Sermon Transcript - January 12, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 2 John 1-4 ~ Sunday, January 12, 2020
Have you heard about the Golden Globes awards show last Sunday night? Master of Ceremonies, Ricky Gervais, a British comedian, was dropping truth bombs on the exclusive crowd comprised of Hollywood’s elite. Gervais asked the audience to have a sense of humor before opening fire with both barrels.
“Let’s go out with a bang. Let’s have a laugh at your expense,” he said. “Remember, they’re just jokes. We’re all gonna die soon and there’s no sequel, so remember that.”
Gervais got right to it! With Apple CEO Tim Cook in the crowd, Gervais said the tech company "roared into the TV game with ‘The Morning Show,’ a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China. Well, you say you’re ‘woke,’ but the companies you work for in China -- I mean, unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?” Ouch …
Before announcing the first award of the night, Gervais dropped this doozy: "If you do win an award tonight, don't use it as a platform to make a political speech, alright. You're in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg," Gervais told the audience.
I don’t know of anyone who enjoys being labeled a hypocrite. I think it’s also safe to say that being called out for hypocrisy before a worldwide audience isn’t the sort of thing that tops anyone’s bucket list. Actor Tom Hanks, who was in the audience that night, his facial expression visibly captured the cringe many Hollywood insiders felt toward Gervais’ comedic commentary. In the days since Gervais’ monologue, however, the hashtag “#hollywoodhypocrites” has been trending on Twitter, seeming to indicate that many more outside of Hollywood feel that Gervais spoke truth to power last Sunday night.
This whole ordeal illustrates humanity’s awkward dance with truth. We like it when it affirms us. We question it and cast doubt on it when it criticizes us. And yet we especially seem to relish truth when it’s used to cut others down. Perhaps especially so if the truth exposes people who have been very bold in speaking truth to scold others and their choices yet haven’t held themselves and their own lives to the same standard. I don’t know of anyone who makes it their life’s goal to be a hypocrite, yet hypocrisy is rampant, is it not?
Some say that is especially true among Christians and Christian churches. Christianity claims to preach God’s truth, yet how many Christians actually live according to it? I’m not talking about the aspects of Christianity that Christians find easy to like, but all of it, particularly the parts of it that cut and criticize, that call for change right here, right inside of me?
In many ways Christians are easy targets for such criticism. God’s Word is truth, through and through, without error or contradiction. My Christian life, though, my putting into practice God’s truth, not so much. I claim to believe it, yet fail at fully practicing it, that makes me a hypocrite, right? What I claim to believe with my whole heart isn’t always what I live out with my whole life. Can you relate?
The Apostle John can. He calls this out, not in a monologue to open a Christian awards banquet, but in the opening verses of his short letter known as 2 John. He says this to a Christian congregation of the 1st century: “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us” (v. 4). Ouch! “Some” implies not all. All of these church members profess to believe the truth but only “some” of the members of this congregation are walking in the truth.
How come? How could that be? Did only some understand the truth of God’s Word and how it actually applied to their lives? Or did they know God’s truth well enough, yet chose to ignore what these things actually meant for their everyday lives? Or did they think that God’s truth was good for everybody else but not really for them? That they were the exception? That they could live contrary to what God said because God is love and “He would understand” because “God knows my heart”? Or maybe they didn’t consciously realize what they were doing? Maybe they accidentally wandered into their hypocrisy? I mean if someone asked them point blank: “Do you realize that you aren’t living in harmony with what you claim to believe?” would they have been surprised at such an analysis?
In an interview before the Golden Globes, Gervais predicted that people would “hate” him for the jokes he was about to deliver on national television. “I know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Some people are going to love it. Some people are going to hate it. Some people are going to love everything except one thing. Some people are going to hate everything except one thing … Everyone’s different, so you’ve got to just go do your job and stand by it.”
Gervais’ job was serving as Master of Ceremonies to provide entertainment and laughs. John’s job in writing wasn’t to call some people out to embarrass them in order to score a few laughs in the process. You can tell by the tone with which he writes. He is writing out of loving concern. That’s using truth in the best possible way. Truth without love can feel cold, even heartless. But speaking the truth in love comes from a heart that desires healing change. Like a surgeon with a scalpel, that knife cuts, but it cuts out what’s diseased to promote health, healing, wholeness.
