“Can’t See the God Who Acts For the Rules”

Matthew 23:1-12

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

November 2, 2014

 

 

As we listen to Jesus’ words that I read from Matthew, and we hear his accusations of hypocrisy; and if we are to stand in a line admitting he is right, I’d be in that line!

 

We hypocrites crave approval, and we claim credit for work done and not done.  We want to look good in the sight of others.  We want to be thought of as the one doing fine work.  We want people to know that the job done badly wasn’t done by us.  We drop names of people to appear to be important and be in the know.  We want to be the center of attention; the focus of praise.  At one time or another, I am guilty of one or more of these true statements that portray a hypocrite!  May be you find yourselves in them too.

 

In the first couple of years of being a pastor, I visited a woman in the hospital that didn’t attend church often.  She probably attended on Christmas and Easter.  During my visit with her, she said she didn’t attend church regularly because of the hypocrites in the church.  My response was, “Good!  That’s the kind of people we want in church!”  She was surprised and asked why.  I replied that if someone was so insensitive that they didn’t realize they are a hypocrite, saying one thing and doing another, then they would never understand their need for God’s love and grace!

 

So, maybe we can dispense with any notions about not being hypocritical and understand we are hypocritical, and we are hypocrites.

 

Hypocrites put heavy burdens on people that they themselves don’t carry.  The hypocrites put higher expectations on others that they don’t put on themselves.  This is what the Pharisees did.

 

In my understanding, the basic law in the Old Testament is the Ten Commandments.  There is one God, don’t make idols, misuse God’s name, and keep the Sabbath.  Honor your mother and father.  Don’t kill, be an adulterer, steal, lie, and covet.

 

The Ten Commandments marked out the covenant between God and the people of God.  Obeying the commandments kept the covenant in tack; breaking them broke the covenant relationship with God.  I like to think of the commandments as fence posts.  They enclose and area where the people of God are free to wonder.  If they crawl through the fence to the other side, they are outside the covenant, and they broke the covenant.  Over the years, a lot of oral tradition developed to interpret or expand on the commandments.  I like to call these “rumble strips.”  You know what “rumble strips” are.  They are the things that vibrate your car when you drive over them to get you to pay attention to something dangerous ahead.  A lot of little laws were created to warn you that you are getting close to breaking one of the Ten Commandments.  These little laws are the “rumble strips.”

 

The commandment is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, but what does that mean and how do we know if we are getting close to breaking it? What does working on the Sabbath look like?  Can I pick up a stone on the Sabbath?  If it is big enough to throw at a bird, then it is work.  If it isn’t, then it is not work to pick it up.  What if my child is holding a stone, can I pick up my child on the Sabbath?  If the stone is big enough to throw at a bird, then it is work.  If it isn’t, then it is not work to pick it up.  A Sabbath day’s journey is ¼ mile.  If grandma lives a ¼ mile away you can go and come home on the Sabbath.  If she lives a 1/8 mile away you can journey the round trip on the Sabbath!  These are “rumble strips.”  They warn you that you are getting close to breaking a commandment and in jeopardy of being outside the covenant relationship with God.

 

What heavy burdens do we put on people who are seeking God?  Do we keep people from seeing our loving God, because of all the rules we put in their way?  Do they have to dress a certain way?  (I knew one person that stayed away from church regularly, because the pants to his suit were shiny from sitting.  He didn’t think he was dressed good enough to come to the church.)  Is there one particular version of the bible that is THE acceptable one?  Is there a special way people should talk to God—a certain vocabulary to use in your prayers?  Can only males be leaders in the congregation?  Are only certain sexual orientations that are acceptable?  Is there one view of medical marijuana that is acceptable?  Do we create these marks of being acceptable in church and to God to make ourselves look better?

 

We are all equal before God.  Paul writes, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are all hypocrites and stand with targets painted on our chests in the face of Jesus’ words in Matthew.

 

Grace is the antidote for hypocrisy.  Grace the unearned, unmerited favor of God!  Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and to us, “You have been saved by grace through faith, and this is not of your own doing lest anyone should boast.”  Peter’s denials are covered by grace and God forgives him.  The disciples’ cowardice at the crucifixion is covered by grace and God forgives them.  We strive to look more important than we are and God’s grace covers us, and God forgives us and gives us the Holy Spirit’s power to live more authentically.  We hold others away from God through not essential rules, and we are covered by grace and forgiven as God opens our eyes to what we are doing.

 

Each one of us wears a mask to hide who we really are.  It is exhausting to hold this mask up every minute of every day!  Rushing into our exhausting mask holding comes a God that says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”  What a relief to be able to be who we are and know that God loves us just the way we are, as Fred Rogers said.  Can you feel your soul relax into the freedom of that?

 

In a few minutes we will celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion around a table filled with the gifts of God for the people of God.  Is Jesus Christ your lord?  Do you trust him?  Do you intend to be his disciple, study his word, and show his love?

 

Paul was determined to know only God’s love found in Jesus Christ – a love that could not be dissuaded by anything, even death on a cross.  If you accept Jesus Christ as lord of your life; If you trust him;  If you sincerely and earnestly desire to be a follower of Jesus Christ living in the power of the Holy Spirit; If you are baptized; Then this table is here for you, and you will not be kept away.