Am I a Pharisee?

Growing up I heard lots of Sunday School lessons about the mean old Pharisees.  They were always baiting Jesus.  Looking for anyway to discredit the Lord, the Savior, the Messiah.  The Pharisees argued with Jesus.  Eventually they wanted to kill Jesus.  Yet, for all our preconceived ideas about the Pharisees, good and bad, they were the good, solid, dedicated church going people of their time.  The Pharisees said they loved God and did all they could to protect the holiness, sanctity, and true worship of God.

But the Pharisees had one fatal flaw, they loved their religion with its rules and laws more than they loved God and people.  You see, God cares more about people than he does about rules and laws.  God is about relationship, not rules and religion.  Jesus said to the good church people of his time, "Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice."

Today we, the good church people of our time, are in danger of being Pharisees.  Oh, we talk about Law and Gospel.  We proclaim that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works that anyone should boast.  We believe we are the defenders of the cross, the followers of Jesus.  We study the Bible, we proclaim biblically and theologically correct sermons about the objective truth found only in Christ.  But in so doing, we often times forget to love God and love people.  Let me give you an example.  Some years ago I was invited to preach in a little country church.  This church had been built by German immigrants in the late 1800's.  It was a picturesque building with beautiful tall white walls, a steeply pitched roof and a tall steeple with a cross on top.  The outside was surrounded by a meticulously tended rose garden in full bloom.  Inside the sanctuary was an ornate altar and a large pipe organ.  The sanctuary was small and intimate with a maximum seating of about 65 individuals.  The pulpit was raised up about 10 feet over the sanctuary, the first raised pulpit I had ever preached from.  Being 6'3" standing in a ten foot tall raised pulpit, I towered about 16 feet over the heads of the 12 faithful old people gathered for worship that morning!  After worship we were standing around chit chatting when suddenly a violent clatter assailed my ears, my eldest son, about 4 at the time, wailing at the top of his lungs.  He was standing in front of the altar, with his left ear firmly in the grasp of an old German farmer.  I moved quickly to intervene, only to discover that such rough treatment was perfectly called for due to the fact that my 4 year old son had dared to touch the accouterments atop the church altar.  I retrieved my son and stood there humbly while this kindly German Pharisee lectured me on how to raise a polite and properly religious son.

Let me share one more brief story with you.  I was raised on a cattle ranch in the hills of northern California.  Going to town, population 5,000 was a big deal.  When I graduated from high school I joined the U.S. Coast Guard.  After bootcamp I was stationed on a 378' cutter stationed in Honolulu, HI. When I got there our cutter was out of commission for major repairs at the dock for 3 months.  I was an 18 year old country boy in a strange place surrounded by strange people and I was homesick.  One day, wallowing in my pity, I thought to myself, "Self, why don't you go to church?"  I began to have found memories of church and thought that connecting with Godly people would help cure my homesickness.  I began to day dream about showing up at church with my dress uniform on, the people would warmly welcome me and one kindly family would invite me home for a good home cooked meal.  I set off to church the next Sunday with my dreams of acceptance fresh in hand.  I got to church about 15 minutes early.  As I entered the narthex I saw a couple of older people talking.  No one greeted me, or even really acknowledged I was there.  I made my way into the mostly empty sanctuary, found a seat about midway and made myself comfortable.  Soon people began to gather and stand in the doorway of the narthex on each side of the sanctuary and in the middle.  They all stood there looking sheepishly at me.  I heard one elderly lady ask, "Who is he, does anyone know who he is or where he came from."  After that people began to find seats in the pews, no one sat by me, but soon two elderly ladies sat behind me and promptly began to complain that I was sitting in their seats!  They groused and fussed through the whole service about me sitting in their seats.  They never talked to me directly, but they made their feelings known loud and clear.  After service I got up and left as quickly as possible.  I didn't go back to church for more than 3 years.

Jesus said, "Go, learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice."  Perhaps today you might go back and read Matthew chapter 9 with an open heart and see if there be any Pharisee in you and the people you lead.  If so, pray to the Lord to deliver you and open your hearts to the hurt, broken, sinful harvest that is dying for the church to stop being Pharisees and once again be people that follow Jesus.  People who love God and others, people who know that following Jeus is not about rules and religion but about relationship.  Relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, and relationship with other people that flows from our relationship with God. 
5/11/2013 12:36:14 pm

Man, this hit me where I live!
I'm a pastor who too easily becomes a Pharisee. The people in my congregation are almost all pharisees. We are an older congregation and sound just like the two stories that Eric told. We think we are loving, but would never be truly welcoming to people like Jerry in the other post. I don't know what to do to change this, except realize that I am a Pharisee and I lead a people who are Pharisees and to repent. This, I fear, is harder than it looks. I will be contacting Eric to see if he and Missio Today can help us. I feel stupid being a seminary trained professional who doesn't know what to do, but there, I said it. Don't judge me, but pray for me.


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