1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
9You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. 11As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
13We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.
8But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
My grandmother got me a Bible when I was 12. She says I told her I was going to read the wholething. Then I read two or three verses and said that was enough for the night. She said, in her lovely southern accent, “Sam, it’s going to take an awful long time to read the Bible like that.”
I don’t remember exactly when or how it happened, but soon I fell in love with the Bible. I read it on my own, which made me more interested in the sermons I heard on Sundays. I was captivated by the world of the Bible, so different than the world we live in today but still connected. I loved the stories of Moses, Israel, and King David.
More than anything I was captivated by the story of Jesus. His teaching was so powerful. He had a way of cutting through all the subtle deception and political posturing of the religious leaders. His words hit me and stuck. His life also inspired me. His love for us and his courage blew me away as did the courage and conviction of the early church.
In seventh grade I went to Catholic school and I found out that I was truly a protestant, or as my English teacher would say a protest-ant. As we studied the teachings of the Catholic church, much of it made perfect sense to me since the Christian faith is one faith no matter what church you go to.
But other things didn’t make sense to me at all. I distinctly remember learning some teaching that didn’t make sense to me and didn’t fit what I understood about scripture. I asked the teacher: “Where does that come from in the Bible?” The teacher didn’t have a good answer.
Part of my opposition was run of the mill teenage defiance; I was a pretty smart-allecky kid, after all. But part of my resistance was my reformation heritage coming through. I’ve come to value that heritage more and more. We celebrate the reformation today not to disrespect our Catholic brothers and sisters, but to stir up the spirit of the reformers in our church and in our lives.
Whenever we take scripture seriously, reformation naturally follows. That’s because scripture is God’s word, and God’s word is powerful to challenge, encourage, empower and change us. God has blessed the church with a huge variety of interpretation. Some Christians read the Bible literally; others with a more critical view. We can be faithful either way.
The important thing is to read the Bible and listen for God’s voice. It’s OK if you don’t understand everything. It’s OK to feel confused. There are still plenty of things I don’t understand. Keep at it. The more you read, the more you understand. The whole picture starts to come together and each part of the Bible sheds light on other parts.
God speaks in scripture, so the more time we spend with the Bible the better we get at recognizing God’s voice. Situations change, but God consistently cares about justice and vulnerable people. God consistently calls surprising people to surprising ministries. God consistently cares about community and showing us how to live our faith.
That’s what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel passage today. He criticizes the religious leaders for teaching God’s will but not following it. He also criticizes them for using their leadership for status rather than for ministry. Religious leaders face the same temptation as other leaders: power and status are addictive. It’s easy to become attached to titles and respect.
It’s easy for religion to become about us: our appearances or building or budget instead of about God. Leaders can get carried away with interpreting the fine points of theology and telling others what to do without thinking much about how to help people follow God. That’s what Jesus means when he accuses the leaders of tying up heavy burdens and putting them on people’s shoulders without lifting a finger to help.
Jesus admits that the scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so people should do what they teach. He also tells the disciples and the crowd that they shouldn’t call anyone teacher because they are all students learning from one instructor (Christ).
Jesus isn’t rejecting leadership here, but he is very aware of its dangers. The point of faithful leadership is to help people know and follow God. Since we find God’s voice in scripture good leadership has a lot to do with encouraging others to engage with the Bible. And since leaders are fellow students, that means engaging scripture together humbly.
As we think about engaging scripture together let’s get in groups of three and briefly share a favorite Bible story or a memory about the Bible. If you can’t think of a favorite, why don’t you share a question you have about the Bible?
Now, share something Laurelton could do to help you engage more with scripture. I’d like for the youngest person in each group to take notes about those ideas on the extra sheets of paper that are in your bulletin and put it in the offering plate when it comes around.
We hear God’s voice in scripture, which is an amazing blessing. We get better at listening to God’s voice with practice and with other people. Like the reformers we celebrate today, when we spend time with God’s word in scripture God can do amazing things in our lives and in our congregation. God’s invitation is always open.
Thanks be to God.