Unity in the Cross and not the Ceremony

Amos was a prophet who spoke against the vanity of big ceremonies when the lives of the people are filled with injustice and unrighteousness. Amos 5:18-24 was the Old Testament read yesterday in my congregation. I preached on this lesson, and I found myself still circling around this text when I woke up today. I want to figure out how to bring unity to worship and life so that the promises of God are found in more than just the words of worship.

I think it is important to wrestle with the struggle between words and works. Many people struggle to bring unity to worship and life. I do not want to be content with big ceremonies that are matched with lives weak in justice and righteousness. So I think congregations will be stronger when we are united in more than just the externals ceremonies and rites.

Our true unity is found when we are assembled by the rescuing words of Jesus. My connection to God is not found in the beat of the song that I sing, the flowing of my robes, or the particular posture of my hands when I pray. The foundation for my unity with God is not found in my works. I am one with God because of the work of Christ. How does this unity with Christ through His work change the works of my own hands?

Congregations must find unity in the work of Christ. The work of Christ is the lens through which we are called to understand ourselves and also how we are called to see others. I am tired of seeing my enemies in fear and worry, I want to see all people as ones whom Christ loves and seeks to redeem. I think the only way I can change how I see people is to trust in the work of Christ to be the one who brings rescue.

I am not seeking a unity in just externals. I am not seeking a unity built on an empty promise of acceptance. I am seeking unity in the forgiveness of sins found in Christ Jesus. I want to be united in the truth that we are all sinners, and only through the working of the Spirit of God will we repent of our sin and trust in Jesus.

I am confident the culture of a congregation can be transformed when the unifying principle is no longer driven by fear or comfort. The culture of a congregation can be turned towards justice and righteousness when the cross cultures us to see how God is at work among the weak, broken, and struggling.

Justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a stream in our lives when we find ourselves united to the work of Christ on the cross.

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Beware of the fancy robes

Mark 12:38-44

Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes…”

The scribes were the Jerusalem religious establishment. When Jesus warns the disciples about the scribes he is doing more than speaking against generic hypocrisy.

The scribes wished to walk around in their long robes and get greeted in the marketplaces. They wanted the best seats in the synagogues and they wished for the seats of honor at the feasts.

Even while they are busy being greeted, seated, and feasted they were gobbling up widows’ houses and for a pretense made long prayers.

This teaching from Jesus would have been challenging for his listeners because the scribes were the good guys. Jesus was taking on admired men.

The reason that Jesus takes on these men is that the values and ways of God had become fundamentally abandoned.

Deuteronomy 10:17-21 “For the Lord your god is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. he is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.”

The mighty God that we fear, love and trust is the God who executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.

Jesus’ teaching about the scribes and the widow is not just a nice moral story about nincompoops that wear fancy robes contrasted with a poor widow. Jesus’ teaching is a serious, powerful attack and provides us the opportunity to repent and change.

The chapter markings in the Gospel of Mark and the ending of the lesson in the lectionary make it easier to keep the story of the scribes and the widow contained to a moral tale about our attitudes toward giving.

But when the reading continues into chapter 13 of Mark the consequence of this bankrupt religious institution becomes revealed. In chapter 13 the disciples remark, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”

Jesus had revealed to his disciples the ugly behavior of the admired scribes. So the disciples attempt to redeem the Temple by commenting on the beauty of the stones.

Jesus says, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” The stones are dead if the Temple no longer serves to reveal the holiness of God.

Leviticus 11:45 “For I am the Lord who brought you up out the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

The people of God are called to reflect the character of God. When the fundamental character of God is abandoned by the people then the judgment is great.

No matter how beautiful the structure might be, when the function is dead in the people then the structure is dead. The earthly temple crumbles when it no longer serves to point us to the true heavenly temple.

Jesus’ teaching is not just a tale about stewardship. Jesus reveals the judgment of God against those that would abandon the holiness of God and seek after their own glory.