Sermon – 4 Pentecost C – 2013

Alabaster Jar

“I don’t go to church because it is full of …………” “Hypocrites.” That is the number one reason I am given and I bet you hear that one all the time too. Of course the one making that statement is himself perfectly free of any such accusation.

It puts me in mind of a story I read about an 18th century King of Prussia. One day he was inspecting a jail and was confronted by prisoner after prisoner who claimed that they were innocent and therefore unjustly imprisoned. Eventually he saw a man sitting in a corner, not making a fuss like the others. He asked the man why he was in jail. The man replied that he was imprisoned armed robbery. The king asked him if he was guilty. The prisoner said, “Yes indeed your Majesty. I deserve what I have received.” The King then gave orders to the jailer to release the guilty man because he did not want him corrupting all of those “innocent” prisoners.

While I would never deny that there truly are hypocrites in the Church, we must admit also that frequently people make such claims to justify being the lords of their own lives. They know deep down that God has commanded us to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy but they would rather be on the golf course or on the lake or laying in bed reading the Sunday paper and so they bring up the hypocrisy excuse to salve their consciences for breaking the Commandments of God
But I also believe that people make the accusation of hypocrisy because they genuinely don’t know the difference between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking forgiveness. They think that we are claiming to be perfect when in fact we are only claiming to be forgiven.

I think there is even confusion within the Church. On occasion I will ask someone to serve in a particular ministry and they will tell me that they would feel like a hypocrite doing it, when what they really mean is that they feel unworthy. Our lessons to day should clarify the matter for us.

In our lesson from Galatians, Cephas, who is the Apostle Peter, is being confronted by the Apostle Paul. Paul was calling him out for being a hypocrite. Here is the situation from the Kasch Standard Version. Peter had come to Antioch, which was a Gentile town, to preach the Gospel. He was successful and a church was planted. Being good Southerners they had a cookout and invited Peter to attend. When he got there he realized that they were serving pork ribs but since there were no other Jews around to get offended, Peter went ahead and ate with them. In fact this was not a one time event. He did so regularly. Peter loved him some ribs!

Meanwhile back at the Church of Jerusalem, they heard about the growing church in Antioch and so James as the Bishop sent some leadership to Antioch to see what was going on. These Christian leaders from Jerusalem were Jews like Peter. When he realized they were coming, Peter who didn’t want to get caught eating ribs with Gentiles, pulled away went back to the kosher deli. To make matters worse, Barnabas, Peter’s companion, joined him in this hypocrisy and that is why Paul called him on it.

The hypocrisy here is evident. Peter had earlier received the vision of all the animals on a sheet and God telling him to take them and eat them. When Peter objected, saying that he had never eaten anything unclean, God told him not to call anything unclean that God had made. Peter knew then that God was speaking about people and that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles were one. He did not need to fear becoming unclean by being with them. Peter knew this and so he was right to be eating with the Gentiles. That wasn’t what made him a hypocrite. What made him a hypocrite was that he changed his ways for fear of his reputation. He was acting one way around one group of people and another way around a different group of people. That is the essence of hypocrisy.

If we act in such an inconsistent way, as Peter did, we too could be justly called hypocrites. People notice when you are pious in church but then treat your family or employees with disrespect.But that is not the same thing as admitting as we do every week, that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It is not hypocritical to come to find forgiveness and healing. We can see the difference more clearly in the Gospel account.

The woman in this story wasn’t pretending to be something she was not. She was so moved to be in the presence of Jesus that that she wet Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried His feet with her hair, and she poured ointment on His feet from an alabaster jar. She was not trying to impress anyone nor was she seeking to protect her reputation like Peter was doing. In fact she broke the rules of protocol including offending the host of the party. If she had been a hypocrite, Jesus would not have responded to her as He did. Her extravagance was a scandal to the religious leader but not so to Jesus. Not only did Jesus praise her for her actions but also He pronounced absolution for her sins. Her actions were, as we say in the Mass, “meet and right so to do…”

So we can observe in these two stories a number of important differences to make a clearer distinction between being a hypocrite and a sinner seeking grace. The first and most important difference between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking grace is their motivation. What was Peter’s concern? As I said earlier, he was worried about his reputation. He was concerned with what others would think about him.

The woman on the other hand was not focused on herself. She was focused on Jesus. She was not there to protect her reputation; she had no reputation to protect. She saw love incarnate before her and she responded in worship. No one had greeted Jesus or given Him water to wash or oil to anoint his head and this woman did it all. She anointed Him with oil or perfume and the implication of the text is that she did not get the money for this oil by selling Girl Scout cookies. That is why the Pharisee was so offended. “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.”

