Blessed… To Be Righteous

“Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality. Therefore, whoever ignores one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the lowest in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps these commands and teaches people to keep them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. I say to you that unless your righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the legal experts and , the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20, Common English Bible).

Somewhere on one of my many bookshelves I have a book titled, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Today’s lesson is beyond one of the hard sayings of Jesus. This one is all but impossible. Maybe it should fit into a sequel book “The Really, Really, Really Hard Sayings of Jesus.”

Think about it this way. I love to play the guitar. I didn’t say I played it well, but that I love to play. I also enjoy playing with other people. I particularly like to play with people who play a little better than I play. They challenge me to be even better, to practice more and to get better.

I was reading online recently and Rolling Stone came out with their list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. The late Jimi Hendrix was number 1. Number 100 went to Lindsey Buckingham who was lead guitarist for Fleetwood Mac. If I were to sit down and try to play with either of these guys or the 98 others in between, I wouldn’t feel inspired. After I got past my sense of awe, I might just give up playing the guitar period. No matter how good I might learn to play in the future, I will never the guitar riff of Johnny B. Goode to the quality of Chuck Berry (number 7 on the Rolling Stone list). To even try would be nothing more than frustrating.

Great guitarists to me would be like the average Jesus follower of the first century trying to compare their righteousness value to the Pharisees. These guys were the pros at being righteous. They knew the law. They know the importance of being pure, of eating the right foods, of observing the Sabbath. They knew it all and tried to live like it. The average “man (or woman) on the street” had no chance of matching righteous behavior with one of them. And Jesus is here saying, if we want to see the Kingdom of Heaven we have to not just meet the righteousness of the Pharisees, we have to exceed it. Thanks for nothing! We don’t have a chance.

And, before you go into all the times Jesus runs the Pharisees down, this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus mentions the Pharisees. John the Baptist calls them a bunch of snakes but Jesus wasn’t part of that conversation. For the person who is just following Jesus, for all they know at this point, Jesus is a fan of the Pharisees.

But, here is the rub. In the verses we looked at yesterday and the day before, Jesus says we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” How can we be those things if we can’t see the Kingdom of Heaven unless we exceed the Pharisees? It says to me that salt and light are a new standard of righteousness.

There is something about salt. It exists for something beyond itself. It flavors food. It purifies. It preserves. In the Biblical era salt was very valuable. I think Jesus is saying, as the “salt of the earth” we too are very valuable and we give the world flavor, we purify and and preserve. We live beyond ourselves and in that living beyond ourselves we are righteous.

The same thing can be said about light. If we are in the dark, a candle, a torch, a lantern, a flashlight can help us find our way. They exist beyond themselves. The same is true for the righteous. We let our light shine so others might find their way.

And, though we don’t see it quite yet, if you know your New Testament, you also know the one thing about the Pharisees is, they didn’t live beyond themselves. They might have been superstars of righteous living, but in this one crucial area they always seemed to fall short. The law was what was important, not the people. If we fail to put people first, we can’t expect to find righteousness. Living beyond ourselves so people might find the Grace of God in Christ Jesus is what makes us righteous and we only do that with the grace and faith God has already put in us.

How do you live beyond yourself so others might see the Living God?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Author:

Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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