street without looking both ways for cars AND THEN, only with an adult holding your hand.”
For the most part, I obeyed this law. It made sense to my young mind. I sure did not want to get run over by a car.
Still, when an urge to explore would hit me and there were no adults around, I would sometimes bend the rules and cross the street alone. I looked left and right before running across.
No one told me to look back. That was where my mother was watching me break the law. When I got back home I found out what happens to lawbreakers.
When I was about 4 years old, we moved out of the city, into the suburbs. There was not as much hustle-bustle there; but, still, there was the law about not crossing the street alone.
I was the only kid who lived on the side of the road our house was on. There were many kids who lived on the opposite side, and at times all us kids on the road would stand across from one another, unable to cross to all be on the same side.
The subdivision was still in a developmental stage, as paved roads, the kind with deep tar, rather than gravel with surface tar spray, had not yet come to the neighborhood. Back then, the road had clay clods along the edge of the road. That was where the local government planned to later come and put in granite curbs.
As kids looking for fun things to do, we would throw clay clods at one another, across the road. Our young arms were not able to actually throw a ball of dirt 20-30 feet, so the road would be where most of the dirt ended up. After one of our “battles,” the black road would be covered with red clay streaks. No eyes were ever put out.
One day, after the granite curbs had been set in place, and fresh dirt clods were about, one kid and I faced off, kiddo a kiddo. He had more ammunition than I did, so he did more throwing. Besides, he was probably only 3, while I was going on 5. So, he was out of my league. I just stood there and watched him miss me, laughing at him.
Then, that boy’s mother saw him throwing dirt at me and she ran out of the house scooped him up in her arms and she then began laying down the law on his behind. New law for him to remember: “You do not throw things at other children!”
I laughed some more.
I sat down on that new granite curb and laughed and laughed. I laughed until I found out another new law.
“Thou shalt not sit down in an ant hill, lest thou get bit.”
I jumped up and looked down. I saw the anthill and ants on my legs. I ran crying, “Momma, momma, momma!”
I tell you this story because the children of Israel were like babies, kids who knew nothing on their own. They were like kids who would cross the road dangerously, hurt others with stones without realizing what they were doing, and laugh at other people’s misery, while expecting their own miseries to be immediately soothed by motherly care.
They were like babies that needed to be told what to do and what not to do.
For that reason, they were told the Law of Moses. And, when God made noises that put exclamation points on those Laws, they feared what would happen if they should ever break one.
Just like I had never been run over by a car, I feared that happening … because I broke the law.
God told Moses to let them know, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
That’s right! I never did get run over by a car; but I sure did get whacked by my mother for breaking the law.
Fear God. God is like those eyes watching you sin when you don’t realize it. God is like a bed of ants waiting for your butt to sit in, after sinning.
In Psalm 19, David used metaphor to tell how constant the Laws of God were. Regardless of where you are on the timeline of faith, if it was wrong long ago, then it is still wrong today.
“One day tells its tale to another,” David sang.
“It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again.”
What goes around always comes around, again and again.
Once we grow to understand these laws we are taught as children, having seen the same result repeat time and time again, we become mature. It finally dawns on us why it was our parents told us laws and rules.
It was so we would not mess our lives up, if not end them completely, by accident. It was for our own good, although … like the saying goes, “no pain, no gain.”
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he talks metaphorically about death. He told of his own change from the Saul, the man he used to be, who thought he deserved a standing of “righteousness under the law.” Saul became Paul when he suddenly became aware that he had misunderstood the Laws that had been taught him.
Paul wrote about how he thought he had “reason to be confident in the flesh.”
Now, let’s review what “reason” means. By definition, the meaning for the infinitive verb, “to reason,” is “To think logically.” In actuality, the Greek word written by Paul was “dokei,” which translates as, “to think, to suppose.” So, “reason” means “using the ole noggin.” Paul thought he had confidence in the flesh.
What Paul was then pointing out, about his realizing he was wrong about what he thought it meant to be chosen by God as special, was that learning the Laws of God was only a baby step towards being truly special. It was wrong to think more into that.
It was faulty thinking, bad logic, wrongful supposing.
Now, knowing that David wrote a song about how laws always remain constant, repeating over and over, Paul understood that there were Christians in Philippi who were just like Saul … thinking they were special because they were Jews, God’s chosen special breed of human being.
He warned them not to think in such ways, but to feel the presence of the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, and let the mind of Christ bring them true understanding of the Laws.
Raise your hands if you have figured all this out, and your personal sense of well-being is because you think you are God’s chosen special person, based on “confidence in the flesh.”
<look for raised hands>
Do you think being Episcopalian is better than being Roman Catholic, Baptist, or Methodist, or Assemblies of God?
Do you think you are a Christian because you follow rules your parents taught you?
Don’t be embarrassed if you find a tingling on your legs, or a bite or two on your butt … in case your pew has a concealed anthill. Remember, Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.”
You see, when Jesus told his parable, the one that we read this morning, those listening were the chief priests and elders of the temple. He was talking to those who thought they knew “righteousness under the law.” They thought they were “blameless.”
If anyone had asked them, “Raise your hand if you think you are special in the eyes of God, having figured everything out,” they would have all stood while raising their hands high.
It is human nature to want to cross the street when the urge hits you, to laugh at the misery of others when they are caught doing wrong, and to cry to God for salvation when things don’t go the way you planned. It is human nature to want to be the best … the teacher’s pet … the chosen one.
We look at our “confidence in the flesh” and thank God he made us special, and not like those kids across the street.
Then, some kid named Jesus came along and started making everyone look like a fool for thinking they were special.
They rejected the cornerstone that was the Lord’s doing.
Matthew wrote, “They wanted to arrest (Jesus), but they feared the crowds.”
They feared the crowds … not like the instruction God gave to Moses, explaining the reason he gave His children Laws and made loud noises that scared them. It was “to put the fear of (God) upon you … so you do not sin.”
But, the chief priests and elders of the temple feared the crowd, who thought Jesus was a prophet. Matthew did not say the reason they did not arrest Jesus was they feared God.
What everyone here today needs to go home pondering is this:
Do you have “confidence in the flesh” because you do everything the crowd does; and because you learned to do that so well, you feel special?
Do you call following the crowd being Christian, because the crowd calls itself Christian?
Could you give up all that you have today, and look back tomorrow on what you once had, seeing those things lost as rubbish?
Try pondering these things from your heart, and not you minds.
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