Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
April 27th, 2022
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but this past Sunday Easter was observed in the Eastern Orthodox Churches*. And, I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, apparently Vladimir Putin attended a Midnight Mass in Moscow. The hypocrisy seemed so obvious, so biting to me, like a slap on the face. Here is one who is currently urging his military forces to bombard, destroy, deny exit, and refuse to extend any mercy to innocent civilians in Ukraine, who is simultaneously feigning piety and virtue in a religious service commemorating both Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins, as well as his glorious resurrection from the grave?!
Upon hearing this, I was filled with disgust. The whole thing made me want to spit for the bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t help but huff in repulsion at such a hideous display (between bouts of tearfulness).
The apparent acceptance of such evident hypocrisy comes from a misunderstanding, and ultimately a bad theology, of what taking the Mass actually does. Sacramentalists (which both Catholics and Orthodox Christians are, nearly 2/3 of Christians around the world) believe that the Mass (and other sacraments) are exclusive avenues of God’s grace. While they would certainly agree with principles like praying being authentic communication with God, and mercy being extended out of God’s heart of love, they would say the sacraments are the way grace is conferred. So, perhaps an extreme example of a distorted conclusion one could come to is: I can kill and maim during the week (or command others to (who will of course bear their own sin as well for following those orders)), but if I bow my head to the church authority and accept the Mass, I’m good before God.
Though that exact form of hypocrisy didn’t exist in Jesus’ day, another form did which Jesus addressed. You likely remember the story of the Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: in the first two examples, pious people compartmentalized their religion, not permitting it to stretch out/blend into real-life compassion and mercy. They thought their ceremonial/ritual purity was what kept them right with God. Jesus emphatically emphasized in his conclusion: no it doesn’t! True, authentic religion permeates, pervades life, touching all aspects. An authentic faith is a helping faith, a healing faith, a compassionate faith. If it’s not these things, it is just a hollow shell, or a clanging gong (see 1st Corinthians 13).
Though the forms of hypocrisy have changed, the root of it is absolutely with us today, as evidently exampled by the show of piety by Russia’s war criminal of a leader (blechh.)
But: how are we to respond? How are we to act? Are we to only point the finger outwardly? Obvious cases of hypocrisy & religious falsehood are out there, but what is going on in my own life that I might be blinded to, in self-rationalization?
What does Jesus say? Don’t point out the speck in your brother’s eye: examine yourself first. You very well may have a plank of wood in there! (See Matthew 7:3-5).
So yes: though there are definitely worse cases out there that we need to be clear-eyed about, we also need to be self-examining and humble, and resist that temptation to get up on our high-horses of self-righteousness as we condemn others.
Do I, in smaller ways, commit rationalized sins throughout the week, then come to church to put on my ‘happy Christian face’ and pretend that everything is good between me and God? Do I continue to practice this week after week, year after year? To angelic observers, do I look more similar to how Putin looks going to church this last weekend, or different?
I pray that every one of our church services would be a place for authentic searching, repenting, purifying, and resultant joy in the Lord for being so gracious to us.
Let’s let there be no hint of falsehood in our religion. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27
I pray that we would permit God’s Kingdom principles to permeate us so thoroughly that it oozes out of our pores! “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is Near”, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” Philippians 4:5, Matthew 5:14
May God bless you & your loved ones this week and beyond.
Pr. Mark Tatum
* As a remnant of the “schism” between the eastern and western churches over a millennia ago, there is, interestingly, a continued disagreement on how to determine the date for Easter. About 2/3 of the years the two sides disagree. A chart of dates can be found here (about halfway down) : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter