by Pastor Cherie Dearth
We’re in the middle of our sermon series, Treasure. Our theme verse for this series comes from Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”
Last week, we talked about how we have so many responsibilities and commitments that we can have trouble putting God first. We can try to justify and rationalize serving two masters, God and the world, but it just doesn’t work. When we build our life with God, the other priorities fall into place.
This week, we are moving back to the beginning of chapter 6. In chapter 5, Jesus teaches about the relationship the disciples should have with the law and other people. One of the things he says in verse 16 is, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.”
In Chapter 6 Jesus teaches about a relationship with God, and it can sound slightly different and contradictory, but the point is the same. Let’s hear what he has to say:
Matthew 6: 1-6
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.
2 “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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “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. 6 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.
In Chapter 5 Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds,” and here he’s saying do these things in secret. It sounds very confusing. As the kids might say, or may have said 10 years ago… What’s up with that?
In our verses for today, Jesus is talking about two of the three customary expressions of piety or merciful deeds in Judaism, giving and praying. The third one is fasting, which he talks about in verses 16-18.
It was not a question of whether people should do these things. He says, “When you give,” and, “When you pray.” Jesus expected people to continue the practice. At issue is the manner in which they are done.
A man tells the story about when he was living in the Middle East, and he went out for a walk in the afternoon. On the way home, feeling slightly hungry, he bought a chocolate bar from a vendor on the street. He got home, went to his room, made a cup of tea, unwrapped the chocolate and broke off a piece to eat it. Fortunately he glanced down at the chocolate before he put it in his mouth. When he did so, he dropped it with a shout. It was alive. Inside what looked like a perfectly ordinary bar of chocolate were hundreds of tiny wriggling worms. Jesus didn’t know about chocolate, but he did know about things looked fine on the outside but we’re rotten on the inside. (Matthew for Everyone, 54)
In Chapter 5 Jesus says that our deeds should be seen. In Chapter 6 he says we should not do these things in front of others. They sound like opposites, but they’re really not. In both cases it comes down to motivation. The reason that the deeds should be seen is so that people will glorify God because of those deeds. Here in chapter 6 it is the same; what is our motivation. If we give, or pray, or do anything for the purposes of making ourselves look good, for showing off, it’s like that man’s candy bar. It looks good on the outside but is rotten inside.
If our purpose is to glorify God or develop our relationship with God, it’s a different story. Then our life is solid chocolate all the way through. Jesus is inviting us into a life where our inside and outside match perfectly, because both are focused on God who sees everything we do and knows our motivation for doing it. Remember, Jesus cares about more than our Treasure. He cares about our hearts. When it’s all about us as individuals we are actually very limited in the impact we can actually have, and we are separated from God.
A great example of this is our new building, the Place. It has been a work-in-progress for decades. Property was acquired. Consultants were brought in. Plans were drawn up. Committees were formed. Many people donated, both large and small. The donations are still coming in. There may have been leaders and standard bears, but no one person could have done it alone. Really the project was God’s, and he allowed us to be a part of it. We each get to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Did you know that through your donations to this church that you not only help to keep the lights on, which they say never to mention because it’s boring, but not only do you do that and support the ministry’s we do through the church like one of our newest, Church out of Church and the new AA meeting we may be hosting, but you are helping students go to Africa University in Zimbabwe? It is actually a small percentage of your donation, but when it’s combined with other United Methodist churches, it subsidizes a university that is changing lives. You get to be a part of that too! You get to be part of something bigger, things that God is doing around the world. As Jacob Armstrong puts it, “God can do anything but, amazingly, chooses to involve us” (Treasure, 60).
As I mentioned earlier, in today’s Scripture passage, Jesus talks about two of the three standard obligations off Judaism (and therefore Christianity) giving, and praying, the third being fasting, and he tells us to “be careful.” Be careful not to show off, not to make yourself out to be more important than God while outwardly appearing to honor God.
In the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Daniel, there’s a story of Nebuchadnezzar. He was the mighty king of Babylon that defeated Judah and Jerusalem and imposed the Babylonian exile on the Jewish people. The Bible says that God gave him the power to do this. One day when he was walking on the roof of his Palace, he took credit for the building of Babylon for his own glory and majesty, and like that *snap* it was all taken away from him until he acknowledged the glory of God (Daniel 4).
It’s not so much that we need to hide what we’re doing or pretend that we’re not doing it, but not to be ostentatious about it. Make sure that there’s room for God’s glory.
One thing that’s interesting is that Jesus links giving to the poor, giving our treasure, with spending time in prayer with God. If we want God to be the Lord of our life, to be able to discern or hear what we should do, we need to be in communication. Look at the intimate connection Jesus is inviting us to have. There’s nothing superficial here. When he teaches the disciples to pray in the next verses, he invites them to think of God as father, not far off and remote, but close and personal.
Jesus is not saying that there cannot be public or community prayer. Otherwise he would have abolished the whole synagogue system, which he did not. Instead, he indicates that prayer is to be made to God alone, not as a performance for an audience. When the word “hypocrites” is used, it quite literally means actors from the stage giving a performance, not something that is authentic, real, and heartfelt.
In Luke 18: 10-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee’s private prayer, but it doesn’t exactly qualify for what we’re talking about here. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me a sinner.’ I tell you that this man rather than the other one went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We’re back to motivation. It didn’t matter that the Pharisee’s prayer was private, it still glorified himself rather than God. It’s the tax collector that showed the proper attitude.
1st Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.”
Do you know anyone like this? We would like to think that everyone in every church would be like this, but under the heading of the church as a hospital for people to be made better rather than a club where perfect people go to hang out, it isn’t as common as we might hope. However, I have been blessed to know or be acquainted with several people that came very close to doing everything in their life for God’s glory. One of those people is my friend Mackey from Texas. You may have heard me mention her before. She is a very special person. She’s a woman who likes to make jokes and have fun, totally on fire for the Lord, and she did everything I ever saw for God’s glory.
You might think it would be intimidating, but it wasn’t. It was inspiring. She was the most humble person. I would look at her and think, “I want my relationship with the Lord to be like that!”
Do you know anyone like that? Think it’s impossible? Think you’ll be missing out on the fun? Let’s look at that Corinthians passage again.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.” That sure sounds like a party to me. We can be at a party and celebrating, and be doing it for the glory of God.
Imagine that! In September, we’re going to be celebrating the grand opening of the Place, and we’re going to party and celebrate, and give the glory to God! And to think that God let us be a part of it!
The question is, what comes next? We have the ministries that we will be able to sponsor and deploy from the Place. While buildings are helpful for worship and doing ministry and missions, they are not the church. We are the church.
This week I saw a video of what happened to a bear that was going after a calf. The mama cow saw what was going on and came charging in. She was certainly giving the bear plenty to handle, but it wasn’t quitting. It wasn’t until another cow from the herd came over to help. Between them, they “convinced” the bear to head back to the woods, licking his many wounds.
We are stronger together. We can do things together with God’s help that we cannot do as individuals. This building, the Place, is a testimony to that. It was done through the combined effort of many people, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. And it’s time to start thinking, considering, praying and discerning what God has in mind for us next. We will start that in September.
This week many of you will be receiving a letter with a commitment card enclosed for 2017. Next week at worship, you will be invited to bring them forward (not in an ostentatious way). Think about it. Pray about it. When you are considering how to invest your treasure, think about what is the next adventure the God may have in mind for you and for us, the adventure that God is orchestrating but allows us to be a part of!
Glory to God!