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  • Rev. Sandra Larson

Hypocrisy or Humility

September 15, 2019

Hypocrisy or Humility

Psalm 34.1-6, James 4.6b-72, Philippians 2.1-4

Rev. Sandra Larson

I never go to church," confessed an inactive church member.

"Yes, I noticed that," said the pastor.

"I don't go because there are so many hypocrites in churches."

"Don't let that keep you away," replied the pastor with a smile. "There's always room for one more.”

IN WHAT WAYS are we hypocrites? Is this congregation hypocritical as a church? Jesus taught his followers an important life principle by criticizing religious show-offs who flaunted their religiosity. Jesus criticized public piety motivated by a desire for approval, rather than simple acts inspired by devotion to God and neighbor [Mt 6:1-18; 23:5-7]. What is the motivation of the religious show-offs? They want to look good. Are people inclined to flaunt good deeds and stretch the truth about ourselves due to pridefulness or a desperate need to look good to people around us? All of us want to be viewed as good Christians.

Once there was a rabbi who was near death, so the Jewish community proclaimed a day of fasting hoping to influence God to nullify his death sentence. They all gathered in the synagogue for prayer, except for the town drunk who went to the tavern. A devout man saw him heading for the bar and shouted: "This is a fast-day. You're not allowed to drink. Everybody's praying for the rabbi!"

So the drunkard fervently prayed, "Dear God! Please restore the rabbi to good health so that I can have my schnapps!"

The rabbi recovered and responded gratefully: "May God preserve our village drunkard! He put his whole heart and soul into his prayer!"

Jesus often criticized the scribes and Pharisees for hypocrisy--not because they were inherently evil, nor because Jewish law no longer mattered to them. Jesus often reminded his followers of the importance of the OT law. Many Pharisees, like believers throughout the ages, started out with good intentions but became diverted by self-interest. Jesus singled out the scribes and Pharisees because they claimed faith in God, but instead, they put faith in their own efforts. Matthew’s account of Jesus is critical of a tendency in the early Christian community to focus on who is excluded rather than who is included. Paul confessed, we do things we hate and we fail to do things we want to do. The OT prophet Micah warned: Beware of those who think that it all rests on their shoulders. Beware of those who preach peace, but act in violence. Beware of those who claim power that is not theirs to claim. It is the power of God that makes anything possible.

We can identify with the desire of the Scribes and Pharisees to be righteous and good. Yet doing good deeds can substitute for glorifying God & replace living as followers of Christ. Prideful folks discount God. Are we prone to think, “I’m so good,” rather than “God is so good?” I keep working on more fully relying on God & trusting God’s will.

We try to make ourselves look good because we live in a culture that values appearances, status, wealth, position, individualism and materialism. The role of the church has diminished. No wonder we try to make ourselves stand out--as individuals and as a church. Jesus consistently reminded his followers that "the greatest among you will be your servant."

Hypocrisy often arises from pridefulness.

God will give us yet another opportunity to live more fully. No matter how often we act in self-serving ways, we have new chances to glorify God and serve others. If we fail in our discipleship, God still upholds us. Self-confidence is basically good--God intends us to be all that we can be. Yet, many Christians disguise bragging with a thin coat of gratitude to God. Do we believe that we don't need God’s help—at least not much?!

Self-righteous believers deny that, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." An attitude of self-importance isolates a person from others. Others avoid braggarts and covert snobs of whatever sort. Self-righteous people often put down others in order to make themselves feel more righteous. Bragging is a cover-up for poor self-esteem. Self-righteousness can trigger disrespect for other people. Abusive people abuse or belittle others in order to elevate themselves.

Honesty compels us to admit that it feels good to believe that we are better than at least some other people--even if we are not inclined to bragging or abusive behavior. Yet Jesus warned, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” “Judge not, lest you be judged,” cautions that people tend to criticize others for what we are, ourselves. If we accuse someone of being stingy or bossy, it is because we are inclined to stinginess or pushiness and therefore easily identify stinginess or pushiness because we are that way. Unfortunately, we usually deny our own faults by pointing at other people’s failings. Judge not, because you are actually judging yourself.

Arrogance diminishes relationships. Mr. or Ms. Perfect find few friends who identify with them or want to relate to them at all. Yet, self-demeaning also diminishes relationships. Self-deprecating people usually become isolated and lonely. Low opinion of oneself also deprecates God’s love and power by shutting out God’s grace. The Bible dispels our misguided notions of worthlessness. A former substance addict put it like this: ’God don’t make no junk.’ God values each of us.

Many people bounce back and forth between unfounded pride and unwarranted self-deprecation. Sometimes we think, ‘I’m great,” and sometimes, even in the next moment, we think, ‘I am a jerk.’

Scripture shows that we are sinners who are also saints. There is grace in that balance. We are God’s beloved children. To understand that metaphor—let’s admit that we love our own children, and yet our children are far from perfect. When we really accept God’s love, we do not sink into despair. We do not need to be hypocrites or try to show off.

How can we humbly show off God’s love for us and for everyone?

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