A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
July 22, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Matthew 5: 33-37
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show us the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.
This week we continue with our Marks of a True Christian passage from Romans chapter 12. I'd to take a minute to look back at where we've been the last few weeks, starting in Romans chapter 12:9 with:
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection;
And then this week we get to the next part of verse 10:
"Outdo one another in showing honor."
I chose our complimentary Gospel passage to try to get at the honor part of that phrase, this from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 33-37, Jesus preaching about making Oaths:
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
I had some difficulty finding New Testament passage to tie to "outdo one another in showing honor", that would really get at what Honor is. When I think of honor I think of telling the truth. I think of not lying, not cheating, and not stealing, probably because I went to Hampden-Sydney College, a school where the Honor Code is the cornerstone of the teaching of the school. The Honor Code which is as old as the school states:
As a man of honor, I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor will I tolerate any breach of the honor code by others.
Every school where I've taught also has a strict honor system. It is a central piece in private school education, but it is interesting how few times honor, in terms of telling the truth, being truthful, is addressed in the New Testament. This morning's passage on oaths is the closest I could find. It is almost as if honesty is taken as a given. It is as if "thou shalt not bear false witness" is good enough to cover both the Old and the New Testament. As if a basic pillar of being a follower of God is being honest.
I've never specifically thought about it, nor attributed it to The Bible, but my view of honor is very similar to what Jesus is saying here about oaths. I brought up the honor code at Hampden-Sydney, but there is also one at Blue Ridge. Many teachers have the students write a pledge on their tests, pledging:
On my honor, I have neither given nor received any aid on this work, nor am I aware of any breach of the honor code that I shall not immediately report.
I've never felt that pledging was necessary because the name being on the top of the page should be enough. Anything pledge else is extra. Jesus says, only say "yes, yes, or no, no." That should be enough. I think of Romeo, swearing his love to Juliet by the Moon, and she says, "Swear not by the moon, but if your love is true, show up tomorrow." Your word alone, sufficient, without any extra platitudes, your word alone, and then showing up. That's honor, but how do you "outdo" anybody in that? What is more truthful than the truth? How do you tell more truth than someone else, when truth itself is an absolute? It either is truth or it isn't. Withholding any piece of the truth would not be honorable, so there really aren't degrees. Without degrees how can someone outdo another? There, like usual, must be more to the words than is immediately apparent. There must be another understanding that I'm missing.
The word that Paul uses that is translated in the NRSV as Honor is "Time" (tee-may), which has a broader meaning than simply the honor as I have known it and have described so far this morning. It can also mean value. Sometimes it refers to the amount of payment that is given in exchange for something of value. Many people check the Wall Street Journal for their stocks "Time" to see how much money their investments have earned. I prefer to think about it like some of my baseball cards because my portfolio at this point is much more adolescent. I have this one Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie card that has a "time" of $100. It's "time" has gone up and down throughout the years, mostly based on Griffey's play. Value, worth, there is a connection to honor I think.
Another feature of the word that can add to our understanding is when it is used other places within the New Testament. This word "Time" is used when Jesus is not respected as a prophet upon his return home to Nazareth. It says “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house." In other words he wasn't respected, seen as good, valuable, credible, by any of the people, who supposedly knew him best. The slang term from today that best gets at the meaning of "time" for me is "cred." Cred goes so much beyond just honesty, but into dependability, accountability, accomplishment, it also has to do with being authentic and legit. It gets into the worth and value of a human being. Real value and real worth, but what determines a person's real worth? What is real human cred? Whatever it is that is what we are called as Christians to outdo one another in here in this passage.
