Trip Hazards #1 – Hypocrisy

Trip Hazards #1 – Hypocrisy

Theme: Hypocrisy (Sunday 1 November, 2020)
Series: Trip Hazards
Bible Reading: Matthew 23:1-12
Preacher: Phil Swain

This Service will be run in Hybrid mode, both in person at the church and LIVE on our Facebook page –

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A new sermon series based on the gospel lectionary readings called “Tripping Hazards” … or things that can make us stumble in our spiritual growth.

This week the reading is Matthew 23:1-12 where Jesus talks about hypocrisy. This is a topic which can make us uncomfortable but Phil will balance being able to be real about this tripping hazard but in a non-judgmental and non-threading way. So, how can we make the characteristic of genuineness and integrity prominent in our lives and faith?

During the week I had this picture pop up in my Facebook memories.  A celebrant selfie at a beautiful wedding I officiated at for Brendan and Monique.  It also reminded me of another story that happened at the wedding practice the night before.

The Bride’s family were members at Hillsong and the wedding was held at the new Hillsong chapel – not the 4000 seat auditorium but the chapel they build especially for weddings & funeral etc.  I was pretty excited about being able to be front and centre at an Hillsong event – almost wanted to ask them to change their name to Philsong for the day.  Anyway, we get the wedding practice the night before, I was there with the bridal party … and there were all these official Hillsong people hanging around – tech crew and others … just checking me out. 

Wanting to show the Hillsong people how awesome and charismatic I could be and to make it clear that I was the one in charge (at least for the wedding), I jumped up on to the stage at the chapel and loudly said to everyone … Ok we are going to get started now … took a step back and proceeded to trip over a foldback speaker and did a spectacular backwards roll onto the floor.  It was literally the pride coming before the fall. 

I did not see the foldback speaker at all, but trip Hazards can be like that … we often don’t see them coming and before we know it, we are sprawled out on the ground.  I think it can be the same in life and faith.  There are spiritual trip hazards that are all around us that can trip us up in our spiritual growth.  How can we be more aware of the spiritual trip hazards around us and how can we best equip ourselves to handle them? 

Today and over the next three weeks … we are going to look at some of these spiritual trip hazards such as hypocrisy, distraction, and fear through the eyes of Jesus in three gospel lectionary readings from Matthew.

But I wish to say upfront that it is not my intentional at all over the next few weeks to accuse people or judge people in any way.  I am the last person to be pointing fingers at others, especially as I have been tripped up myself so much in these areas.  I am not here to make you feel guilty or belittle you.  But at the same time, I wish to be real about these issues so that we can get ourselves into the best place to be spiritually growing.

In our Bible reading today, Jesus approaches the topic of hypocrisy … and while it is not a topic we like to talk about, it is a topic that unfortunately is associated with the church.  I found one survey (which was from the US and was a few years old) but the community was asked for a word that described church-goers.  Loving?  Caring?  Faithful?  No – the top word was hypocrites.  I’m not saying that we are all hypocrites, but it does seem to be a word which is associated with the church.

So … what is a hypocrite?  The Cambridge dictionary defines a hypocrite as someone who says they have particular moral beliefs but behaves in way that shows these are not sincere. is even more direct … A hypocrite is a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

It is associated with lying, being fake, lack of integrity, not genuine.  Once again, I am not saying we are hypocrites but it is not a nice thing for the church to perceived as.   

Jesus in our Bible reading was addressing this issue of hypocrisy, especially directing the conversation to the Pharisees and Teachers of the law.   Jesus highlights a few different ways in which the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are being hypocritical … so maybe that can be our starting point for us to explore this.  First some context…

Verses 1 and 2 – Jesus said to the crowds and the disciples, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat”.  This just means that they were the “official” interpreters of the law of Moses.  That they were recognised as the ones who had the most training to explain how to live out the law.  In today’s language, Jesus would be saying … they are the ordained ministers or the reverends or the professors of theology.

But it gets interesting in verse 3.  Jesus goes on, “if they are the ordained minister – the official interpreters of the law – then they know what they are talking about and we should be careful to do what they say”.  BUT, Jesus says turning the focus onto the religious leaders – don’t do what they do because they do not practice what they preach.

Here is the first type of hypocrisy that Jesus is highlighting … saying one thing but doing another.  The Pharisees are saying that they have interpreted from the law a particular set of moral beliefs and that everyone should follow them … but they are not.  They are not backing up their teachings in their actions.   

Do we ever get tripped up by this?  Do we find ourselves saying one thing but then struggling to reflect that in our actions? 

This is probably the main reason why non-believers have a perception that the church is hypocritical.  We speak of love and forgiveness and grace but sometimes they see in us a meanness or holding grudges. 

Mind you, I do get frustrated that I can be trying really hard over a long period of time to be reflecting in my actions love and grace and in a moment that I am tired, I slip up and someone jumps on me and says, “and you call yourself a Christian?”  We are not perfect and there will be times when our actions are not Christlike, but Jesus’ point is that our goal for Spiritual Growth is that our actions should to the best of our abilities reflect our words and beliefs.  They should. 

