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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 6:1–6

“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. “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. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“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. But 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.” (NRSV)

We live in times when piety is a bad word. The pious are those who put on the “holier than thou” attitude, and that goes nowhere, especially with those who are suspicious of religious people. So Jesus’ admonition to the disciples to be quiet about their alms giving and even quieter about their prayer life seems apt for our day.

But is Jesus asking that we completely submerge our faith practices? Should we never let on that we are religious or even spiritual? Do we keep our faith in the silent corner of the closets of our lives and never let on that we have the good sense, the grand conviction that we are children of God?

Recently I was in a friend’s home where at every turn there was a sign or a poster with scripture verses and advice about how to live a faith-full life. Even the bathroom had a verse of scripture! Though the reminders were important to my friend, I wondered about whether they were necessary. Because I don’t think it is necessary to have constant external reminders of faith, I imposed my assumptions on him. I am more comfortable with an understated faith. But I also tripped over my own holier-than-they posture because unlike these people, I don’t need the barrage of messages. My critique of my friend’s expression came right back to me. I fear that I also have found the absolute of hemming in my faith to be just as unseemly as the outright blasting. Where does the message of going into the privacy of our closet to meet God square with the outright in-your-face Christianity?

Jesus may be leveling the challenge to the street evangelist and the hesitant heralder. The point that Jesus makes is about communion with God and each other. It’s not the piety that is the problem. It’s when the piety becomes the end game, rather than keeping our eyes on Jesus’ face. As St. Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.”

Keep our eyes, hearts, and minds on you, O Christ. Give us courage to speak your love, to have your mind, and to live each day with the joy of the gospel. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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