Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 4

1 July 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 6:36-42 (Gen 50:15-21, Rom 8:18-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

It is a horrible thing to be called a hypocrite. To be accused of hypocrisy is to be called a filthy liar, a cheater, a person who wears one face in front of certain people to benefit himself, while acting in a completely different way around others. To be called a hypocrite is to be called evil.

Calling people hypocrites makes them mad. It makes them defensive. It’s the kind of thing that can get you crucified.

Jesus often laid bare the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He humiliated them in public. He told them they were worse than thieves and prostitutes. He told them Satan was their father.

But today, dear children of the heavenly Father, our blessed Lord uses the h-word on us. He is not speaking to the Pharisees today. He isn’t addressing those outside of the church. For St. Luke records this sermon after informing us that Jesus “lifted up His eyes toward His disciples.” That would be us. Jesus is speaking to us, here and now, when He says: “Hypocrite!”

We are a church full of hypocrites.

We’re very good at acting pious within these walls. It certainly doesn’t hurt our self-image to be seen here, to serve on boards and committees, to stand in front of the church in priestly vestments. But what kind of people are we when we leave this sanctuary? Our Lord has it just right: “Hypocrites!” We say one thing, and do another. We behave one way in front of one person, and in another way in the presence of another. We are good at putting on the show and playing the role – but the problem, brothers and sisters, is that Almighty God is always in the audience. He knows that behind the actor’s masks, under the make-up, away from the stage on which we recite our lines is something entirely different.

For underneath the titles we carry, chairman of this board, member of that committee, the Reverend so-and-so is just what we confessed at the beginning of this service: a “poor miserable sinner.” One who commits “sins and iniquities.” We who offend God, who deserve temporal and eternal punishment. We are like Joseph’s brothers who deserve to be repaid with the same evil we have done to God and to our neighbors. And let’s not quibble – we don’t only commit a few indiscretions out of ignorance, no way, my dear friends in Christ, we are like Joseph’s brothers who willfully and repeatedly commit evil – and we mean it.

And God is not the only one who sees it. When we as Christians behave as heathen, we hurt the cause of the Gospel. Non-Christians who refuse to come to church because “the church is filled with hypocrites” are right – at least about that part. They are only saying the same thing as Jesus is in our Gospel reading.

But they’re also wrong.

The fact that there are hypocrites in church is no reason to stay away. For they too are hypocrites. For them to absent themselves from the House of God because of the hypocrites is like an alcoholic indignantly refusing to attend AA meetings “because of all the drunks that go there.” Yes indeed, we are hypocrites. Every last one of us. In the words of the children’s song: “The Bible tells me so.” Indeed. The Word of God tells me so. The Ten Commandments tell me so. The incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, tells me so in this Gospel reading today.

And that is exactly why it is a Gospel reading.

For our Lord is warning us. He is giving us loving correction. He isn’t treating us as expendable employees, but rather treats us all as His dear children. For as Luke reminds us, our Lord’s words are being addressed “toward His disciples.” You cannot be a “disciple” without being “disciplined.”

The Lord admonishes us to treat others with mercy – even as we pray: “Lord have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.” We are not to be judgmental, holier-than-thou scolds with our noses in the air. This doesn’t mean we are not to condemn evil nor to uphold what is right. But we certainly should never take pleasure when others stumble, nor should we see ourselves as any more righteous than anyone else. For the measure we mete out to others will be applied right back to us. “Forgive us our trespasses,” we say just before receiving the Lord’s forgiving Supper, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

When we see others’ faults, our Lord commands us (he doesn’t merely suggest, ask, or offer a helpful hint), he orders us, to treat those faults as specks in the eye, while seeing our own as planks. Of course, you can’t see very well what kind of sawdust others have when our own vision is impaired by eye-logs. We are to focus on ourselves, our own faults, our own sins, our own flaws and imperfections. We have more than enough there to occupy us for a whole lifetime in this vale of tears.

For once our own sins are removed, we can then truly help our neighbor with his. We can then lovingly assist in spreading the grace of God rather than simply use our neighbor’s sins and errors, something to gossip about, something to take pleasure in because we perceive our sins as somehow more minor or acceptable.

But once more, dear friends, what does Jesus say? He is telling us point blank that our sins are not less than our neighbors. He is telling us they are planks compared with specks.

So what to do? Well, our blessed Lord doesn’t simply call us hypocrites and tell us we are condemned. That’s why our Lord’s harsh words for us today are merciful. They are indeed Gospel. For he tells us to “remove the plank.” Using a carpentry metaphor, he tells us our sins are removable. Just as a plank of wood can be taken away, so can our sins – even the great sin of hypocrisy that stains all of us.

That is why we are here. All of God’s hypocrites assemble together in weekly commemoration of His resurrection. We pray, sing, read the Scriptures, and break bread. For we are indeed recovering hypocrites. We struggle against temptation moment by moment, day by day, year by year. We fall off the wagon again and again. We come back here to receive mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing. For just as our Lord has destroyed death by death, he uses hypocrites to cure hypocrites. He provides for his hypocritical people by giving them hypocritical pastors with the authority to remove their planks, specks, and every sin in between. For remember the promise spoken by our Lord in our Old Testament reading, spoken to a group of men who kidnapped their brother, threw him in a well, told their father he was dead, and sold him into slavery. Speaking through the brother who was wronged, God says: “‘Do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

For the Lord even takes our intended evils and turns them to good, for the salvation of all people.

So when those outside the church – people for whom the Lord suffered and died, people whom the Lord earnestly seeks to save – complain that “the church is full of hypocrites,” we can certainly smile, admit that Jesus Himself says as much, and add: “There’s always room for one more.”

We who suffer the brokenness of creation can take comfort in our baptism, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the promise that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” For our decaying, hypocritical, sinful “creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

June said...

Thanks and praise be to God for His words, preached through you, Fr. Beane.

I pray that the Spirit continues His good work through you for many years, for the benefit of all your hearers.