By and large the one thing we cannot stand, as a nation, is hypocrisy. Agree? But of course, by that we almost always mean, other people’s hypocrisy.
Jesus of Nazareth used the word more than once when denouncing the very outwardly religious. In fact, Matthew Chapter 23 is a parade of religious hypocrisy which always dresses the part, lives for religious recognition, and gets fanatical about it’s narrow cause.
Hypocrisy is religion done to impress people, not God. It is meticulous about observing the details of custom, but has no place at all for the grand relationship between God and his children. Hypocrisy venerates the past, but is blind to the present. In fact, some of us believe that the Greek word Hypocrites is the name of the mask worn by Greek actors, who in a tragedy always put on the scowling face, and in a comedy the mask with a fixed and permanent smile. The whole essence of hypocrisy is that it is a performance, a false face worn in public to hide the true expression of the face behind it all.
Nowadays people of all beliefs and none, seem to agree that hypocrisy is the worst possible sin, and the word is used of any religious public stand taken, whether genuine or merely ostentatious.
One of the great marvels of the life and work of Jesus was to challenge men and women to take off their masks and be open to God and the world. But that’s not an easy thing to do.
Listen to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew Chapter 6:
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
Lord, whenever I call someone a hypocrite, I am instantly guilty of that charge myself.
In the monthly magazine “Renewal” Jane Grayshon was writing about attending a service of profession in Burford Priory, and the effect it had on her as a friend she knew made his final vows of total surrender to become a monk. She was surprised to be refreshed by what she took part in, not grimly made to feel guilty. It was the emphasis of God’s sustaining power, his welcome, his love, which would uphold and sustain the monk.It wasn’t the grim dying to self and pleasure, but the open arms of a loving father, gathering up his child in his arms and assuring him. The climax , as the monk prostrated himself before God, had a deeper meaning for her, than any grim human self-denial thing. Then she explained further in the form of a picture.
Soon after, she was walking her dog, which was a puppy, best of the litter, healthy and dominant, a lead dog, able to control other dogs. The dog joyously careered all over the golf course, and then they rounded a corner and seven huge dogs stood together, eyes fixed on Jane’s dog. St. Bernard’s, Alsatians, twice her dog’s size, and their stance was very intimidating and threatening. Jane watched: her dog was outfaced and skidded to an abrupt halt, then after a brief pause rolled over on her back in front of them where she lay, legs akimbo, while seven large dogs sniffed her all over. Then let her get up and play with them, and off they exploded in joyful abandon together. What a lesson.
Change it to a human scenario and ask what would you have done? Stood in confrontation? Fought to the death, growled, run away, followed by enraged animals whose teeth were scissoring at your backside? Jane’s dog was much more sensible.
Jane meditated on prostrating ourselves before God, out-faced, “This is me, as I am, totally surrendered”. The prayer she found so moving at the monk’s service of profession was this:
“Reconcile him to all that he rejects in himself and in others, that he may find nothing you have made alien or unlovable.
Lord, I do surrender to you. Help me to surrender to others who need you.
We have been thinking about the word ‘reconciliation’ these last two days, and among the many wonderful pictures of this wondrous message and ministry of Christ is one superb picture from the Apostle Paul. He says, since God has reconciled us to himself through Christ’s monumental work on the cross (notice it is we who must change, not he) then it is we who have been changed into a new kind of human currency. We have become ambassadors.
Imagine that! Ambassadors!
An Ambassador represents his ruler and government in and to an alien culture.
An Ambassador does not act in his own name, but in his ruler’s name. He watches what he says and what he does for everything will be taken as an expression of his master.
An Ambassador lives in an embassy. He may be in a foreign land, and all around him people speak a foreign language, but in his embassy home, it’s a bit of his native land. In a British embassy, British laws apply.The language is English, and English customs and festivals are celebrated. In the U.S. embassy in London, on the 4th Thursday each November, they celebrate a great American festival of “Thanksgiving”. Inside it’s lights and music and party time, while all around in London there’s no party, no turkey, no rejoicing, no fun: November!
Occasionally an ambassador must confront a foreign government with stern words: “My government will not stand by while you oppress people in your charge”, or “My Government has authorised me to give you £10 million towards your disaster relief fund”.
An Ambassador must be in constant communication with his ruler, he is allowed diplomatic bags to ensure he is uncensored and free of prying inquisitors. He is trusted not to abuse his privilege, even to having diplomatic number plates on his cars.
Ambassadors have prevented wars – overcame numberless crises and continued through thick and thin to represent the ones to whom they have sworn total allegiance.
You are an ambassador of Christ. Look: (II Corinthians 5:20)
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
By the message and the ministry of reconciliation this day, God’s wondrous name be praised.
When Paul the Apostle heard that the distressing difference between himself and his beloved, but volatile, Christian community in Corinth had been resolved, he was so relieved and overjoyed at being reconciled with them that you can still feel the relief even now in his second letter to Corinth, nearly 2000 years later. He tells them what he has learned from the experience, and spends time drawing lessons from it all, and instead of giving all the credit to the main trouble shooter, Titus, whom he had sent to sort it out, he praised God that both he and they had come through with even stronger faith. Paul’s emphases had been accepted, and his leadership reinstated, and the church had responded positively so now he could step back and see some of the good which was coming out of all the trouble.
The attack on his style of leadership had been resolved, but he never flinched from laying down the law on what was Christian and right and what was unChristian and wrong. In short, the reconciliation was not a compromise – not a surrender to the lowest common point of agreement. It was a truly Christian reconciliation. In Christ, both church and minister become one again and both were improved by it.
Reconciliation is marvellous medicine. It restores to full health the minds of those who had been cross with each other. The ‘feel good’ factor is restored. Reconciliation is like setting and mending a broken bone which becomes whole again, and even stronger at the point of fracture than it was before. Reconciliation is a handshake, sometimes a kiss and a broad smile, as two enemies make it up. One of the first signs at the very heart of the Welsh Revival in 1904 happened on the first night of it all, then the young Evan Roberts had spoken his heart out to a gathering of only seventeen people. Two deacons who had not spoken to each other for years came to the front, arms around each other, sobbing out their confessions of stupidity and each begging the other’s forgiveness. Reconciliation between people is a powerful thing, but it’s really the result of something else which comes first.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. II Corinthians 5: 17-18
Order! In Christ, God has come to meet you. So first get right with God. Then get right with people. The two go together, like body and soul.
Lord, even when ‘it is all their fault’, it is mine also.