Ash Wednesday Sermon
Vicar Shaun Manning – Wednesday 6th March
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21
One of the most characteristic sayings of a child is “Mum/Dad watch me”, the child’s “watch me” becomes the adult’s much more subtle and unspoken “notice me”.
Practicing your piety is a good thing, we know this because Jesus Himself condones and commands it, though it can be practiced poorly and un-Godly, in a way that serves oneself rather God and neighbour. This is what Jesus calls hypocrisy in our text, which is similar though different to what we call hypocrisy.
To Jesus, hypocrisy is giving off the impression that we are something which we are not. Not practicing what you preach per se as we often with hypocrisy but rather Jesus is calling us to preach what you practice. Giving off that we have it all together when we don’t, and that we are great Christians when we really aren’t. And how can we give this impression? Jesus says by practicing your faith in front of others and seeking their approval and praise instead the Father’s approval and praise.
We are making ourselves out to be liars as well as our Lord, who declares us to be born sinful and unclean. We are spiritually poor and bankrupt are we not? Ever since the Fall our spiritual condition is only inclined to only serve ourselves. It brings to mind what condition we must have been to for the Creator Himself to step down from Heaven to intervene. A condition that clothed the founder of the earth in an earthy body… (Augustine).
So part what I think Jesus is getting at here is that He is calling the people to confess and live as what they are, spiritual beggars before the Lord, in need of His grace and mercy. To be the opposite is to be proud, self-sufficient and seek the human community’s approval rather than God’s.
Here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out that those who do good deeds for human praise are hypocrites and have already received their reward but those who do good deeds in secret will be rewarded by the Father.
Jesus is commanding us to not seek praise from the human community because if you do that’s all you get, human praise; and thence nothing from His and your Heavenly Father.
Rather we are called into to Jesus’ journey to the cross by joining Him in the wilderness for 40 days, we He fasted etc for us. Through discipline we learn what it means to be children of the Father (Hebrews 12:3-13) and to co-heirs with Christ (Matthew 4:1-11; Romans 8:17).
Almost since its conception the Church has used this of Lent as a time of instruction, fasting, repentance, prayers and special acts of service. The intent is to journey with our Lord and to be reminded of the great mercy He has shown us, Our Lord Jesus gave Himself in fasting and prayer for us.
6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
I knew a man who had a book full of the receipts he gave to charity… (elaborate).
“Don’t be like the hypocrites… but when you”
You may not know what your right or left hand are doing but the Father does.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Don’t be like the hypocrites… but when you”
Luther interprets Jesus’ discussion on prayer “brief, frequent and intense”.
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Fasting is about letting your body know that it is not autonomous and its own ruler and therefore not about here you are more concerned with letting know how Holy we are.
“Don’t be like the hypocrites… but when you”.
Relationship between the three
Jesus never says “if” you give alms, pray or fast… He says “when”. Jesus expected and still expects that His followers will do such things.
Three way relationship of almsgiving, prayer and fasting. (Fasting, leads to Prayer because of the realization of your need for God, saves money which you can give to the poor).
Two different words for reward, contrast human community vs heavenly community
Jesus rebukes righteousness for the human community but commends when one does it for God, in fact, He promises that the Father will reward that does this. Righteousness that leads to God’s glorification rather than self-glorification.
Paid in full (from the human community), no room left for reward from the Father.
The reward now is closeness to the Father, but at Judgment is always Jesus’ main view.
(12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what you have done… Rev 22:12).
In other words we will be held accountable as Christian people for how we live our lives. Not in terms of salvation for Christ has already achieved this for us, but in terms of reward. Hence, how we live as Christian people is important not only for us but to our Lord also.
Summary – Treasures
Hence why Jesus says…
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Verses 19-21 summarize the whole pericope, ‘store up treasures in heaven not on earth’.
Search your own heart, or better yet let God search your heart and see what your treasure is. Is it to impress God or humanity? Jesus is revising The First Commandment to “you shall no desires above or before me”, for if you ask what one “desires” there will find ones “gods”.
If our treasures our stored up on earth, it isn’t going to take long for moth, rust to destroy and thieves to break in and steal.
So this time of Lent may you choose wisely what is stopping you from storing up treasures in heaven and making idols out of human praise and what leads to storing up treasures on earth. Fast from such things, repent of them, trust in the Lord and His forgiveness, pray to Him, give and serve your neighbour and do all these things in secret so that your Father will reward you and you will store up treasures in Heaven.
We have left everything to follow you, “you will receive a hundred fold”. Take up your cross and follow me Our Lord Jesus says to his disciples… and we will exchange that cross for a crown.
You will be comforted with the hope that this world is not it, and also that what Jesus promises will come to fruition in part now but ultimately in glory. In the meantime, through the truth of His mercy and grace toward us He grants the peace that only He can give, to His people before we receive our ultimate reward in Heaven.
This gracious reward is granted to us because Jesus gave of generously to the poor and deprived (His own body and blood on the cross), prayed (to the Father for us) and fasted (in the desert for us)… so that we become children of the Father and live in His Kingdom forever.
So Jesus is calling us away from saying “watch me” to the human community, friends, family and your Church but rather to seek His Father’s approval by saying “Father (Dad in Heaven), I’m doing this for you so I’ll do this in secret”.
And this peace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. Amen