The Rev. Frank
The Inside-Out Gospel
There is a word non-Christians have for Christians. This is a bit of a generalization, but I think it holds truer than we care to admit. One word Non-Christians in America use for us Christians is “hypocrite.” I do think there is one good, honest reason why we Christians are labeled as hypocrites—we are hypocrites. All of us are hypocrites at one time or another. If you go around saying that you intend to live a Christ-like life, then you will fall short of that mark now and again. You say you want to live your life one way, while still living another, and that is hypocritical. Why not? Being a Christian means trying to uphold a higher standard than any of us can live up to every moment of every day.
Trust me, it is easier than you think to be a hypocrite. Last Sunday, I was a hypocrite right here in church, during the service. I promise, I didn’t mean it. We never do mean to be hypocrites, do we? As we met for worship last week, there were workers working on the church out back. I knew they would be working. I was so focused on getting our new building built that I never examined what it means for a church to pay people to work on the Sabbath. I had a bit of a struggle yesterday to convince the same workers not to be out there working right now, today. Then I have to wonder if that is hypocritical. They attend church, but not when we are worshipping. These are just guys trying to make a living. Am I doing the right thing to prevent them from working to support their families?
You see the difficulty. Once you hold out a higher standard for yourself, these questions of how you can be a Christian without being a hypocrite start to arise. Is the Nicene Creed a hypocritical oath? What about our baptismal covenant? Are we destined to disappoint ourselves? Probably. But, I’m still not suggesting that being a hypocrite is a good idea. I’m just acknowledging that hypocrite is a label we Christians are stuck with.
The Book of James goes at the root of the hypocrite problem and offers a way to be a Christian without being a hypocrite, or at least to be less hypocritical. James diagnoses the basic problem as envy and selfish ambition. He writes that these lead to all kinds of chaos and wickedness. James contrasts this envy and self-ambition with the wisdom of God, which James tells us, is pure and has a trace of neither partiality nor hypocrisy.
If you want to be a Christian without being a hypocrite, you have to turn your life inside out. Envy and selfish ambition are all about you and what you want. The wisdom from God says to turn your life inside out. Put others first and consider what they need.
James quotes from the Book of Proverbs saying, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Jesus described this inside-out lifestyle to his disciples in our Gospel reading today saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Pause for a moment to consider how countercultural this inside-out gospel is. Outside of church, you are not likely to hear that you should put others ahead of yourself. Where would we hear to put others first? In a typical day, the majority of the messages we see and hear come from advertising which bombards us at every turn. Advertising is on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, on radio and television, even imbedded into the products used conspicuously in movies. Advertising is everywhere and the goal of advertising is to make you want whatever product they are peddling.
If I had those Air Jordan’s, I could jump like Michael Jordan. I would be somebody if I was driving that Hummer, or living in that model’s too-thin body. I could be content if only I was stretched out on that leather couch in front of that mammoth TV, or women (or men as the case may be) would buzz around me like bees on flowers if I was wearing that cologne or perfume. I would be profoundly happy if only I was living in that 4,000 square foot house, or if I had the Playstation 2 in addition to my lame old Nintendo 64.
James never experienced that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses form of advertising, but he knew about envy. James wrote, “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.” It could sound like hyperbole if real life murders didn’t show how true James statement is. Teens have killed teens for the shoes on their feet or the jacket on their back.
Envy turned to murder was exactly why an 87-year old California woman was beat to death for her credit cards. Her 30-something killer, Dana Sue Gray, was arrested later that day. Between the murder and the arrest, Gray had gone on a shopping spree. Police found Beebe’s credit cards in Gray’s home. They also found a closet full of new clothes with the price tags still attached. There were unopened bottles of Opium perfume, an expensive mountain bike, and a purple boogie board. A Los Angeles Magazine article described the scene saying, “The items were spread out as if in a post-Christmas quandary of where to store all the presents.”
When Gray was arrested and placed in the police car, she was wearing diamond earrings purchased with the credit card of a previous victim. Arresting officers said Gray talked about her new boogie board all the way to the police station. Gray was obsessed with things she could not afford and she was willing to kill to get them.
James knew about the evil begins to take root when we let cravings start a war within us. James says you do not have the things you want because you do not ask, meaning that we will receive from God when we ask from God. Ask and you shall receive sounds like a tempting invitation to prayer. That type of prayer sounds like this:
[play Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”]
It sounds pretty selfish doesn’t it? Lord give me that Mercedes Benz I want, that color TV I just have to have, and that night on the town I so richly deserve. If you love me God, you’ll give me all these things I want. Right? Wrong.
James says we do not receive from God because we ask out of that same envy and selfish ambition that guides our lives. He labels those of us who pray the Lord-won’t-you-buy-me-a-Mercedes-Benz prayers with a funny label, he calls us, “Adulterers!” James has a good Old Testament reason for that label. When Israel turned to other Gods, prophets were given the message to cry out against the adultery of running after other Gods.
We have pledged ourselves to God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet every time we put what we feel we need and just have to have, over and above God’s concerns, we become adulterers. We run after other God’s instead of the one true God. We run after the corporate God’s of Nike and Playstation, or J. Crew and Porsche. Whatever the thing we have to have to be happy, if it is not God, once we get it, we’ll still have a God-sized whole in our lives.
We might be happily driving along in our designer clothes, in the finest of cars to our perfect house, but we will still be missing happiness. Because once we make friends with the world, we set ourselves against God. I am not preaching against things. I’m just pointing out that things alone will not make you happy. And no matter how loudly or emphatically you pray, God has no stake in whether you drive a beat up old Ford or a shiny new Mercedes Benz. God really has no desire to bless you with a Mercedes Benz, a color TV or a night on the town. God is a lot more concerned with an ongoing relationship with you in which you turn your life inside out.
The antidote to hypocrisy is to come to want for your life what God wants for you. How do you do that? Jesus said it pretty well in teaching his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done. Trust me, having God’s will done in and through your life will make you much more happy than the biggest pile of stuff. Things are just things. Things are value neutral until you trade your soul for them. For James, it is a simple dichotomy. There are two ways to live—the way of the world and the way of heaven. To live the way of the world is to chase after the people and things that will make you happy. To live the way of heaven is to turn all that over to God. Turning your life over to God will throw envy and selfish ambition out the window as you turn your whole life inside out.
Once you let this inside-out gospel take root in your heart, you will find that the question is not what will make you happy, but what will make us happy. Jesus taught a simple-to-understand, hard-to-live-out ideal of loving your neighbors as you love yourself. Jesus did not teach you to love your neighbors more than yourself, but to love them no less than yourself. Loving your neighbor as yourself as no trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
We won’t even have to get the love our neighbors as ourselves thing right all of the time. Each of us will mess up now and again, but if others see us struggling to love them as we love ourselves, then the label hypocrite will have a harder time sticking. If we really love our neighbors as ourselves, it won’t matter what they call us anyway. The key is to put the first thing first, and the first thing...duh, it's God.
 The full text of the article is online at http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m1346/12_43/57564133/print.jhtml
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