In the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus addresses the crowd concerning the actions of the church leaders. He tells the people that the church leaders do not practice what they preach, and then goes on to speak directly to the church leaders.
“Woe to you hypocrites!” says Jesus. More than once. It is the focus of the entire chapter.
As a church leader, a pastor, I must take this chapter to heart. We pastors all have to. Anyone in church leadership has to.
Because the hypocrisy Jesus addresses in Chapter 23 is a problem still today.
Many of you know I am a Notre Dame fan. I was in graduate school there in the early '80s, in their summer sessions, studying liturgy. If you have ever watched a Notre Dame football game, you might have seen the players leave the locker room for the field and touch a sign that says “Play like a Champion Today.”
Well, a few Christmases ago, Sara gave me a gift that hangs in my office. It is the same sign design the players touch as they head out to play. Except mine says “Pastor like a Champion Today.”
I share this because I need to be reminded of the work to which God has called me. And this reminder — that I’m called to be a champion — is one we all need to be reminded of. We are all called to be champions. Every one of us.
“What kind of champion?” you ask.
Each of us has to decide that, but as one who has committed to follow the teachings of Jesus, my decision is already made. It comes down to three things, three biblical mandates that I call the Great Requirement, the Great Commandment, and the Great Commission.
You can find the Great Requirement in Micah 6:6-8. Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.
God’s sense of justice is not punitive. It is restorative. It is about making things right through Jesus’ death, a death that reveals the stupidity of thinking violence is the way to peace, or that death is the ultimate power in the universe. Justice is about healing and restoration to wholeness.
Kindness is about doing no harm, acting with compassion, putting others above self interest. Walking with God, humbly, is a proper response to knowing God loves us, and we cannot earn that love, or lose that love.
The Great Commandment is in John 13:34-35. Love one another. Here’s the part some miss. As Jesus has loved us, so we, too, must love one another. As Jesus loved us.
The Great Commission is found at the end of each Gospel. Matthew 28:19-20 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father. Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
Some interpret this passage as a means to denigrate other faiths. And in doing so they are violating the very command to love one another Jesus gave them. They are the hypocrites Jesus talked about in Matthew 23. If that is not convincing, try Matthew 5:44. (He says to love even our enemies there.)
A requirement. a commandment, and a commission. Not the “Great Suggestions,” or the “Great If You Have Time.” In the end, and I’ve said this on many occasions, they are easy to do. But — they are also easy not to do. That is why I know I need a reminder. That is why I have to make the choice to follow the teachings of Jesus every day. And you?
Be a champion today.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.