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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I Can't Believe What You Say Because I See What You Do

2017-08-20 Mt 15 01-02 10-2 

I Can't Believe What You Say (Because I See What You Do). 




James Baldwin, teacher, author, and civil rights champion, was age 90 and still going strong, when he recalled the song from his middle-age by Ike & Tina Turner, "I Can't Believe What You Say (because I see what you do)."  

Baldwin took the song about an unfaithful lover and re-purposed it, aiming it squarely at the white political leaders of his day. 

He sharpened the song and pointed its words at those who insisted, those who persisted, in upholding beliefs, and laws, and traditions that reinforced racial injustice in America. 


I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do. 


In Chapter 15 of the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus is confronted by political leaders, who are also religious leaders. 

(Religion is always political in Jesus's world.)  

These leaders have come to him. 

He did not seek them out. 

Jesus does not start this fight. 

But he does not back away from it, either. 



Jesus is challenged by these leaders, leaders who love to lead by shaking their fingers. 

They hold power by pointing out what everybody else is doing wrong. 

These leaders see Jesus, and his disciples, doing new things, different things, un-usual things, and they are offended. 

They demand Jesus tell them - why. 




Why do your disciples break with tradition? 


do they not honor their own heritage? 


don't you teach them respect? 


don't you correct them? 

Redirect them? 

Why don't you explain to them that God doesn't want us to hate; God just wants us to be pure. 




Jesus's answer is summed up by Baldwin and the Turners:  

I can't believe what you say, I can't believe you're saying what you say, because I see what you do. 




I did not pick today's scriptures. 

They come from the Common Lectionary that churches all around the world are reading this day, the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost and the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. 



The beauty of the Lectionary is that it lifts the burden of choice from a preacher. 

And it puts upon her, or him, the freedom of obedience. 

Left to myself, I'd probably be preaching on the eclipse or some other ridiculous thing. 

Left to my own choice, I'd probably pivot, divert, because the world puts enough burdens on us and at least on Sunday we need a sanctuary from the storms. 

I'd pick something peaceful. 

Something calming. 

That, at least, would be the excuse for my willful ignorance. 

The real reason would be the fear of saying something uncomfortably and unapologetically biblical. 


We who preach from the shared Lectionary often open the Bible and are astounded at how well the passages assigned years ago to a particular day match perfectly what's going on. 

We are amazed at the divine coincidence. 

O, we of little-faith. 

We shouldn't be surprised at all. 

Because the Word of God is eternal. 

The Word of God is wise beyond our thought-bubbles. 

The Word of God speaks to all times, to all places. 

What should surprise us is how infrequently we notice. 

What should convict us is how rarely we who preach the Bible actually read it. 

We're more interested in keeping entertained the people who pay our salaries. 

More interested in being liked than speaking the Word that eclipses all our selfish concerns. 


Today's scripture – Old Testament scripture, New Testament scripture – all of this scripture, concerns God's view... 

of racism. 

All of this scripture –  

is about how God sees all people –  

all indigenous people,  

all immigrant people,  

all foreign people,  

all kinds of people (even the chosen people) –  

about how God sees them –  

about how God sees all us people - equally. 

How God sees us all -- as precious, beloved children, with whom God yearns to be pleased. 


 I don't know how the preachers in Charlottesville, or Baltimore, or Selma, or anywhere else will be preaching these scriptures today. 

I don't know how the rabbis yesterday preached their Bible - what we call our Old Testament. 

But God's Word is both the burden and the freedom placed on us. 

On all of us. 

Not just preachers, but listeners. 

Not just faith-talkers, but faith-walkers – all of us, who are the doers of faith. 


The highest aim of God's Word proclaimed, no matter where it is spoken, no matter where it is heard,  

is that the world will both hear what we say and see what we do,  

and that these will call out, will move, our sinful earth  

to be as it is in heaven. 

That all will see what we do and can believe what we say. 




Isaiah prophesies much of what Jesus does as the Word of God, living. 

Isaiah tells God's chosen people that God isn't finished choosing people. 


Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered. 

For my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples. 

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord... 

these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.... 


Somewhere along the way, in the years between Isaiah and Jesus, the religious leaders became confused. 

They saw the words, "house of prayer," but what they read was, "house of pure."  

They missed the contradiction. 

Did you catch it? 

You can't have a house of "pure" if it's a house for ALL. 

You can't have a house for God's chosen if the unchosen show up. 


Now, our day and age is not the day and age of purity.  

These are the days of Purell.  

In our days, we read how the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus and said, "How come your disciples don't wash their hands before they eat?" and we might think, "Well, duh. 

Everybody knows you have to wash your hands before you eat. 

Everybody knows you have to wash your hands before you enter a hospital room. 

