10/30/05, P24A

“Preaching What We Practice”
Matthew 23: 1-3

f you think practicing what you preach is hard, try preaching what you practice. There sometimes seems to be a disconnect between what we say that we are and what our lifestyle reflects, even among preachers. It is important to proclaim what we believe, but actual practice is far more important. There has to be a connection between faith and life.

Our church’s low key friendship evangelism process of inviting our Friends, Relatives, Associates and Neighbors (F.R.A.N.S.) to visit with us at our church is often tripped up by the inconsistencies between our actual practices and our claims. It seems incongruent to us for an insurance salesperson not to have insurance, or for a chef to never eat his cooking.

The vast majority of church folks have a positive witness in their community. Many Carrolltonians have told me that the reason they first visited our church was because their role models are members here. The actual person or family may typically never know that others have followed them to church. We lead well when we live well.

One of the precious adages of the South is when someone comments after a funeral service, “They preached their funeral with their life.”  But, then again, we have sat through long funeral sermons and have wondered if we were in the correct service.

A rich man promised a preacher $50,000., in advance cash, for the Building Fund, if he would refer to his deceased brother as “a Saint” during the funeral. The preacher got up and railed on about how the young man had led a sinful life of debauchery and crime; but then he added, “However, compared to his brother he was a Saint.”

The Pharisees held up a high moral code that controlled every aspect of their lives. Not all of the Pharisee Rabbis were bad, and most taught the truth of the Old Testament Law, so Jesus told his followers “Do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”  (v.3, NIV)

Of course, we are all already thinking that this is an impossible burden; more stringent than even the Old Testament Laws, to have a spotlight on us at all times to reveal that none of us are purely clean; especially if our thoughts and ideas were brought into the light. So what relief is there from having all of our secrets exposed?  None of us could stand inspection by an “all knowing” God. Also, we know that the worse thing we can do is to live a pretentious life before people. Nobody admires a mere shadow of the real person who is hidden inside.

There is some relief in reminding ourselves that everybody appreciates an authentic human being whose life is open for inspection. Most of us do not judge too harshly. We are not narrow minded in our evaluation of others who are in the same boat that we are in. It is typically when we act all pretty and perfect that we are judged by our own narrow level of judgment. When we claim the high moral ground and then fail to walk there upon we are judged negatively by others.

Politicians are especially judged in this manner. A holier than thou attitude is fine if one is perfect; but, none is perfect. What we really want to do is to live out a set of values, based on The Good Book and its beliefs that we are comfortable in displaying to the world. But when we set a moral standard for others and do not live up to it ourselves, then we are considered in default. We need to be who we really are. We also must try to be reluctant to judge others. After all, they may be right.

Every few days we hear about a person in public life having experienced some embarrassing moral stumble. It is especially sad when they have held up a harsh judgmental attitude. A holier than thou attitude is fine if one is perfect; but, none is perfect. Even Billy Graham, who is the most holy person that I can think of, admits that he sins every day. When he repeats this in his sermons we are all thinking, “There is no hope for me!” But Dr. Graham, America’s beloved spiritual leader, goes on to make the point that God has a way through the Atonement of Christ to forgive our sin, if we will accept it.

Sometimes I think we are reluctant to proclaim, what we truly believe, for fear of being judged by others as a hypocrite. Sometimes we go along with the crowd and say that everything is OK so that we will not be accused as being judgmental.

The Best News is that we are ultimately judged by a forgiving Heavenly Father who has made a way for our sins and shortcomings to be forgiven. It will help to remind us of our sinful humanity by beginning every private prayer with the confession and plea, “O God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Forgive me through the blood of your dear Son, my Savior…” Some live like they would begin a prayer by saying, “Hey God, I’ll bet you are glad to hear from me, I have taken a few minutes to tell you how to improve your popularity in the polls, And about all of these hurricanes, and you sure messed up by letting the White Sox win the World Series, you have lost a lot of ‘Cubbies fans…”

We are in real trouble when God sees through our “Nice Person” routine and knows all along that we need a train car load of mercy and forgiveness in order to “Practice what we Preach;” or, “Preach what we Practice.” Ultimately, It is not what we say that we are that matters, but what we really are that matters. The authentic self is the part that God can use to live out His wonderful plan for our lives.

It’s not that easy being one who is called to Practice What We Preach, or even further, to Preach what we Practice.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
10/30/05, P24A