[Not] Your Average Church - Part 3: "Genuine Humility"
We are in the middle of a four-part sermon series for the season of Lent entitled, "[Not] Your Average Church: Why We Need Real Church for Real People." Over the last two weeks we've discovered the two biggest reasons people give as to why they don't attend church: They feel judged, and they feel lectured. 80 percent of the people in the United States attend church once a year or less. This is obviously a problem--and we are figuring out what we can do to solve it.
We've learned that the best way we can overcome those objections is by practicing Radical Hospitality (welcoming people just as they are) and having Fearless Conversations (not being afraid to listen, engage and be open to people with real issues).
Today we're going to take a step further and discuss the third biggest reason that people have shared as to why they don't want to attend church--they think the Church if full of hypocrites.
Because I am a pastor, I often find myself in conversations with people about church. And if they don't attend church, more often than not they will find a way to share with me why they no longer do so. At some point the hypocrite thing always comes up. It always stings me a little when I hear someone say things like, "I don't go to church because it's full of hypocrites!" I've gotten kind of tired of hearing it, to be honest. What I want to say to people who tell me that is: "Well, there's always room for one more!"
Whether this is a fair accusation or not--this is a common perception by a lot of people.
The word "hypocrite" comes from the Greek word for "actor." In Greek theater actors wore masks to show their emotions. If they were angry, they would wear an angry mask--sad, sad mask, happy... you get the picture. You couldn't trust what you saw, because despite what the mask told you, the person was acting like they were mad, happy or sad--even if they weren't.
I do listen to people's stories, though, despite what I want to say to them sometimes. Because often they've encountered someone in their past that has treated them badly, judged them, or acted in a way that was not at all Jesus-like. And generally this happened when they were in need of help or counsel, or were vulnerable in some way.
I can vividly remember all of the times I encountered hypocrites in church.
But it's much harder for me to recognize the moments when I've been the person acting like a hypocrite.
I know I sometimes act in ways I don't like or even in ways I talk about in sermons of how not to be.
Sometimes the idea of being welcoming and open is a whole lot easier to preach on than it is for me to actually do. I know this might come as a surprise to some of you, but I am actually a little shy. Yeah, I know. It sounds silly, but it's true. After I preach three services, spend a lot of time talking to people and sharing, expending energy--I'm usually exhausted, emotionally as well as physically.
People who are natural introverts understand this.
So, sometimes I'm not at my best after all of the Sunday festivities. There was this time a few years ago when we had a funeral service right after church. It was around 4 PM as I was locking the doors, and a guy we know from the neighborhood showed up wanting money. He also happened to be so drunk he couldn't talk without effort. When I told him that I wasn't giving him any money he started cursing at me. I didn't return the favor, but I wasn't very nice. Let's be honest. I was pretty hard core with the guy.
I had a ton of excuses in that moment. I was exhausted. He was drunk. Any money I gave him would have gone for more booze. He was abusive and pushing my buttons.
Still, I knew I wasn't being the person God had called me to be--and I was also not exactly practicing what I often preach.
The other day I got into a discussion with a guy I don't even know, who vehemently disagreed with some things I was preaching and teaching. He apparently took umbrage with the notion I was putting forward that God loves people and that it's not God's desire to condemn anyone, and that Jesus is proof of this great and unconditional love.
In his opinion, Christians needed to tell people about the wrath and anger of God. In his words, "if someone was about to be hit by a speeding car, wouldn't you want to warn them?" I had my own replies to his, my own verses to respond and for a while I did just that--I argued with this guy. And I found myself thinking, "What a narrow minded bigot. What an angry dude. What a... hypocrite!"
So I'm thinking that this guy is angry, narrow-minded and believes that the only possible interpretation of the Bible is his own. And then it hit me. I was arguing with him. And I was mad.
Now here's the thing. Do I think that yelling at people and hitting repeatedly over the head with the Bible until they submit is a good idea? No. But the truth be told, neither did he guy arguing with me. And both of us were being just as hypocritical as all get out because neither one of us wanted to admit that we didn't have all the answers.
The criticism about hypocrisy that is often leveled at Christians is pretty accurate. We are not perfect. None of us. Even those of us who can cite chapter and verse in the Bible when it comes to hypocrisy and who have had our fair share of run-ins with hypocrites in the church.
The fact of the matter is that the church is full of broken people who sin differently. And we are not always at our best. And we are far from consistent when it comes to the way we try to follow Jesus.
Here's what I would like for us to do. For one solid minute we are going to sit in silence and reflect on moments when we've not been at our best. When we've not practiced what we preach. I'd like for us all to just reflect for one minute on what others see in us that might cause them to call us a hypocrite.
I hope that we can all recognize and admit that this a problem that each of us shares. We don't have it all together. We don't have all of the answers. But we do have Jesus on our side, and he calls us to live differently. Let's share a bit of Jesus teaching from Matthew chapter 6 on this topic.
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Then Jesus drops this bit of wisdom on us...
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Here Jesus is pointing out examples of people from his day that would put on a big show of religion so that everyone would think they were pious. These were the kinds of people that everyone standing there listening to him would have disliked. The kinds of people who seem to be trying to tell others, "See how good I am at my religion? God sure is lucky to have someone like me on his team!"
No one wants to be around people like that. No one.
But Jesus isn't telling his followers to be secretive about their faith, he obviously talks elsewhere about letting your light shine before God so others will see them and glorify the Father. He encourages his followers to live lives of integrity both in private and public.
And to people who say that they don't come to church because of hypocrites--we need to say, "We get it. We're all in this together. We're human. This isn't a country club, it's a hospital and every one of us in here is broken and bleeding."
We need to, in other words, practice Genuine Humility.
Here's the thing. When our lives don't match our words, it turns people off. But if we try to be perfect all of the time, we are just going to fail miserably. We need to practice Jesus-style humility.
Can you tell me some examples of how Jesus practiced humility?
Is it any wonder people are drawn to that kind of humility? What if we lived like that--where we put the needs of others ahead of our own.
I have a video clip I would like to show you that will tell you a bit of the story of Justin May, a young man who practices his faith out loud, but in genuinely humble ways. He doesn't claim to have all the answers, he doesn't claim to always be right. He simply shows up in the lives of others and shows them the love of Jesus.
Let's watch this video...
Justin says that we have to maintain an "outer perspective" when it comes to serving others. and that we need to practice genuine humility by "loving and having your focus on others."
It's not about being right. It's not about being perfect. It's about being present. It's about putting others needs ahead of your own.
What are some things we could do as members of this church to practice Genuine Humility? What are some things that we are doing, perhaps that we could do better?
I'd love for you to take just a couple of minutes to talk about them. If some of you want to text your ideas to me--or if you have a question for me you can use the number on the screen and text me right now. The number is...
Today we are going to close by reading some Scripture--a passage written by the Apostle Paul. This is believed by scholars to be one of the oldest Christian hymns. People were singing this passage of Scripture in worship just years after Jesus returned to heaven.
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.