Beware the long robes

November 5, 2015
A brief sermon during a service of Holy Communion for a gathering of pastors using the Gospel for the coming Sunday.  (We, too, need to let ourselves stand beneath word and let God encounter us there.)

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:38-40)

As always, the texts that come to us this Sunday are both wonderful and frightful. They are full of grace, but also dangerous.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes”

The first time I saw a chasuble I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen. Well, that’s not exactly right: the first time I saw a Lutheran wearing a chasuble I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen.

I went with a friend to a midnight mass once my senior year in High School. It must have been at Easter. The church was packed with people – and packed with teenagers – so that the only place for us to sit was on the chancel platform near the altar. The priest came in, tiptoeing through the crowd, wearing a brilliant tie-died robe that I realize now was a chasuble.

But the next chasuble I saw was eight years later when the community at Luther Seminary was still worshiping in an old gym. It was an old brocade silk chasuble that was totally out of character with our worshiping space and our worshiping community.

The professor who wore it was a refugee from the Missouri Synod wars.

I confess my friends and I derided the outfit, even as we derided those among our fellow students who liked to play “dress-up”. We knew that the church was, as Luther said, “a mouth house” and identified ourselves as preachers not priests. We all have our own vanities.

I have pretty nice set of chasubles, now. They have been gifts to me. The first ones from a parishioner who had been a Lutheran pastor and later died of AIDs. Others were gifts from congregations I have served. I have come to like wearing them. And while I can think of lots of reasons to justify wearing them – arguments that may or may not be persuasive – I know that at some fundamental level I like what it means to me.

I have a prayer that I say to myself as I put on my robes that is tied to the action of vesting:

O Lord,
wrap me in your Spirit,
bind me to yourself,
that I may be a servant of your people
and faithful to your word.

That’s the noble part of wearing long robes. It helps me get me away from myself and into the office of pastor. But there is a less noble part of me that likes being at the center of this great mystery where heaven touches earth.

LaVinnia was serving as the assisting minister last Sunday and, in the architecture of the liturgy, it probably would have made more sense for her to read the names of the faithful who have died this last year. But I wanted to read those names. They were funerals I had done, people I had known. So in that one small way I put myself first.

But the prayers don’t belong to me; they belong to the people. The robes don’t belong to me; they belong to the people. The collar doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to the people. The office itself doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to the people.

When I was in Detroit I started wearing my collar every day. My daughter, Anna, was convinced that my favorite color was black, because I wore a black shirt every day. It was a big change for me, coming out of that Norwegian tradition, but I thought it served the congregation. I hoped it said that Christ had not abandoned these streets. And it helped explain what a white guy was doing walking around the neighborhood of the church.

But I came to like it. I liked it when a young man came up to me at our polling place and asked for a blessing. I liked the fact that the nurses at the hospitals in Detroit would choose to come back rather than interrupt my visit with a parishioner. I liked that – at least in Detroit – the collar caused you to be treated with respect.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes”

I know that Jesus is talking about a specific people in a specific time and place that had shaped the religious life of the nation around the rituals of the temple rather than around God’s command to do justice and mercy. But I also know that this is a fundamental problem for us as human beings. Religious life so easily becomes about us rather than about our neighbor: our fears, our hopes, our desires, our wants – our egos.

We want to be successful. We want to be respected. We want to be valued by the world around us. We want to be loved. We want our congregations to look good, to be relevant, to be progressive. There are lots of noble motives there. But there are some that are less noble.

It is a great privilege, what we do. And I am sure that God wants us to like what we do, to derive some sense of satisfaction from our service. But then there is this warning to beware of the long robes.

Luther’s last words are reported to have been “We are beggars, that’s for sure.” We come to this table as beggars. We stand up before our congregations as beggars. We dare to be the hands and voice God uses to speak to his people as beggars. We are not worthy of this calling. But it has been entrusted to us. God has chosen to use frail instruments like us. God only asks that we not forget we are beggars, that we beware of that part within us that likes the long robes.

Amen

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About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Christian Life, Christianity, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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