Matthew 6.1-6, 16-20
6???Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.??2???So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.??3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,??4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5???And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.6But whenever 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.
16???And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.??17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,??18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19???Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;??20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
The bottom line is this: ??Lent is about setting aside the 40 days before Jesus??? resurrection in order to understand Jesus??? sacrifice better. ??Understanding what Jesus Christ has done for you and me is important because our faith depends upon it. ??We place our hopes and our futures on the fact that Jesus died on the cross for you and for me.
During this time you are encouraged to do all sorts of things. ??Some will give up or fast from certain things in their life in order to identify with Jesus??? suffering for us, both his suffering in the desert when he fasted and was tempted by the devil and during the events of what we call Holy Week, the last week of Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, communes with his disciples, enjoys his last supper, prays in the garden, is betrayed, beaten, tortured, and marched up the hill where he would die a terrible death, all to restore us with God. ??Jesus makes a way through an impassable desert through his suffering; suffering both with us and for us.
Others will add things to their life, seeing this time as the right time to equip themselves with the tools they need in order to put their lives back on track and draw closer to God. ??That is essentially what Lent is all about, drawing closer to God. ??Through the addition of disciplines and practices we open ourselves up to being made available to God. ??These things are means of grace; attending to communion, scripture, prayer, service to others. ??But a warning to you: we do not add or take away things during this time in order to improve ourselves. ??This is not a chance to redo your New Year???s resolutions; this is a time of discovering God anew and locating your life on the spiritual map in order to find yourself as a faithful child of God.
As you subtract and add things from your life in order to grow closer to God, Matthew provides for us a few warnings about the right and wrong ways to do this. ??The right way begins with doing whatever it is you are doing for God and God alone. ??Often times, it is so easy to show our devotion in the presence other people. ??But the emphasis here is that whatever you do for the Lord, you do it first from the right intention in your heart. ??The reward of the hypocrite comes from the satisfaction they receive from others knowing their good works. ??But what God requires of you is that you draw near to him through faith and obedience, seen or unseen. ??Jesus encourages the righteous to be devoted in secret because their devotion is to God and not to the act of being seen. ??Our spiritual lives are not to-do lists, but rather the maintaining of a sacred relationship.
Jesus says to "shut the door" in Matthew 6.6, and in doing so you leave outside all that stands between you and God. ??We are called to focus, to reflect, to give our attention to the God who is calling out to us. ??God is calling each of us out of our normal lives and into our own spiritual desert, allowing us to focus on the things we???ve swept under the rug, shoved in the closet, and buried in the ground, mistakenly believing that we could move on and live on without consequence, falsely believing that these things would have no real bearing on our relationship with God. ??But as we learn from Abel???s murder by his brother Cain in Genesis 4.10,??
???And the Lord said, ???What have you done? Listen; your brother???s blood is crying out to me from the ground!???
During this time of Lent, listen closely, identifying what may be calling to you from the ground, the things we have buried, and begin to deal with them with the grace that God provides in this time of attention and focus.
And so we???ve come to a unique place tonight; a place where you have the opportunity to do something that many others will not. ??You can start a journey tonight into your own spiritual life by taking upon yourself the spirit, the attitude, and the commitment to see God at work through your faith in Jesus. ??The season of Lent is important because it provides each of us with the tools that we need in order to draw closer to God. ??But the most important tool you have is yourself.
What God is looking for from you this season is nothing more than you committing unto him your own heart. ??God doesn???t want the food that you fast from, the Cokes you decide to give up, the chocolate that you refuse to buy. ??God wants YOU over these next forty days.
If you have not thought about what you could add or give up for Lent, please do not scramble to find something and cheapen for yourself an opportunity to receive God???s grace in powerful ways. ??Take your time, using tonight as a commitment to enter into a more serious discipleship. ??
If you have your Lenten sacrifices already, see tonight as your commissioning, your sending forth into the wilderness, the desert of fasting. ??
As James 4 says in vs.7???10,??
???Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. ??Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. ??Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. ??Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.???
Rev. Whit R. Martin??
Pastor,??New Liberty United Methodist Church