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The New Pharisees

A Sermon Preached on Sunday, September 4, 2011, by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.   The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.   I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.  And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14) 

If you really want to insult Christian people, call them a bunch of Pharisees.  As we read the New Testament, the Pharisees come across as one of the villainous groups ever portrayed in Scripture.  When we think of Pharisees we think of those who like to put their piety and devotion on display for the entire world to see.  We imagine them standing in public places, praying these loud, long prayers so that everyone will be sure to see them and praise them for being so devout and holy.  We see them wearing their long robes, with the beautiful borders, the phylacteries worn around their arms or on their foreheads to signal how they were always meditating upon and observing the law of God.  Perhaps, most of all, when we think of the Pharisees, we think of their hypocrisy.  While they put on such a show to convince people of how godly they were, tithing not only their money, but even their herbs, the Pharisees were capable of incredible cruelty.  Though they professed to be obedient to the law, they were those who devoured widow’s houses.  Though they made long prayers, we see them plotting how they might kill Jesus.

One of the most famous descriptions of the Pharisees is found in Luke 18.  Our Lord shows us that one of the chief characteristics of the Pharisees was that they thought they were so much better than other people.  In this Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, we notice how the Pharisee brags about how good he is.  He fasts, he tithes, and he is not an extortioner or unjust.  He’s not an adulterer.  Then, in the middle of his prayer, he sort of takes a peak and sees a tax collector, and in effect says, “I’m certainly much better than this tax collector.”  The Pharisee is someone who is convinced of his own goodness, his own righteousness, and how superior he is morally to other people.

Since the Pharisees were so religious, when we look for modern day examples of Pharisaism, we tend to look in the church.    We look for people in the church who pray, sing praises to God, give their money to the church, and yet lead hypocritical lives.  We look at such people and say, “These are the Pharisees of our generation.”  But I think we need to expand the membership of modern Pharisaism and include some other people.  In our generation, I would go so far as to say that most of the Pharisees are outside the church.   In our analysis of the Pharisees we often forget their chief characteristic was that they felt that they did not need a savior.    The Pharisee is someone that we call “self-righteous.”    The Pharisee believed that he was so good and holy, he didn’t need someone to save him from the guilt and power of his sin.    He would not even have classified himself as a sinner.  Those other people, the extortioners, the adulterers, the tax collectors, were the sinners.  We could define Pharisaism in this way:  the Pharisee is someone who feels no need to pray this prayer offered by the tax collector, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  The Pharisee may pray a great deal, but he sees no need to pray that prayer.

You do not have to go to church to find people who feel that they have no need to pray that prayer.  We would have to say that most people in America today, even among those who are not in the church, see no need to pray, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

In our day, we have intellectual Pharisees.  The chief characteristic of the Pharisee is that he despises others.  Our modern intellectual Pharisees despise others, considering themselves to be so intellectually superior to those fools in churches who believe those fairy stories in the Bible.  While they wouldn’t thank God for their superiority, as this Pharisee in the parable did, they would say to themselves, “I am so glad I am not as other men are.  I am intellectually superior and know that there is no proof for the existence of God.  I am thankful that my keen, enlightened intellect has freed me from the idea that there is a superior being to whom I must one day give account, so there is no need for me to grovel before an almighty tyrant and plead for his mercy.”

Then we have those who say that they believe in God, but they are so superior to those who go to church, because they are broad-minded and tolerant.  They brag that they are so much better than those bigots who go to conservative churches.  They have come to the conclusion that all those verses in the Bible that speak of God being a God of wrath and justice are just remnants of a very primitive belief system.  They have “demythologized” the Bible and have seen that there is no need to look upon ourselves as sinners, because God doesn’t see us as sinners.  They believe that God sees us as those who have made some mistakes, but there is no need to ask God for mercy, for God is not going to hold us accountable for our sins anyway.  They pray with themselves, “God I thank you, that I have realized that I am not a sinner, and even if I were, I still wouldn’t have to ask you for mercy, because you are so loving, you are not going to hold me accountable for my actions.”

