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  • Gosford Anglican Blog

On Overcoming Hypocrisy through Grace and Love

‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’ (Matt 23.27-32) This sounds a long way from ‘perfect love.’ But no, perfect love calls us to account, calls us to a bigger life. Who among us over the years has not wanted to slam the hypocrisy of our church or its leaders? And if not our church leaders then our political leaders when claims about faith or good intentions seem contradictory? I’ve come to learn about hypocrisy within myself; usually on reflection and because I was called out by conscience or family or friends willing to be honest with me! Well the church is a ‘mixed body’ if we are being realistic. As it happens, we also remember St Augustine this week. Augustine (CE 354-430) more than anyone else post New Testament times he is a towering theological genius and teacher. But he was a realist when it came to the people of God: the church contained good, virtuous and false Christians and like any other human organisation the church reflected the human condition. Thus, Augustine taught, we need to keep desire for God front and centre. Perhaps known most famously for his Confessions, Augustine wrote this as a kind of self-analysis in the form of a prayer. It is here that Augustine ponders the greatness of God, and the way we have an innate desire for God (though we may not recognise this for what it is), because we are ‘part of thy creation:’ ‘thou hast prompted [humankind], that [they] should praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.’ Augustine’s own life also knew many disruptions and he was not without his own issues and bad influences. His views about original sin, and its connection to sexual desire has had a negative influence. He ‘set aside’ his mistress, the women with whom he had lived and borne a son, and his mother Monica (we remember her the day before Augustine) seemed to hold ongoing – undue - sway in his life. But there are many riches from Augustine’s theology for our time. Originally from North Africa, he lived when the Roman Empire was being shattered, and its strength and stability disappearing. In his City of God, he thought a lot about the nature of human society and the dynamics of power politics. He was a realist when it came to an understanding of human affairs. If original sin offered any insight for Augustine it was his diagnosis that ‘self-defence, self-deceit, and self-aggrandisement combined to poison interrelation in human affairs.’ (Rowan Williams) Does that not ring bells today? And realism also reminds us that too often we in the church have also been seduced by ‘self-defence, self-deceit, and self-aggrandisement.’ As church we are also prone to all the foibles of human life. German American Richard Niebuhr, theologian of the WWII era, knew this all too well. Like Augustine he was a thorough-going realist. As he often stated, for religious people the stakes are high since we cloak our deeds and pronouncements in ‘sacred aura, as if intended by God.’ The healing of this human malaise of self-deceit and self-aggrandisement is for Augustine found in the power of love, the love of God and in Christ whereby ‘grace becomes the means of releasing the possibility of concrete and truthful’ human community. (Rowan Williams) As people of faith we cannot put ourselves above society’s or the world’s perplexities and speak from on high. Christian faith, as Augustine taught, encourages us to charity, born of humility and contrition. We must keep reminding ourselves that the church is a community that carries forth the message of selfless love and bears in its life a mutual love and service in a community who delights in each other and supports each other in times of need. Within this stream of justice and hope, we can be an irreducible sign of God’s life in our world. Fr Don

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