Wesley’s Questions: “Am I A Hypocrite?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I A Hypocrite?”

A Message on Matthew 7:1-5

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 10, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV)

 

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

 

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Today we begin a new sermon series titled “Wesley’s Questions” based on the 22 questions that members of John Wesley’s “Holy Club” at Oxford University asked themselves every day.

 

John Wesley never sought to create a denomination. He became a priest in the Church of England (what we know as the Anglican Church today) and became worried that the church wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do in terms of reaching those in the lower strata of society in England.

 

While studying at Christ Church at the University of Oxford he and his brother, Charles, started meeting with other students not only as a way to practice spiritual disciplines but also to hold one another accountable to living a Christian life.

 

They started this group in November 1729 with only four members, but it soon grew. They would spend three or four evenings each week for prayer, Bible study, theological discussion, and accountability. The group grew as time went on.

 

Now it’s important to note that they were ridiculed by the other students at Oxford. They derided them with the term “Holy Club,” because of their pious devotion. They also called them “Methodists” because of their methodological approach to practicing spiritual disciplines. Both names stuck and actually were used by group members to describe themselves.

 

One of the ways they were methodical was by having a list of 22 questions that they reflected on every day during their devotions. Yes, 22. I’ll put a link in my message that I post online where you can access all 22 of them. (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/everyday-disciples-john-wesleys-22-questions)

 

They would ask themselves these questions every day as part of their spiritual disciplines. They didn’t have to, they wanted to. And they did.

 

The first one on the list is this: “Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?”

 

That’s a good one to start with. And that is the one we are starting our sermon series with today.

 

It’s interesting because even though the Holy Club members were asking this question of themselves back in the 1700s it is still a relevant and important question for us to ask ourselves today. As followers of Jesus Christ, do we intentionally or unintentionally create the impression that we are better than we really are? Are we hypocritical in what we say and what we do?

 

First let’s talk about hypocrisy. The word basically means claiming we are living my moral standards or beliefs that our actions prove otherwise. It’s the opposite of honesty and sincerity. But spiritually it goes deeper than that. I think it applies to when we try to live our lives trying to impress others, when we live not for God, but trying to create an impression of something we are not.

 

Facebook is a good example of this. And yes, I am guilty as well. If you notice on my Facebook page I’ll sometimes when I go fishing I’ll post photos of fish that I catch. I’m trying to impress on everyone looking at my page that I am a highly skilled fisherman, that I not only know how to catch fish, but that I can also do it as well.

 

What I don’t post on Facebook is when my lure gets tangled in some brush or on an underwater log. I don’t post when I lose a lure. I don’t post when I get skunked and don’t catch any fish. I don’t post when I get a birdnest on my baitcasting reel that takes me 15 minutes to untangle.

 

We only put the good stuff on Facebook, don’t we. Facebook presents how we want to be perceived, not how we really are.

 

And with the new photo software built into the cameras of our phones the photos we take of ourselves and others are automatically “touched up” and don’t represent reality. Have you ever known someone who takes and posts a bunch of selfies on their page and then when you meet them in real life you kind of go “Yahhhha.” You see that the smooth, unblemished skin is neither smooth nor unblemished. The reality doesn’t match the perceived image.

 

The trouble is when we view these posts that others make it can make us feel inferior, that we don’t have it going on like other people. I think that’s why it’s important to view social media posts with a grain of salt… and sometimes a pinch instead of a grain.

 

What we don’t see on the posts of people we think have it all together are the sinks full of dirty dishes, piles of laundry everywhere, unmade beds, arguments with spouses or children, unpaid bills, and tears of sorrow and frustration. We are shown views of happy faces and happy people, not the frustrations, the sorrows, the betrayals, the struggles of everyday life. No one posts a photo of their kid with a certificate for making a “C” in algebra.

 

I can still remember one of the first lessons I learned in hypocrisy, even though I didn’t even know the word at the time.

 

I was in first grade and my teacher was Mrs. Ethridge. I know this is going to date me, but every morning we would say the Pledge of Allegiance and then Mrs. Ethridge would pray. Yes, prayer. In public school.

 

Well one morning during the prayer I noticed that the boy sitting beside me, Terry Johnson, didn’t have his eyes closed all the way. That wasn’t right. You were supposed to have your eyes closed during the prayer, everybody knew that.

