July 23rd Sermon on the Mount: Piety

First, a note about Sunday worship from my wife, Meg:

Please consider bringing chairs and sitting outside for worship.  Why?  Well, this past Sunday I took the bold step of leaving my car and sitting in a lawn chair for worship.  I did this because I thought it would be cooler than roasting in my vehicle.  There is plenty of shade in the cemetery, and I wanted to take advantage of it.  It was definitely cooler, but there were other unexpected benefits.

First, I was much more aware of the beauty of God’s creation around me.  The blue sky and green trees joined with me in song, and helped me lift my heart in praise.

Second, I actually connected with a few fellow worshippers.  We kept good distance, but since we were out of our cars it was easier to have a longer conversation.  We all miss the fellowship with one another.  I think we will regain more of that feeling if we are in chairs scattered around the parking lot and lawn.

Weather permitting, I encourage you to bring chairs and join me outside.  To make it work best, bring an old transistor radio, so you can hear Pastor Rick clearly.  Or use your smart phone.  My LG Android phone came with an icon called “tools”.  It includes a FM receiver.  I bet that Siri could tell you how to use your iPhone as a radio.  Practice at home, and come ready to enjoy worshipping together in God’s beautiful creation!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s passage will not require much explanation, but it is something we should ponder. Piety is “the act of being religious or reverent.”  In today’s passage the concern is to keep our piety humble, sincere, and discreet.

Matthew 6:1-6

“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.”

There are different ways that people show off to impress others.  They look for the personal rewards of being respected for their good deeds. This is especially true of political figures who want to win votes by looking religious.  In large corporations, it used to be considered smart to join the boss’s church as well as the boss’s country club.  Lots of people make a big show of their religion out in public with everything from jewelry to tattoos to bumper stickers.   That is not the way Jesus describes.

When it comes to religious matters from charitable acts to prayer, it is best to just do the task as it should be done, without any needless attention paid to how it looks to others.   There is a recent saying that, “your real character is shown when no one is looking.”  God wants our charitable acts and prayers to be foremost in our hearts and minds.  It is very good if we can help others without anyone suspecting us of doing it.  It is very good to make truly anonymous gifts to others.

In many places, Christians receive a lot of grief for those among us who use Christianity as a sign of superiority over other people.  You know the stereotype if you haven’t met one in real-life, but they are out there. They treat the church as if it were an exclusive country club where they spend free time who awful it is to live and work near “sinners.” But “sinners” as a sub-category of the human race, we are all sinners.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat it: If you managed to stay clean from every other sin, you will be defeated by pride.  Too many people pat themselves on the back rather than offering a hand to a brother or sister.

This adds a problem to congregations in the modern world.  How on earth will we get new members if we don’t advertise what great Christians we are?  The best advice on this comes from the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 1:31, “Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”  We can invite people in and tell them our beliefs and activities, but the best thing we can do is to say how wonderful our savior is.

A question to Ponder:  Would it be unusual for you to pray in private?  If so, would you give it another try?

Blessings,

Pastor Rick