Good morning and welcome to Friday’s podcast. It’s the final day of the week so I hope that this is a good one to round off this section. Next week James Brown takes over and will journey with you through the next few chapters of Matthew’s Gospel.
Today we find ourselves deeper still in the Sermon on the Mount. The reading for today is Matthew 6:1-18. Let’s focus on verse 1.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
This sums up what Jesus is going to discuss in today’s passage: don’t do stuff to make yourself look good in the eyes of other people. The areas that Jesus uses to highlight this principle are giving, praying and fasting.
Now, growing up, I loved to be on stage, I loved to perform. “Hey everyone, look at me!” I acted, I played bass guitar (really badly) and I even got the lead part in a musical in primary school – and you think my singing is bad now… it was terrible back then! I was the youngest of 3 brothers so any attention was good attention right!? I had to make a big effort to be noticed – so I did.
And reflecting on school, I know that the main factor in why I worked hard and got good grades was that I was keen to be seen to be doing well by my teachers. I wanted people to think well of me. I wanted people to see and say just how great I am!!!
But there is a great danger here… we don’t need to be on the stage to orientate our lives to make others think well of us. We all play to the crowd in some form or other, whether we have a paying audience or not. And we do this in all spheres of our lives… at work – playing up to the boss and spinning the figures; at home – with housemates or the wife and kids; and at church or cell group – making out that we are super spiritual, or super generous or that we know so much, or that we have got it all together. We can major on trying to make others like us or respect us by being seen to do the right thing, by having it all together.
NO! NO! NO! STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!
Jesus says if we play the game for affirmation then affirmation is what we get – it’s ALL we get!
Instead, what we do when there is no-one around, who we are when there is no audience… when all is stripped away… That is what counts.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked and they felt no shame. They wore no clothes and they had no need of a mask. There were no aspects of their bodies that they were ashamed of… there were no aspects of their characters that they felt the need to cover up. And so they didn’t need to make themselves out to be someone that they were not.
Since the incident with the apple, the fall, where they did the one thing they were asked not to do, personal shame and fear of others’ reactions leads us to wear a mask – to make out that we are ok… better than ok.
Jesus is aware of how we operate and he wants to breakdown the walls that we surround ourselves with. He wants dispense with pretence and self promotion.
If we hide he has nothing to work with. He is all for truth… the reality of the situation. If we can be real with what is truly going on then he can help.
So… step one… the stuff that we might do so others will think we are awesome… only do those things in secret… lose the audience and we will discover so much about ourselves and God can work on our hearts.
Jesus gives the example… when you give, when you are generous… shhh… do it in secret – Step 1.
Jesus also indicates step two… Advanced generosity! Don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. This is the big leagues!! This smacks of the moment when we don’t even need to think about it giving. When our automatic response is generosity. When the discipline of giving has become a habit which has fashioned our hearts in such a way that generosity is who we have become… second nature. Driving a car… I don’t need to think about changing gear… giving… we can grow to the point where we do it without thinking.
Of all the places in all of the world, the church should be a place where it is okay to bring our true selves, to let down our guard, to allow others behind the wall of our defences. It should be a place where it is okay to not be okay.
In the passage Jesus goes on to say “and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
When the truth of who we are is laid bare, when we aim for authenticity and integrity; when we drop the act and stop playing to the crowd, when the stuff we do for show, is forced into the secret place, where we do what we do just because we are doing it… I believe that God is allowed in to do what only he can do… to work on transforming us. This is the reward that Jesus speaks of; this is the reward that God longs to pour out on us… If we chase affirmation… affirmation is all that we can hope to receive…
If we drop the act, we make space for God to act.
Father, we are sorry when we get caught up in the need to perform – when we act so others might notice us or think well of us. Help us to drop the act, help us to practice doing things in secret. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 6:1-18
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”