Sermon, Nov. 5, 2017

“The Crazy Kingdom of God”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC

Matthew 23:1-12
November 5, 2017

The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
— Matthew 23:11 & 12

Do you believe it? Ever humbled yourself and then been exalted? Ever been the servant of all so you could be the greatest of all? Crazy, right? That’s not how the world works. Sure, we all know the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a great suggestion but most of the time we find the Silver Rule far more effective in the real world – “Do it unto others before they do it unto you.” Right? It is hard to live out the teachings of Jesus when we live in a world that so often lives as if the Kingdom of God has no barring this side of heaven. Do you get promoted if you are the servant of all? Do they even get noticed you if you are humble?

So if the teachings of Jesus are supposed to change our behavior yet those same teachings don’t seem to align with the workings of the world, what are we to do? Here are two suggestions.

First, proclaim the crazy Kingdom of God to be the new sanity. The world thinks the Kingdom of God is crazy. We proclaim it sane. Let me cite two examples that seem crazy but prove to be sane.

Example A: In Jesus’ day a Roman soldier could command a civilian to carry his heavy pack one mile. I’m not talking about throwing it in the back of your pickup and driving a mile. You had to carry it and it didn’t matter what you may already be laden with. Up went the pack. Happy about this? I’d be fuming. But you had to do it. Refusing would bring the weight of Roman law down on you. So, you carried it. But Jesus tells folks to carry it yet a second mile. Right? A second mile! What, is He nuts? At first blush you might think so. Jesus is asking the population not to resist a foreign oppressor. But Jesus goes one better. He tells folks to carry the pack a second mile. Well, that’s crazy. Sure, carry it the required first mile, but for God’s sake don’t carry it any further than you have to. But look again.

The first mile was required by the law of the State. You did it to avoid the penalty of sedition. But who owns the second mile? Not the soldier. Not the State. The one who carries. And ponder this. At the end of the first mile, the obligation is ended and the roles clearly defined. One is the master. The other is the servant. But the second mile? Who is now obligated to who? The first mile was compulsory. The second mile is voluntary and when it is done the social status of master/servant has been turned on its head. The teachings of the Kingdom of God may not be so crazy after all.

I said I would offer but two examples. Here is Example B. What did Jesus tell us to do if struck on one cheek? Turn the other cheek so you can be hit a second time, right? That’s just crazy! Why on earth would anyone do that? Let’s look more closely.

Is Jesus preaching to the movers and shakers of His day? Jesus is speaking to those who are the ones who get moved and shaken. These are the very folks who might be struck in the face by the big and powerful. One other detail. It was not socially acceptable to touch someone with your left hand. Why? Because it was used when toileting. So, you had to use your right hand. If you think about it, if you have to use your right hand, how are you going to slap a person on the right check? Yet in Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…” The only way to do that is to make a sweeping motion with one’s right arm. I suppose you could slap somebody and the left check, but that would be reserved for someone who was your social equal. Are you with me? It’s not just a slap. It’s a put down.

But Jesus won’t leave it at that. “Turn the other check.” If I do that, I can only be slapped as a social equal. “Turn the other check.” Crazy? It was the only way to grab victory from defeat. My friends, the crazy Kingdom of God is the new sanity.

If we need to affirm that the crazy Kingdom of God is the new sanity, there is a second affirmation that must be made — namely, the cross is not an ornament to worn around one’s neck, but a way of living that demands that we stick our necks out. In the two examples that I cited above, I hope I have made clear the subversive teachings of Jesus. He was no friend to the oppressors or those who trampled on the poor. I, therefore, ask you to remember what my professor of New Testament said, “Jesus was not crucified because He was a nice guy.” The Lord of heaven, the redeemer of the world, the Spirit that guides us, this God whom we proclaim has a complaint against every age. We are called to advance this crazy Kingdom of God and by so doing we bring the world to its true sanity. Let us pray….

Matthew 23:1-12 Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They 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. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father– the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”