Then there are those who call themselves Christians, but won’t go to church because there are too many hypocrites in the church.  This is one of the reasons why I say that so many Pharisees are outside the church.  The new Pharisee is not someone who is inside the church, feeling superior to those outside the church.  The new Pharisee is that person who is outside the church, because he feels he is so superior to those inside the church.   These are the people who pride themselves on saying, “Those hypocrites in the church are religious, but I’m not religious.  I’m spiritual.”  The next time you hear someone use that slogan, just remember, you are listening to a proud Pharisee.  They don’t go to church because they are too good, too spiritual to mingle with those religious hypocrites.  Since they are not guilty of such hypocrisy, they could not bear to get off their lofty pedestal and associate with those ungodly hypocrites who go to church.  They stand and pray with themselves saying, “God I thank you that I am not like those hypocritical people who go to church.  There is no need for me to pray, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner,’ because I am so spiritual.”  Yes, it is true that the church has its share of Pharisees, but atheists, agnostics, members of other religions, and those who don’t go to church have their own form of Pharisaism.  They all have this characteristic in common—they are intellectually, morally, and spiritually, better than other people.

But what is the opposite of Pharisaism? The opposite of the Pharisee is seen in this tax collector who will not even lift his eyes toward heaven, but smites his breast saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  The Christian does not feel that he is superior to anyone, morally, spiritually, or intellectually.  How could the Christian ever feel superior to anyone when the first thing that a Christian has discovered about himself is that he is a sinner?  The Holy Spirit has opened his eyes and made him look into the deep recesses of his heart and what has he found there?  The Christian has found within himself hatred, envy, jealousy, lust, idolatry, cruelty, and other things too horrible to mention.  The Christian knows that there is no sin that he is not capable of committing.  The Christian looks at all the people of the Bible, like David, and knows, that given the right opportunity and the right pressure, he is capable of committing those sins and more.    Even when the Christian sees someone who is living in open rebellion against the law of God, his is always the famous sentiment, “There but by the grace of God, go I.”    The Christian knows that his heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.  The Christian knows that if he has any virtue at all, it was planted there by Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit has worked in him and produced in him the fruit of righteousness.  We have done nothing at all worthy of praise.

Christians realize that they are sinners, and if we have any goodness at all, it is because God has had mercy on us and produced that goodness in us.  We have nothing of which to boast.  We can’t boast that we are believers because we are intellectually superior.  We are not believers because we have these wonderfully reasonable minds that have deduced with our keen intellects that the gospel is true.  The Christian knows that if he believes it is because God had mercy on him and granted him the ability to believe.  We are just like other people.  By nature, we don’t want to believe the gospel.    By nature, we would much rather not believe the gospel, but God in his mercy has shown us that the gospel is the truth, and gave us hearts to love the gospel message.  Believe a believer is nothing that we can brag or boast about.  Our ability to believe is the merciful act of God.

The Christian knows that he is no better than those outside the church, and he doesn’t have a haughty attitude toward people inside the church either.   The Christian looks upon other believers in Christ as those who are fellow sinners who have received mercy.  We see this humility in St. Paul when he said,   “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am” (I Cor. 15:9-10).  Notice how the apostle says that though he is an apostle, he is not worthy to be called an apostle.  He had been a persecutor of the church, and if he has accomplished anything for the cause of Christ, it is because of the grace of God working in him.  He has done nothing of which he can boast as any kind of innate goodness or virtue.   St. Paul continues these kinds of descriptions of himself.   We find him looking upon himself as  “the least of the apostles,” “less than the least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8), and “the chief of sinners” (I Tim. 1:15).  The believer in Christ sees himself the same light.

