What Would Jesus Undo? - Week Two: Hypocrisy
Today is the Second Sunday of the season of Lent, one of the most sacred seasons in the historic calendar of the Church. The word Lent comes from the Latin word for forty. Practically speaking Lent is the roughly forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
But the season of Lent is also a spiritual as well as a temporal journey. As Christians, we believe that we are journeying with Jesus during this season--mirroring in a way the 40 days that he spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry.
Throughout this Lenten season, we will be asking a very important question: "What Would Jesus Undo?" What does Jesus need to undo in our lives so that we can more fully embrace a life of following him?
Today we're going to be addressing something that absolutely needs to be undone in our lives before we can truly follow Jesus with our whole selves: Hypocrisy.
I want you to do something for me this morning. I want you to imagine that you are watching late night TV. Let's say that you can't sleep. You've tried everything and now you have resorted to actually watching regular television.
And suddenly you find yourself mesmerized by a televangelist's broadcast. You know the kind, I'm talking about. The guy with the really big hair next to the woman with even bigger... blue hair. And this televangelist is doing is healing.
You are transfixed by this guy--you can't look away. And as you gaze into the television, he begins to speak--seemingly directly at you.
"I want to reach out your hand, right now... right to the television screen. Put your hand on mine... feel the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through those pixels... And I want you to pray after me right now...
'Lord---heal me.... Heal me Lord of my hypocrisy... I've been a hypocrite, Lord. I just want to be healed of being a hypocrite..."
At this point, what are you thinking? You're probably thinking, this is not like any other televangelist that I've ever seen. Can you imagine, if there was actually such a TV preacher? Reaching out to heal Christians of their hypocrisy.
He'd probably be the poorest TV evangelist in the history of ever. No gold bathroom fixtures or private jets for that guy.
Because that kind of thing would never... ever happen, right? Since when did anyone in the Chruch make a big deal out of confessing, repenting and asking for healing for being a hypocrite?
And just so we're clear about what we're talking about here, let's make sure that we truly define what it means to be a hypocrite.
What's your best working definition? Tell it the person next to you, and be honest.
Now here's another question for you---was there anyone that you thought of when you worked out that definition before you shared it? I hope it wasn't the person next to you. That would suck for them.
The actual definition of the word hypocrite comes to us from the ancient Greek word hypokrites which means "stage actor, pretender, dissembler."
Basically, someone who says one thing and does another. Someone who claims to be one kind of person but then acts completely like another.
And what we've all heard at one point in time or another is the excuse that our friend or co-worker or relative made as to why they no longer went to church, or never wanted to darken the door of a church.
"I don't want to go to church because the church is full of... hypocrites." Right.
Sadly, that same old excuse is still one of the main reasons that members of the emerging generations give as to why they have either given up on church or never want to give the church a try.
I always want to say to someone who tells me that---"Well, there's room for one more, pal."
The sad fact is that there seems to persist this idea that Christians say one thing and live another. I recently used a quote from Fr. Richard Rohr on my FB feed and in one of my daily devotions that went like this:
The world no longer trusts Christians who say they love Jesus, but don't seem to love anything else.
So, the bottom line is that those of us who call ourselves Christians need to figure this out. We need to have our hypocrisy undone.
Which brings me to my one and only point today: Jesus can undo our hypocrisy when our inside matches our outside.
When what you say matches how you live... When what you believe matches what you do... When you not only say that you love Jesus, but you live and love like Jesus... that's when your inside matches your outside.
Our conversation partner today is the Apostle Paul, who wrote about this kind of thing in his letter to the Philippians. Here's what he said in chapter 3 of his letter:
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
During the time of Paul, this city was populated with a lot of ex-soldiers who were given land in and around the city. It was a staunch supporter of the Roman Empire--full of all kinds of patriotic people. Which meant that anyone who had different ideas about who was truly Lord, would have had a problem on their hands.
Paul encourages these people to not give in to the pressure around them to be like everyone else and to let their insides match their outside. He speaks of imitation here not as a way to flatter himself because Paul would have seen this kind of imitation of Christ as a self-emptying exercise. Becoming less so that Christ would be seen more clearly.
It's interesting that he identifies a group of people as enemies of the Cross--the kinds of people who are completely focused on themselves. The kinds of people who were willing to trade their allegiance to Jesus for allegiance to Rome, and all that Rome represents.
But he claims that Christians are called to a different kind of life. Those who follow Christ have their "citizenship" in heaven. He uses the Greek word politeuma here--the only time it's used in the entire New Testament. It's almost like Paul is having to resort to a stronger, more explicit, anti-imperial way of speaking to get through to these Christians.
He wanted the Philippians to know that they would not find their identity in the Roman world around them. No matter how tempting it was to seek it there.
In other words---Paul was teaching that if your inside can't match your outside when you claim to follow Jesus, but act like you're following the Emperor. Your inside can't match your outside when you say your allegiance is with Christ, but you live like your allegiance is with Rome.
Here's the thing, cultural Christianity has been wrong about this for a very long time.
It's not about waiting for heaven. It's not about personal piety. It's not about winning at the end of all things by being snatched away for a front row seat while the world burns.
And here's something else... It's not about amassing more power than those who disagree with you... It's not about winning the culture wars... or putting all your faith in political parties to save the day...
This is about living now as though heaven is shaping your life on earth.
I'm going to go back to giving you three practical points today... but not like you would think.
Here are the Three Keys To Being An Awesome Hypocrite. If you really want to get this whole hypocrite thing right--this is how you make it happen:
Self Preservation, Self-Satisfaction & Self-Obsession.
All three of these land on the Church, and it's driving people away.
The great reformer Martin Luther once wrote about this very passage of Scripture and the people who don't get the whole inside matching outside concept. He said that they are "curved within themselves."
And in a fascinating way--all of these things come back on the people who practice them in really negative ways.
If you spend your energy focused on self-preservation, which was what a lot of churches do... and a lot of the Christians within those churches... you quickly become irrelevant, angry, paranoid and isolated.
If you spend your energy on your own self-satisfaction, you can easily become the kind of person that is selfish and focused with your own needs. You'll become the kind of person that wants what you want when it comes to faith, your Christian walk, your belief in Jesus. In fact, your version of Jesus looks a whole lot like you.
A community of faith who becomes focused on self-satisfaction doesn't really seem to care about the real needs of others. They are only focused on getting bigger for the sake of being bigger because bigger means that they're winning.
If you spend your energy on being self-obsessed, then you quickly begin to see people who are not like as potential threats. You draw lines between people quickly and with great judgment. Anyone who doesn't agree with your beliefs is an outsider in every sense of the word.
If you want to truly embrace what it means to be a hypocrite--that's how to make it happen.
But if you want to live differently, you'll discover what it means to be one-another focused. Jesus told his followers that his greatest desire was for them to love "one another." How we one-another is super important to breaking free from the bonds of hypocrisy.
I've had occasion to learn this lesson more than once in my life, but there's one memory that came back to me vividly this week. It's about a kid that I've never forgotten.
The story of the kid from the FCA worship service.
I often wonder what happened to that kid. I wonder if his love for God was lessened because he was subjected to a bunch of hypocrites whose insides didn't match their outsides. I wonder if he walked away from it all. I wonder and I hope.
We owe it to the scores of people who are outside the church looking in to be better. We owe it to the next generations to be better. We need our hypocrisy to be undone.
And Jesus can undo our hypocrisy when our inside matches our outside.