Nov. 2: 2nd I am thankful

Today I am thankful for the congregation that I serve. They are wonderful. I am so fortunate to have the ability to learn under their guidance because I really am the one learning as we go on this journey together. I just pray that I am able to focus on the guidance that God provides and lead as I am expected to do. Here is the message we shared with each other today. It was a special day as we had a very mini version of an All Saints Day. I thank my sister Melissa for suggesting it, and Marva the best helper anyone could have for pulling the details together. She found all the names and dates and set up the candles for today. Each day I am reminded how lucky I am to have her.

The scriptures today were: I Thessalonians 2:9-13, Joshua 3:7-17 and Matthew 23:1-12. The title was “Causing Burdens.”

Here we are once again back to regular standard time. I have been known to use up that “extra” hour of sleep each year by staying up well past when I would normally go to bed. Last night I was afraid that I would do that again as I had delayed transferring the message for today from thoughts on readings to something concrete and tangible that I could use today. Fortunately it wasn’t quite time to turn the clocks back when I headed to bed. As you have probably figured out, I am a procrastinator, but this week, I am saying I had a legitimate reason for my procrastination and it was not an excuse. I was resting after that long week of grandchildren.

Seriously, though, I am happy to report that the vegetable garden was officially put to rest yesterday when we dug the carrots and the last of the beets. The beet crop was pretty meager this year, though with what is left in the freezer from last year, I don’t mind. It seems some critter had found the flavor of beet to be quite tasty this summer, but we can live with that. James tells me to brace myself because he is taking charge. He claims that no matter what I say, next year we will do about half of the garden plot in vegetables and the rest in flowers.

He says that the zinnias which we planted at the edge of the corn were so pretty last summer that he is willing to take a break from the work of planting and weeding and harvesting in exchange for just planting and watering and enjoying. I may actually have to agree for a change. After years of the burden of working on that large vegetable plot, it might be nice to sit back and simply enjoy for a change. There were many days last summer where I certainly preferred to sit and enjoy the flowers in the front yard, so maybe some in the back yard wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Many of you know just what a burden tending a garden can be, and I am sure you can relate. Our passage from Matthew today is a story about burdens. It is another story about Jesus and the Pharisees. The conflict between them just doesn’t seem to end, or at least Matthew is so obsessed by hearing about it that he just can’t quit writing about it. Although I can relate, there have been many times when I have been unable to give up on some topics, and after reading yet another of these stories, I realize that Matthew and I might have had a lot in common. He can’t seem to get past this issue, much like I can’t get past certain things when they are bothering me. And that can be a burden, too.

Today we learn from Matthew about how Jesus advised his disciples and the people who were listening that they should do what the Pharisees say, not what they do. He explains that they sit in the leadership seat of Moses, but don’t follow the laws that they hold over the people. They teach the laws, and what they teach is correct, but they don’t do what they teach. Now stop and think about that in terms of yourself, in your job perhaps, in the leadership of the community, the state, the country. We don’t want to have to follow rules and regulations that the people in office ignore. How would we feel about having to wear our seat belts if the patrols and sheriffs wouldn’t be wearing theirs? How would we feel about having to pay taxes if the mayors and governors and county commissioners refused to pay theirs?

Really when you think about it, it is so much easier to follow a leader who leads by example. A boss who gets into the trenches with you and does the digging is much easier to work with and for than one who stands beside the job watching with arms folded or worse yet sits inside a sheltered area while the rest are outside in the elements working.

The point Jesus is making about the Pharisees is one that they are only after the power and the prestige and the displays of honor. They aren’t true leaders. They aren’t there to help the people. They are there just for their own good. Jesus says that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Leadership in God’s kingdom should be for the advancement of the kingdom, not for the advancement of oneself, and that is the lesson that the Pharisees never learned.

Joshua was a leader of the Jewish people after the death of Moses. We meet him today in just the third chapter of his book and so we haven’t had much time to see what sort of leader he is going to be, but already we find that God has him in the middle of a major river and the water flow is stopped. Here is the beginning of Joshua’s leadership the people are crossing the Jordan River, sort of like when they crossed the Red Sea as they were trying to escape from the Egyptians. Again, God holds the water back and allows the people to cross over on dry land.

This story shows helps me to understand the lesson from Matthew because it lets me know that when you humble yourself, submit yourself to the will of God as Joshua did, then God is with you and works things out according to His plan. It was God’s plan that the people would walk across the bed of the Jordan River on dry ground and because Joshua obeyed and the people followed his lead, all things worked out. God wants us to be that sort of followers and leaders for his kingdom.

God has no time for the leaders like the Pharisees and that was the point of Jesus. They were only part of the synagogue, part of the leadership of the church for what it would do for them. They never asked what they could do for the people or to further the kingdom of God. They were never about lifting a burden; they were only about having their burdens lightened or having their names exalted.

These lessons today should let us know that God is asking us to lighten the burden of those we see in need. We need to be about the business of caring for the hungry, the lost, the homeless, the sick, the tired, the destitute and even the imprisoned. Our duty is to lift the burdens of others not to add to the burdens. Perhaps the lessons for today are more for church leaders than for those who are simply church members, but when we look around our pews it is hard to find anyone who is not a leader in one way or another. And if you check out the bulletin, you might notice that we are all ministers, so it is up to all of us to ease the burdens of others.

As we are closing in on the end of the first official year together, I will tell you that though I might be willing and even enjoy being a leader in the category of speaking, I will not be a leader who makes every decision. I have many questions, still on how and why and when we are going to do things, and mostly I am expecting we will be doing them together in partnership, but always with the thought that what we do is in the name and intention of furthering the kingdom of God on earth. May we continue to find ways to do that together here in this place, in our local community and wider denomination. Amen!

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