Sunday 10 February 2019 Keeping it Simple Martin Baker
7 "When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 "Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so 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; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Let us pray
About 15 years ago I went on a bit of a road trip with the family through some of America’s southern states. Church going there is the normal activity for the majority of the population on a Sunday morning.
There are so many churches. I remember on one stretch of road there was the Baptist Church of this particular town. The First Baptist Church. The orthodox Baptist Church. The true Believers Baptist Church. The New Life Baptist Church. There was at least a dozen Baptist churches all with subtlety different names seemingly all slightly different in their doctrine or beliefs. I don’t mean to focus on Baptist churches, in South Korea there are 20 or 30 different variations of Presbyterian Churches.
If it was confusing to a person who goes to church, it must be perplexing for those who aren’t familiar with Christianity. Why do we have so many? I suspect the answer to that question has a lot more to do with people, power and politics than it has to do with Jesus.
Jesus simply called people to follow him. It was a movement. Not an organisation or a structure, and, as strange as it sounds, there is no real evidence that Jesus was interested in establishing a new religion. In his day, the structures and organisation, the inclusion and exclusion that organised religion provided, were deeply troubling to Jesus.
I’ve always liked that saying by Groucho Marks: to form a club all you need is 3 people. A chairman and a treasure and someone who is not able to belong.
Jesus everywhere he went, talked about a radical grace, a radical new belonging.
These verses we hear today, the ones we have been hearing from the Gospel of Mathew last week , and as we follow through Matthew in the weeks to come, are all about keeping our faith simple and honest and genuine.
Jesus was most angry, not for those who had mucked up, not for those who were on the edge, not for those who had some serious questions about God, his biggest concern was for those who were dishonest about their motivation, those who pretended who presented themselves as good religious people, but who were really driven by fear or greed or power or convention or a desire to appear better than others.
It is not easy. Perhaps all of us present ourselves in different ways at different times.
I don’t know if you remember this as a child, but I can remember that in the middle of being told off for something, if your dad or mum got a phone call, their voice could immediately change from their telling off voice to their ‘it’s nice to hear from you’ voice.
Is there anyone here aware of someone they know, maybe even love, who has different voices for different situations?
And sometimes you can even predict where the conversation is going by the changing voice.
How many people are conscious that they do these themselves?
For instance, I was changing our phone service out at Great Barrier Island last week. And a nice young person with an indeterminate accent who I spoke to, had obviously never heard of Great Barrier Island and had no idea where it was. And despite my insistence that it was an island, she said that for $75 she would arrange for a technician to drive to our house and install this new service. Rural Broadband it’s called. And I asked her where the technician would be driving from. And she said Wiri. And I said Wiri in South Auckland? And she said yes. That you’re nearest technician. And I said are you sure he will drive here within the next 2 days and it will cost $75. She retained her composure but a certain tension was creeping into the conversation. And as I continued in this vain I could feel my voice changing into something I didn’t want to change into.
We should pray for people in call centres it must be a shocker of a job.
Being people we aren’t . Or being people we don’t want to be. Or presenting ourselves as someone different from whom we are because we want to be admired or valued or fit in. I want them to see me as that kind of person. A name dropper. A big note-er. What will they think of me? A successful person. The power of admiration on one hand or shame on the other.
Those are powerful things in our lives. Jesus had a real concern about simplicity of faith on one hand, and the damage of hypocrisy on the other.
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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that you’re 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.
Do not look dismal like the hypocrites. They have received their reward.
The word for hypocrite here is a really interesting word. It was used in ancient Greece not to describe anything bad but to describe actors. And the practise by actors of wearing masks. Apparently in Greek theatre actors almost always wore or held masks to represent different person or personality.
‘So whenever you give money, 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.
‘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.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Obviously a big concern for Jesus. People acting out roles. People putting on masks. People doing things not from a place of deep relationship with God and with the people around them, but in order to be admired by others. In order to be seen as pious, good righteous by others.
It’s a tough thing. Motives are often complicated.
But the main point in these verses is not to make people feel bad, but to tell people that a relationship with God is a much more simple thing. It requires us being real and honest rather than being false.
So Jesus is talking about simple things. Not easy things perhaps, but simple things, honest things.
About having a simple relationship with property and the problems of accumulation of stuff.
About our relationships with others and of not seeing different people as having greater or lesser value.
About our relations with God, about how simple that is meant to be.
To help people in their faith, to help people to keep it simple , and honest and real Jesus gives us a prayer. And even though we call it the Lord’s prayer, it is probably more accurate to say it is the followers prayers. Or the disciples’ prayer. It is a prayer for those who don’t want to be hypocrites. Pray then in this way Jesus says. It starts off Our Father
That’s a huge moment right there isn’t it? Naming God, creator of the heavens and the earth , creator of worlds and universes beyond imagining, naming God, Our Father. Perhaps we don’t dwell on those first two words, enough. Our Father.
Our. Not mine or yours, but our, our Father, our sins, as we forgive , do not bring us to the test.
Our Father and then always, first person plural. We , us, our. Not I or me or my.
We are in this, together. Prayer is very personal and private. But Our Father. Somehow. We are in this together.
So this morning, at the heart of his teaching about keeping things simple, Jesus teaches pray our Father. Not some almighty distant being, not some symbolic sort of ‘Father of humanity’. But something far deeper than that. Something profoundly part of us, our being and our identity, something deeply wrapped up in the Fathers relationship. Remember right back in Genesis we are told God created us in God’s image. The image of the Father.
So hear today Jesus saying don’t be actors. You don’t need to be actors. Be who you are. Be honest about yourself. That’s who God loves. That’s the only way. A close deep personal relationship with God is there for everyone.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says these wonderful words that “All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.
Paul said. The Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.
I don’t think anyone knows exactly what that means, but one thing it does mean is that in the depth of this relationship that Jesus speaks about we are no longer actors or mask wearers. No longer driven by the need to conform to some impossible standard of success or goodness or attractiveness, which in the end makes us all failures. Treat others, even call centre operators as people who also have a call on their lives.
In praying Our Father, in entering a relationship that is truly transforming, we open ourselves to something wonderful. Changing, developing, growing in our relationship with God, with our understanding of ourselves and our growing realisation that we are all sons and daughtesr of God Our Father. AMEN
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