St. Paul constantly admonishes Christians not to be proud and think ourselves better than others.  In Phil. 2:3, he says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”  In Romans 12:3, he writes, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Paul constantly warns us about the sin of being “highminded,” conceited, arrogant, and proud.   When St. Paul talks about how the Jews were rejected and the Gentiles were grafted into the church, Paul tells Gentile Christians, “Be not highminded but fear.  For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Romans 11:20-21).  The Christian knows what unbelief lurks in his heart, just waiting for the opportunity to fill our hearts with faithlessness.  Don’t be highminded, but fear.

If there is one characteristic of modern people, especially people in the United States, I would have to say that it is we are highminded—we think we are so much better than we really are.  But Christians,  knowing what we know about ourselves, knowing that what we have done and what we are capable of doing, knowing what a strong tendency there is in us to abandon the faith, we begin the Christian life and end the Christian life with the same prayer, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Even on the last day, when we stand before the judgment bar of God, we will still have only one plea.  We will not stand there saying, “I have done many good works.  I have gone to church.  I have read my Bible daily.  I have contributed to charities.  Surely I deserve a place in heaven because I have been such a good husband, father, mother, wife, such a faithful church member.”  No, we will still be saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Down through the centuries, the people of God have always kept this posture of pleading for the mercy of God.  In Psalm 25:7, the Psalmist prays, “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.”  The Psalmist doesn’t deny that he is a sinner.  He knows that he is and pleads for mercy.  After David committed his terrible sin with Bathsheba, he begins that beautiful penitential prayer of the 51st Psalm, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.”  David doesn’t say, “Lord, I know that I did wrong, but think back on all the good things I did before I sinned and all the good things I am going to do in the future.”  No, he pleads for mercy.  When St. Paul describes how the Christian has been saved, he puts it like this, “ Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost“(Titus 3:5).  God didn’t save us because we did so many good works.  We have no works of righteousness.  All our righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God.  We are saved only because of the mercy that has been shown to us in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.  Christians are often accused of being Pharisees—being haughty, proud, arrogant, feeling that they are better than other people.  If a person is bragging about his own goodness, he is no Christian.  The Christian is one who realizes that he is merely the recipient of mercy.

The great characteristic of true Anglican worship is prayer.  But if I go a little further and ask, “What kind of prayer is most characteristic of Anglican praying,” we would say that it is prayer for mercy.    We open our service with the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”    Three times we ask for mercy, and if we do the ninefold version, nine  times we ask for mercy.  If we do the Decalogue, ten times we ask for mercy.  We begin the service in this manner because we know that even our worship, even our prayers, are filled with such sin and imperfection that they are only received because God is merciful.  In the remainder of the service some 16 times the word “mercy” or some form of it, such as “merciful” is used in our service, not counting the collects and other prayers we use that often contain the word “mercy.”   As a matter of fact, if someone asked you, “What do you do in the worship services of the church,” our answer would be quite unusual for these days.  We would say,  “What we do most in our worship service is plead for mercy.”  I would invite you this morning, for the rest of the service to take note how many times we use the word mercy in our service, not even counting the many hymns we sing that contain that word.  Anglican worship encourages the posture and the attitude of this tax collector.  We do not lift proud and arrogant eyes to heaven and boast of our goodness.  We bow our heads and plead for mercy.  You can’t really see it during the service of Holy Communion, because I have my back turned to you, but while I am saying the prayer, “And though we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice; yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences..,”  I strike my chest.  It is a way of remembering this description of the tax collector who smote his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  I make that action on behalf of us all, for we know that we are unworthy to be here, unworthy to offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, but God receives it out of mercy through Christ our Lord.

