November 8, 2010
Clean on the outside and dirty on the inside. Wow! Jesus spoke about that concept a number of times throughout the gospels using word pictures like whitewashed tombs all clean and pretty on the outside and full of dead men’s bones on the inside. On my first trip to Africa one of my team members asked our guide why he hadn’t seen any cemeteries. The man thought for a minute and said “I’ve been to America and the cemeteries are so beautiful, you almost want to live there.” And he went on to tell us that in Sierra Leone in the villages the dead were just buried in the forest and in the city cemeteries were just places to bury the dead. And he wasn’t kidding, they took us to a small cemetery where the first Wesleyan missionaries had been buried and it was overgrown and neglected, at first I was a little cranky, here was the final resting place of people who had given their lives for the people of Sierra Leone and nobody was taking care of their graves. But to the nationals the spirit had gone and all that was left was a container and what do you do with a container when you are done with it? You certainly don’t turn it into a shrine. They saw our obsession over how our cemeteries looked almost as ancestor worship. Interesting. And that really had nothing to do with the message.
So Jesus spoke of whitewashed tombs and of bowls that people prepared for eating, all shiny and spiffy on the outside and yucky on the inside. In each case there is a concern with outward appearances without a corresponding concern for what the inside was like.
And he used these illustrations to describe the actions of certain people, people who spent more time on the external than on the internal. That how they acted and what they did was more focused on how people perceived them than who they really were. The outside was all clean and shiny but inside where they actually lived was filled with all sorts of nasty things.
The story is told in Luke chapter 12, it was read earlier. We are told that the crowds following Jesus have become larger and larger, to the point that Luke tells us in Luke 12:1 Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy.”
The next nine verses are strung together like pearls on a necklace, each thought separate but connected to the previous one and the next one.
Hypocrisy is one of those insults that cuts to the core of who we are, to be called a hypocrite is really hurtful. Most of us think of ourselves as authentic individuals. If we were to claim to a life philosophy it would be the same as Horton who said “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant is faithful one hundred percent.”
But Jesus dropped the hypocrisy bomb several times in the gospels, usual in regards to the Pharisees who would have never applied that label to themselves. After all, their very name meant “The separated ones” and they had removed themselves from the daily constraints of life to focus on keeping the rules and regulations of the law. It wouldn’t even be fair to draw a comparison with pastors because on a day to day basis we deal with administration and maintenance and people. The Pharisees were more like contemplative monks, except instead of living in a monastery they lived in the world and it would appear part of their mandate was to criticize people who weren’t as rigidly committed to the rules and regulations as they were.
The very origins of the word hypocrite describe it, in the Greek the word is ὑποκριτής hypokritēs and it occurs throughout the New Testament and Christ’s teachings. And it came from it is the regular Greek word for an actor. And Barclay tells us “It then came to mean an actor in the worse sense of the term, a pretender, one who acts a part, one who wears a mask to cover his true feelings, one who puts on an external show while inwardly his thoughts and feelings are very different.”
One of the complaints that I hear about the church from those outside is “It is filled with hypocrites.” And I don’t believe that is true at all, just because Christians occasionally stumble and fall doesn’t make us hypocrites, it just makes us human. It’s when we deny that we ever stumble and fall that we move into dangerous territory.
And I’m reminded when someone uses the hypocrite excuse for not coming to church “The only thing smaller than a hypocrite is someone who can hide behind a hypocrite.”
So let’s start at the beginning which seems to be a logical and good place to start. Jesus warns us in Luke 12:2-3 The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!
So Jesus begins by focusing on A Warning About Our Behaviour: This is what we do and don’t do and for most of us that’s what we think about when it comes to hypocrisy. It is evidenced when what we say and what we do don’t line up.
We see it all the time, people who say they are committed to being fit and healthy but they never exercise and eat junk food. People who say they would like to have nice teeth but never floss. People who say they are committed to making their marriage work, but make put no effort in it. I have met with people who have committed adultery who have told me “But I really love my spouse.” Ok! A funny way of showing it.
And that takes us to the whole wedding vow thing, remember when you promised to , “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law and thereto I pledge you my love.”
I have had people tell me how committed they are to their local church and how important it is to them and what a difference it had made to their family but never supported the church in in a tangible way. Nobody in this church but in other churches I’ve pastored.
