Hello and welcome to Thursday’s daily podcast! Our BIG hope is that this short thought and worship track encourages us to walk with Jesus more closely today.
Today we carry on through Matthews Gospel. You might be interested to know that we’ve been looking at parts of this book of the Bible since September and in the next few weeks we will have done the whole thing together. How great is that?
Today our passage is Matthew 23:1-22. It’s titled ‘a warning against hypocrisy’ in most Bibles.
Verse 3 really hits it home… Be careful of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees… Do not do what they do for they do not practise what they preach.
The word hypocrite comes from the Greek, hypokritēs, meaning stage actor, and is commonly used when referring to people of religion who say one thing and do another. In short, they talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk.
I don’t know about you, but in my conversations with people who don’t have a faith yet, this might be one of the most common obstacles to believing in Jesus.
It certainly was something I assumed of all Christians before I got to actually know some as a teenager. I guess as a society we kind of like a “fall from grace” story. If you are going to profess goodness it becomes very memorable when they fall.
I was reading a book in the summer called “Story Bearer” by Phil Knox. We invited Phil to come and speak at the evening gathering 2 weeks ago. I definitely recommend his talk to you if you haven’t heard it yet. It was about finding hope and a home in these times of transition. In his book Phil encourages us all to match the stories of our mouth with the stories of our lives. In his own words, he says, “The challenge for us as story bearers is that we tell two stories, one with our tongues and one with our actions. We need to do our best to make them synchronise with each other.”
Over the years, people have given up on exploring Jesus because of the way those who follow him have behaved. Sadly there are more headlines about the appalling abuses of power than the good. The historic discrimination because of race, the appalling genocides and crusades, the wrong power dynamics. We could go on. If you are listening to this and things come to mind about the ways individuals or organisations have hurt you and it’s stopped you meeting with Jesus I am truly sorry. It’s an old cliche but it is true, the church is a hospital for broken people not a museum for perfect people. But that doesn’t excuse the behaviour, – so if I may, Jesus we are sorry. We repent. Would you forgive us when our actions do not match our words.
In Phil’s book he makes this point more eloquently than I across a chapter. I really do recommend it. I’ll add a link to this podcast description. I love the way he chose to end that chapter and I’m going to steal the idea and tweak it for our context and for Sheffield. But Phil gets credit for the inspiration.
He says, “…we should rightly apologise when we have got things wrong while maintaining a sense of perspective. Especially when confronted with the soundbite that “all religion does is make war”. [There is a lot to be proud of in our] past, as well as the present we have shone brightly as the city on the hill. Education and social concern have been part of the parcel of the church’s activities from the earliest days. Between 1850 and 1900, as many as three-quarters of all voluntary charities were set up and run by evangelical Christians. From William Wilberforce, whose actions helped towards the abolition of the slave trade, to William Beveridge, who is credited with the reformation of British healthcare and the creation of the National Health Service, our story-bearing predecessors have let their light shine and we should be as proud of them as we are ashamed of those who have so badly got it wrong.”
Here is where I want to bring it home to our present day, and give us cause to celebrate. Back in 2018, Together for Sheffield, which is a group that encourages collaboration between individuals to make Sheffield a better place in Jesus’ name comissioned a faith audit report. The Cinnamon Network ran the audit and found that, in total, local churches and other religious grounds put in around 1.24 million hours during that year on schemes ranging from food banks to debt advice services and childcare facilities. Something like 124,000 individuals benefitted from those hours of service in 2017. It was reported that the faith community is regularly plugging the gap where many are finding it hard. Get this: the audit found that, in total, faith volunteers work was worth around £11.2 million based on 723 projects run by 4250 people.
As we look at the present day, we’ve heard from Alan Ward at our most recent gift day about how the work with S6 Foodbank has expanded through the pandemic. S6 Food Bank runs from our sister church St Thomas’ Philadelphia and they report that they are now giving out 10 tonnes of food every week through centres like ours. That’s heartbreaking on one level (the need is so big!) and on another level it’s astounding the faithfulness, the resourcefulness of the church to be good news to the poor in a time such as this. Keep going! As we serve, as we give, as we expand our work with the vulnerable in the weeks to come they are just some of the ways our walk is matching up with our talk. We know it’s not just about the organised. It’s about the ordinary everyday unseen acts of love. It was lighting up our windows for the streets of light initiative to display hope, love and unity when times get hard. I know many of you listening do small, simple acts of kindness every day to your neighbourhood and we won’t necessarily see them to give you credit on a podcast. But God sees every single one of them; they push back the darkness and they are a reflection of God’s love to our city. They really are.
Well done Church. We are so proud of you. Keep going! Keep serving. We have some repentance and apologising to do when we get it wrong. Each of us, in our own way has fallen into the hypocrite trap today’s Bible passage warns us about. Father, forgive us. But there is good out there church. You are the good news – let your light shine brightly today. All the glory be to God.
Jesus, thank you for this warning in the podcast today. May we take it seriously and live faithfully. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 23:1-22
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
‘Everything they do is done for people to see: they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and to be called “Rabbi” by others.
‘But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father”, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.” You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.