The characteristic of the Pharisee, whether we find it in first century Palestine or in 21st century America, is the same.  The Pharisee refuses to bow, refuses to smite his breast in agony over his sin, and refuses to plead for mercy.  But the good news of the gospel is that for all who recognize that they are sinners and that they need mercy, God will grant his merciful forgiveness to those who ask him.  In Psalm 86:5, we find the words, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.”  In Eph. 2, Paul described the condition of the Ephesians before they came to Christ and he says that they walked according to the course of this world.  That is, they yielded to Satan and his devices, they lived in lust, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, and they were those who deserved the wrath of God.  Then, St. Paul says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5).  We are saved for one reason:  God is rich in mercy.  God is so rich in mercy, he sent his son to die on the cross for us.  If we will only believe in what Christ did on the cross, he will forgive all our sins.  He will have mercy on all who come to him through Christ.  Let us come once again to this holy table, praying again the prayer of the tax collector, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and then resting assured that he will pity us, for  he is the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.  Amen.

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The Blind Leading the Blind

A Sermon

 Preached on Sunday, July 17, 2011, by  

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., 

At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.(Luke 6:39-42) 

            When we think of people who have achieved great things in spite of enormous obstacles, surely one of the most amazing stories of the past 150 years is that of Helen Keller.  Though Helen Keller was born able to see and hear, she contracted an illness when she was nineteen months old that left her deaf and blind.  As a child, she developed some kind of sign language to communicate her basic needs with family members, but she did not really begin to blossom until Anne Sullivan arrived and became her guide and teacher.  Under her instruction, Helen Keller, blind and deaf, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and became a popular author and speaker.    What would have happened if Anne Sullivan had never come into her life?   The title of the 1962 movie about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan was entitled, The Miracle Worker.  No doubt, Anne Sullivan deserved that title.  Though Helen Keller remained physically blind, Anne Sullivan taught her new ways of seeing, so much so that she learned much more than many people who have the gift of physical sight.  But she needed a guide to teach her to see in this way.

            In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells us that we all need a guide, for we are spiritually blind.  As we read through the Scriptures, we find that people are often described as being in a case of spiritual blindness.  In II Cor. 4:3-4, St. Paul writes,  “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”  Whenever we share the gospel of Christ with other people, we wonder why they reject it, or why they don’t understand it.  Sometimes, we blame ourselves, thinking that we are not proclaiming the gospel in the right way.  We think that if we used different methods, we would be able to reach them.  We need to understand that the problem is not with the message, and it is not with the way we are presenting it. The problem is that the other person is blind.  The God of this world, Satan, has blinded them, and they cannot see the truth.  If you set before a blind person the most beautiful painting in the world, bring them up close to it, no matter how beautiful that painting is, they still won’t be able to see it, because they are blind.  Though we present the love of God in Jesus Christ in the most beautiful way possible, unbelievers can’t see it, because the God of this world has blinded their minds.  In Ephesians 4:18, the Apostle Paul described those outside of Christ as “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”    “Blindness of heart” is a very important term, for it indicates that though people might be able to understand the facts of the gospel, they are blind in their hearts.  This gospel is something that that they can’t see because they hate it.  This gospel is offensive to them, and though presented with all clarity, people still reject it because of blindness of heart.  They cannot see the glory of God.  They cannot see the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They cannot see the reality of spiritual things because they don’t have the eyes to see.

            Realizing that people are in this condition of spiritual blindness, what do we do?  Do we give up and say, “Well, they are just blind.  There is nothing we can do to help them.”  No, we mustn’t take that attitude for we were blind at one time ourselves, but now we see.  As St. Paul said, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:6).  We were once in this condition of spiritual blindness, but God had mercy on us, and shined the light into our hearts so that we might see the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This light comes to shine in our hearts through the preaching of the gospel.  In Acts 26, St. Paul tells us what the Lord told him to do when he appeared to him on the Damascus Road.  He said, “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;  Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,  To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me”(Acts 26:16-18).  Though people are blind, we still have the command to teach the gospel, trusting the Holy Spirit to take our words, perform a miracle, and open their blind eyes that they might see.  It is the preaching of the truth that God uses to open blind eyes.   As Christians, we are to function as guides to the blind.