People who tell me “I am committed to following Christ.” But then they ignore his commands and his church. They say that they believe the word of God but they’ve never read it and if they have it isn’t an important part of their life. These were the people Jesus was speaking to when he said in Matthew 15:7-8 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
Last week I said that John Donne was a favourite of mine when I was doing the required poetry thing in high school, my other favourite was John Milton who wrote “For neither man nor angel can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible, except to God alone.”
This warning is continued in Luke 12:8-9 “I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. Often when we read this we think it applies to witnessing or proclaiming Christ as our saviour. We apply it to people like Peter who when push came to shove proclaimed “I don’t know Jesus.”
But I think the bigger problem today is that too many people call themselves Christians and then deny Christ with their actions. They claim to follow him but are heading in a completely different direction with their lives. If I told you that I was going to Toronto and you said that you would follow me I would suspect that meant we were going to be travelling in the same direction. And maybe you would for a while, we’d leave the church and you’d follow me up Gatehouse and we’d turn left on the Hammonds Plains Road and you’d follow me down to the 102 and we’d turn left and you’d follow me to Truro, but when I turned left onto the TransCanada to head for Ontario you turned right and headed to Cape Breton you’d no longer be following me, no matter what you said.
I get tired of people who profess their love for God and Christ but their lives show no evidence of that love. They want to love Christ and do as they like, but Christ himself tells us in John 14:15 Jesus said “If you love me, obey my commandments.” And he goes on to warn us John 15:10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love. . . we’ve talked about proving mathematical equations by flipping them, 1+ 2= 3, than 3-1=2 So if Jesus said John 15:10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love. . . it is the same as John 15:10 When you don’t obey my commandments, you don’t remain in my love. . .
And so Jesus warns us Luke 12:9 But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels.
But hypocrisy isn’t just revealed in what we do, Jesus continued in Luke 12:4-5 “Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” A Warning About Our Motives Several times in the gospels Jesus warns people about doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. They were doing good things, they couldn’t be criticized for their actions, but why were they doing it?
Matthew 6:2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.
And then in Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.
And again in Matthew 6:16 “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and dishevelled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.
Or as it has been so eloquently put “Man who toots own horn, blows his reward.”
It isn’t that their actions weren’t measuring up; it was that they were more concerned with what other people thought about them than what God required of them.
That is sometimes revealed through our actions and sometimes through our speech. When we know we should say something but bite our tongue, not because it’s the wrong thing to say but because we are afraid of what people will think about us. I’ve said it before: Silence is golden but sometimes it’s just plain yellow. It was Abraham Lincoln said, “To sin by silence, when they should protest makes cowards out of men.”
But Jesus reminds us that ultimately we will not be judged by men but by God and it will be God who has final say in our eternity. And he will judge us not only on what we do but on what we don’t do.
But here is the promise that comes along with the warnings Luke 12:6-7 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. So here we have the Promise of God’s Attention.
Sparrows aren’t worth much in the big scheme of things, they are not really colourful, don’t have a pretty song and probably aren’t very good eating. Even in their monetary worth, Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
And here he says you can get 5 for two copper coins , not only are we talking sparrows we are talking sale sparrow, marked down sparrows, discount sparrows. And Yet Jesus reminds us that God doesn’t even forget the least of the sparrows, even the free one that’s thrown in when you buy four, and then he assures us that we are so much more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
You will never be lost in the crowd to God, you matter to him. When you chose to follow Christ you became a child of God’s a child of the King and he wants what is best for you. And if you are like me the times when you wonder where God is, it’s because you’ve wandered away, and when the wheels seem to come off the wagon it’s because I’ve chose to go my own way and do my own thing.
Sometimes I think we mistrust God and are afraid he has forgotten us because we are judging him by our standard and we know there are times that sometimes we forget him.
And then Jesus ends by telling those listening to him that day in Luke 12:10 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. If I had a nickel for every time someone has asked me what the unforgiveable sin is, or what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, I’d have a lot of nickels.
If you are concerned about whether or not you have blasphemed the Holy Spirit you probably haven’t. This is the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit, of hardening your heart against God’s wooing to the point where you can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. Where you have repeated rejected the grace of God to the point that it is no longer offered.
Let me conclude with the words of American poet Robert Frost who wrote “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” There will come a time that each of us will stand before our creator.
But until that time comes we have miles to go and promises to keep and if we walk as we are supposed to walk, keep the promises we make and make sure we are clean inside as well as out then we are on the right track.