Proper 26a – Sunday 30th October 2011
Matthew 23: 1-12
Been catching up on the news this past couple of days. Story of the week has to be the marathon runner who caught the bus to 3rd place. Fantastic. Like his style.
Apparently, Rob Sloan had won a 10K race the day before, so no wonder he was a bit tired. In the Kelder Marathon he made it to 20 miles before hitting the wall and hopping on a bus … and then jumping off at the 25 mile mark, hiding behind a tree and carrying on once the first two had gone past! The Sunderland Harriers runner was forced to hand back his medal when his deception was discovered and has now been expelled by his running club.
If Matthew 23: 12 was written for anyone it most certainly applies to Rob Sloan: For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
I had a similar awkward moment the other day when I went out for a run. Not a race, and definitely not cheating. To monitor my performance I’ve installed an app on my phone called RunKeeper – and it maps your run, keeping tabs on time, distance and speed. Once you finish it even updates the website database and posts your details to Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately, as I prepared to start my run it couldn’t get a GPS signal. Nevertheless, I thought I would carry on regardless and at least use it as a sophisticated stopwatch.
It’s a very good little app. As you run it updates you on your progress every five minutes – although on this occasion it was a little disconcerting with sweat streaming into my eyes and my lungs aching as I battled a particularly wicked uphill section to be told that 20 minutes into my run I’d managed 0.0km and at 0.0km per hour!
However, three quarters of the way around the course amazingly the GPS sprung to life. Better late than never, I thought and continued my crawl towards the finish line. As I crossed the finish line I pressed the stop button and noticed that I’d done the run in a fairly respectable (well, respectable for me) 36 minutes and 25 seconds. First time I’d done a 5k in six months, not bad. The moment you hit the stop button your data wings its way through the ether and tells the world how you’ve done.
Later that evening I got a message from a friend asking if I’d been out for a walk or a run. I said a run and asked why. He said well 36 minutes and 25 seconds to run 1.17km was a bit excessive! I didn’t realise when RunKeeper posted my result it would only tell the world I’d done a quarter of my run – but with the whole time posted! Several other people asked if I was ill!
If I’m being honest I like it when people tell me they saw me out for a run and I looked to be going pretty well. Some people hoot me as they pass in their car and I wave back like some glamorous celebrity – although once someone did roll their window down and ask if I’d like an ambulance called! It’s good when someone strokes your ego.
So it’s a bit disconcerting when Jesus says:
“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.”
Eugene Peterson has done a terrific job with The Message, and here he catches the beauty and majesty of this passage … simply be yourself, and your life will count for plenty. Surely that’s what we all want. These first twelve verses of Matthew 23 might seem heaving going but it is all such practical advice – and the simple truth of the Christian faith. It’s a message we need to take into our hearts and live out.
And not just reading, not just hearing, but doing. Living. Undertaking. Acting. Achieving. Talk the talk, but make sure you walk the walk too – love that old cliché! This message is not designed to weigh us down under an unmoveable load. This is the Red Bull message of the New Testament – it’s there to give us wings. So that we can rise to the heights of God’s throne in service, devotion and worship. Jesus was trying to connect a heavenly message with a very human lifestyle, ambition and ego, and bottle it up into some sort of medication we all could swallow. But sometimes we like the taste of our own medicine – even though it’s the equivalent of cod liver oil. And yet we can’t swallow the medication God gives, even though it is the way, the truth and the life. Pay attention. Clear your head. Get a grip. God knows what best for you. That’s what Jesus was trying to say.
It’s a good job we have each other in this churchly mess. No matter what we think we’re all in this together. Learning from each other, sharing insights, encouraging one another. Learning at the feet of the Master, following in his footsteps. We all like the sound of our own voice, but our nonsensical utterances should be drowned out by the breath-taking wisdom of God. Be still for the presence of the Lord…
Still, got to go. Off for a run. Wonder what time the next bus is?