“Temptation: Biblical Insights on Why
Temptation: When Truth Becomes Arrogance
Read it in the Gospel of Matthew: The Board of Ordained Ministry came out from Jerusalem in their clerical collars to examine Jesus. They asked Jesus this question: Why do your disciples not follow the Book of Discipline? Why do they break the rules in the Book of Discipline?
The United Methodist Church has a Book of Discipline. It is our denomination's interpretation of how the principles of Scripture should be applied to real life situations that United Methodist Christians and congregations experience in the world today. Everything in the Book of Discipline is voted on and passed by delegates to General Conference who were elected by delegates to annual conference from Foundry and every other United Methodist congregation.
The Book of Discipline is a human attempt to interpret the implications of the truths of Scripture, reason, tradition and experience for real life questions that United Methodist Christians and congregations face. Having a Book of Discipline is a good thing. Not everything in the Book of Discipline is good. Because it is a book written by delegates who are imperfect, it is guaranteed to have some mistakes in it…sometimes big mistakes.
But every religious movement has a Book of Discipline, written or unwritten, conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit. Every religious group interprets their scripture.
The Pharisee's Book of Discipline was called "the tradition of the elders." It was their attempt to interpret the implications of Torah, the Hebrew Bible, for the real life situations that the people of God faced in their day.
The tradition of the elders said that the people of God ought to wash their hands before they ate. It was one of the rules based on the Purity Code, which included things like what was kosher to eat and what wasn't, and under what circumstances you were clean or unclean, whom you could have physical contact with when and whom you couldn't.
It never says anywhere in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, that people ought to wash their hands before they eat, but the Pharisees had a General Conference and decided it was an implication of the Purity Code to wash your hands before you eat and it became part of the Pharisees' Book of Discipline.
And when the Board of Ordained Ministry came out from Jerusalem to examine Jesus' ministry, their first question for Jesus was "Why don't your disciples follow the rules in the Book of Discipline?"
I guess Jesus was not having a good day because, when they asked him this, he got testy. We have some candidates for ordained ministry in this congregation. Let me give our candidates for ministry some advice. You don't get ordained in the United Methodist church without a 2/3rd vote of the Board of Ordained Ministry. I sit on our Board of Ordained Ministry. Here's my advice: Do not respond to your Board of Ordained Ministry the way Jesus responded to his.
Jesus got testy. He snapped back at them: "Why does your Book of Discipline violate Torah?" Why does the tradition of the elders twist and undermine the teachings of Torah. Then Jesus called them hypocrites.
Do not do this with your Board of Ordained Ministry. Do not do it even if it is true.
Then Jesus called a crowd together and said to them: "Listen, it is not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean. It is what comes out of your mouth."
He might have added: It is not whom you touch that makes you unclean; it is whom you refuse to touch. It is not what mess you've been exposed to that makes you unclean, but the mess you walk on the other side of the road to avoid that makes you unclean.
Our topic this August is how good things can go bad. For all four Sundays of August our examples will be the Pharisees, the religious establishment of Jesus' day.
They were not bad people. They were the good religious people of the day. But they irritated Jesus to no end. Jesus was not patient when it came to the Pharisees. He just wasn't.
Here's what had happened to the Pharisees. They discovered in the purity codes a truth for their lives that gave their lives dignity and direction and order and security. They discovered in the purity codes a great truth for their lives.
But the temptation to which they succumbed to was the temptation to think they had discovered the final truth. It is a temptation we all are tempted by everyday. The temptation to think that the truth we have discovered that has given our life dignity and order and direction and security is the final truth. It is a daily temptation. It is a mighty temptation.
It is not that the purity codes and practices that the Pharisees believed in and invested their lives in were untrue. It is that they were truths wanting to get truer.
All truth is always trying to get truer. Any truth you know is trying to become truer.
The problem with the Pharisees' truth wasn't that the need for purity isn't important. The problem was that the truer truth is that purity is a matter of the soul, not the digestive tract.
All truth that we discover is always trying to become truer, and the great temptation we face is to find a truth that is so meaningful to us, so important to us, so revealing to us, so liberating to us, that we try to freeze truth. We try to reify truth.
