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Not Your Lips, But Your Life / The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 8/29/2021

Mark 7:14-23

[Jesus] called the people to Him again and said to them, “Hear Me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”

I’ve got a pop quiz this morning for all you history buffs. What is something that was declared illegal 100 years ago, but is perfectly legal today? I’ll give you a hint: it inspired the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. In what was termed the Noble Experiment, the United States government made it a crime to manufacture, transport or sell alcoholic beverages. From 1920 to 1933, a period referred to today as Prohibition, all the bars, saloons and liquor stores in the nation shut down. Just like they did last year. Or did they?

However, instead of ending the practice of drinking, the 18th Amendment drove it underground, literally. One example of this can be found in the city of Los Angeles, California. While law enforcement and government officials pretended to stop the flow of liquor in the city, underneath the city there were 11 miles of service tunnels that became secret passageways to hidden saloons. In fact, the mayor of Los Angeles at that time helped to supply illegal liquor to these hidden bars. By 1927, seven years after passage of the 18th Amendment, there were approximately 30,000 illegal saloons, or speakeasies, in Los Angeles, twice the number of legal bars that had been operating before the law was passed.

It’s easy to laugh at that kind of hypocrisy if it weren’t so prevalent today. Let me give you an example. During the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor of a prominent city in Texas recorded a Facebook video urging residents of his town to avoid travel or large gatherings. Stay home if you can, he said. He sounded like a responsible leader of the people, until the people found out that he had recorded the Facebook video from his vacation spot in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. And he’s only one example of numerous public officials who expected the general population to restrict their activities during the pandemic but didn’t live up to those same standards themselves.

We love to roll our eyes in disgust when we catch prominent people acting hypocritically. But we all have problems with moral and ethical consistency. We all fail to meet our own standards sometimes. It isn’t an excuse, it’s a reality. Somehow our hypocrisy radar fails us when we point it at ourselves. And it’s an especially difficult issue for church leaders. Realistically, if you call yourself a Christian, a follower of Jesus, then you’re a leader. Other people will watch you and make conclusions about the character of God and know the reality of your faith by how your words and your actions match up to God’s standards. It’s a tough position to be in.

Our Bible passage today revolves around a question of “what is seen.” The Pharisees and some teachers of the law noticed that Jesus and His disciples weren’t following the Jewish laws of ceremonial hand washing before they ate. Aha! The Pharisees thought they had caught Jesus breaking the religious rules. Surely this brough Jesus’ authority as a religious leader into question. Instead of hanging His head in shame and slinking away, Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees.

He said, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions

The great sin of the Pharisees was their hypocrisy. They loved the Law more than they loved God. They cared more about keeping religious rules than knowing and honoring God. They said all the right things, but they weren’t motivated by the heart of God. They set a standard for others that they didn’t live up to themselves. This Bible passage is a good example of Jesus’ tough love. Hypocrisy is poisonous. It slowly kills trust and destroys relationships. And it kills the character of the hypocrite who isn’t honest enough or humble enough to admit his failure. And the Pharisees’ hypocrisy is doubly dangerous because it was driving people away from God and it was cheating the Pharisees out of a relationship with God.

Sadly, the Pharisees should have told people up-front, we aren’t the God you’re looking for! We care more about religious traditions than we do about the mind of God, the heart of God, the priorities of God.

I believe that’s the reason the world has such a distorted view of Christ; they judge God by what others have done in His name.

Ouch! Maybe we need some of Jesus’ tough love today as well. Because the sin of the Pharisees is our sin too. We say we follow Christ, but all of us fall short of living as He lived. Christ says, you have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions. In other words, most of us are satisfied to live according to the standards of our society. Yet Christ offers a higher standard.

A man came up to the pastor after the service with tears in his eyes. This father was broken-hearted over his daughter and the choices she had made with her life. She had wandered far from her parents’ faith. And the father had come to a painful realization. He said, we raised her in Church, but we didn’t raise her in Christ.

We raised her in Church, but we didn’t raise her in Christ. There’s a key to understanding our hypocrisy too. We can spend our whole life in church and never fall in love with God. We can listen to a lifetime of sermons, give to charities, and memorize Bible passages. And we can still miss the life-transforming joy of knowing God and sharing God’s love with others. Remember when the Pharisees asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment? Jesus didn’t point to a rule or a religious observance or a church tradition. He pointed to a relationship. He said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22: 37-40).

Jesus is saying, God isn’t pointing you toward the Law. The Law is pointing you towards Him. Once you understand God and submit your life to Him, once you love God more than you love your own life, then you won’t need the Law. Instead, your goodness will be replaced by Godliness.

When some of the great medieval cathedrals were built, like Notre Dame in Paris, most of the population of Europe was illiterate. Architects, sculptors and artists created these amazing cathedrals full of carvings and statues and stained-glass windows to tell the story of God through art. They assumed that the average citizen may never read a Bible, but they could “read” the story of God through the images in the church buildings, similar to our stained glass.

And that’s still the best way to spread the message of Jesus. Most people in our society will never read a Bible or will only read it in part. We are the “living cathedrals” in our society. Others need to “read” the story of God in the way we live our lives.

The best way to defeat the sin of hypocrisy is to move our testimony from our lips to our life. We can’t experience the abundant life Christ promises without living with the loving heart He gave us.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That’s what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. Can you blame them? So how do we ensure that our lips and our lifestyle match up? How do we get an unbelieving world to believe?

How can Christianity make a stronger impact on our country? I can think of three key things. First, Christians need to live more like Jesus. Second, Christians must present the message of Jesus without adulteration, or cultural baggage. And finally, Christians should emphasize love, the core message of the faith.

Take a moment and think back over this last month. Examine your life in light of these three thoughts. Did you live like Jesus in your actions, your attitudes, your priorities and your motivations? Did you present the message of Jesus in its purest form? Did you emphasize love in everything you said, thought and did? This isn’t a quiz. This is your life. This is your calling. This is your legacy. How do you get an unbelieving world to believe? God can use our brains, our charisma, our energy, our skills to share His message with the world. The essential thing God needs from us is our commitment. Our total desire to love God and serve God with everything we have will make us more effective, authentic, persuasive witnesses than any amount of “proper” religious behavior.

A pastor who was known for his love for the poor, and for putting his faith into action, even when it required great sacrifice. One Sunday he walked into the pulpit after an ice storm had hit the area the night before. Lots of people showed up to hear him preach. But instead of an inspiring and learned sermon, he said, we had an ice storm last night. Lots of trees are down. Lots of poor people in this town. Electricity is off, they got no heat. I got my pickup outside, my chain‑saw and my wood ax. I’m going out to cut some firewood from those trees to help those poor people. Who’s going with me?

And then he stepped down from the pulpit and walked out of the church. And he left a bunch of confused people sitting in the pews. Did anybody follow him down that aisle? He didn’t just honor God with his lips. He honored God with his life. When it came time to preach a sermon that would honor God, he preached through his actions, not his words. He loved God with everything in him, and he loved his neighbor as he loved himself.

We’re all hypocrites. Jesus knew we would be. But He loves us too much to leave us in our hypocrisy. He knew that our half-hearted, insincere faith, poisons our relationship with God and drives other people away from the truth of Jesus Christ. What’s the source of our hypocrisy? Honoring God with our lips when our hearts are far away from Him. What’s the cure for our hypocrisy? Loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. That’s the only way to move our testimony from our lips to our life. That’s how we get an unbelieving world to believe.