November 3, 2002

Matthew 23:1-12

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. "The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God's Law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them . They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It's all spit-and-polish veneer.

"Instead of giving you God's Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn't think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer,shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called 'Doctor' and 'Reverend.'

"Don't let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don't set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of Father; you have only one Father, and he's in heaven. And don't let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them -

"Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

[The Message]


1. There has been a lot of talk about servant-leadership. Today it doesn't do to appear to be in a "perpetual fashion show." Today it is politically important in the church to appear humble, a servant, if you will. So today's "religion scholars and Pharisees" have learned to appear to live the good line they espouse. Their presentation of the rules and regulations is more sophisticated these days, but no less deadly.

2. So, if the category of servant-leader has been expertly co-opted by the religious right what is a person to do? It seems that there is no easy rule of thumb by which to decide whom one is to follow toward the presence of GOD.

The trick may be not to focus on whether one is an extroverted or introverted leader, a manipulative or servant leader, or any other style of leader. Listen again to the last line here - "If you are content to simply be yourself" - that will be enough. To get into a comparison of effective leadership styles is helpful on a psychological/sociological level, but doesn't help build the community of faith as much as such simple things as "a promise is a promise," or seeing a hen shelter chicks under her wing and going, "Aha! The things that make for peace really are important."

3. In today's world it is important to transfer all this religious talk into the political/military/industrial/financial/etc arenas of life and to be able to identify today's rule-makers who load burdens on everyday people. In these days of the United States claiming empire status, the administration needs to hear the very next words out of Jesus' mouth - "Frauds!" May we not be afraid to likewise shout that the emperor is naked.

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