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Out Our Way: The dude at the H-O - Luke 18:9-14


April 12, 2019

Out our way, most folks who look like cowboys probably are. Even exceptions like me — an amateur greenhorn — have chaps that are discolored and scratched up from working cows in the thickets, boots well-broken-in from hours of riding and a battered old hat worn in wind, rain, snow and soaked with sweat. But now and then, one runs across a “dude” who wants to look the part but has never done it.

A friend of mine in Great Falls owned a ranch store called the H Bar O — H-O — where he regularly helped outfit local ranchers and farmers with their needs. But come the state fair, he could always count on some tourists to come in and want to buy real cowboy things. He told me about one dude who bought a set of spurs and insisted on walking around town in them. I gather he ended up at the Cowboy Bar across from the fairgrounds and got them tangled up after a few beers, falling flat on his face to the delight and amusement of the locals. Another came into the store and wanted to buy batwing chaps, and after asking where the dressing room was so he could try them on — not realizing they go on over your jeans! — he then wandered down Central Avenue in them.

I am pleased to note that although pedestrians and drivers were greatly distracted and often subject to fits of laughter inspired by these dudes and their ridiculous pretense of being real cowhands — the distraction did not lead to any fender benders that day. No harm, no foul.

However, some pretentious folks really do cause a great deal of harm — especially in the religious community. Jesus often challenged the self-righteous and “holier-than-thou” attitudes that far too often replace real worship of God. The Pharisees were a sect of Jews who placed a tremendous importance of scripture — but also on man-made rules. Like many of the priests in the Temple, their focus was more on outward appearances than on service to God. Hence it was not uncommon for some religious leaders, then as now, to emphasize the outward signs of religion rather than the inward transformation of the soul.

In the parable cited here, the Pharisee was proud of being “religious” and made a great show of it. He boasted of how perfect he was — and how superior he was to everyone else. His religion was merely a shell, for God was not the focus — he was. In contrast, the tax-collector was an outcast in Jewish society as tax collectors worked for Rome and were collaborators. Many collected far more than the people owed and after giving Rome its due, kept the extra they had embezzled from the public for themselves. They were universally reviled, mistrusted and hated. Yet here is one in the Temple begging God for forgiveness. Unlike the Pharisee, who was blind to his own sins because of his self-righteousness, the tax collector opened his eyes, saw his sin, and repented. Thus, said Jesus, he is the one whom God accepted.

The other day, I was in a chat room and mentioned I was a retired pastor. Someone on the chat site immediately began to attack me with all sorts of outrageous condemnations. “Preachers are parasites who don’t work, but are well-supported by their congregations ” … “Preachers don’t pay taxes” … “ Preachers are only interested in getting rich and famous.” Wow! Such hate and misconception. Yet there are some “preachers” for whom that sadly appears to be the case. We all have heard of “personality cult” churches built about the charisma of the preacher more than the worship of Christ. We remember the scandals of various TV preachers who turned out to be mere hucksters who bilked millions out of the gullible. I shared with you the retreat center built by one pop religious figure who managed to build a sidewalk around a small retention pond at the cost of $5,000 per concrete slab. He even added on some extra feet of sidewalk because so many of his TV “congregation” donated to this “vital” ministry. His empire went bankrupt at the end. But the real damage was that so many non-church people assumed this was indeed the real church. Like the person who attacked me for serving as a minister — his/her assumption was that I was just like these religious cons — because they were the only representatives of Christ they knew. Obviously, this person with his/her judgmentalism had no real connection with the true church of Jesus Christ.

As some may know, the word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word referring to the masked actors who pretended to be gods or heroes or demons. It refers to those who put on a mask and simply played a part in a play. In a sense, the dudes at fair time, dressing up like cowboys, were like those actors — putting on a mask to play a role for the audience. But even more, like the Pharisee in the parable, some who claim to be men and women of God are merely putting on the mask of religion and performing a part. And just as the real rancher or farmer is not fooled by the dudes trying to look like real cowhands, so the real men and women of God see through the act as well. It’s only the “tourists” who are fooled.


Brother John Bruington


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