At the heart of this short letter from John is this encouragement: truly walk with God through life. What does it mean to walk with God? It means embracing the truth of who God is! And who is that? He truly is the God of “grace, mercy and peace” (verse 3). He is the God of grace, of undeserved love. The God who loves people, even hypocrites, people like us, not because of our hypocrisy, but because he truly loves people no matter how hypocritical we may be. He is the God of mercy too. The God who sees all the hurt and confusion and frustration that human hypocrisy causes, as well as the blindness to its presence that hypocrisy produces. God sees that and he feels mercy. Because mercy is what you feel toward people who are in a bad way, people who find themselves in a predicament, unable to see how they contributed to get themselves into it, and unable to get themselves out of it. God looks on their misery. He intervenes. He rescues. And he carries out that rescue by giving us peace. If we were left to ourselves we would try to hide our own failures and boost our own sense of superiority by turning attention to others’ hypocrisy, calling out their “greater” moral failures to prove how much more disgusting they are than we. That’s a never-ending fight. As pop singer Madonna once admitted, “Even though I’ve become Somebody, I still have to prove that Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.” When we feel like we have to do that before God and we accomplish it by proving we’re better than others, we daily battle with one another as competitors before God. But Jesus speaks the truth: our battle to prove ourselves before God is over because Jesus won that war for us by his death on the cross and by rising again from the grave. Jesus did this all to give us peace with God. And what’s more, the risen Jesus now also lives in us. That means we can live in peace with one another! As the old saying goes, “No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.”
And here’s the amazing thing: When John addresses “all people who know the truth,” he’s talking to you, dear believer! You know the truth. The word here for “know” means to experience. This kind of knowledge is different than just simple awareness. For example, this is more than seeing that Houligans has chicken wings on its menu. This kind of knowledge is gained by experience. Thinking of Houligans, it means you’ve experienced wally wings. It means even the mere mention of this dish makes your mouth start to water, it’s almost like you can taste the flavor on your tongue.
You have this kind of experiential knowledge of God’s truth because his truth is more than some bare, cold requirements God makes of you. This truth lives in you because you know Jesus and the peace of his forgiveness, because he lives in you by faith. Christ’s own spirit lives in your heart and that shows in the way you live out your life. That’s not to say that your life will always match perfectly the truth of God’s Word. (The old spirit of rebellion is still haunts you.) But it does mean if you have a sin in your life, you confront it rather than conceal it. It means you’re honest about it. It means when we stood up before and you confessed your sin, your specific faults and rebellions were on the list. And because your sin has been forgiven, you can let it go. It need not control you. It doesn’t control you. It’s not who you are. Your sins don’t define you.
In the days since the Golden Globes, some of those on the receiving end of Gervais’ comedic criticism have responded with their own criticism of Ricky, criticizing his failure to be sensitive to the people in his immediate audience and to read the mood of the room and accommodate and adjust. On Wednesday morning, Gervais responded to those who were offended by his comedy. He offered up these points: “- If a joke is good enough, it can be enjoyed by anyone. – It’s not all about you. – Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right.”
Gervais is an outspoken atheist, so I’m not suggesting we look to him for great spiritual insight for our daily walk with Christ. Yet, the back-and-forth over his words at the Golden Globes is something we can learn from as Christians. I don’t know Ricky Gervais’ heart-level intentions for saying what he said to the audience in the room at the Golden Globes last weekend. But reflect on this with me for us and our lives: when someone comes to you out of love and speaks truth to you, especially when it is truth that cuts through the confusion and exposes something that isn’t consistent between your confession of the truth and you’re living it out, how will you react? The natural reaction is resistance, rejection, and trying to turn it back on the one who shared it.
But when God’s truth lives in you, when you have this experiential knowledge of God’s truth, a better way presents itself! Faith in Jesus supplies you with confidence in this truth that you are lavishly loved, completely forgiven, and fully accepted before God because of Christ and what has done for you. Because this truth lives in you, you welcome the light that others shine on where hypocrisy is still present in your life, where there is inconsistency between what Christ teaches you to believe and how Christ teaches you to behave. Confident that God accepts you because of Christ, you are drawn to people who speak God’s truth into your life. You welcome the insights they share about where they see inconsistencies between what you confess to believe and how you live. You invite them to share this truth, because the truth is: not only do you want to be more aware of the facts of God’s truth, you want to experience more of God’s truth. You want to believe it, apply it, and walk in it always, not only when it is easy and enjoyable, but also when it is difficult and uncomfortable! Because just like exercising, walking in the truth isn’t always fun, but the results it brings are always worth it! Amen.