Week of Proper 6: Wednesday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  A Trappist Monk Praying

Image Source = Daniel Tibi

Not For the Sake of Appearances

JUNE 21, 2017

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (An American Translation):

Remember this:  The man who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the man who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone must give what he has made up his mind to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion; God loves a man who is glad to give.  God is able to provide with every blessing in abundance so that you will always have enough for every situation, and ample means for every good enterprise:  as the Scripture says,

He scatters his gifts to the poor;

His uprightness will never be forgotten.

He who supplies the sower with seed and so with bread to eat will supply you with seed, and multiply it and enlarge the harvest of your uprightness.  You will grow rich in every way, so that through me you can show perfect liberality that will make men thank God for it.

Psalm 112:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,

and their righteousness will last for ever.

4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;

the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

5 It is good for them to be generous in lending

and to manage their affairs with justice.

6 For they will never be shaken;

the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their trust is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

Matthew 6:1-18 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,] “But take care not to do your good deeds in public for people to see, for, if you do, you will get no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you are going to give to charity, do not blow a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues and the streets, to make people praise them.  I tell you, that this is all the reward they will get!  But when you give to charity, your own left hand must now know what your right hand is doing, so that your charity may be secret, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they like to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the squares, to let people see them.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get!  But when you pray, go into your own room, and shut the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.  And when you pray, do not repeat empty phrases as the heathen do, for they imagine that their prayers will be heard if they use words enough.  You must not be like them.  For God, who is your Father, knows what you need before you ask him.  This, therefore, is the way you are to pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Your name be revered!

Your kingdom come!

Your will be done

On earth as well as in heaven!

Give us today bread for the day,

And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

And do not subject us to temptation,

But save us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will forgive you too.  But if you do not forgive others when they offend you, your heavenly Father will not forgive you for your offenses.

When you fast, do not put on a gloomy look, like the hypocrites, for they neglect their personal appearance to let people see that they are fasting.  I tell you, that is all the reward they will get.  But when you fast, perfume your hair and wash your face, that no one may see that you are fasting, except your Father who is unseen, and your Father who sees what is secret, will reward you.”

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The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Sincerity is the heart of this day’s readings.  It is not enough to do the right thing, such as to pray, fast, or give alms; no, one must do these for the right reason(s).  These include the following:

  1. One is grateful and devoted to God.
  2. One seeks to obey God’s commands faithfully.
  3. One is filled with genuine concern for others.
  4. One seeks one’s own spiritual improvement.

And none of this praying, fasting, and giving of alms must be for show.

Multiple Hebrew texts teach the divine imperative of caring for the less fortunate.  Aside from this day’s psalm, I think immediately of Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which Paul references.  There are also too many passages from the Hebrew prophets to quote here and to remain succinct.  The Bible does teach a divine preference for the poor and condemnation of those who keep them that way and exploit them.

Many or most of us can recall incidents of politicians who rarely attend church becoming Sunday morning regulars during weeks preceding an election.  Attending church is good, of course, but we must do this sincerely, not for show.  Going to keep up appearances is inadequate.  I have never sought public office, but I can recall a few times I have attended church out of habit but, for my sake and that of others, should have stayed home that day.  My heart was not in it.  To refer to a line from the previous day’s reading from Matthew, I was not ready to make offering to God.

Neither should prayer be for show, or vain.  The Reverend Roger Williams, Puritan minister, founder of Rhode Island, and founder of the oldest Baptist congregation in the United States, objected strenuously to anyone (especially, in his case, the government of the Massachusetts Bay colony) compelling someone to pray involuntarily.  The only prayers worth anything, he said, are those offered sincerely and voluntarily.

Praying and fasting had become outward signs of respectability for certain professional religious people in Jesus’ day.  These men did not sacrifice anything when they fasted, which they did often.  Oddly enough, fasting was a luxury for them.  And one might recall the parable of Jesus in which two men pray in the Temple.  One is a humble tax collector beseeching God for mercy, and the other is a Pharisee who boasts of his deeds and who has contempt on the tax collector.  Jesus favored the prayer of the tax collector.

As to the matter of vain words, let us not think that simplicity of worship equals sincerity of it.  Anyone can go through the motions, regardless of the number of them.  If you attend a church with a regular pattern of Sunday worship, no matter how simple it might be, you go to a liturgical church.  I attend an Episcopal parish, so I go through a fairly elaborate weekly pattern of worship.  I would use a Prayer Book except for the fact that I have memorized Holy Eucharist Rite II over the years.  My words have been vain only on those days that I, for personal reasons, would have been better off staying home.  My heart has not always been in it.

Consider the following twice-told story:

There was a community worship service in a county seat town in the U.S. South.  The host congregation for this service was the First Baptist Church, and most of the local ministers helped lead the worship.  When the host pastor introduced the local Episcopal priest, who was to say a prayer, the Southern Baptist minister said, “Now Father Jones will say one of his written prayers.”  The priest walked to the pulpit and said, “Let us pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name….”

Sincerity in prayer expresses itself in many ways.  I know through reading that different styles of prayer appeal to various personality types, for example.  So one size does not fit all.  And the South Georgia Baptist cadence I heard while growing up does not appeal to me.  No, give me a Prayer Book any day.  I mean that sincerely.

All of these lessons from Matthew flow naturally out of the end of Chapter 5 and the command of Jesus to be perfect (that is, suited to one’s intended purpose), just as God is.  Think about it:  What does ostentation benefit anyone spiritually?  Can it prepare one for service to God and others?  No, of course not!  So let us be sensitive and sincere.  May we think more about others and God than ourselves.  Sincere and sensitive actions will from such attitudes.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/not-for-the-sake-of-appearances/

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