"This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." - Matthew 7: 8
One August day, when I was a young pastor, a group of people showed up at the church office demanding to know if I had been "born again." There was a fight going on in the congregation. One side, their side, understood itself as "born again Christians." I was new and they wanted to know which side I was on. Did I talk their language and say the right words?
On that hot August day, I responded to the big, red-faced man, Frank, who said, "What we want to know is if you have been born again," by saying, "Well, I guess the proof's in the pudding." Then, it occurred to me that it might be wise to quote some Scripture, so I added, "Or as our Lord said, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.'"
I thought I had been pretty clever, but the truth is that I had played their game: quoting Scripture to make me sound righteous (more righteous than them!)
We're all guilty, aren't we? Who among us has not honored God with our lips while our hearts were far from God? Who among us has not paid more attention to outward appearances, than to the truth of our insides, the truth that is known to God?
One of the places I have been encouraged to pay attention to the truth of the heart, to do my own work and to deal with my own inner stuff is in a 12-Step group. We in the church have something to learn from such groups. In 12-Step programs job #1 for each person is to do his or her own work, deal with our own stuff, and not worry so much about either our outward appearance or about other people and what we think they ought to be doing or saying.
Deliver us, good Lord, from our shows of righteous, to the truth of our sin so that you may heal us and make us new. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.