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Lombard Christian Reformed Church (Archive)

A Hypocrite! Who Me? Part 2 - Sin Is Not Just Out There, What Others Do

Last week we began

our self-examination of hypocrisy in our lives.

We heard Jesus promise that in him

we can each have a whole, healthy spiritual life.

And we confessed that the first obstacle

in our faith is the temptation to

value looking good and keeping up appearances.

When we attempt faith in God

but worry what people will think,

or worship, pray, give only

to check off the boxes that we think

make us look good in the judgment of others,

to do these things to be seen, as Jesus said,

that’s the way of hypocrisy –

you might look good,

but goodness will elude you.

 

You’ve learned to look like you’re praying

you’ve learned how to behave at worship

you know how to go to church,

but not how to be church.

You’ve got the religion down,

but you don’t have the relationship.

Maybe you’re here ‘cause

mom or dad made you come.

And you wonder what’s so good about it.

And you’ve seen dad get mad

or mom be afraid

or someone in church do something wrong

or say something hurtful

and you think, well,

they’ve been doing this Christian thing

a long time and they still don’t

have it all figured out,

so why should I bother?

Yet our Savior says it is possible

by God’s grace to truly experience

and live with God,

and he invites us to renew

our expectations of hope, peace, joy and love.

Maybe that’s a word for you

as you hide behind expectations and appearances.

 

A healthy Christian faith isn’t about appearance,

that was lesson one.

Today’s lesson is that

in order to get past appearances

we’ve got to admit that

‘sin is not just something bad out there.’

 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” 
― Aleksandr SolzhenitsynThe Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

 

A sobering, but good thought to remember.

Especially on a day like this,

when we take the time to bring to God in prayer

one of the great sins and evil of our land:

abortion and the culture of death in which we live.

Yes, we know decisions

surrounding abortion are often difficult.

But that doesn’t take away from

the simple truths that

life is a gift from God

that life is precious in God’s sight

and that the people of God

are called to honor and value life

whether in the womb or

facing tough medical decisions

or at the end of life.

This is what human dignity is founded on.

The record of Christian care in these areas is good.

Yet there is always more we can do.

So let us help one another

when facing these choices and decisions.

That we may be a witness to the God of life,

the author of purpose and meaning for life,

and the redeemer of your life.

 

But the temptation for us then is to think of sin

as only something out there:

abortion is sin

gang activity is sin

corporate greed is sin

industrial pollution is sin

police brutality is sin

the sex slave trade is sin

attacking religious freedom is sin . . .

and we could add to this list

and it is true,

these things are evidence of and occasion for sin.

 

When people of faith think of sin

as only those big wrongs out there that others do,

those outside the faith remind us

of what Jesus says here in Matthew 7 –

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

If there’s one Bible verse people know

it’s this one.

And it’s brought up every time

people of faith comment publicly

about those sins out there.

Their judgment is that Christians

don’t even follow their own scripture:

they disobey this text every time they

hold a sanctity of life gathering,

sponsor a marriage conference,

or speak out on an issue publicly.

 

So what is Jesus saying to you and me

who desire a vibrant life of faith

knowing God and being known by the Lord

a full and healthy soul?

 

We sense there is more to this verse

than what gets insisted on

in the heat of the moment:

Jesus isn’t using the verse as a weapon here

so nobody else has the right to do that either.

Nor would he teach that anything goes

or the way to live is without any judgment at all.

In fact the very persons who criticize you or me

for judging others

are judging that we are doing this

and judging it is wrong for us to do so.

 

In the paragraphs and verses before Jesus says this

he teaches:

‘Be careful’ about what you do –

that involves some judgment and critique, doesn’t it?

‘No one can serve two masters . . .’

He’s saying you have to make a choice,

you have to judge what’s good and what’s bad.

So maybe when he teaches, ‘Do not judge . . .’

he’s saying

we just have to keep these things to ourselves?

That faith is just a personal, private thing?

Like one critic of Christian faith said

in the New York Times:

 I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts. – Frank Bruni

Just keep it to yourself.

You have no right to say anything to me,

judge yourself if you want to, but don’t judge me . . .

 

But Jesus went further than that, he also says:

‘. . . pagans run after these things . . .’

‘. . . don’t be like the hypocrites . . .’

That sounds to me like Jesus is

judging the actions of others, right?

He’s pointing out a weakness,

a badness, an insincerity,

a sin in their lives.

