This past week, Elder Terry Huberts and I attended a classis meeting on the mainland. (For those that don’t know, our Church is connected with other CRC churches in B.C.. And twice a year, representatives from each church gather for a meeting. That meeting is called a classis meeting. And that group is our classis.)
It was a fairly uneventful meeting this year. But we did share a neat moment together. On Wednesday, we took some time to honour our clerk.
Andy DeRuiter served us as clerk for 10 years. But on Wednesday, he retired from his post. A few pastors stood up and thanked him. And classis gave him a gift.
It was a special moment. We laughed together. We reminisced. And after the final thank you was said, we all gave Andy a standing applause.
I love special moments like that. It always strikes me that we are walking out onto holy ground when we are taking time to honour people in that way.
To be seen, and to be honoured, it touches something deep in us. Our existence calls out for affirmation. Kids clammer for the attention of their parents. “Watch me, Daddy” the say. “Watch me run. Watch me swim”
We eventually stop clamouring for our Father’s attention. But do we ever really stop desiring it? I mean, how many adults are racing their way through life, unconsciously hoping to secure the love of their father?
The drive to be noticed by our parents and peers is not all bad. We are, after all, notable creatures. The scriptures say that God has crowned us with glory and honour. Every human deserves to be treated as such.
But, while that natural need for approval is creational, it has also been skewed by the reality of sin in the world.
We learn early that it feels good to be praised and it feels bad to be belittled. And, motivated by fear, we spend much the rest of our lives trying to secure praise, and avoid belittlement.
In a word, the fall has made us insecure. Its made us desperate for the approval of others.
In his book, “The Righteous Mind” Jonathan Haidt argues that once humans have secured their most basic needs, they begin to strive for status. Once we’ve secured food, clothing, and shelter, our next major concern is to work our way up the ladder.
And we tend to compete for status in the realms that are important to us, with the people that we compare ourselves to.
As a pastor, I compete for status with other pastors. When one of you tells me that my preaching is way better than the last preacher… man, that feels good. Give me some more of that status juice. But when I talk with another pastor at a pastor’s conference, and he tells me that his church has doubled in size in the last 10 years, then I feel like a failure.
We all play these games in the areas of life that matter to us. But we also play them when we get together as members of the body of Christ.
In our culture, people compete for status by trying to secure higher paying jobs and a nicer home. But, in the Church we compete for status by trying to out-Christian each other with “Acts of righteousness.” We’ll put on a show if we have to. Raise our hands at the right time. Spend hours crafting perfectly manicured public prayers. Leave our charitable giving receipts in strategic locations.
But Jesus isn’t interested in show. Good actions are no longer good if they are done simply to impress our peers.
Be careful, says Jesus, not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1
Jesus lays out three different acts of righteousness in chapter 6. Giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. This is not an exhaustive list of “acts of righteousness” but these are central practices in the Christian life. Christians pray, Christians give, Christians deny themselves to become full with God. And Jesus’ assumption is that his disciples will engage in all three practices. He doesn’t say: “If you give, or if you fast.” He says “when you give and when you fast.”
But Jesus’ concern in this part of the sermon on the mount is not the practices themselves. He’s interested in how we engage these practices. He wants us to stop performing for our peers and to start living for God.
When you give, says Jesus, don’t be like the hypocrites, who announce their giving with trumpets.…
Trumpets! Its a funny picture. Trumpets are loud. Trumpets grab your attention. Imagine if, during our offering today, you had a trumpeter come in and toot their horn when it was your turn to give. Toot! Toot! Cha-ching.
This is a stunt, designed to secure the applause of your fellow Christians.
Most of us don’t play the trumpet, but we all have little ways to let people know what we’re doing with our money. And we feel pretty good when others find out how much we’re giving. Or we feel pretty embarrassed, when others find out how little we give.
But when you give, says Jesus, don’t be like the hypocrites, who announce their giving with trumpets.…
And when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites. They contort their faces. They make it obvious to everyone that they’re fasting. “Ah, I’m so hungry,” they say. “I’ve been fasting for like days. Just working on my relationship with God. What are you working on?”
Hypocrite is the common word in both examples. The Greek word behind hypocrite is hypokrites. And my greek dictionary tells me that a Hypokrites is an actor, a stage performer. Someone involved in theatre. Of course, being a Hypokrites is a good thing, when you’re actually acting in a play.
But real life is not a play. And God is not interested in our acts of theatrical righteousness.
My mentor, Jim, grew up in a Southern Baptist church. His father was verbally and physically abusive at home. But every Sunday morning, Jim’s dad put on his best Sunday clothes, and he sent the best representative of himself to church.