Everybody knows you have to wash your hands after you touch a shopping cart, or use a public restroom, or shake hands with the unwashed heathen."  


Oh, for the wisdom of Nancy Kerr, who preached to all who would listen, "Hugs are cleaner than handshakes."  

How true. 

Not only cleaner but also healthier in so many ways. 

I think if the Pharisees had asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples hug everyone before they eat?" Jesus might have said, "You know, you're right. We should make that a thing." 


Of course, the complaint wasn't about the disciples being antibacterial, it was about them being impure. 

Because for the religious leaders, cleanliness wasn't next to godliness, purity was next to godliness – religious purity – racial purity – ritual purity – was next to godliness. 

You couldn't get next to God if you weren't pure. 


Jesus replies saying, "Excuse me? 

It's not about the dirt you eat;  

it's about the filth you spew."  

It's not about keeping the unclean out;  

it's about matching what you say and what you do. 

Not purity, but integrity. 

Not the absence of filth, but the presence of faith, faith integrated in word and in deed. 


You can flush the germs of your stomach down the toilet, but if your heart is infected, if your mind is polluted with hate, you are neither godly nor well. 


He tells them, and the Word of God tells us today,  

when your words and your faith are integrated,  

when we build houses of prayer instead of purity,  

when our walk of love matches our talk of love,  

then, then God will see what we do and believe what we say. 

For then we will be speaking God's words, and not our own. 




Do you remember your best teachers? 

All the best teachers have one thing in common. 

What is it? 

All the best teachers have in common the gift of being able to not just tell you information, but also to show you how it applies. 

Isn't that true? 

We have more than a few schoolteachers in our congregation who've been given awards for their teaching. 

They've been recognized not just because of what they say, but because of what they do, which together makes them who they are. 


Matthew was a disciple, a student, when the Pharisees and scribes confronted Jesus. 

But years later, Matthew wrote these things down. 

He became a teacher. 

And as a teacher, writing this New Testament lesson, he puts immediately after what Jesus says, a very dramatic example of what Jesus does. 


If you take the second half of today's lesson out of context, if you take words like, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,"  

And, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs,"  

if you pull out only Jesus saying that, - and people do - you would think Jesus is just echoing the words of the Pharisees. 

Sorry, Canaanites, you're not the right nationality, not the right color, not the right race - you're impure. 


Matthew may have been another struggling disciple but years later, as a gospel-writer, he's a master-teacher. 

He drives home Jesus's earlier teaching with a prime example of how even Jesus tripped up on the tradition of the chosen people. 


The Canaanite Woman didn't start this fight, but she doesn't back down from it. 

She says, on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter, 


"Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly. 


Matthew is artful, and bold, to use this story not only to tell, but to show what Isaiah and Jesus said,  


For my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples. 


All races. 

All nations. 

All levels of pure. 

All sideways in sin. 


Matthew tells us, and then he shows us, the outstretched arms of the God of ALL the world, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the broken, in word and in deed. 


We can believe what Jesus says because we see what he does. 





A final lesson. 

A lesson especially for you unfamiliar with James Baldwin, or not acquainted with Ike & Tina Turner. 

I would like to introduce you. 


On Netflix, watch the challenging, award-winning documentary about Baldwin, in his own words, talking about race in America. 

It's called, "I Am Not Your Negro." 


And after you've watched that, get on YouTube. 

Watch Ike and Tina Turner, performing. 

Some who study music say they pretty much invented rock and roll. 

Without Ike & Tina there would be no Elvis, no Mick Jagger, no Beyonce. 

Whether that's a good thing or bad, I'll leave to your judgment. 


Tina sings. 

Sings with her whole body. 



He gets me in the dark, and he says he's my man 
But when we walk down the street, he never holds my hand 
He say one day that he will marry me 
But he tells his friends that that will never be 


I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do. 


Matthew has Jesus quote a song, too. 

Jesus quotes a song from Isaiah, the prophet and rebel for God's cause. 

He quotes it to those powerful, righteous men he brands hypocrites. 


'This people honors me with their lips, 
    but their hearts are far from me; 
in vain do they worship me, 
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.'" 

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that our nation is being judged – judged by our words and our deeds – judged by God and by the standard of Jesus Christ. 


Will history judge us as honoring the love and justice of Jesus Christ with only our lips? 

or with our whole hearts? 

Will our children and children's children see us as worshipers of God? 

Or as those who worship the safety of silence, and the precepts of powerful people? 


Will they believe what we say? 

Will they see God in what we do? 


May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 

The love of God, 

And the communion of the Holy Spirit 

Cast out the demons that afflict our hearts and our land. 

And may God's eternal Word lead us on.