And in John 7 Jesus is quoted as saying,

Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment. (John 7:24)

 

All this helps us better understand this verse.

We all know that you can’t live well without judging,

in fact we depend on

the judgments others make about us to help us:

from the daily decisions

about the carbs and sugar we consume

to lifestyle choices

about appropriate spending and buying

to life choices

about relationships, education, and careers

to faith choices

about worship, prayer, serving, giving

and all the spiritual disciplines

that make for healthy relating to the Lord God.

These all involve judgments:

SAYING YES TO SOME THINGS AND NO TO OTHERS

JUDGING CERTAIN CHOICES AS Good or bad.

In Deuteronomy 30:19-20 God says,

. . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life . . .

That involves using discernment,

faith involves judgments.

 

So what’s the wisdom here?

It’s obvious Jesus is not teaching

that the healthy way to live is

to just do whatever you want in the moment

or that actions don’t have consequences

or that we shouldn’t exercise judgment ever.

 

Remember, the context is a healthy

and whole spiritual life with God.

It’s getting your soul healthy.

And there are so many obstacles that

lead us to substitute religious exercise

or material well-being

or comparing ourselves to others

so that we look good.

But Jesus came to save you,

to make you whole,

to know you and to be with you,

so that you and I don’t have to settle

for going thru religious motions

or keeping up appearances

or trying to convince ourselves that

at least we’re better than someone else.

 

So when Jesus teaches,

Do not judge, or you too will be judged . . .

He’s saying don’t be judgmental,

and do exercise mercy.

The way to life with God is not by our judgments,

as necessary as these may be from time to time,

but thru mercy – received and given.

 

If your default response in life is judgment,

you’ll find judgment all around you, too.

Which to me is why some are

so sensitive to this

and will bring it up

the moment they detect any whiff of it.

I mean, when are you most likely

to remember this verse?

Well, probably when you’ve

done something you still question

or something you’re not proud of

and you can’t quite do the

hard work yet of confessing it

or asking forgiveness for it,

so your spiritual reflex is,

Dad, don’t judge me!

Mom, stop preaching to me!

Elder, what gives you the right

to ask me about that!

Christian, mind your own business!

The reality is that many times

you’re in the middle of having to

make a judgment about it yourself.

 

I think we can gain a blessing from this verse

if we listen to the whole of what Jesus says here.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. 

There’s a lot of judgment spoken

underneath and around those verses.

But the greater context is mercy.

Learn the mercy of confession and repentance,

that’s the way to wholeness.

 

This is how you do it,

coaches Jesus.

Do the hard work of noticing

the sin in your own heart.

Sin is not just out there,

it’s always trying to set up shop

in your own heart and mind and life as well.

If you deal with that in the way of Christ,

then wholeness will come,

enough even to assist your brother . . .

 

There is still hope for you.

The word for today is mercy.

We find the courage we need

in order to face the truth about ourselves

and receive the truth of God

because Jesus offers mercy.

 

What is mercy?

It is not getting what you deserve.

So the prerequisite for mercy is that

you have to believe you need it.

You can’t deserve it.

No one owes it to you.

Mercy comes undeserved,

it is a result of the grace

of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

 

I admit I need mercy when I confess my sin.

So that’s where we start with Christ:

in dealing with hypocrisy

and coming to spiritual health.

Sin is not just out there;

it runs a crooked line through my heart, too.

 

It’s not that the sins of others don’t matter.

Have you ever had something in your eye?

Everything stops until you flush it out.

 

But it’s moreso with you and me:

if a speck in your eye stops you

imagine what a log or a beam does!

In order to deal with the speck,

you’ve got to deal with the plank.

 

But careful,

Jesus isn’t telling us to make comparisons,

he isn’t saying I give your permission

to call out the sins of others

once you’ve called out your own,

or when they’re not as big as a plank.

 

He’s saying change your approach, follow me.

Deal in mercy, then you can bless.

It is the mercy of repentance –

first take the plank out of your own eye.

 

I’ll say a few words about repentance in a moment,

but first I want us to think about that plank in our own eye first.

Why did Jesus say it that way?

Well of course, he’s exaggerating to make a point.

He’s reminding us that most of the time

we easily excuse our own failings and faults and

make a big deal out of the little slights others give us.

The late Sydney J Harris used to write about this

in his column called ‘antics with semantics’

to expose our hypocrisy:

I believe in authority, you believe in force, he believes in violence.

My outburst was indignation, yours was anger, his was rage.

