FIRST READING: Exodus (20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20)
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2 One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
SECOND READING: Philippians (3:4b-14)
I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (21:33-46)
Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Most days, Mark and Micaela walk to and from school. But when they have another activity or appointment shortly after school or if the weather is especially bad, I pick them up.
When I do, I meet them by the door near their sixth-grade classrooms. It happens to be the same door that the first- and second-graders use. It is always entertaining to watch these younger students bouncing out the doors after school. They rarely seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere, but instead are running around, doing whatever silly thing seems to amuse them on that day or at that moment. Sometimes you can see them trying to act like some sports star or a popular entertainer or even like their own mom or dad – much to their parents’ consternation. They are already smart enough to save imitations of their teachers until they are a safe distance from school.
It is natural for children to imitate others. In fact, it is an important part of their learning. But it is an integral part of our own continued education as well. Human beings, and in fact all animals, seem to be inwardly programmed to observe and imitate what they see in others, especially in significant others, like their parents. It is the way that we learn how to live and how we are expected to conduct ourselves in the world.
Looking at it from the other side of the picture, the example that we give teaches others far more than our words can ever do. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “A good example is the best sermon.”
It was with that reality in mind that St. Paul, in last Sunday’s reading from his Letter to the Philippians, offered Jesus himself as the example for us to imitate In the hymn that he incorporated into the second chapter of that letter, he called on his hearers to follow Jesus’ example of emptying himself completely for the sake of others; and he assured them, that in doing so, they were sharing the very life of God.
That is all well and good. For us Christians, Jesus is obviously the perfect example, the one whom we seek to emulate.
But there is also a practical problem with that. It is hard to imitate Jesus because, among other reasons, we have never seen Jesus. We once observed our parents, or maybe can still do so. We can look up to other people in our own time and observe and learn from them. But we cannot observe Jesus himself and learn from him. We cannot personally see him and do what he does. But then, neither could the early Christians at Philippi, to whom Paul addressed this letter.
So Paul offered them the only example, the only model that he had to give: he offered them himself. That is essentially what he was doing in the entire second reading that we heard today. After telling of his own experience, of how he had to change dramatically the values and priorities by which he lived, Paul calls on his hearers to seek what he himself is seeking and to do what he himself is doing. He writes, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul does essentially the same thing in all his authentic letters, except for Romans. There is a good reason for that exception: he had never yet been to Rome: they had never seen him, and so they could not follow his example. In all the other letters, he tells his readers in one way or another, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” He calls on them to follow his example in accepting the sufferings of their lives and ministries. And he calls on them to follow his example in looking not to the past, but to the future, working ceaselessly for the coming in all its fullness of the reign of God, for the transformation of the world into what God wants it to be.
“Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” That seems like a bold, even arrogant thing to say. But, when you think about it, Paul did not have any other example to offer them. Nor do we have any other example to offer the world today than our own.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I admire your Christ, but I don’t admire your Christians. They don’t live at all like he did.” The only way that the people of our community and world are going to come to know Christ is through us: through our words and especially through our actions. We are the ones who have been asked by God and commissioned by God to show the world what God is like and what the reign of God is like. Others learn by our example.
What kind of example are we offering to the world? As the old question goes, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Or, to use the image that Jesus offers in today’s gospel reading, are we producing the fruits of the kingdom? Are we making a positive difference in our world, testifying by our actions to our faith, to the coming of the reign of God in Christ? Or are we so wrapped up in other activities, in our own individuals worlds, that we fail to commend the faith that is in us?
In your baptismal promises, you solemnly vowed before God and the church “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (The Book of Common Prayer, page 305). What are you doing to fulfill that promise? The world is watching us. What kind of example are we giving?