Passages: Is. 1:2-15; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 12:1-8
In the name of the Father, Son Holy Spirit, Amen!
Majestic, towering and powerful; Historic, functional and mysterious. If you’ve ever had an opportunity to travel to Egypt, seeing the great pyramids of old can take your breath away. If you have not gone and the only thing you’ve had the opportunity to see are the sarcophagi in the local museums you can still see the beauty of how intricately each one is designed and adorned. The ancient Egyptians believed that the walls of the Pyramids and the external decorations of the sarcophagus tell of the history of the person, remembering their name and reminding us of the person they were in life. Regardless of what the great pyramids of old were designed externally or internally with – those majestic, mysterious and powerful towers served primarily as tombs. And the sarcophagi, as beautiful as they were and whatever story they told on the outside – inside, they housed dead bones.
Last week, I spoke about Christ comparing the Pharisees to “white washed tombs,” who are externally beautiful but internally rotten. Today, we read of the Pharisees again trying to trick Jesus and pollute the minds of the listeners as to what Jesus is doing and teaching.(Matt.12:1-2 RSV) “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’” This isn’t the only time Jesus was accused of dishonoring the Sabbath. The Pharisees say the same thing about Jesus healing on the Sabbath (see John 5:1-18, 7:19-24, 9:1-41). However, Jesus doesn’t tell the Pharisees, I can do what I want. Rather, calmly and with love Jesus directs the Pharisees and us to understand that the rules, the laws that we have set up are meant to serve us and to help us. However, they are not as important as acknowledging that real growth, healing and change must take place with the presence of God. In other words, the Pharisees, who were upright and lawful men, wanted to follow the rules and this is fine – however, they had become a slave to those rules, misunderstanding that the rules served a purpose. That purpose was to commune with God. That is why St. Paul in Romans gives us the analogy of slavery.
In our sinfulness we are slaves to sin. By trying to follow the rules, we become slaves to the rules when we lose sight that the rules serve a higher purpose and they are not in and of themselves our goal. Rather, when we are freed and sanctified from our sinfulness through Christ Jesus, we find true healing, we find true freedom. And so St. Paul asks why do we continue to obey or go after our former masters? Why do we choose to return to slavery rather than choose God.
My dear brothers and sisters, we live in a world that has rules and regulations. Even in the Church we have certain rules. However, the rules that are placed upon us in Church vs. the rules placed on us as citizens are meant for different things. We follow the rules of law in society because they are there to create peace and order.
We follow the rules of the Church, the rules of our faith in Christ Jesus so that they create and change us to become the peace and order. It is exactly like the sarcophagi and pyramids of ancient Egypt. If we externally follow the laws of this world, or even if we think we are following the rules in the Church and we think this is what will save me, then the only thing we are doing is becoming a slave to those rules. Externally we are decorating the outside with what is beautiful and pleasing to the eye – but we are only telling a story. Inside we are like tombs, we are empty dead bones. However, Christ Jesus calls us each to be much more than that.
As baptized children of God, as Christians, we are called to be mindfully and soulfully always in the presence of God. We are called to use what God has given us, the Church and its rules, the clergy, the sacraments, and everything that is of the material world to change internally and to become living examples of faith for all to see. Christianity is not about being a good Christian – it is about being Christ in this world. This world, society today, having again been fueled by racism and bigotry is trying to rewrite history and destroy statues and everything that reminds them of the past. But doing so, society today is showing us one thing – they are only concerned with the physical and external. Real change, real healing takes place when we educate, when we love, when we begin changing from the inside so that it reflects on the outside. As M.L.K. stated during one of his speeches, “I do not trust in Black power, or white power. I trust only in the power of God.”
My dear brothers and sisters, how much longer will we each individually or as a community fall victim to and choose slavery over freedom? We choose to trust the laws to free us from sins. Yet, we fall back and become slaves to our sins repeatedly. My dears, we belong to God but we must choose God. We must change from the inside to reflect Christ not just as a story but as truth that we are free from the laws and sins of this world. St. Anthony the Great of the Church fathers teaches us, “Don’t trust in your own righteousness, and don’t worry about what is in the past. Hold your tongue and your stomach and trust in God alone.” Therefore, my dears, let us look within ourselves – what are we trying to do?
Are we like sarcophagi – telling a story or are we living reflections of Christ Jesus to all who see us? Do we follow rules thinking this is enough or do we have a desire to be in constant communion with God, who changes us, gives us life and set us free from slavery? We have been sanctified and cleansed – we have been filled with the light of God and through Christ Jesus, we have recognized God as our Father. Therefore, today [as Father’s day] let us pray to God our Father to change us and heal us so that He is reflected through us, making us worthy children of His love, grace, hope and true healing. So that people seeing us will look with the same awe, as they do, when seeing the ancient pyramids. So when people see us, they don’t read a fictional story but see the truth of God’s power. We are living examples of God in this world, we are light in darkness, hope to the hopeless, healing for the sick and breaker of chains. We are the ones who must bring glory to God, as a reflection of His love and life in us. We are free!