Let's look at some of the things that our world recognizes as giving cred to someone. I already mentioned how the value of my baseball card was connected to Ken Griffey's performance, so value then is attributed to it. To that, hitting a baseball 3 times in 10, and every once in awhile hitting it over 350 feet. Doing that earns cred. Millions and Millions of dollars of cred. Also throwing a ball into an iron hoop, or throwing it 60 yards to a waiting receiver who also gets cred for catching that ball. Cred is given to actors, people who pretend to be someone else on stage or screen telling stories. Cred is given to those who are popular or powerful enough to run for office. Cred is given to those who are good looking, or in shape, or wealthy, or strong, or in some cases young, in some cases being older has more cred. Sometimes cred is given and then taken away, and then given back. People in our culture gain cred so quickly and then lose it so quickly, mostly because I think we give it too cheaply. Our standards for cred are cheap if they are so small as hitting a ball, or being good looking enough for everything else not to matter. Our standards for cred are cheap because they are based on public opinion rather than reality. Whatever the most people think is of value is given value, and there is nothing more fickle than public opinion because there is nothing more misinformed than public opinion, especially in our world of publicists where image is everything.
The biggest problem about cred being cheap is that the real goes unrecognized. Real cred is lost in the shuffle. There is no award show for honor. There is no hall of fame for being dependable. Most times those truly having cred go unnoticed by the majority of the world, but are not forgotten by the lives that they've touched directly. There is no competition for being authentic and true, but who would you rather build the world upon? Who would you rather have solving the world's problems? Who would you rather have next to you as you go through life. We don't typically compete in the categories of honor with one another, but this is what we are called to do in this passage. To outdo one another with our true cred. Imagine the world that creates. . . .
In the Old Testament Lesson, we saw the rise of Joseph, a good man, who was tried and tested by much misfortune in his life. He perseveres and actually gets rewarded for his faithfulness. Joseph's story is inspiring but it is not the norm. His being rewarded is not even close to the standard for the way our world operates. Our world is more like the world of Daniel, where honor leads to the fire, or being put in the lion's den. Usually those who are the best among us are not given accolades.
It is here where I've heard a lot of preachers or other leaders begin their tirade, complaining about the way the world is. Start to say that things aren't fair, that there should be rewards for being good people. That we should honor those who sacrifice more. That those who give of themselves, and are self sacrificing should be rewarded. That things should be more fair. That if we gave rewards for honor, more people would be honorable. Possibly, more people would, but honor cannot be about rewards because rewards are fleeting. The truly honorable person is there through the hard times, where rewards are so far from actuality. The rewards for honor if they do exist are many times masked and shrouded in pain. Honor is not about what material gain you can get. It is not about what we hope to receive, but what you have to give. Honor, true cred, "time" is not about the value that is given to you, but about the value that you add to the world, and that value often goes unnoticed, uncelebrated, and unrewarded because it's not flashy.
Being a Christian is trying our best to walk in the steps of Christ. The term Christian means little Christ. . . The marks of a Christian then are not riches, are not accolades, are not awards, but instead is a cross, and wounds where the nails had been. There is a song by Gillian Welch, called "Where the Nails have Been," where she sings, "I'll know my savior, by the marks where the nails have been."
The prayer of preparation in your bulletin for this morning comes from an anonymous writing entitled, "One Solitary Life." Let's take a look at that now.
"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpentry shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
When the tide of popular opinion turned against him, his friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies. He was tried and convicted. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never went to college. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompanies greatness.
Yet all the armies that ever marched, and all the governments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected life upon this earth as powerfully as that One Solitary Life."
~ Author Unknown
He had the utmost honor, and the world, though it didn't at the time, recognized his true cred, but he was rewarded in this world with a cross, abandoned, and alone. At the very low point of life, he still was faithful to God, and was still faithful to us.
I quoted Romeo and Juliet earlier, saying swear not by the moon, but show up tomorrow. Prove yourself faithful. This honor is a positive statement, more than just not lying, cheating, or stealing, but being that person who people know they can depend on no matter what, and compete with each other as to who can be that best at simply being there, always. I know that this is something that I struggle with, but maybe that is why we are to try and out do one another and compete. Maybe we all need a pace car driving us forward to be more honorable, more resolved, and more dependable. We sing, on Christ the Solid Rock I Stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking stand. Yes. May we aspire to be like that rock, for there is enough sinking sand in this world, and very few rocks.