How do we get to Holy?
Lord, may the words of my mouth and the mediation of all our hearts and our actions be acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
When I was I kid we played a lot of sports after school.
Not organized sports like the way it is done now, and really it might be more appropriate to say that we played a lot of games
We played a little bit of baseball
A lot of touch football
But mostly we played a lot of road hockey
When we played road hockey, would often pretended we were our favorite NHL stars
I was generally one of three people
I was Borja Salming if I was on defense
Darrel Sittler on offense
And if I came up with a last minute dramatic goal saving glove save
I was Mike Palmater in net
Once a Leaf fan always a Leaf fan…
As a kid dreaming of playing in the NHL (the road hockey - NHL) we knew that we were just pretending
But there were some times when all the right moves came together and for a moment - just a moment - you could actually feel like you were that star
That notion of pretending or dressing up, in some ways never really leaves you
We all have costumes or clothing that we wear that presents a certain persona
When I was a teenager I went through a couple of years where I dressed like a punk rocker
I wore army fatigues and t-shirts with punk rock bands on them
I didn’t share the message and lifestyle of the music
but I liked the energy of the music and I think I liked the rebellious nature of it as well – I was a teenager after all - so I dressed the part
In my first job in sales, when all I had behind me was school, I dressed up in a suit
I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I looked the part
While understanding this notion that the outward appearance sets the perspective, imagine yourself in this situation
Consider yourself part of a religious group - might not be that hard to do
You are part of a group that even though there are people all around that have different beliefs and different gods - you believe that your God is one true God
You consider yourselves part of deep rooted group
In fact you hold a great deal of pride and honour to connect your group to the original founders of your religion
You were part of politically shaping revolt based on religious beliefs
Most importantly, you believe that you are following the teachings of your sacred books
In fact you are known for your zeal for them and the way you follow all ceremonial instructions
You teach a message that believers in your God are called to be separate from the rest of the world - To be a visible representatives
Your zeal for things done right is transparent in what you wear and what you eat, in all aspects of your life – you stand apart, because of your beliefs
There are other divisions of your religion that worship the same God
- there are those that have long influential connections, and money, and to you they seem a little too worldly
- Yet others are fanatical and want to bring the reign of your superior God by any means possible, including force in opposing other religious groups
You see yourselves as a corrective alternative for the destiny of your people
Since you are not born into the temple roles - you have developed places of worship and teaching through-out the land
I am speaking of the Pharisees of 2000 years ago
But I think you can see the parallels to us possibly as well
We have the one true God
Believe that our independence as stepping out, to represent our faith
We are also historically connected to many other churches – seeing our roots connected all the way back through the Roman Catholic Church, all the way to the first apostles
Yet also part of the corrective movement - of Protestism
We hold the Bible as the Revelation of God
Have formal worship practices - liturgies
And, possibly, we have reasons to think that other denominations each got it slightly wrong
I think that many mainline traditional churches, such as Farringdon and Pharisees have a lot in common.
We both certainly like to maintain, support and encourage the traditions
So do you think - as I do - and in some way see yourself as a Pharisee on some level?
One view of the Pharisees is from scriptures and generally it is a pretty negative view.
We see them as the main opponents that were after Jesus
And we see Jesus responding by challenging them verbally more then any other group
We have it today in our Gospel passage where Jesus tells the parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard,
Which is a continuation from Gospel reading of last week of ‘the parable of the two brothers’ – and the religious leaders are revealed to be those they make a good show of saying ‘yes’ but in the end get nothing done
Generally speaking - We love parables. They are such wonderful stories.
We teach them to our children in Sunday school, create stained-glass windows and other artwork based on the parables, and sing hymns and songs about them.
But the truth is—and in their original setting—parables, and the telling thereof—could actually prove to be fatal.
That certainly was the case for Jesus. Tell enough parables, it seems, and you can wind up dead!
This parable in Matthew 21 is not the last parable Jesus tells in Matthew,
But it was sufficiently inflammatory to those who heard it that it was surely the beginning of the end for Jesus in that final week of his life.
Eugene Peterson, writer of the Bible paraphrase ‘The Message’, has famously said that parables are narrative time bombs.
These are stealthy stories that steal into people's hearts, confusing them initially, throwing them off balance for a while.
But at some later point the "Ah-ha!" moment may arrive as the real meaning of the story suddenly explodes in people's minds like a time-bomb.
The parables were meant to blast people into new awareness, new understandings, new ideas.
In this case, it did not take very long at all before this parable blew up in the faces of those listening to Jesus.
In the end we are told that the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jerusalem that day knew at once that "Jesus was speaking against them."
It made them furious and they were ready, right then and there, to arrest him and be done with this Jesus once and for all. 
