Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
November 3, 2002
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
When I was a teenager, being incorrigibly arrogant as some teenagers are wont to be, I left the church because I became convinced that everyone in it was a hypocrite. Iím not quite sure why I came to that most uncharitable conclusion. I think a big part of it was that, given my virtually nonexistent life experience, the absence of which did nothing to curb but indeed surely fueled my adolescent hubris, I did not see in the people of the church the spiritual yearning that I now believe we all have and that, I now believe, explains why so many of us keep coming to church. I did not feel that yearning, that need, in myself; so I certainly could not see it in others. Beyond that, all the talk of putting spiritual values over material ones, and all the talk of the Christian call to do social justice, rank hollow to me. I just didnít see those values being lived as well as preached. Thatís not to say they werenítí being lived as well as preached. Itís just that I couldnít see it.
And so I reacted to the good people of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of Eugene, Oregon, the way Jesus is reported in this morningís Gospel lesson as reacting to the Pharisees. Oh, they didnít wear gaudy phylacteries or prayer shawls with unnecessarily long fringes like the Pharisees did but the idea was the same, or so it seemed to me in you youthful arrogance. Get all dressed up, come to church to be seen, and maybe to make yourself feel righteous, then go on living your life as if it all really meant nothing.
I readily admit that when I was a teenager I rushed to an unfair judgment on the basis of totally insufficient evidence. Yet it is true that there is a real temptation of hypocrisy in the religious life. Ostentatious observance of religious ritual can make us look good to others, and to ourselves. It is easy to convince ourselves that we are righteous because we go through the motions. Living truly faithful lives is hard. It means making sacrifices. It may mean taking stands on public issues of the day that may be at odds with what the majority of our friends, of our fellow citizens are saying. It means standing up for, and standing with, people whom our society condemns or at least marginalizes and would prefer to ignore. Itís a lot easier to sit in place and go through the motions than to take the real steps forward that the faith requires. Jesus saw the leading religious figures of his day giving in to that temptation. Micah did too in his day some seven hundred years earlier. I donít think weíd have to look too far to find religious people today giving in to it as well.
So today, as we take new members into our fellowship, letís reflect on what being a member of the Body of Christ really means.. It isnít a matter of being seen at church. It isnít a matter of going through the motions. Itís about being fed, about living in the Christian tradition as a sacrament of the sacred. Of finding God here in this place, and then of going out into the world truly to do what God would have us do. With the help of God, we will truly practice what we preach. Thanks be to God. Amen.