Last sermon continued. See previous sections of sermon here and here:
1. Faith Practices are about Relationship and not Recognition. Look back at Matthew 6:2, 5a, 16a:
2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full... 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others... 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.
Part of what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount is reacting against the pharisees. The pharisees were a group whose name means "Separate Ones." The pharisees were a group concerned about Israel maintaining her separateness as God's people. They were also concerned about demonstrating their separateness from their fellow Jews had been contaminated and influenced by foreign culture and religion. They proved their "separateness" by following religious law better than anyone else. So, when it came to Faith Practices (giving, praying, fasting) they were to the letter, because they wanted to be recognized as better than the others. They wanted to be recognized for their religious zeal. They wanted to be recognized for their greatness, not for how great God was. It was about drawing attention to themselves rather than giving glory to God.
In college I had four roommates - all of us great friends. We were all about 5'10", 30-32 inch waist and 32 inseam. We walked in unity of stride. It wasn't like walking with Kent Rogers (6'4") where I have to jog or take massive steps to keep up. But every time we left the cafeteria there was an upper class man, Shawn Lewis... great guy. Upon each cafeteria exit, one of us would bend down to tie his shoe and the other three guys behind him would turn to Shawn and say, "Bye Shawn!" And then one guy would trip over the guy tying his shoes, and then like dominoes we'd all go down. We'd act embarrassed and run out of the cafeteria. Yes, we were mature. Here's the thing... even though we used Shawn's name in our little stunt, it wasn't about Shawn. It wasn't about drawing attention to Shawn; it was about drawing attention to us. That's what the Pharisees were doing... they used Faith Practices as little stunts, not to draw attention to God but rather to themselves.
That hits pretty close to home! Often we act like the pharisees. That's something I figured out in High School. The best way for me to get known was to be the Christian kid. Not all my motives were bad but a lot were selfish. I realized I could leverage my faith to draw attention to myself. It was as much about me as it was about God.
And so many of us still do that today when it comes to faith practices such as going to church, reading our Bibles, praying, or serving in ministries. Sometimes we do that because we want recognition for being a good Christian. Honestly?... for being a better Christian than you. In our Bible Belt culture we learn that if you can master the Christian look: listen to the right radio stations, attend church, have your quiet time, teach your kids memory verses, join the PTA and FCA then you are respected and people look up to you.
And you may say, "Wait! Wait! I thought we were supposed to let our good deeds be seen! That's what Jesus said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Remember? Be salt! Be light!" Yes! True! But Jesus said let your light shine so that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven, but when we make faith practices about self-recognition... God gets cut his fair share.
When our works of righteousness are about recognition then Christianity becomes about the appearance of perfection. It is only an appearance of perfection because NO ONE is perfect. What ends up happening is church becomes a place where we go to show everyone that we have it together, that we read our bibles, we pray, that we have devos with our kids, and that we watch Veggie Tales on Saturday mornings and Ed Young from Fellowship Church on Saturday nights! And so church and church friends become the place where we wear our masks the most. As Rick Atchley says, "We are all 'fine' and if you are not then go back home and come back when you are 'fine.'" Church becomes the place where we feel like we have it together, where we can't let the secrets out, where we can't let people see the chink in our armor, where we can't let people know that our marriage is falling apart, that our family is crumbling, that we're struggling with sin. No! Because, we have made Christianity about recognition, about getting all the practices right!
It's like when you've got a mess in your room and you find out someone is coming over in ten minutes. "Oh, I can't let them see my house like this. I have to get this mess cleaned up." But it's too much...not enough time. So, you take it and shove it all in the closet! The room looks clean but there is a pile of junk in the closet. Your guest shows up and remarks, "Wow! Your house is so clean!" You say, "Thank you!" You get the recognition but the junk is still in there. Eventually the closet gets too full and it burst through onto the ground in the middle of a dinner party and everyone goes, "Oh, my!" That's when the affair happens, the papers are signed, the suicide note is left, the child goes to prison, the habit becomes an addiction...
When faith practices and acts of righteousness become about recognition instead of relationship then authenticity has no place! People can't come and show their real cards. They can't say life is more gray than black and white. They can't come and admit their failures. They can't just say, "Look! Yes, this is the mess! I know legos, pants, and magazines scattered all over the floor. I wanted to put it in the closet but...this is me and this is my junk." But, when it is about relationship, when coming to church, reading your bible, praying - when all of that is not about people giving you the approving nod, "Yep, you are a good Christian!" - but when it is about knowing God, seeking his heart, then church becomes the place where we can be our truest selves and still find love, acceptance, forgiveness, and family!
Faith Practices are about Relationship and not Recognition.