But she wasn’t concerned with what people thought of her and neither was Jesus. She had come to worship and Jesus received her worship. If the religious folks were offended by her extravagance then so be it. There is nothing hypocritical going on here, just a sinner looking for mercy and receiving it.
So the lesson here is that the hypocrite is focused on self, the sinner is focused on Jesus. If your motivation is to serve Christ, then people may call you a hypocrite, but that does not make you one. We must remember that they falsely accused Jesus too and so we must not let what others may say, deter us from being obedient.

A second distinction between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking forgiveness, is seen in their demeanor. Peter is very cautious like a chess player. If no one is around I can do this but if others show up I have to move over here. We see in him caution, carefulness, and apprehension.By contrast the woman throws caution to the wind. She risked a lot by even showing up at a Pharisee’s house in the first place. How did she know that she would even be allowed entrance? Then she goes over the top in her expressions of love. Jesus said, “…but from the time that I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.” It was the custom of the day for the host to greet his guests with a kiss on the face so we can see in her extravagance and humility in kissing Jesus’ feet.

You see a hypocrite has mostly love for himself so he is not extravagant in his love towards other or towards the Lord. Jesus said of such a one, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Conversely the one who has been forgiven much loves much.

I have a friend who is not an Anglican but keeps up with what is going on with St. Patrick’s. Several years ago he sent me a very generous check for my discretionary fund that I use primarily to help others in ways that are not a part of the church budget. Just after I received the check he called me and said that he has not been able to sleep. A letter that I sent out that described how the African bishops paid their own way to America to attend our Bishop’s installation service troubled him. I told him that they did this so that no one could accuse them of coming to our aide in order to get American money. He said that he understood this and appreciated it but did not think it was right. So he sent me an additional $5,000 to send to Archbishop Akinola to help him defray some of his expenses. What was even more noteworthy was that he wanted the gift to the Archbishop to come from St. Patrick’s. Now again, this guy is not an Anglican so he does not have a dog in our fight. Why would he care if an Archbishop from Africa received an offering and why would he care that St. Patrick’s gets the credit for it? It is because he is a man who knows that he has been forgiven much and so he loves with an extravagant love. He is one of the most grateful people I have ever known and therefore one of the most generous. He lives his life with thankfulness and expectation and joy. He does not give his love to God or his neighbor in thimble fulls but he gives poured out and overflowing as God’s love has come to him.

A third key difference between a hypocrite and a sinner seeking forgiveness is their underlying theology. At the core of their beliefs, whether they would put it in these words or not, the hypocrite believes that he can be saved by his own efforts and the sinner seeking forgiveness knows that they are saved only by the grace of God. The hypocrite says, “I’ve go this covered, I can do it myself” while the sinner cries out, “Son of David have mercy on me a sinner.”
What made Paul particularly angry with Peter, as Paul stated was that Peter was “not acting consistently with the truth of the Gospel.” Their message to the Gentiles was that you are saved not from observing the law but by faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. So for Peter to return to the ceremonial law, for the sake of his reputation, was to negate the very truth of the Gospel that they had been preaching. That is why Paul felt that Peter needed not only to be rebuked but also to be rebuked publically. There was something more important going on here that just Peter’s hypocrisy. The true Gospel needed to be upheld and bad theology had to be corrected.

“Therefore I tell you that her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love. But the to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” The hypocrite is oblivious to the enormity of their debt and so they are not appreciative for the grace offered to them. The sinner, on the other hand, is fully aware how indebted they truly are and so they stand in awe of the grace that would cancel such a huge debt.

To change analogies to another one that Jesus used, if you think you are well then you don’t truly appreciate the doctor. But if you are terminal, he is your best friend. It may sound a little selfish but the reality is that our love for the Savior is directly related to our need for salvation. If we think we can do it on our own then we sing the song “Jesus is just alright with me.” But if we thought we were beyond hope and grace came to us then we sing “Wonderful Merciful Savior.”

Given that we are not perfect, just forgiven, none of us can be truly free of hypocrisy. We all fall into it from time to time and I at times am the chief among us. Further, we can have no control over what others may think of us or call us. So we should not let the fear of being called a hypocrite influence our lives. Our focus should be to live lives filled with the kind of gratitude and faith that the woman displayed. In the end it only matters what one Person thinks of us because only He has the power to say to us, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” Amen.

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