2 March 2022

“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.

Matthew 6:1

Where are we now?  Where are you now?  When the prophet Joel spoke the words that we heard this morning, the people were not in a good place.  They were discouraged, and people in surrounding nations were talking about them and asking “Where is their God?” (Joel 2:17).  Do you hear others saying that today?  Where is the God of the Christians?  If they have God on their side, shouldn’t they all be well-off and super successful?  If they only knew…

Jesus tells us in Matthew that we are not to focus on the treasures of this world.  He tells his disciples, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth and rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).  Everything will not be perfect in the here and now, but we are promised that they will be in heaven.  Everyone else cares so much about their success on earth and believes that it is an indicator telling others how good they are.

There are two main points in the Matthew 6 selection from today.  First, do not gloat about your faithfulness publicly.  Second, do not focus on storing up treasures on this earth.  The first is so that we do not consider ourselves better than someone else.  When we put ourselves up on a pedestal, it is more difficult or even impossible to step down to meet other people where they are at.  The second is so that we do not become jealous of other people.  Jealousy is a vice, and it kicks in whenever we think about how this person makes more money than us, this person has a bigger house than we do, this person gets all the luck.  When we aim to stop caring about these treasures on earth, it is much easier put that time and energy into seeking God.  If you want to find God, and grow closer to God in this new season of Lent, you have to work on these two steps first.  Do not gloat about your faithfulness publicly.  Do not boast about how much you pray.  Just do it.  Also, put your sights on the treasures in heaven, not what you can’t take with you from earth.

So, where are we now?  We are still working on emerging from the pandemic.  We thought this would be over more than a year ago.  We are tired and frustrated.  We have been falsely accused of ill intentions one more time than we would have liked.  We feel like no one understands our true struggle.  Everyone is trying to tell you that it will be okay, but will it?  Is it?  Are they trying to understand you, or does it just seem like they are trying to give you the answer to everything, when it is never so easy as one answer?  Do you relate to any of this?  Where is there someone who can really understand you?  Where is there a place where your best-laid plans will not be interrupted?

This Lent, you will be challenged to walk with God and with each other.  You will be challenged to pray more for others, just as you are encouraged to pray to God.  You will be challenged to embrace yourself and your situation just as it is.  When we ask the question, “Where are we now?”  it does not matter what our financial status is, how many friends live close to us, or how many pennies we have found on the sidewalk.  What matters is that, wherever we are, we are standing next to God.  When we recognize God in whatever circumstance we may be in, at any and all times, we are truly right with God.  All that we need is to ask the Master to let us walk with Him.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near-
2:2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
2:12 Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
2:13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
2:14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?
2:15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;
2:16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
2:17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
6:1 “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.
6:2 “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.
6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
6:5 “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.
6:6 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.
6:16 “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.
6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
6:18 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.
6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;
6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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