The Greatest Among US

Isaiah 1:2-4, 16-20; Psalm 50:7-15, 22-24; Matthew 23:1-12.


The Episcopal Church has historically valued liturgy and sacraments, titles and ceremonial, spiritual disciplines and ascetical practices. So, a church like ours is particularly vulnerable, and needs to pay attention to, Jesus’ admonitions in today’s Gospel. Along with the scribes and the Pharisees we are warned about placing too much emphasis on honorific titles (like “Father” or “Teacher” or – by implication — “The Rev.” or “The Very Rev” or “The Rt. Rev.” or “The Most Rev!” Do we have “The Partially Reverend?” I can’t remember! It may be the only one we missed!


We are warned about getting too wrought up about our beautiful vestments or the latest designs for our naves and sanctuaries (our version of “the best seats in the synagogues!”). Most of all, we are warned about not practicing what we preach! About laying guilt trips on people when we ourselves may be guilty of the same things!


This is Jesus’ version of the prophetic message from people like Isaiah who used to quote the Lord as saying, “…incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me…”Ah, sinful nation…who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged!” (Isaiah 1). Hard words for
Israel…and for us.


So, what is the remedy for all this? How do we “judge ourselves” so that we will not “be judged” negatively by our God? Well, Isaiah says – simply – “cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17). And Jesus says, even more simply, “The greatest among you will be your servant. (For) all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12) 


How are we doing on all that? Well, we obviously have a long way to go – as a church and as individuals. But I would invite you (if you’ve not already done so) to take a look at the web site as to what the Executive Council of this church did, last weekend, in Portland, Oregon. And what the Anglican Women’s network has been up to all last week!   


While many, across the land, seem preoccupied with re-arranging the deck chairs on our Noah’s ark of a church, Council spent most of its time on the Millennium Development Goals, on passing a balanced budget focused on God’s mission, on the just re-building of the Gulf Coast, on peace with justice in the Middle East. And the Anglican Women spent most of their time “seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphans, and pleading for the widows!”


Now, I don’t want to fall into the trap of “exalting ourselves” lest – according to Jesus – we find ourselves “humbled!” But the members of our Executive Council – elected to represent this whole church between General Conventions – and the network of Anglican women from around the world did indeed spend most of their time trying to find ways to heed Isaiah’s warnings and to follow Jesus’ direction.


And I, for one, want to commend them as some of the “greatest among us…who acted as servants. As ones who sought to humble themselves, rather than be exalted.” For 


“Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:24) Amen.   

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