In verse 4, Jesus goes a step further – not only are the Pharisees not practicing what they preach, but what they are preaching is not bringing life but rather is a burden to people.  “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.”

At the time, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were definitely doing this.  They would interpret the 613 laws of the Torah and come up with these particularly onerous practices of how they should be lived out.  And Jesus was always pushing back at the Pharisees on this.  Jesus would heal a person on the Sabbath and the Pharisees would argue he was breaking the Torah by working on the Sabbath.  Jesus would get frustrated that they were missing the point.  The Sabbath was supposed to be life-giving – a time spent with God and family – not a day where you couldn’t help a sick person because it might be perceived as working.  

I was reading a sermon on this by Edward Markquart who said that the Pharisees hypocrisy was by focusing on people’s adherence to the finer details of the law they were actually  missing the bigger picture – that God was calling them to live lives of love and justice and mercy.  Later in the chapter in verse 23 Jesus is giving it all to the Pharisees …  ““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Jesus is saying to the Pharisees … and maybe also to us … that we first need to get the big stuff sorted … living lives of justice and mercy … and then work on the finer details.

A third aspect of hypocrisy that Jesus addresses in verses 5-8 is the practice of doing things because we want to influence the way that people see or think about us.  Jesus criticises the Pharisees for making sure that the outer signs of spirituality … their tassels and forehead boxes … were prominent and noticed and so that in return they would be greeted with respect and given the seat of honour and be called the important names like “rabbi” – great teacher.. 

I would love to say that we don’t worry about the way that people see us … but for many of us, we do.  This was what literally tripped me up at the Hillsong wedding I was doing.  I wanted to look organised and in charge (and cool and hip) in front of all these Hillsong people.  I wanted them to respect me – but in my desire to look amazing, I was tripped up.  It should not have mattered what they thought because I was there because Brendan and Monique wanted me to be their celebrant.

Rev. Elizabeth Lovell Milford said in her sermon on this topic that it is human to want to matter, to be important, to be honoured.  We all want to be known and loved; this is what it means to be human  . . . It is important for all of us to feel as if we matter and are appreciated!   BUT when that becomes the sole focus of what we are doing, when it dominates all we do, then it can become problematic.  If we get so caught up in the promotions, raises, bonuses, good grades and forget the people around us … then we might need to do some re-evaluation.

I said at the beginning that I didn’t want these sermons on Trip Hazards to be guilt inducing or judgemental … but if you are like me, God has been speaking to me through these words and is challenging me to make some changes in my life.

I do believe that God is calling us to be more genuine in our faith.  If we say that we believe something or place value on a characteristic or moral standard as from God … then we need to also make sure that we are to the best of our ability living that out in our actions. 

Or maybe we are hearing God say to us that we are getting to focused on the details of faith or God’s way and missing the big picture issues of justice and mercy. 

Or maybe we God is saying that we don’t have to worry about how other people perceive us because our identity, or value is more found in the way that God see us, and accepts us as children of God. 

We are never going to be perfect in these areas … but we can strive to do better.  I am sure that we will still be tripped up but being aware of these trip hazards can help.

I don’t know if you have noticed these strips that we have on the floor up here?  Because of our new TV studio set up that we have, we now have a number of cords that run across the floor of the church  – and especially across these two aisles.  Cords across places where people walk are a trip hazard waiting to happen … and so we bought these Velcro strips which cover up the cords and stick to the carpet.  Cool eh?

Now, if I asked the question, does this mean that no-one will trip over a cord anymore … no, you can still sort of trip even with this cover … but it does reduce the probability of someone tripping.

As your pastor, I would love for all of us to be spiritually growing and that none of us will ever get tripped up by hypocrisy.  I think that awareness of different things that can trip us up, the awareness itself is like a cover that helps reduce the probability of tripping.  Also things like prayer or a close relationship with Jesus helps reduce the trip hazards as well.

But Jesus himself gave us one of the best “trip reducing” tips at the end of our Bible reading.  Jesus said, if you don’t want to be tripped up by hypocrisy then you need to take on the attitude of someone who serves.  The greatest among you, Jesus said, will be your servant.  Or as the passion translation put it “The greatest among you will be the one who always serves others from the heart. Remember this: If you have a lofty opinion of yourself and seek to be honoured, you will be humbled.   But if you have a modest opinion of yourself and choose to humble yourself, you will be honoured.”

After my tumble on the Hillsong chapel stage … I refocused on what I was there for.  Not to impress the Hillsong tech people

but rather to be a representative of Jesus as Brendan and Monique made their marriage promises to each other before their family, friends and God.  The following day at the wedding, I didn’t change the name to Philsong chapel … but rather let the focus be on Bride and Groom and on God’s hand of blessing on them.

And it was beautiful … a beautiful ceremony which I did not get tripped up at all because the Hillsong tech crew moved all the fold back speakers well away from me. 

May we all be genuine in our love, in our faith and in our lives.