As of Friday, February 26, 2016
My middle sister used to say, during her rambunctious teen years, that she didn’t want to go to church because it’s full of hypocrites. My father, who is also a pastor, answered in all love and seriousness: there’s always room for one more.
My sister’s criticism is actually an opinion shared by many critics of our faith. Pastor Tony Campolo is a church leader who has often encountered this complaint (or dare we call it an excuse?) for not attending church.
To these critics of the church, he says yes, you’re right. But name one person who has never said or done the wrong things. Such is the nature of humanity; we are all hypocrites in one way or another, at one time or another. Church is a place for real human beings, fallible human beings, who are occasionally hypocrites.
We know we should show more care for our environment, but we throw away a plastic bottle just because the recycling center is too far away.
We know we should care more for our bodies, but we have excuse after excuse as to why one more burger, one more drink, one more cigarette is okay for us today.
We know we should give honor and praise to our God, but we struggle to take the time to make our Lord a priority.
We know we are one body in Christ Jesus, but we have innumerable ways in which we have divided that body.
We know we should love our neighbors as ourselves, but we make excuses for why we can’t devote ourselves to social justice, why we don’t have time to volunteer at the food bank, or why we can’t visit lonely Miss Ethel at the nursing home.
We are guilty of being and doing exactly what our Lord instructed us not to: we are guilty practicing our piety before others simply to get their praise, blowing a trumpet and patting ourselves on the back so everyone will know we are giving alms and praying.
We are sinners and hypocrites.
The point, however, is not to dwell on all our hypocrisies, but to know that we have failed and to truly and earnestly strive to be less hypocritical. We know we are hypocrites and have fallen short of the glory of God, but we have found the One who can and does redeem us out of his great love. It is only in repentance at the foot of the cross that we are washed clean of our sins. That is why we gathered in groups of two or three or twelve or fifty in groups we call churches.
Now, during our Lenten journey, we bring before God all the hypocrisies within ourselves. This is a time of year to return to the Lord, as the prophet says. We strive to put aside things that distract us from God, and we go on our knees at his feet with humble and contrite hearts.
This Holy season, as we journey towards the joy of Easter morn, we strive towards a true and honest inner piety, a piety that is not for others, not even for ourselves, but for the honor and glory of God in Christ Jesus, the one who lifts us from the depths of our hypocrisy and sin. This Holy Lent, we mark ourselves with an ashen cross to remember who and whose we are.
Pastor Katrina Walther ministers at Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sunnyside.