If there is one thing Jesus does not like, it is hypocrisy. He beats it like a drum.
Today we hear in Mark’s Gospel Jesus yet again condemning hypocrisy, this time among the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law – essentially, the religious authorities – when they question him about his religious practices.
Does Jesus mince words with these fellows? No. We do not see a gentle, pastoral moment here from Jesus. It’s a lot more prophetic, calling out them instead of defending himself.
He calls them hypocrites, who honor God with lip-service but who are far from God. They worship God in vain, he says. He sums them all up with the statement, “You’ve let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Ouch! That had to hurt!
I was struck by how much this still goes on today. I was brought up short when I read a sentence in an essay earlier this week that said, “The best way to hide from Jesus is behind a Bible.”
Just like in St. Mark’s day, when the Pharisees and Teachers hid from the commands of God behind the piles and piles of commentary they made about those commands – commentary called the Midrash-…
…we can do the same thing today by scouring the Bible for verses that confirm our preconceived notions about what is right and not right, fixating on them to the point of losing sight of the actual Gospel itself.
Much like the Pharisees and Teachers who know the rules about everything but not the God behind them, if our ideas about the Gospel Way are unkind, unjust, immodest, and lacking in compassion, then we’ve probably created bad theology. The best way to hide from Jesus is behind a Bible.
Thankfully today, we also have the first chapter of the Book of James to consider. If Mark’s Gospel is a list of the evils that come from hypocrisy, James’ message is the opposite of hypocrisy.
It got me thinking about what, exactly, is the opposite of hypocrisy, and I came up with two words, not one. The first one is honesty. Honest people tell the truth and do what is right…but…
I came to adopt my 2nd choice, which is “authenticity”. To be authentic. There is a deeper meaning to that word for me, whereby your honest words and your honest deeds come from a deep understanding and commitment behind that honesty. Authenticity explains that you agree about the very reasons behind honesty, like knowing about the God that explains the reasons for God’s commands.
James says that every good and perfect gift is from God; that the word of truth (God’s good spirit of discernment) has been placed in each of us. It helps us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
James says 3x’s just in today’s brief reading that we are not merely to “know”, but we are to “do”, which is the mark of authenticity. He says, “Do what it says.”….”not forgetting but doing it”…”pure and faultless religion is doing and being…” An authentic person walks the talk, and has this walk engraved on their heart.
Martin Luther was not a big fan of the Book of James. He was one of the founders of the Reformation, which emphasized that we are saved by faith and not by works. Yet, here is an entire book in the NT about “doing” – in other words, works. He thought it should be deleted from the NT. He was a bit like the rest of us: “I don’t like this…so it probably shouldn’t be in here!” He lost that argument to the greater faith community, though.
I’d like you to consider saying a short prayer from time to time. It’s easy. I can teach it to you right now, and I hope you will find it as motivating and thought-provoking as I have over the years. It has helped form much of my own personal spirituality. It goes like this: “Lord, make me authentic.”
That’s it. Four words. “Lord, make me authentic.” I’ve found that when I repeat it and ask for God’s help in enlightenment, I have a better understand of Sacred Scripture, the nature of worship, and my daily walk with God.
I recognize that this is in keeping with the kind of disciple Jesus wants me to be.
Not someone who knows the rules about everything but nothing of the love behind them…but someone who looks intently into the word of truth and continues in it.
Not someone who has let go of the commands of God and worships in vain…but someone who looks after orphans and widows, and stays unpolluted from the world.
In other words, someone who is authentic. Amen.
[Sermon given on Aug. 30, 2015, based on Mark 7:8, 14-15,21-23 & James 1:17-27…I reproduce it here much as it appears when I print it out for my preaching: odd paragraphing, incomplete sentences, and all.]