            But if we are going to be guides to the blind, we must make sure that we are not blind ourselves.  In Luke 6:39, Jesus says, “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?”  In this little proverbial saying, we have a warning to two groups of people.  First, there is a warning to those who are following a guide.  Then, there is a warning to those who would set themselves up as guides.  First, let’s look at this warning to those who are following a guide. 

            Jesus is teaching us to be careful whom we follow.  If you choose a blind guide, you will both fall into the ditch.  Although this is a kind of funny proverb, it has a deadly serious warning.  In this part of the world, there were many ditches or pits,  and one had to be careful, especially at night, because there was the danger that as people walked along the road, they  might not see the pit, and fall in.  Our Lord is telling us is that when follow the wrong guides, we put ourselves in danger.  Following the wrong teacher has disastrous consequences.  Following the wrong kind of teaching can lead to emotional distress, bad choices in life, ruined homes and marriages.  Following the wrong teaching can lead you to fall into the pit of hell itself.   

      When Jesus warned his own disciples about the danger of following the blind, he had the Pharisees particularly in mind.  You know that the Pharisees prided themselves on being experts in the Scriptures.  They were confident that they were qualified and able to tell other people how to live in obedience to God’s word.  But over and over, Jesus said that they were blind.  There is an incident in the Gospel of Matthew that I find rather amusing.  After Jesus has been telling people that it is not what goes inside a man that defiles, but what comes out of him, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Did you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you said.”  I would have loved to have seen the look on Jesus’ face when they said that.    He must have wanted to say something like, “Do you think I’m worried that some Pharisees were offended by what I said?  Of course, they were offended.  I expected it to offend them.” But Jesus responds by saying, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14).   In Matthew 23, Jesus keeps telling the Pharisees that they are blind:   “Woe unto you, ye blind guides…(16),  “Ye fools and blind… (17),  “Ye fools and blind”… (19), “Ye blind guides”… (24),” and “Thou blind Pharisee” (26).  Jesus is warning his disciples not to follow the Pharisees, for they were spiritually blind.

            If our Lord were here among us right now, I wonder whom he would point to as the blind who are leading the blind?  I think he would warn us about the same group of people.  Our Lord was looking at the people who were the leading religious figures of that time and culture, the Pharisees,. I have no doubt that he would also look today at our current religious leaders and say that, in many cases, they are the blind leading the blind.  We have in the Church itself, those who deny the inspiration of Holy Scripture, those who deny the deity of Christ, those who deny the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross, those who deny the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and those who cast away the law of God and teach that people may live according to their lights and opinions.  These are blind leaders of the blind.  If preachers and teachers do not lead us according to the fundamental teachings of the Church as summarized in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, they are blind leaders of the blind, and both will fall into the pit.

     When Jesus looked at the blind leaders of his day, he says that their blindness was chiefly revealed in that they thought that obedience to God was chiefly in the observance of man-made rules and regulations, in the observance of external rituals, while neglecting mercy, love, and justice.  We have still not learned this lesson all these centuries later.  We still think that Christianity is mainly about not going to certain places, not drinking certain things, not watching movies, or any number of things that we have added to our own private list of “Thou shalt not.”  We are very convinced about what we should not do. In the long run, we wind up doing the very things we forbid others to do (and worse), and open up ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy.  When we make our faith a system about what we don’t do, the world looks for us to slip, so that they can accuse us of hypocrisy.  We must be known more for what we do in the way of love, mercy, and justice.  While the whole point of obedience to God was to love God  with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves, the Pharisees were only concerned with keeping rules.  To top it off, they were guilty of doing the same things that they told others they shouldn’t do.  They had not only missed the point of what it means to obey God, they didn’t even live by the standards they set up for others.  I think of all the Christians who are praising God in church today, saying “Amen,” when the preacher condemns certain kinds of behavior.  Then, after the worship, and at work the next day, they will be mean, spiteful, and cruel toward other people.  What an example of spiritual blindness!

