In the months since I’ve been preaching regularly, I’ve realized how much more easily I feel convicted. It’s one thing to read scriptures about the dire importance of loving God and neighbor and failing to do so; its another thing to passionately encourage your congregation to love God and neighbor and turn around and treat one of God’s children unlovingly.
Yes, I have a bit of a temper.
Sigh. Remember sermon. "Forgiveness is a better way, God's way." What was I thinking? Why do I emphasize the compassionate, loving aspects of God? If I had talked about judgment, at least I'd have an excuse...
It sounded so nice when I was saying it to someone else. I don't really even want to try to work toward forgivenss right now. But here comes that nasty, sneaky, little poking feeling of God saying, "You know, if you're going to get into a pulpit and tell people this is the best way, perhaps you ought to at least make a good faith effort yourself."
Hypocrisy is a potent catalyst for mistrust. When you see that someone has behaved hypocritically, you feel betrayed. You no longer trust what the hypocrite says. And religious people have an enormous reputation for hypocrisy. Many non-Christians have strongly negative opinions about Christians, and the reason is that they perceive many Christians are hypocritical. Whether or not it is fair, non-Christians judge Christians when their actions fail to live up to biblical standards. No matter that no one is perfect; when a Christian acts in a manner that is unchristlike, people notice.
When words and deeds do not match up, a chasm forms. And that chasm is more dangerous than we might imagine. Faith can fall into that chasm of mistrust and disillusionment, and be lost. Many people have become so disgusted by the actions of Christians that they have rejected the church altogether. I have heard so many people claim that they like Jesus just fine—they just don’t like his followers. There are certainly lots of Christians who would send me running in the other direction if I wasn’t securely rooted in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder if people who claim to be Christians are any less likely to lie, cheat, steal, abuse, and judge.
The crisis of hypocrisy is causing many Christians to struggle with their identity as Christian people. We live in a culture that increasingly mistrusts Christianity; how, then, are we supposed to go about our way sharing the gospel of Christ from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth? This issue came up often during the eight weeks of our Talking Faith discussion group. We are people who have chosen to follow the way of Jesus; how do we communicate that to our neighbors in the shadow of so-called Christians who proclaim not the way of Jesus but the way of judgment, hatred, and deception?
We’ve got to get back to the basics, and recommit ourselves to not simply believing in the gospel, but living in a way that is fully informed by the good news of Jesus Christ. When we wake up each morning, we need to begin our days with a humble prayer, asking God to help us embody the love, grace, and forgiveness of the gospel. We can’t waste too much time fretting about the Christians who continue to practice hypocrisy; after all, judge not, or you shall be judged. We’ve just got to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit and let that Spirit recreate us again and again according to the will of God.
There is a wonderful quote attributed to St. Francis of
We can ask for forgiveness and do what is right to restore relationships when our actions hurt our neighbors.
During this season each time of year, the Church Universal celebrates All Saint’s Day. This is a time in the life of the congregation to remember those who have passed away, and to celebrate the lives of the whole communion of Saints. I know that this congregation has lost some extraordinary members in recent years, true Saints of the Church who lived graciously. These people were not perfect, but their integrity and humility make the connection between their walk and their talk seamless. Remembering and honoring this communion of Saints is part of our work as Christian people. As we endeavor to rid our lives of hypocrisy and become more Christlike, we need the examples of men and women who have traveled this same path.
We might groan under the burden of loosening ourselves from the grip of hypocrisy. I meant it when I said this scripture makes me groan as a preacher; I am humbled by my many failures to live up to the words I pronounce. But God’s grace transforms our groaning into songs of praise. God’s love turns our expressions of repentance into illustrations of forgiveness. Thanks be to God.