What do we do when the person under the mask is scarier than the person we see?
This morning we are going talk about something hard. It’s hard to understand and it is hard to grasp, and I’ve gotta tell ya some days it feels like it’s impossible to do. This morning we are going to talk about taking off the false self and putting on the true self.
One of the things we often hear is how Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the United States. The Korean Church is down high way 8. St. Stephen UMC is up in town and the AME church is down high way 8 the other way. The Baptist are down Jersey Church road and the 1st Lutheran is behind 1st Methodist. Whether it is our denomination, our race, our gender, or our political preferences we like to be around people who are like us and we do not want to be pushed out side of our comfort zone. What is worse is we have decided Jesus only lives in our comfort zones. Here’s another thing about our comfort zones and our need for privacy. Within our privacy we do all manner of things we find acceptable and our friends find acceptable but Jesus Christ says those things are not good for us. Many of those things chain us in slavery. They are things like anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk. We do things like chase after sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires and covetousness. The more comfortable we become with these things within our comfort zones the more we chant and fight for the freedom to do these things publicly – no matter who they offend. In the end we have done harm to ourselves and to others and continue to get angry when people question whether or not we are a Christian. (pause) It has become hard to see it. Many of us have called ourselves Christians our whole lives, (pause) but are we? Are we? Are we really Christians? What does that mean?
Paul begins with a kind of odd statement, “If then you have been raised with Christ,” (Col 3:1). What does Paul mean If I have been raised with Christ? Of course I have been raised with Christ. I’ve been a Christian my whole life! Of course, I have been raised with Christ!… still the question lingers… Have I been raised with Christ? What does that mean?… We don’t remember. To have been raised with Christ means we must first die with Christ. We must first kill and savagely slay all that would hold us down and bind our hands and wrists and feet and ankles to the sin in our lives. We must kill our want and our envy. We must kill our anger and our wrath. We must even be willing to do murder to our mourning, our sorrow and our grudges. To be a Christian means being willing to murder the idea, “this person won’t hurt me.” “That person wouldn’t say that about me.” (pause) Do you see what I mean when I say this is hard? Who can hear such a thing? I won’t ask for a show of hands but I am certain I am not the only one who struggles to put some of these things to death. Surely, I am not the only one who struggles with these things. I give thanks to God I do not have to face these things alone because the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. If there is even one other person in this room facing this battle then I am not alone.
I have said this is hard to understand. To use Bible terms it means Jesus Christ was arrested, suffered and died so all of the stains and sins we have committed in our past have died and been buried with Christ. Let’s call Jesus’ death on the cross step one. Jesus’ death on the cross breaks the chains of sin in our lives. The pieces lay on the ground at our feet. However, the tendencies and temptations to go right back to all of that stuff – what should we call that stuff? Let’s call is sin because that’s what it is. The temptation to sin is still with us. Our temptation is to go right back to the broken pieces of the chains of sin Jesus died to break. We are tempted to pick up the pieces of our sin and maybe even break out the Krazy Glue to put the pieces back together. (pause) suddenly “Krazy Glue” seems so much more appropriately named.
Here’s a question. What would we do if we decided to leave the broken pieces of our past lives broken? What would we do with ourselves if we chose not to pick those sins back up again? I’ve gotta tell ya – it’s tricky. Living our lives without those broken pieces can be very tricky. We have called ourselves Christians and still carried those pieces for years – in some cases decades. In a few cases we have been duped into carrying the sins and temptations of our past. I other cases we have willingly deceived ourselves. And in still other situations we are looking for ways to convince ourselves the broken sinful pieces we cling to are supposed to be there. While talking about marriage in the Gospel of Mark Jesus makes the statement, “[w]hat therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9). I wonder; with regard to our false self I wonder if the verse should be turned to say, “What therefore God has torn apart let no person try to put back together.”
Listen to some of the things we try to do and still call ourselves Christians. We will have a long day at work and then go home and try to anesthetize ourselves to the day’s frustrations with food, drink and TV. We never consider when we zone out to life’s problems we cut ourselves off from the joys in life as well. We show up to church and just kind of go through the motions when by doing so we cut ourselves off from the gift of the Holy Spirit in worship. We say we aren’t proud or covetous, but the minute somebody sits in our pew or starts making suggestions about new things our church might try the anger starts and the wrath quickly follows. There are some Christians who know their Bible backward and forward, but only use it to tell everybody else where they are wrong. Why is it we are so quick to go looking for the splinters in the eyes of others, but are so slow to ask Jesus to help take the plank out of our own eye? If Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world why do we? Is this what being a Christian is really all about? Is this what Jesus Christ died to give us – the freedom to squabble over pews or who is helping with this project and who is not? Surely, Jesus Christ died for more than that? Surely the freedom purchased at that high cost was meant to give us the freedom to do something better. Surely, we were not meant to fall back into the same old mess.
It’s true. We were not saved by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross so we could abuse our new found freedom. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” I think the question is what should we be doing with our freedom in Christ? Will we be the hands and feet of the thief, or will we be the hands and feet of Christ? Common Church; Yes or No. Will we be the hands and feet of the thief? No. Will we be the hands and feet of the thief?! No! (pause, lower voice) Will we be the hands and feet of Christ? Yes. Will we be the hands and feet of Christ?! Yes!
Then what are we to do? How do we make sure we have taken off the false self and left the false self behind? Paul says we are to, “Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). When Paul says set your minds on things above and not on earthly things I think Paul is subtly reminding the reader there are two great commandments: love God and love our neighbor. All of the other things Paul talks about; sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, idolatry and the like are really about putting our love for ourselves first, before God. These are earthly things. We are called to set our minds on the things above. This is the heart of holiness.
Holiness is born out of love for God, love for neighbor, and love for self – in that order. It’s not wrong to love the person God created us to be. It is wrong to put love of self over and above the love of God, and love of neighbor. When we put the love of God first we are free to set aside the false self. We are free to set aside our pride and ego. Does it really matter who gets credit for selling the most tickets to the spaghetti supper? Does it really matter which group uses the parlor for a meeting? Does it really matter if I am recognized for singing a song, or if someone sits in my pew? To whom does the glory belong? Church, to whom does the glory really belong? God. Holiness is about loving God enough to be yourself – you, the genuine article. It is far better in the eyes of God to be an honest sinner instead of a lying saint. The reason in simple. If we are hiding behind masks we are not walking in the light. We are chasing the darkness behind a pretty smile. Let us seek holiness. Let us seek righteousness and right relationships with God, with our neighbor and with that person in the mirror. Let’s allow the quest to be closer to God to be the thing above which guides all our thoughts and actions in the world today.
In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen