Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, November 2, 2014
Who Sits on Moses’ Seat?
[Joshua 3:7-17; Matthew 23:1-12; I Thessalonians 2:9-13]
The picture on the cover of our bulletins is an honest-to-goodness Seat of Moses, discovered in the Synagogue of Chorazim. David, my dad and I have a picture of this stone seat which we took when we traveled to the Holy Land in 2005. David had recently preached on this text in Matthew 23 and was thrilled to see, sit on and photograph this seat at the front of the old synagogue, discovered by archaeologists.
Apparently, it was standard furniture in the synagogues or Jesus’ time: the teacher for the day would sit in the Moses seat, as a place of authority, which honored the leadership and legacy of Moses. Jesus words do not dishonor the seat itself, nor the teachings which the Scribes delivered, since the teachings come from God’s word; however, Jesus words bring shame to the persons sitting on Moses’ seat, because of how they were living their lives. Woe to the one who teaches, if that person does not exemplify the spirit & truth of what they teach.
Jesus lived God’s word in human flesh. In Jesus’ life we see what true leadership entails. It was radically different, almost unrecognizable when compared to the leadership of the Pharisees and Scribes. They were the OPPOSITE of what Jesus recommends. In stark terms, the Job Description of a leader, according to Jesus is this: “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Perhaps I should have saved this sermon for the Sunday we ordain and install our new Ruling Elders. I hope they are here listening, for the way of leadership in Christ’s Church is the way of service, not the way of honor. Serving as a Ruling Elder doesn’t mean receiving a Certificate to hang on the wall, and does not mean having “longer fringes,” or seats of honor at banquets, or special titles or exemption from manual labor.
I do believe the “Path of Service” is one that the present and past leaders of St. Pauls Presbyterian Church have humbly walked for many generations. That’s why this church is still here and has a respected reputation in the community. I have seen many people walking the path of service, especially during the season of Ingathering. The Koinonia Quilters, Marvin Rea following in the footsteps of his father to create beautiful furniture that is auctioned off for the benefit of this church, highly skilled musicians who serve more for God’s glory than for the small salaries they have received, elders who serve as directors of Vacation Bible School, and many others who quietly served long beyond the age of retirement, because “serving” is part of who they are in Christ, part of their spiritual DNA.
There are a few people who find it difficult to be present in worship if they are NOT SERVING in some capacity. Every time I visit Sharon Dean she reminds me of the hours she spent in the kitchen of this church and then she apologizes, can you believe it, that she is not doing more today. What I always say in response is this: “Please, Sharon, let us serve YOU. Let us return to you the love you have shared with all of us! It is your turn to rest and our turn to serve you!”
We remember the saints who have gone before us, just as the people in Jesus’ day remembered the legacy of Moses. However, we cannot occupy their seats without remembering the spirit with which they served: their humility, their modesty, their tendency NOT to call attention to themselves. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to know him personally, I’ve heard that is the kind of man Bill McKay was: a humble servant who never exalted himself, but blessed many people during his life time. When I attended Homecoming Lunch at Lumber Bridge Presbyterian Church, Elbert Forbis told me stories about Bill McKay and the kind of man he was.
I could name many more people, but instead I encourage you to remember those individuals who pointed out the way of service to you and helped clear the brush and twigs from the path, so that you could follow it.
People full of Christ, who allow Christ to dwell within them, who have no need for external praise, because living in Christ is its own reward. The Pharisees and Scribes seemed insecure in Jesus’ presence. They were always trying to trip him up, especially in the last chapters of Matthew’s Gospel.
The passage we read in Joshua shows how Joshua followed in the footsteps of Moses. In verse 7 we hear God speaking to Joshua saying: “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.” Joshua did NOT exalt himself, but was exalted by God in the sight of the people, so the people would be assured that the Spirit was living in Joshua, as in Moses.