The more important a truth is to us, the more tempted we will be to try to freeze it.
And when we freeze truth, it becomes arrogance, which is a great sin.
The greater our truth the more tempted we are to try to freeze it.
One of the criticisms fundamentalists make of the more liberal churches is that we have no absolutes. Not true. We do have absolutes. It is just that our absolute truths are always in the process of becoming truer.
Frozen truth, reified truth, becomes arrogance. And those of us who have found great truth for our lives in Christ are among the most tempted. Because Christ is always in the process of becoming more and more the Christ. Part of the meaning of the resurrection is that you can not nail Christ down; you can not keep him buried. One of our greatest temptations as Christians is to want to put Christ back in the tomb.
And, as if to make sure we don't miss the point, the very next story in the Gospel of Matthew after the story about the Pharisees criticizing Jesus' disciples for not following the Book of Discipline is a story about Christ becoming more the Christ.
A Gentile woman comes to Jesus for healing for her daughter. Jesus, who had studied the Book of Isaiah about what it meant to be the messiah, tells the woman that he wasn't sent to save gentiles but Jews, and the woman comes back at him with a truer truth and -- before our very eyes in the Bible -- we see Christ becoming more the Christ.
Jesus Christ is the final revelation. Yes. But Christ is always becoming more the Christ. He is not dead. It is the point of the religion. It is the point of Christianity. Jesus is not dead.
The more meaningful Christ is in our lives, the greater the temptation it is to say to Jesus – You've saved my life. Just stay right where you are. Just stay just the way you are. Don't breath. Don't move. Stay just exactly the way you are at this very moment.
But Jesus is alive. It is the point of the religion. It is the entire point of the religion. Jesus is not dead.
Some of us here at Foundry have discovered a truth. A truth we've discovered is that we can end homelessness. We can end homelessness.
Forty years ago we had discovered the truth that we needed to feed people in the streets and open homeless shelters. Forty years ago a church I served helped open the first homeless shelter for women and families in the city where I was serving at the time. Shelters and street feeding and fighting for the rights of homeless people to use the rest rooms in public libraries gave order and purpose and dignity and direction to our lives.
The truth that motivated us then did not stop being true, but it did become truer. We discovered the truth of housing first and permanent support housing. We discovered that we could end homelessness rather than just feed people in the streets and keep them in shelters. The old truth did not stop being true. It just became truer.
The odd thing is that as the truth of housing first and permanent supportive housing began to emerge some of the strongest resistance to it came from those of us most invested in the truth of street feeding and shelters.
I suspect that as we work to end homelessness we still discover still truer truths. Truth always wants to become truer. Here's another truer truth about homelessness that is emerging: There is more to ending homelessness than ending houselessness. The truth of ending homelessness needs the freedom to become truer or it will become arrogance. I promise.
Some of us here at Foundry have discovered another truth: The truth of marriage equality. See, the truth of marriage equality does not destroy the old truth about heterosexual marriage. It just makes it truer. The unfortunate thing is that the old truth of heterosexual marriage gave some of our lives such order and security and direction and dignity that we got frozen there. So it is hard for us to let the truth of marriage get truer. Every truth wants to get truer. This one does too. Marriage equality does not nullify the truth of heterosexual marriage. It is just the truth of marriage has a way of finding order and security and love in our lives by becoming truer.
Christ is always becoming more the Christ. He is not dead. He is alive. It is the point of the religion.
The greater the truth, the greater the temptation to want to put it under glass and keep it just the way it is. This is why our greatest truths are temptations to the sin of arrogance. And we here at Foundry Church are as susceptible as anyone. Because we have found some great truths for our lives here, maybe we are even more susceptible.
Which is why it is important that our relationship with Christ be not merely a matter of intellectual understanding – not just intellectual truth but also relational truth. We open our heart to Christ as Christ opens his heart to us. We grow in Christ. He is alive.
So this morning, Christ invites us again to his table where he breaks bread and pours wine so that we might eat and drink, so that we might open our hearts and minds to him as he opens his heart and mind to us. So that he might become more the Christ in us. He is alive. Let's prepare to commune with Jesus.