He gave; he knew what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Everyone applauded. But backstage, Jim’s dad was a troubled man.
This is an extreme example. But it makes the point. How many of us send the best representative of ourselves to Church? How many of us, on occasional, use devotional practices to try to win the applause of our peers.
But Jesus knows the heart. And our Father sees the motives that move us.
How do we fight against hypokrites? How do we become righteous deep down in our heart.
Jesus proposes radical action. He calls us to fight off vanity with secrecy.
“When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
By this Jesus means, be the opposite of self-conscious. Give the money, and then forget about it. Don’t let others know what your right hand has done, and don’t even keep a record or it within your own memory bank.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a problem with being show-y in my giving. I blast no trumpets. But I do keep a mental record. And every now and then I pull out that mental record, do some calculations and think to myself: “I’m a pretty generous person.” And if anyone were ever questions my devotion to God, I could pull these numbers out in a hurry.
But Jesus doesn’t want us hold onto these numbers.
Just let it go. Keep no physical or mental record. Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand in doing.
And “when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen;” (Matthew 6:17-18)
Fasting is not about winning the approval of your Christian peers. Its about drawing closer to and living in dependence on God. So, wash your face and do your hair. Try to keep the fact that you are fasting under wraps.
When Jesus fasted, he did so in the privacy of the wilderness.
Secrecy fights vanity. I wonder who you are when no one is watching?
Jesus doesn’t want theatre. He wants us to live simply and authentically before the face of God.
Acts of righteousness, were’t given to us to help us to secure status in the community of faith. They were given to drive us into a deeper relationship with our Father in heaven, and to aid our Kingdom witness in the world.
The reward for flashy faith is the applause of others. Flashy faith reaps the dividend of earthly recognition. And that feels good. But flashy faith will be of no saving good on the day you go to meet with your Lord. For he sees who you are in secret.
The alternative to flashy faith, is authentic, quiet faith. These people often forgo praise on earth. But they live in the joy of knowing that their secret acts of righteousness are seen and applauded by their Father in heaven. And they will be invited to the awards banquet of heaven and earth.
Its not as though salvation comes to them because of their quiet acts of righteousness. No one is saved through works. Rather, the fact that they have their eye on the Father and not their peers is a sign that their heart has been captivated by the living God.
There’s no need to settle for the fickle applause of the crowds, when you finally come to grips with the reality that the creator and redeemer of your soul is smiling upon you.
God is the true audience. And he delights to invite us into his drama of salvation. In fact, he wrote his son into the score, and sent his Spirit onto the stage to unite us with his son, and the mission of the son. Through faith, we get to be participants in what God is doing in the world.
Why settle for the applause of your peers, when you can experience the applause of God.
One of the best parts about being the dad of a 6 month old, is that my smile makes my daughter smile. When we lock eyes, its nothing but smiles. And in that moment its like no one else exists in the world. One day Abigail is going to start looking elsewhere for smiles. But I hope that my smile remains the orienting smile in her life. And more so, I hope she comes to discover the joy of living out her faith before the smile of her Father in heaven.
If you make the applause of your peers you goal, you will live an anxious insecure life, and you will miss out on life with God. But if you make it your aim to live your life quietly, before the face of God, you will find a lasting security, and the affirmation your being so desperately craves.
Brittney shared a story with me this week. And she said that I could share it with you. I’d like to finish with this.
When Brittney was in seminary, she had a professor that she longed to please. Dr. Hamman was his name. She tried to impress him in any way that she could. She worked overtime on his assignments. She tried to sound smart when she raised her hand in his class. Pretty soon Brittney realized that she had developed an unhealthy way of being in relation to this man.
So she shared all this with her spiritual director. Sharon was her name. Sharon helped Brittney see that she was performing for the wrong person. And she, graciously invited Brittney to repent of her sin and receive God’s forgiveness. Brittney did.
And then Sharon told Brittney a story.
The week before, Sharon was worshipping at her church. During the children’s message, all of the children were gathered around the presenter. Everyone was focussed on the teacher. All but one. Of to the side there was a little girl who was looking out over the audience. She was looking at her dad. She waved at him. She smiled at him. He waved and smiled back.
There was a lot of people in church that Sunday, but these two were sharing a special moment together. The daughter deriving joy and sense of worth from her Father, and the Father, simply delighting in the presence of his daughter on the stage.
And I know that this isn’t a perfect example. But in a big way, that’s the way it is.
The Father applauds your simple act of righteousness. He is giddy with excitement as he sees you taking quiet steps of faith. You are seen by him. Live your life out as if he’s the only one watching.
Oh the reward of being found in him, and oh the joy of hearing his voice say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”