God performed a miracle very similar to the crossing of the Red Sea. Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry land. The Ark of the Covenant had to go first through the water, for the ark was the tangible dwelling place for God & symbolized God’s presence among them. When the soles of the feet of the priests who were carrying the ark rested in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan stood up and stopped flowing in a single heap. The priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan until the entire nation finished crossing. The writer of Joshua makes it clear this occurred during the season of harvest when waters were especially high.
Another God-sized miracle for the people of Israel! This miracle confirmed that the Spirit of God rested on Joshua, who would lead them into Jericho, wearing the mantle of Moses. Joshua did not achieve this blessing; God granted it! God anointed Joshua the next servant-leader of God’s people.
It is our prayer as a congregation that the new six Ruling Elders who will be ordained and installed on December 7th will be those God is calling to lead us into greater service and ministry over the next three years. As a congregation, your role is to lift them up in prayer and follow their lead, as they give of themselves for God’s glory and for the larger good.
The third Scripture of the day comes from I Thessalonians. Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonika why and how he, Sylvanus and Timothy served this newly emerging church. Paul and his brothers worked at other jobs as tent makers, so that the small Christian community would not have the “burden” of providing for their financial needs. Paul says: we didn’t have to do this but we chose to do this so that taking care of us would not fall heavily on you.
He, Sylvanus and Timothy loved them like a father, urging them to lead lives worthy of God. The example Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy gave the Thessalonians was one of hard-work and blameless conduct. Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy lived the “good news” they preached in every area of their lives. They did not say one thing and do another. Last week Paul said they loved the Thessalonians like a mother caring for her own children. Today he says they loved them like a father who is proud of his children and guides them into holy living by his own example.
So, who sits on Moses’ seat at St. Pauls Presbyterian Church? All of us who lead in some capacity sit on Moses’ seat, which today is the hot seat! The Word is directed to us and I hope it makes us a little nervous, for fear we, like the Pharisees, are not living up to this high calling. But even those who are not leaders in this congregation are hearing the same Word, which says: IF your leaders are NOT living up to this calling, don’t follow what they do: instead follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who came to serve.
How do we do this? What fuels a life of service in the name of Jesus Christ? How did Moses lead? What kept Joshua on the right path? Is there a secret to living a life of joyful service rather than being a “crabby Christian” who may do all the right things, but does not radiate joy? It pleased me greatly when one of our members said recently: “This was one of the happiest Ingatherings she has ever experienced!” Serving with joy is the true mark of Christian discipleship. Normally this happens in community with other Christians more easily than as a lone Christian trying to make a difference in the world.
Lillian Daniel, the featured Leader in our Animate Faith series last Wednesday night, talked about the difference between “Religion Rooted in Tradition” and “Individualistic Spirituality.” She said we live in a narcissistic culture which makes everything all about “me…me…me…!” As she matured on her own faith journey, she tried many paths, but found she longed for a community centered in Christ, which is so much bigger than me or you.
Richard Rohr agrees we must get beyond our small selves by becoming part of a larger community called the Body of Christ where we can find connection with God and others. In his devotion on All Hallows Eve Rohr writes: All of us are much larger than the good or bad stories we tell about ourselves. Don’t get caught in “my” story, my hurts, my agenda. It’s too small. It’s not the whole you, not the Great You. It’s not the great river. It’s not where life is really going to happen.
No wonder the Spirit is described as “flowing water” and as “a spring inside you” (John 4:10-14) or, as it states at the end of the Bible, as a “river of life” (Revelation 22:1-2). Your life is not really about “you.” It is part of a much larger stream called God…I believe faith…[is]… that ability to trust the river, to trust the flow and the Lover…Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust there is a river. The river is flowing; we are in it. The river is God’s providential love—so do not be afraid.”
Moses and Joshua trusted God and stepped into the river, which looked like it might drown them, but they lived in the flow of God’s Spirit regardless of the outcome. Jesus’ life of service led him to the cross, but he didn’t turn back. Paul was also martyred but said in Philippians: to live is Christ and to die is gain. Let’s live a “Spirit-filled life” with joyful abandon, for in both life and death, we also belong to God! Let us pray.