February 13, 2002 (Ash Wednesday)

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding.

"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure--'playactors' I call them--treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. just do it-quietly and unobtrusively That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.


"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training: inwardly, act normal outwardly Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well.

"Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or--worse!--stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

<The Message >


1. Here we are beginning another Lenten season. For some this will be their first Lent and for others this will be old hat to them.

One tradition is to get people to try to be good. All manner of techniques are used: study, fasting, extra or special prayers, mission/service projects, extra worship. The problem is confusing the try with the actuality.

It may be more helpful to consciously attempt to assist folks to know their present goodness rather than to try an alien goodness. What would that mean in your situation? It might mean all those above mentioned techniques are used but to a different purpose. It may also mean adding in affirmations instead of denials or silence and stillness instead of more words or activity.

2. It is good to concentrate on GOD. The route of doing so through denial raises the question of Jesus being accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. In my denomination we talk a lot about "making disciples." Here we hear about "making saints." Either way the issue of "making" seems out of place.

How do we assist folks to know they are disciples already, the question is of whom are they disciples? Folks are saints already, the question is whether we will continue to live that truth or cover it up with the reality that we are also sinners already.

3. So we come to the nub of the matter, not making a silk purse out of a pigs ear but knowing where the treasure of life is for us. As the day follows the night, we will follow our vision or experience of treasure.

Homepage | Sermon Prep