Matthew 6: 1-4
“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. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
I assume that most people who come to worship are looking to answer the question, “How can I grow closer to God? How can I understand God better?” I think we all know Jesus’ first and greatest commandment which he takes out of the book of Deuteronomy “ You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.” In fact, this would be the heart of the Jewish understanding their responsibility to God. And yet, “How can I love God more?”Or “I want to love God, but I’m not sure I know how.” It seems like it is something we should know and it seems like it should be something we should be overjoyed to learn, but I think for many people it is a mystery. Well the good news is that over the next couple weeks we are going to be spending some time on some practices that can and do draw us closer to God. At times they may seem like sacrifices, like we are giving something up, and well to be honest we are but in many respects it is like being in love. When I have been in love in the past, I wanted nothing more than to please my beloved one and so I did things for her. Maybe I would take her to dinner, maybe I would buy her flowers, maybe I would write poetry or do things that I know she enjoyed…yes it meant sacrificing my time, my money, my resources, taking time to be in her presence to listen, yes it meant taking time away from other things-playing video games or watching TV, it also meant learning to do things together. Yet, none of this ever seemed like a sacrifice because I was in love and I wanted nothing more than to draw closer to this woman I loved.
Sometimes I think we’ve done a good job teaching you how to be a good church member, and have not done a good job of helping you become a God lover. But that is where we are going, that is what we are doing here. Ultimately we are setting aside time to be in a place where God promises to meet us and we are trying to learn how to love God. Some of the things I say over the next several weeks are not going to make sense rationally, in fact they may be downright crazy from an outside perspective-and that is how it looks on the outside when you watch two people in love. There is a lot of waste that goes on as money and time are spent on the relationship, but such is the nature of being drawn close in love.
So maybe the place to start is “what is getting in the way of letting yourself go and being in love?” What are we holding onto that we cannot let go of, what is so precious that it forms a part of who we are. Mark Allan Powell tells a story of when the early monks were going into Gaul (part of modern day France) to carry the gospel to the tribes that lived there, they noticed that when they baptized these Gallic warriors they would go into the water but they would all hold their right arm above their head, and they wondered what was going on until the next spring when the tribes went out to war against one another-then they found out. You see it was their sword arm, all of them had been baptized except that which they held out of the waters. I am baptized except with my sword arm which I can go forth and slay you with. So what are we holding out of the waters? What are we holding back from God?
Perhaps one of the things we hold out is the need for honor. It is like the person who is unwilling to dance because they fear they will make a fool of themselves while everyone else is watching and who misses out on the joy of the dance. When I went to college, there was always a major effort to have buildings name after people who were major contributors to the college, and this served to call attention to the generosity of people like H.B. Zachery, or Halbouty, or you can think of the great buildings named for a family, like the Rockerfeller center. There is prestige in showing that you have enough wealth to do things for the common person, but even among these people the amounts, although significant, probably don’t drastically affect the way that they live. Now I don’t want to diminish the giving that goes on to public works and charities, but normally it is done from our excess.
If you want to learn to love God more, be willing to give away your resources and time and not worry about what it is worth. In the Old Testament when people would bring an offering of grain or an animal, or oils or other things of value from their field they would be place on the altar and burned. What would happen if I were to take a match, strike it, bring it over to the offering plate and then drop it. I’m sure people would say, and I’m sure Erik would stop me, but people would say, “what a waste, it could be given to those in need, it can pay the light bills, it pays the pastor.” Well that’s what happened with the Old Testament too, they would provide for those in need, pay the priests, and do a lot of good-but I think there is something to the image of setting afire and putting it back into God’s hands. Later in this chapter we will hear, “where your treasures are, there your heart will be also” and it is not the other way around. We put our time and our resources and our money and our honor on the line to get our heart where it should be.
When you come here and spend time in worship, I hope you understand that you are giving God some of your time and you are putting the treasure of your time into the relationship where you want to learn to love God. You are learning to love by giving. When you take the money you earn and place it in the offering plate, or you give it to charity, or you sponsor a youth going on a trip or you give it to someone who is in need or you sponsor a child or any number of other things, I hope you begin to think, “I taking that which is precious to me and I’m giving it to God, I may not be sure how to love God yet, but I am putting my treasures where I want my heart to be.” When I go and I serve, maybe I feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, mourn with the sad, maybe when I visit someone who is sick or in prison, or do something to clothe the naked…I’m doing it because I trust that somehow in the midst of this serving it is a place where I can learn to love God and love my neighbor. What am I getting out of it, maybe nothing on the front end, instead I’m seeking to live as a person in love and find ways to give what I can to the God who I love and who loves me.
Like the woman who comes and brings the perfume to pour on Jesus, it is out of love. Is it possible to love someone without spending time with them, doing things for them, giving them gifts, trying to make them happy…maybe in some abstract sense. But if I am going to be in a loving relationship I am going to try to be where my beloved is, I am going to try to be a part of the things my beloved does. I want to share their life, and I want them to share mine. And so I’m trying to live in to being the kind of person I want to be by placing my treasures, my time, my money, my resources where I want my heart to be.