Sometimes Christians are very good at pretending, saying everything is going OK when in fact that’s not true. It seems we cover up and not allow ourselves to be real.
There was a very popular children’s book published way back in 1922 that has been re-published many times since. It’s called The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real) written by Margery Williams. It tells the story of a stuffed rabbit and his quest to become real through the love of his owner. This conversation is between the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit:
- “What is REAL?” the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside of you and a stick-out handle?”
- “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happened to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
- “Does it hurt?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit.
- “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
- “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked,”or bit by bit?”
- “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, and have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get lose in joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Are We Also Pretending?
And here’s the point I want to make: Too many of us are not real. We don’t face up to the difficulties and challenges of life. Instead we pretend or put on a mask or masquerade around as somebody else. But who wants to live like that?
Even in church, many of us are not real. Mark Hall of Casting Crowns wrote the song “Stained Glass Masquerade”. In the chorus he asked some pretty pointed questions:
Are we happy plastic people
under shiny plastic steeples
with walls around our weakness
and smiles to hide our pain?
But if the invitation’s open
to every heart that has been broken
then maybe we can close the curtain
on our stained glass masquerade.
There is a story told of an emperor in ancient China who loved classical music. He asked the court musician to form an orchestra to play for him. A young man joined the orchestra in the flute section. The only problem was he didn’t play the flute. He just pretended, he was a conman. It was a good gig though. He lived in the nice quarters and got paid well.
Everything was working out until the emperor called for each musician to perform a solo. This young man knew he was up a creek so he came up with a plan. He called in sick. He was taken to the court doctor who couldn’t find anything wrong with him. Finally, his solo was scheduled for the next day. They found him the next morning. He had taken poison and ended his life. This is where we get the saying, He couldn’t face the music.
Are we acting like the Pharisee or the tax collector?
That’s what we are talking about this morning. Facing the music—being real with God and others. Have a read sometime in the New Testament in Luke 18:9-14. A strange story of a Pharisee and a tax collector—the Pharisee prayed: God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. I’m really glad I’m not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating 2 days a week and I give you one tenth of all I earn“.
But the tax collector stood off at a distance and didn’t think he was good enough even to look up towards heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done he pounded his chest and prayed, God have pity on me. I’m such a sinner.
Jesus told these stories to get people to listen, wondering what they meant. It was like suddenly a light was switched on and he said, Why don’t you listen to this? One man was real—he was real: the tax collector. Not really someone in the high echelons of society but he was real—the Pharisee, pretended. How important for us to be real!