How many here have been around long enough to recognize that old advertising slogan, “Taste the Real thing?” It may even show up today from time to time. The ad deals with Pepsi and its claim to be the “real” cola. For a long while, there were taste tests to see if you could tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke. Remember that?
How about jewellery? Anyone here wearing a gold wristwatch or bracelet? Are those items made out of pure gold? In the time of the great Gold Rush, many would stake a claim to mine gold. Some would bring their gold to be cashed in only to learn it was not real gold. It was pyrite or “fool’s gold.” It was fake, phoney.
How about movies? Anyone here seen a good one lately? The last one I saw with my two sons was Green Lantern. It was pretty good. A lot of movies today are being made in 3D to make the characters appear real. Yet, every person in the movie is an actor. If the actor is really good, he or she will have you believing he really is that character and that is hard to do in a comic book movie.
Actors get into a character, and pore over their lines and go over them over and over again to get the actions just right, the cadence of the speech just right, etc. It has been a real joy attending some of the plays my youngest son has been in with Grant Park High School over the years.
If the actor is good, you are convinced he or she the person he or she claims to be. Now, what does all of this have to do with our message today? You recall from last week Jesus was challenging the Sadducees and the Pharisees, when He was asked the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”
The answer was that love was the key and loving God, self and neighbour is essential. Obviously, Jesus did not see this demonstrated in the lives of the religious leaders of His day. Essentially, He was labelling them as hypocrites. What is a hypocrite? According to the dictionary, Hypocrisy is the state of thinking you have to have to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, ideals, thoughts, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "Jealous", "play-acting", "acting out", "coward", or "dissembling". The word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokrites), the agentive noun associated with υποκρίνομαι (hypokrinomai κρίση "judgment" , »κριτική (kritiki), "critics") presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment, of that text.
A hypocrite then is an actor, is a pretender, pretending to have love for you but does not. A hypocrite says the pretty words of love, makes the motions of love, puts on a good face of love, comes across totally charming and loving. But that person does not really love you. Pretending to have strong feelings for you, but it is all a farce.
Hypocrites give the illusion, the pretense, the deceit of authenticity, but it is all an illusion, just like the “phony” cola, the “fake” or “fool’s” gold and the one who is simply in a role, acting.
The scribes and Pharisees claim their authority is handed down from Moses and Jesus does not deny that. However, what He does say is “Do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long (*the outward wear). They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have people call them rabbi.”
Jesus claimed the religious leaders looked outwardly like people with authority and their words claimed authority. Their actions, however, proved the opposite, as though they did not understand the very laws they were called upon to uphold…principally, the law of love. The scribes and Pharisees were actors in a sense, giving an impression of religious leaders yet not understanding in their hearts the meaning of love.
The next thing Jesus does is speak to the crowds and disciples. Turning to them He says “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” This is an eternal truth, since it applies even today. We have one teacher, Jesus, and we are His disciples, His followers, His students or learners. Those who teach, do so in His name and with the assistance and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
For that early crowd along with the disciples, Jesus gave clear instruction. “The greatest among you will be your servant.” Those words apply today as well.
And so, today, we need to heed the words of Jesus. There are many outside these walls who would claim Christians are nothing but hypocrites….claiming one thing as they worship and yet leaving the service and doing the opposite. In the news lately, we heard of a priest in Northern Manitoba who admitted to sexually abusing young boys in the Scouting movement. “Hyprocrite!” they would say…here is one who teaches with authority as those early scribes and Pharisees did. Yet, he, too, was far from God in his heart. As a priest, he would celebrate the Mass, preach, and bring the Word of God to others. Yet, after the service, during the week, he gave in to a dark side and committed horrendous acts on innocent youth. This truly was an actor, someone who looked the part, dressed the part, but clearly did not have the love of Jesus in his heart.
It is no wonder then, why many claim the church is bogus and that religion is a sham. I can’t blame people for reaching that conclusion and walking away from church and religion. Yet, the words of Jesus are clear. We are to be genuine. In order to be genuine, we must admit we are sinners each and every one of us. That’s not a word we even hear much about these days. Sin. Yet, sin is just what we do as a part of our human nature. Left to ourselves we want to be in total control. We want to do what we want, when we want, and we don’t like to be told how to live. The scribes and Pharisees certainly didn’t, and it isn’t much different today. Sin is all about missing the mark, like an arrow shot at the target but missing centre. We get off track, we get tempted, we get lured away from God, giving in to temptation, lust, greed, power. It goes to our heads, making us feel more important than we actually are. In fact, we become phonies ourselves in the process, and yes, hypocrites!
The church is not this building we are in. The church, as the Apostle Paul has said, is the Body of Christ. We are all members of the body, each given gifts by God to contribute to the body’s health and well being. Yes, we preach love, we teach love, we serve at the table in love, we sing in love, but we are still human with our human nature and we will always make mistakes. No one here is perfect. Jesus Himself said those who are not sick have no need of a doctor.
The church is a hospital for sinners and hypocrites, so tell those outside these walls we can always use one more. Any human being can be redeemed by our God, who loves us so much He gave up His life on the cross. By dying on the cross for all of humanity, He brought about forgiveness of sin and opened the door to eternal life. Through the Holy Spirit, we are guided in this life to learn, to be disciples, to be followers of our Lord, Who tells us we must be servants and serve as Jesus served. We must humble ourselves and know our God loves us unconditionally.
Recall the words of Paul to the church he founded in Thessalonica. “You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
We must be genuine in our faith, brothers and sisters. This starts with the genuine commitment to our Lord. The words of our creed are not just words. They spell out what we believe. Think on them and act appropriately. We are to love as Jesus loved, unconditionally. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are to serve as Jesus served. We each have at least one spiritual gift to be used to God’s glory. What is your spiritual gift? If it is music, play music, if it is singing, sing to the glory of God. If it is teaching, get involved and find ways to do that. If it is preaching or leading, speak to me or a Vestry member or someone in leadership and we will guide you.
Most of all, maintain your relationship with the living Lord who is a part of your life. Give your life to Him and in prayer, seek His friendship and His will for your life. You may find He has an incredible plan for you. As each of us grow deeper into Christ, our authenticity as the real thing will become clear. Others will seek us out and many will want this unconditional love of God. As Paul says, God’s Word is active in the believer.
May the love of God, active in you and me, spread out to the neighborhood and world around us, that many more will come to believe and to know we can always use one more in our midst. May the Lord bless us as we journey together in faith.