     In Luke 6, Jesus keeps warning about hypocritical judgment.  People usually misinterpret these words, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” to mean that we should not judge other people at all.  That is not what Jesus was teaching.  We are told repeatedly in Scripture that we must make judgments about whether people are right or wrong, true to the faith or heretical, living morally or immorally.  Jesus was warning about judging people when you are guilty of doing the same things, and worse, than the people you judge.    St. Paul, said that this hypocritical judging was still a problem in his own time, when he wrote,

Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,  And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;  And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,  An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.   Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?] Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? (Romans 2:17-23).   

St. Paul looks at the Jewish leaders of his day and says, “You think you are a guide of the blind.  You think you know so much about the law and that you are qualified to teach others how to live.  You tell people not to commit adultery, yet you commit adultery.  You tell people not to steal, but you steal.  In Luke 6, Jesus is telling us that if a person is not merciful, if a person is cruel and judgmental, if a person is guilty of doing the very things he forbids others to do, he is blind.  Don’t follow those people, for they will ruin your lives.  Be careful whom you follow as a guide.

     Then, our Lord gives a word of caution to those who would set themselves up as guides, those who would be instructors, or teachers, telling others the path that they must follow.  Jesus is warning us that if our eyes haven’t been opened to spiritual things, if we do not see clearly how to live our own lives, don’t try to show someone else how to live.  You will not only ruin your lives, but the lives of others in the process.    Our Lord warns us about worrying about that little speck of dust in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own eye.  In other words, “Why are you so worried about the tiny faults of others when you have huge faults, huge issues in your own life that you need to deal with.  Get your own life in shape and then you can help your brother with his life and his problems and faults.”

            The only way that we can be qualified to guide others is by closely following Christ himself.  You notice that in that next verse Jesus says, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.”  Jesus encourages his disciples to look at him and choose him as their master.  You will never be any better than the teacher you follow.  You will never know more than the teacher to whom you listen.  It is only by following Christ that we can function as guides to the blind.

            I began this message with a story about Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan.  Many people don’t realize that Anne Sullivan herself was visually impaired.  As a child, like Helen Keller, she had contracted an illness which left her very limited in her visual abilities.  When she was a teen-ager, she had a surgery on her eyes which enabled her to see print.  After that procedure, she could read books. Soon, she excelled academically and was able even to instruct others like Helen Keller.  I like to think that in some ways, Christians are like Anne Sullivan.  We too were blind, but we had a spiritual surgery as it were.  We were healed of our spiritual blindness.  At times, our vision of spiritual things is still somewhat impaired.  We don’t see clearly as we desire, we sometimes make mistakes, we don’t watch where we are going, and we stumble and fall.  But still, our eyes have been opened to see the glorious beauty of Christ, and it is our desire that others would see his glory and beauty themselves.    Though being a blind guide is a terrible thing, and though we often feel guilty because of our own shortcomings, let us not shun the responsibility to guide others and help them to see the glory of the gospel and help them to lead godly lives.   Now that our eyes have been opened, it should be our greatest desire to be instruments in God’s hands by which he opens the eyes of others.  We truly become miracle workers, when the Holy Spirit uses us to enable others to see the wonders of eternal things.   

            When Philip found the Ethiopian eunuch reading the book of Isaiah, Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The Ethiopian said, “How can I, except some man should guide me.”  The world still needs guides.  We have too many blind guides in the world now.  Let it be our goal to be those who see clearly.  Let us not be blind guides who might lead others to fall into the ditch. Rather, let us be competent, with clear vision, to lead others along the narrow road that leads to life.  Amen.

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The Woes of Hypocrisy

A Sermon preached on Sunday, April 3, 2011 by

The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D., at St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(click here to listen to the audio recording of this sermon)

Text for this sermon pending

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