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Summary: The Second Sermon of Lent 2008

This morning we begin with a ‘Trivial Pursuit’ type question. (Slide 1)

The United States Army once had a Camel Corps. The year the Camel Corp was organized was: A) 1917 B) 1856 C) 2003 D) 1943

The correct answer is 1856. According to wikipedia, some of our national leaders felt that having camels to traverse the difficult and hot places of the southwestern United States was a good thing to do as they could handle the desert climates better than horses and mules. So some men were authorized to go to North Africa buy some camels and bring them home.

After a journey that lasted 10 months, 33 camels and 5 drivers were brought home to the US and placed on duty with the US Army. The camels proved to be successful but because of their temperament, and the US Civil War, the experiment failed and the corps was disbanded.

Many of the camels were sold to individuals and some were bought and sent to Canada to work the Yukon Trail. Some of the camels were turned loose and became wild and were seen in the southwestern US as late as 1942.

What do you know about Camels? Has anyone here ever ridden a camel? I have ridden one and it was a bumpy ride. I rode with 2 or 3 other people and sat the farthest back and it was a rather uncomfortable ride compared to both horses I have ridden as well as an elephant.

But what does the camel have to teach us about Jesus? Actually quite a bit and before we hear from Professor Junglefuss and Juanita, let’s read Matthew 23:1-12 and 23-24.

‘Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear extra long tassels on their robes. And how they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the most prominent seats in the synagogue! They enjoy the attention they get on the streets, and they enjoy being called ‘rabbi.’ Don’t ever let anyone call you ‘rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Master,’ for there is only one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Then over to verses 23 and 24: “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat; then you swallow a camel!

What does this have to do with Lent and Easter and Jesus’ death and resurrection? Let’s hear from Professor Junglefuss and Juanita and find out!

(Dramatic reading from Living Lent; the animals tell the story, the camel reveals a warning savior’ by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2008)

(Slide 3) Jesus is very blunt in this passage and He uses the camel, as already noted in our dialogue, as a metaphor for the ability to ignore the obvious while focusing on the mundane. I think that it is safe to say that the camel represents both pride and denial.

One of the things made clear in this dialogue is that by the time Jesus walked this earth, the Jewish faith had moved beyond the Ten Commandments and the laws we read in Leviticus and other early Old Testament books and into an immense system of rules and rituals. There were so many rules to follow that no one could keep them all. But there were those who thought that others should keep them no matter how difficult and no matter if they kept them or not.

This immense system led to a religion of ‘showmanship’ and ‘status’ rather than servanthood and service. This is why Jesus says to the disciples, ‘don’t let yourself be called ‘rabbi’ or ‘father’ because it is not about power and influence but about humility and serving others.’ Hence the pride issue.

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