God's Love of Hypocrites
a sermon by Rev. Teri Daily
August 29, 2021
All Saints Episcopal Church
"It is to a God such as this that we offer all the contradictions, hypocrisy, and complexities of our own lives. And we trust God to weave our disparate parts into a single narrative, beautiful in its own way – just as God did with Moses, David, Peter and all the other hypocrites who came before us."
Hypocrisy seems to be an inescapable part of being human. Henry David Thoreau is famous for his romantic philosophy of isolationism, self-sufficiency, and a respect for nature; but this environmentalist also accidently burned down a large portion of the woods near Concord, Massachusetts when his campfire got out of control. And, although he was a proponent of self-sufficiency, while living on Walden Pond he took his laundry home for his mother to do. 18th century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau is well known for a book called Emile, or On Education which contains, among other topics, parenting advice; he and his longtime partner Thérèse had five children and handed them all over to orphanages. Of course, there are the scandals that seem to surround many contemporary religious figures unable to live up to the very lifestyles they outwardly embrace – with marital infidelity, addiction to pornography, and monetary improprieties usually ending in a fall from favor. This isn’t a new problem in the religious life; after all, sixteen hundred years ago Augustine prayed, “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.” And then there are the religious progressives who preach the importance of embracing diversity, and yet shun the people they deem “intolerant.”
Hypocrisy seems to be ubiquitous; shine a strong enough light on any of us, and we, too, will wear the label “hypocrite.” We are all walking masses of contradiction. We all could be standing right there alongside the Pharisees whom Jesus calls phonies.
In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees call out Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands before eating. Now, there’s no commandment in the Torah that says everyone should wash their hands before eating. The priests are commanded in Hebrew scripture to practice ritual washing before consuming gifts of oil, wine and wheat. Eventually the practice of washing grew to include non-priests, too, and became widespread; it was passed down as tradition. But saying that “all the Jews” practiced such hand washing is an overstatement – there was quite a bit of heterogeneity in traditions among different sectors of Judaism. (Clearly Jesus’ disciples are Jews, and they’re not washing their hands.) And in the gospel of Mark, although Jesus might not agree with the Pharisees about ritual washing, he does seem to pay attention to the purity rituals commanded by the Torah.
It’s important to know that purity rituals in the Torah were not about being sanitary – they were not a matter of physical cleanliness. They were also not a matter of sin. For example, it wasn’t a sin to touch a dead body; circumstances may at times make doing so a necessary part of life. So impurity laws are not about hygiene or sin. Instead, the purity laws in the Hebrew scriptures are about defilement; they are about whether one is able to approach God in the Temple.
In today’s passage, Jesus takes the Pharisees’ concern about ritual impurity and moves the conversation to one of moral impurity. He gets under the letter of the law or the tradition to look at what inspires our behaviors. Instead of arguing about compliance to a tradition or law, he looks to the heart to see the motivations and virtues and brokenness that underlie our actions. He says, “Do you want to know what really hinders our approach to God – ‘fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.’ These are the things that separate us most from God, and they come from within us.”
It might actually be easier if our relationship with God were determined by a catalog of rules and behaviors for which we could check a box. That would make things pretty clear cut. Instead, looking inside ourselves means that we are confronted with ambiguity and messiness. In fact, it’s so uncomfortable to look honestly in our own hearts that we often end up projecting our brokenness and shortcomings onto the world around us – using our list of rules as a litmus test of who’s in and who’s out, of who’s good and who’s bad. This kind of projection is sometimes the only way we see and understand things about ourselves.
This is true not only for our deficiencies, our fears, and our emotions – it’s also true for our understanding of that which is holy. See, we are each of us made in the image of God. But we lose sight of that even more quickly than we do our brokenness. We project the divine imprint that resides deep within us out and onto religion – onto sacred buildings, thin places, liturgy, and saints of the Church. But, as our former bishop Larry Maze once said, the healthy religion is the one that takes our projections and gives them back to us. In the Eucharist we take the body and the blood of Christ into our bodies, and we are reminded that the holy dwells not only outside of us, but also within us. Christ is at work not only in the world around us, but the resurrected Christ is also alive and at work in us.
The truth is: As human beings we have the capacity for so much good and for so much evil. It’s that dual capacity that results in our being hypocrites. We humans are all bundles of contradictions. Our hope is that our tradition – the words of Christ in scripture and his presence in the bread and wine – will shape our hearts more and more into the image of Christ. We live each day praying that the image of God within us will show more and that the hypocrisy in our lives will dwindle. It’s called living into our baptism, and it takes a lifetime and longer.
But here is the good news: We may be hypocritical, complex creatures, but God is simple. Not “simple” meaning that we can understand or wrap our minds around who God is; we can never do that because God is infinite. What I mean when I say God is “simple” is that God is not made up of contradictory personalities; God is the same through and through. God is constant in love, constant in mercy, constant in truth.
The God we experience in our own lives is the same God who made this world and pronounced it good, the same God who created a people to bring love and light to the world, the same God who loved these people even when their motives became mixed and they lost their way, the same God who could take the painful experiences of slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon and even death on a cross and weave them all into a larger, beautiful story of redemption and grace where everything belongs. It is to a God such as this that we offer all the contradictions, hypocrisy, and complexities of our own lives. And we trust God to weave our disparate parts into a single narrative, beautiful in its own way – just as God did with Moses, David, Peter and all the other hypocrites who came before us.
 Matt Skinner, Sermon Brainwave #799, Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/799-14th-sunday-after-pentecost-ord-22b-aug-29-2021.
 Emily Kahm, “Proper 17 (B): What About the Rules?” Modern Metanoia, https://modernmetanoia.org/2018/08/20/proper-17b-what-about-the-rules/.