 

So after the prayer I decided to correct this wrong. I raised my hand and Mrs. Etheridge called on me. I said, “Terry didn’t have his eyes closed during the prayer.” I thought I had done so good. Surely Mrs. Etheridge would get on to him and straighten him out, right?

 

Instead Mrs Etheridge said, “Well, Mr. Wintermute, if you would have had your own eyes closed then you wouldn’t have noticed if Terry’s were closed or not.”

 

Boom. We didn’t drop microphones back in the day, but if we did it would have been a mic drop moment.

 

Mrs. Etheridge pointed out my hypocrisy. I had been so worried about Terry doing something wrong that it didn’t even dawn on me that I was doing the same thing. My actions were contrary to what I was claiming as a moral superiority over Terry. And it had a strong impact on me, so much so that I still remember it now decades and decades later.

 

There are many scriptures in the Bible about hypocrisy.

 

“Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” — 1 John 4:20

 

“For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.” — Galatians 6:3

 

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” — James 1:26

 

“You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”– Matthew 15:7-9

 

“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” –Titus 1:16

 

And then the scripture we read today from Matthew’s gospel about pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s eye while we have a log in our own.

 

This scripture is part of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It starts off with the beatitudes and then goes on for a couple of chapters with moral instructions. And in the seventh chapter Jesus teaches about judging others, saying that it is hypocritical for us to be judging someone else for something when we may be doing the same thing–only worse–ourselves.

 

It’s easy to do, isn’t it? “Why would you just look at ol’ so-and-so. Can you believe she did that? I swear she doesn’t have any morals, you know?” Or “ “I can’t believe he calls himself a Christian. He never comes to church yet I’m here every Sunday. I bet he doesn’t tithe, either.”

 

Jesus points out to his audience (and us!) that we need to be aware of being hypocritical.

 

He does it again in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in the 18th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. There we find a Pharisee, one of the religious leaders of the Jewish people, praying to God and thanking God that he is as holy as he is, unlike some of the other people in the room, including extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even tax collectors.

 

The Pharisee thinks he is much holier, and therefore better, than the other folks. He’s talking about the specks in other people’s eyes. He is so wrapped up in his self-righteousness that he fails to notice the log in his own eye. Jesus points out that the tax collector was praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” which is a much better and authentic prayer than the so-called religious leader.

 

Now I think it’s important to note here that we all, to some extent, are hypocrites. We strive to be like Jesus but we fall short, and that makes us hypocrites, unfortunately.

 

That being said, some Christians don’t work very hard at not being a hypocrite. Some Christians can open a lumber yard with the size and quantity of the logs in their eyes.

 

It reminds me of the story about a big, burly looking guy that goes to a small town preacher’s house and asks to speak with the minister’s wife. The wife was known to be very charitable and had a reputation for helping those down on their luck.

 

The man starts telling the preacher’s wife about a family that was really in bad shape. The father was dead, the mother was too ill to work, and yet there were nine children she was responsible for feeding and taking care of.

 

The man said, “They are about to be turned into the cold, empty streets unless someone pays their rent, which amounts to $400.”

 

“That’s terrible,” the woman replied. “So, how do you know them?

 

The man looked sadly at the woman, dabbed some tears from his eyes with his handkerchief, and said, “I’m the landlord.” [Source: http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Hypocrites/Trying_to_Help.shtml]

 

As Christians we shouldn’t be like the landlord in that story. We should be authentic, transparent, and humble.

 

When we are not, when we are true hypocrites, not only are we not living into the life of a follower of Jesus Christ but we actually pushing away those who may not have a relationship with Christ. Not only are we not doing good, we’re doing harm.

 

Years ago a guy named Brennan Manning, who himself had some controversy as a hypocrite, wrote something that the group DC Talk used at the beginning of one of their songs. The song starts with Brennan reading these words:

 

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

 

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to be hypocrites. God didn’t send his only son to die on the cross and give us everlasting life so that we can pretend to be one thing when deep down inside we are something else. Jesus didn’t suffer the beatings, the ridicule, being spit on and slapped and tortured so that we can say we follow him with our lips but then deny him with the way we live our lives, by our actions that so often speak louder than words.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to NOT be a hypocrite. Let us all check our eyes for logs before we point out the speck in other’s eyes. Do all in your power through spiritual disciplines to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

 

God wants us to be authentic. Jesus wants us to truthful and humble.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to walk the talk, to truly be disciples of Christ.

 

Then we will make disciples of Jesus Christ, instead of driving them away.

 

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

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