Facing Hypocrisy

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

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Riley and Payton moved into a new apartment with nice views of other apartments. As they were eating breakfast one day, Payton noticed a neighbor hanging his laundry out to dry and became a bit uneasy. “The laundry is still filthy,” Payton told Riley. “Someone needs to teach that guy how to pre-soak and use bleach.” For weeks, Payton went on rendering judgment upon the neighbor’s inadequate washing abilities as Riley silently listened.

After about a month, Payton and Riley again sat down to eat breakfast. The neighbor’s clothes were out on the line, but this time something was different. “Look at how clean the clothes are!” Payton exclaimed. “I wonder who finally taught him the right way?”

“I got up early this morning and washed our windows,” Riley replied with a smile.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of hypocrisy.

People of faith have been doing it for millennia.

Jesus had called out hypocrisy, insisting that we first take the log out of our own eye before removing the speck from our neighbor’s eye (Matt. 7:5).

In today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is addressing a group of religious leaders and a congregation that is supposed to know better. Earlier in Luke 13, the holy rollers have been pointing their fingers at other people who had suffered and died. They labeled the suffering as punishment for sin.

Sadly, this sort of judgmental condemnation continues today. After virtually every natural disaster or mass murder, some religious leader is ready to blame the victims for their sin. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?,” Jesus says. (Luke 13:2) “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:5)

Jesus continues his teaching through an interaction with a woman who has been disabled for nearly 20 years. We don’t know what her medical condition would be in our context, but that isn’t really the point. The Gospel wants us to know that forces of evil have held down the woman. Justo Gonzalez, a prolific biblical scholar, writes that the disabled woman represents the “reality of the power of evil, the reality of human suffering,” that religious people too often seek to forget.[1] When Jesus heals her and releases her, the temple leaders accuse him of failing to observe the Sabbath.

He does not waste a moment before blasting them: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16)

Jesus’ discussion of untying the animals is significant. The leaders did not have a problem with releasing their animals because getting a drink of water was an essential function, but viewed Jesus’ releasing of this woman from her suffering as sinful.

Gonzalez argues that “The confrontation points to the always lurking possibility that very good religious principles may be turned into allies of the powers of evil. The leader of the synagogue was defending religious principles derived from the very law of God. Yet in that very defense he was siding with the powers of evil that held the woman bent.”

Perhaps this woman had been attending worship services for years, pleading for someone to help her. For how long and how many times had she been told there was nothing anyone could do on the Sabbath? I can imagine the clergy having conferences with other like-minded religious people and still coming to the conclusion that there was nothing they could do.

It isn’t until Jesus shows up and speaks a word about the deeper meaning of Sabbath that the cycle of oppression can end for this woman. The voice of God’s son had to cut through the noise of the self-righteous echo chamber the religious community had created to bring healing.

How often do we let our own echo chambers of like-minded people convince us that we are right and everyone else is wrong?

Not that journalism was ever perfect, but reading a somewhat representative sample of news in a local paper that could adequately compensate reporters or hearing “Uncle” Walter Cronkite and others deliver a mostly even keeled broadcast at least made some space for us to receive information with less vitriol.

Times have changed, “and that’s the way it is.”[2] Or is it?

Do we have to allow our views and actions to be shaped by allies as we retreat into our own corners with friends and media outlets with which we agree? Whether we admit it or not, millions of very independent and intelligent people are influenced by “news” sources all across the political spectrum.

A recent segment on the “echo chamber” phenomenon on NPR’s weekend edition lifted up the good that can come when more conservative and liberal voices listen to one another.[3] Consider visiting a website such as “allsides.com” which attempts to show you the same story from sources deemed right, left, and center.

Even if you aren’t a person who uses social media, it is important to know how it influences our country. The Wall Street Journal offers a feature called “Red Feed, Blue Feed,”[4] demonstrating how Facebook’s algorithm is more likely to show us stories supporting our views. You can click on topics ranging from presidential candidates to the Dallas police shootings to ISIS or transgender issues and see the alarmingly biased grouping of posts.

This leads to a slew of challenges. In a study released by Pew Research Center—which of course has its own biases—68 percent of black social media users reported seeing at least some race-related posts, compared to only 35 percent of white people surveyed.[5] If one of us is mostly seeing pictures of our friends’ puppies and vacations, while another is hearing more about positive or negative takes on race relations from our inner circle, it is not surprising that views on a movement like Black Lives Matter are all over the map.

I empathize with those of you making it to church who would prefer to simply hear that Jesus loves us just as we are.

Jesus does love you just as you are. He loves you so much that he won’t leave you where you are. (And I certainly do not claim to have reached any state of Christ-like perfection either)

Every single week as our team collaborates on worship planning, we strive to share something that will meet you and comfort you where you are today. I see multiple people here who are wrestling with emotional and physical pain. Others are contemplating next steps in life relationships or career.

From that place of inward healing and liberation, as with the woman in the story today, he sets us free to do justice and mercy in the world. He reminds us that our temples are more than places of comfort. They are launching pads from which we do Christ’s work in the world.

We want our time together on the Sabbath to feed you and loosen the bonds of the hold that the pain of the world can have on us. We hope to remind you of the presence of Jesus, who says, “Here I am. I am with you. You are not alone.”

Last week I had the honor of leading a memorial service for Calvary’s longest tenured human, Roberta Neustadter, who passed away on August 1 at the age of 102. Our own Dick Clark provided beautiful piano music at the service. Having grown up in Thorntown, Indiana and living in San Francisco most of her adult life, Roberta had a circle of family and friends reflecting a wide array of backgrounds and views. She was not a social media person, but she was a living social network with friends from her farm days, yacht clubs, and California Pacific Hospital where she volunteered and helped found the Institute for Health and Healing. I even met a man wearing a red suit who had just returned from a professional Santa convention in Branson, Missouri. Yes, Roberta had a wide circle of friends and family. When asked why she thought she had lived so long on her 101st birthday, Roberta said, “The only thing I can think is that I liked my friends and kept up with my friends and kept going – just kept going. That’s the main thing.”

Even when she could not leave home as often as she wanted, Roberta did not isolate herself and wait for the world to end. She listened for the voice of Jesus and sought to bring healing and hope to the world in whatever ways she could.

May we actively seek to break free from our echo chambers, seeking to hear and spread the voice of Jesus Christ.

May we wash our own windows before condemning our neighbors’ dirty laundry.

[1] Justo L. González, Luke (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 174-75.

[2] For Calvary’s younger members and friends, “And that’s the way it is” was CBS news anchor’s sign-off on his broadcasts for many years. Look him up on YouTube J

[3] “The Reason Your Feed Became An Echo Chamber — And What To Do About It.” NPR Weekend Edition, July 24, 2016.

[4] “Red Feed, Blue Feed.” Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2016 & updated hourly. http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/

[5] “Social Media Conversations About Race.” Pew Research Center, released August 15, 2016.


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