February 25, 2004
Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

[1] "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.

[2-4] "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.

[5] "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?

[6] "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.

- - - - - -

[16-18] "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.

[19-21] "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. We often talk about Lenten disciplines in personal terms. What is the best way to avoid showing off with your charitable acts? Why congregational giving. As long as an individual is in charge of their giving there is going to be bias in how it is used and how much is used in what way. What a difference when all have given away what they have control over and as economic equals simply give away their accumulated goodies to any who are in need (Acts 2:43) This process insulates one not only from biased giving (left hands influencing right hands) but also from biased thinking. Try living below the poverty line because you have relinquished control of your giving.

2. Likewise is it with prayer. An antidote to feeling good about the beauty and effectiveness of one's prayers is participating in some form of common prayer. Think about the way in which our Korean sisters and brothers practice Tongsung Kido (Pray Aloud),

The United Methodist Book of Worship, 1992, puts it this way: "In Korean congregations, among others, Tongsung Kido is popular is popular and an important part of prayer life. Usually the congregation is given a specific time period, with a common theme of petition or supplications. Then all pray aloud at the same time. The voices of others will not bother them when they concentrate on their own earnest prayers, longing for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit."

3. Having warned about not stepping out of the ordinary while fasting, it is appropriately noted that investing in the ordinary is storing up treasure in the wrong place. We fast to end up where we want to be but we daren't act too strongly on that or we'll win the fast and lose the finish. We avoid looking like we are fasting and end up captured by the economic and cultural system of the day.

Here is a real case of left hands and right hands. How do you avoid playing one of these concern off against the other? Perhaps we need the gift of community to let us know when we have gone too far in one direction of the other. The corrective function of community is important in individual lives.