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Stephen Colbert

sermon on Matthew 7:15-29 on hypocrites and fruit

You guys, those hypocrites! Jesus is totally right.
Arent’ they terrible, not practicing what they preach—
why can’t they be consistent, why can’t they not be jerks?
What are people hypocritical about?
What do you see out there that gets your goat?
[wait for responses]
So, out of curiosity, I Googled the phrase “Christians are hypocrites”
and the very first hit contained this quote:
“Christians, they love to talk about how loving, dutiful and compassionate they are, yet I have yet to meet ONE who does not practice hypocrisy to the highest degree.  Their willful ignorance of the Bible combined with their two faced idealism to preach it, has made us sick, hasn’t it?  For nearly two thousand years Biblicists have been lecturing people on the importance of adhering to the Bible’s teachings on ethics, manners, and morality.  They quote Jesus and Paul profusely, with a liberal sprinkling of Old Testament moralism.  The problem with their approach lies not only in an oft- noted failure to practice what they preach, but an equally pronounced tendency to ignore what the Bible itself, preaches.  Christians practice what can only be described as “selective morality”.  What they like, they cling to and shove down other’s throats; what they don’t like, they ignore vehemently.  That which is palatable and acceptable is supposedly applicable to all; while that which is obnoxious, inconvenient, or self-denying is only applicable to those addressed 2,000 years ago.  Their hypocrisy is so rampant that even the validity of calling oneself “Christian” is in question. I see so many people enjoy quoting the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and some of Paul’s sermons, but don’t even PRETEND to heed other, equally valid, maxims.”[1]

Not surprising, maybe, but still painful, right?
This is how a lot of people see us, and for good reason.

As others have noted before,
we are much more often admirers of Jesus than followers.
For people who claim to follow a peaceful, loving man,
we have for years been experts at finding folks
to hurt and exclude.
The Jews who we said “killed Jesus,” we destroyed in the Inquisition
native peoples who were inconveniently living on land we wanted
we said weren’t human anyway
and took what we wanted
and the ways now that we make people victims,
whether we’re aware of them or not
Muslims, gays, poor people, other Christians…
We are human, so we make mistakes and hurt each other
and aren’t aware of our motivations.
It’s not just other people but us.
If we take Jesus seriously when he says to the rich young man
“sell everything you have and give the money to the poor,”
what does that look like in our lives?
If we take Jesus seriously when he hangs out with prostitutes
and predatory lenders and AIDS patients,
what does that mean for our lives?
If we take the prophets seriously when they condemn institutional power
at the expense of the masses,
what does that mean?
We’re not talking about making ourselves miserable here,
we’re talking about doing what we say we think is important.
In other words, what difference does our belief in Jesus make?
Consider this thought from Stephen Colbert
specifically about helping the poor:
[assistant 1]
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”

it’s easy for us to explain away the difficult things Jesus calls us to.
Maybe it’s true that Jesus isn’t telling every person in this room
to sell everything we have and give the money to the poor.
But let’s not kid ourselves that Jesus is saying
keep all the comfy houses and clothes and 401ks
and don’t worry so much about the people
who don’t have those things.
Our comfort is nice but not the point.
You know this as well as I do.
How often do we let ourselves get uncomfortable
because of what scripture says?
It comes down to what Jesus says about hypocrites:
that we’ll know them by their fruit.
There’s the fruit of hypocrisy [take cardboard apple from assistant 2]
of successfulness.
And there’s the fruit of truth and vulnerability
[take basket of fruit from assistant 3].
Thank you lovely assistants.
This is politicians having affairs and covering it up with public money
and saying “mistakes were made.”
And this is Amish families taking care of the widow of the man
who shot eight of their daughters and then himself.
Here’s what one of my favorite theologians Henri Nouwen says:
[assistant 4]
“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness.”

Hypocrisy, it seems to me, comes from the need to be successful,
the need to be seen in a particular way
rather than as who we were created to be.
I personally need to be seen as overly-competent, perfect even
(which is ridiculous since I fail at that on a daily basis).
In the middle of writing this very sermon
I got angry with my 5-year-old
For interrupting me to find her Barbie’s shoes.
It seems like an impossible task to live up to Jesus’ teachings.
So I construct a cardboard cut-out to hold up for folks to see
and I spend a lot of time maintaining it but that’s not my fruit.
It has been noticed by many folks that the louder we protest something
the more likely it is that we practice it ourselves—
how many pastors have railed against homosexuality
only to be cheating on their wives with men?
How many of us here speak out of both sides of our mouths
trying to hide the brokenness we don’t want each other to see? Do you see where I’m going here?
Be honest—what do you do that you know is not Jesus-like?
Or even that others might see that way?
What are you hiding in your own hypocrisy?
And what is your fruit?
Friends, the beauty, the joy, the grace is this:
we are made for love and relationship and sharing and compassion
all these cardboard cutouts are bad habits, not who we really are
and yes, we are all broken, but we’re trying to mend.
And we’re forgiven.
 But when we throw away our cardboard cut-outs,
when we speak honestly about our wounds and our dreams
and really listen to one another,
when we use our gifts and resist our self-interest,
we become flowering fruit trees.
Metaphorically, of course.
When we take that risk to say “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry”
or “that hurts” or “I love you”,
we become gardens of delight.
[juggle the fruit]
We are doing what we were created to do.
This dance, this riot of color, this vulnerability and truth, this is the Kingdom of God.