I take my work home because I’m dedicated, you take it home because you’re overmatched, he takes his home because he is a workaholic.

I am a man of firm principles, you tend to be stubborn, he is pigheaded.

I cut corners when I do my taxes, you use creative accounting, he cheats.

My dog jumps on your lap because he is friendly, but your dog jumps on me because you haven’t trained it.

I couldn’t do math because I don’t have a head for figures, my son gets poor grades in math because he doesn’t apply himself.

 

So one thing Jesus is saying about us

is that we tend to make more out of the shortcomings, failures and sin  of others

 than our own,

so he corrects us here:

in reality if we see ourselves in the light of Christ

we’ll confess to the plank in our own eye

not the speck in our brother’s eye.

 

But there’s more going on here I think:

Jesus was a carpenter,

he knew about planks.

And the plank he talks about here

is like a supporting beam,

like a load-bearing beam in your house.

So more than just exaggerating to make a point,

Jesus says that to get whole

you’ve got to have a whole new approach,

your own judgments aren’t made to bear that load.

You need a new foundation,

and it’s my mercy alone that can bear your load.

 

So how do I learn mercy?

Trust that God is merciful?

Confession and repentance:

. . . first take the plank out of your own eye . . .

That’s what Jesus came to do by his cross:

Jesus forgave,

He shouldered the cross,

he called broken people to follow him –

the Pharisees and others all perceived that as judgment against them,

but some received it as mercy,

and they were changed, made whole,

given new life.

 

What does repentance look like?

Our catechism says it this way:

repentance involves the dying away of the old self

by a sorrow for sin so that we

hate it and run from it.

What is involved
in genuine repentance or conversion?

A. Two things:

the dying-away of the old self,
and the rising-to-life of the new.

What is the dying-away of the old self?

A. To be genuinely sorry for sin
and more and more to hate
and run away from it.

 

Repentance involves naming our sin,

no excuses,

no playing the victim,

hating it and running away from it.

 

Do you know that one of the best lessons mom and dad and grandpa and grandma can give to kids and grandkids is to admit when they were wrong and say they’re sorry.

There is power in confessing our sin.

 

And then responding by fighting it or running from it:

fight or flight.

Some sins you just have to run from:

these tend to be addictive, destructive habits,

situations you are too weak

or too small to stand up to:

you can’t fight pornography, for instance,

you can run away from it.

In our nation’s history

we tried to fight alcohol abuse

by legislation –

that didn’t work,

you can’t fight it,

but you can run away from it.

It involves the courage to structure your life

so you don’t face these temptations.

Is there a sin in your life

that you should run away from?

Can you talk to someone to help you

arrange your life so you don’t face it?

 

Other sins you can fight against:

these tend to be

those actions you have responsibility for:

in an uncomfortable situation you’re prone to lying,

in tense situations your usual reaction is anger,

in these you must exercise confession,

you must feel hatred for what these acts

do to you and others around you,

and let that sorrow guide you

to prayer and faith choices

as the Lord works righteousness in you.

 

But of course,

if getting a speck out of our takes some effort,

how much more the plank that is trying to support our whole outlook and attitude!

A simple way to start is at the end of your day

you do a personal review:

ask yourself, did I respond to a situation

with anger, worry, selfishness, pride, or the like?

Then ask, why do I think I responded this way?

Then bring your confession to your Savior Jesus.

Gerald May observed that

the negative side of religion –

all the rules and the thou shalt nots –

gives you all kinds of good ways

to manage your life and avoid evil,

only you can’t really do them,

so you wind up feeling worse than before.

The Christian faith is not a religion –

tho many try to make it so.

It’s about the person of Christ,

following him and living by his Spirit.

Jesus could have said here,

Judge others –

call a spade a spade.

But instead he invites us to try mercy

by learning repentance.

 

How will we know

if we’ve got the plank out of our eye?

When we can see again:

 . . . first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly . . .

See clearly for what?

. . . first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye . . .

So I suppose it means to see clearly enough

to see the one in sin as my brother.

Not as an occasion to protest

or to point fingers of blame

or to shake my head over the sorry state of humanity,

but to see a sister, a brother,

so I can help my brother . . .

see Jesus.

 

A hypocrite, who me?

Because of Jesus

that doesn’t have to be true about you.

He has come to make us whole.

First we get beyond appearances

and the temptation to look good,

next we exercise confession and repentance.

Then we will be blessed with his mercy.

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