The Pharisees, maybe the most threatened of all the Hebrew religious leaders, by the teachings of Jesus
There are, however, positive perspectives - other sources, like Josephus, a significant historical writer – who presents them in the most positive light
And the after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD - it was the Pharisaic movement - that alone survived - when all other Jewish sects died out
They are the religious forerunners for our modern day Jewish brothers and sisters
The view you have of the Pharisees is connected to how much you relate to them
The Pharisees were known and respected as the most zealous keepers of the law
And in fact their zealousness took a step beyond and were zealous for the “tradition of the elders”
- Which was the teachings that ‘built on’ or ‘added to’ the law.
They had become so focused on the teaching of traditions apart from the scriptures that they lost sight of their true role that God had called them for
And that is the point in which we connect with the Pharisees today in our Gospel passage from Matthew
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” (Matthew 21:42-44)
broken to pieces… crush anyone - these are indeed threatening words for the Pharisees
Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus calls them hypocrites
Its meaning from the Greek is something like “actors” or “pretenders”
Jesus is saying that they are dressing up for the role - looking the part
Doing the things that on the outside look righteous
They are teaching the traditionally right things
But they are not owning the part in their hearts
I think that this can be a challenge for us too at times - we who might identify with the Pharisees – and we might need to be confronted by this
I think we need to think about what we say we do - with what we actually do
We need to question why we do things
As much as what we do
I remember a time when I was interning at The Meeting House, a church that meets in a movie theatres, when we were to serve communion
And I was explaining some of the Holy Hardware that is used in more traditional churches
I was very aware of feeling like the “teacher of traditions” - the right way
Feeling like a Pharisee
When the more important fact, was that we were going to celebrate in the Lord supper – going to share in the Grace of our Lord
I know that I have found myself feeling like a Pharisee too often these days as well
In the face of dealing with our time of transition at Farringdon, where people say things from a huge variety of perspectives, based unfortunately often on half-truths and sometimes out and out lies
I find myself defending the church and the choices of the church
And I need to always be alert, to always approach each situation with the presumption of Grace first… and look to welcome the Holy Spirit into the situation
I am often thinking about my responses, when I need to strive for the kingdom of God first – regardless of whether what is being said is fair or not
We Christians - especially those that that have been willing to boldly represent themselves as Christians - need to live in accordance with our appearances
There is a joke about the women that is drives in hurry to work, changing lanes fast, honking her horn at those that are in her way - and making middle digit gestures at those that don’t drive to her liking
She gets pulled over by the police and put in prison
After waiting some time she is released with no charges - in anger she asks why she was pulled over and put in prison
To which the officer responds that he thought her Car was stolen because he saw the fish icon (the symbol of Christianity) on the back
She wasn’t acting the part that she was professing
Appearances or even unspoken reputations…
What we represent does send a message of who you are and that is the part of today’s scripture - both the New Testament Reading and the Gospel
In the letter the Philippians, we hear St. Paul responding to those that were known as the Super Judizers
People who claimed a high Jewish pedigree – too which St. Paul counters with his own
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4c-6)
But appearances and pedigrees aside – St. Paul continues by saying
7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7,8)
St Paul is asking them to see things for what they truly are
It is a call to action in faith - a call to ministry of faithfulness beyond the interpreted traditions
An age old quest for those with religious inklings has always been – “How do we get to Holy”
The answer has been approached by as many methods as there are people on the earth
And our Lord through scripture appears to be giving us examples and teaching on different ways
One way, is to create rules and establish a system of justice, penalties for those that breach and rewards for those that stay within
Some people look for and need the structure of such rules and by keeping them develop an inner sense of Holy
We might look to our first reading from Old Testament today – with the Ten Commandments and see this as a method towards Holy
This is I believe the foundation for the Pharisees of Jesus’ day
And even more than that, they built on the foundation of scripture and added layers of tradition beyond
Yet, if we truly examine our hearts deeply and honestly, as we examine our thoughts, words, and deeds – we know that it is an impossible task to perfectly achieve holiness or righteousness this way
And Jesus in the time bomb of the parable today explodes the Pharisees presumptuous ways
Their pretending everything is something… that it ultimately could never be
Instead, the answer to Holiness is found more in our reading from Philippians
Where at first St. Paul builds up a straw man, only to burn it down and reveal something profoundly more important
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12)
We strive for the image of God that we are made in – strive… for that is the work of Righteousness or Holiness
Yet the Gospel, the good news, is that …First - Christ Jesus has made us His own
The error of the Pharisees was not that Holiness was bad goal
The error was thinking that it was achievable by their efforts alone
How we get to Holy – is by accepting the Holy that Christ freely gives to us and has done for us…
As we prepare ourselves alongside Christians through-out the world today, this “World Communion Sunday” – let’s keep our eyes on Jesus
Let us celebrate the great heavenly banquet rehearsal knowing that it is not us and what we do and the way that we do it that makes us Holy
It is Grace … it is the saving Grace of Jesus Christ the Lord
Thanks be to God - Amen