Message for Sunday 1 November 2020: “Hypo-critters”

Today’s message reveals insights from Micah 3:5-12 and Matthew 23:1-12. The topic involves being wary of harmful people in authority while also avoiding hypocrisy by practicing what you preach.

A verse in Micah speaks about the influence of evil prophets: “Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry ‘Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths” (Micah 3:5). This verse highlights unsympathetic, fake prophets who care nothing for people who are less fortunate.

People with political and religious authority often become drunk on power while ignoring and despising the marginalized masses they are supposed to help. False religious and political messiahs refuse to accept responsibility even for their own failings, often by shifting blame and inciting hatred against the poor and vulnerable.

In contrast to the dark side, good leaders serve people. Legitimate prophets speak truth to power and challenge those in authority to be public servants rather than public perverts. Leaders who follow God demonstrate their character and integrity by resisting lies that reinforce the fear, ignorance and anger of their support base. Sadly, far too many people in authority—along with their gullible flock—pathologically refuse to follow God on the path of righteousness. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible are clear in this message to both ancient and modern readers: hell-inspired rulers seduce and destroy; you’ve been warned!

In turning to Matthew, today’s verses reveal the dangers of hypocrisy, which isn’t easy to avoid for either leaders or common folk. Discrepancy between what a person says and their attitudes and actions is a constant struggle to overcome. Hypocrisy can ensnare anyone and is hard to dislodge without arduous self-management. Jesus primarily aimed his message at hypocritical religious bureaucrats, the elites who controlled Israel’s institutions. Jesus warned that people should “. . . do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:3b). The Jewish religious authorities were corrupt and they weren’t following their own teachings.

Hypocrisy propagated by powerful priests and politicians causes collateral damage to a nation’s soul and radiates death and destruction.  Yet hypocrisy is but one area among many regarding religious authority, a problem that can be traced back to Jesus’ Apostles, who argued who among themselves was the greatest. The wider problem of institutional abuse of power plagued ancient Judaism as it continues to do in other faiths. There are grand titles and holy offices in the world’s religions. Sadly, there are equally corrupt and horrific abuses of power by some of these same people, those who wield their religious or political authority like a madman’s axe.

The legitimacy of church hierarchies and who best speaks for God cannot be settled here. What can be done is to raise awareness about power abuses so people of good faith can change things. God is the source of all spiritual authority, yet whom and under what circumstances this actually occurs is debatable. A word of caution is therefore warranted: remain cautious of people with bad character who occupy high places. Avoid being manipulated by these power-hungry wolves, those who arouse dark and dangerous instincts in their captivated base of supporters.

Each person of faith must accept responsibility for living a life guided by principles. Followers of God thrive as they nurture their relationship with the Almighty apart from meddling intermediaries or deceptive political or religious leaders. Resist surrendering your autonomy by subcontracting your spiritual health. No one can do for you what you and God can accomplish together. There is no short-cut, no priestly class or caste who can perform a magic ritual absolving you of personal or social responsibilities.

Brothers and sisters, let us encourage one another. We must pursue humanitarian justice and equality as a way of demonstrating the compassionate core of God’s message. We must stand united against evil politicians, false prophets, and anyone else who seeks control by taking advantage of peoples’ weaknesses, while inciting violence and hatred. But rather than let negativity get you down, rejoice as God empowers you toward spiritual health and vitality. Life is always a challenge, but God will help get you through.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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