The Rev’d Roger Elks
Click here for the text of the reflection
Hello, no one likes a show off, do they? Do you know the story of the rather brash, shall we say, American, (why not?) Farmer who was wandering around Devon and came across an old farmer standing by his farm gate and he said, “Gee, fella, is this your farm?” He said, “Yes”. He said, “Well, how big is your farm?” He said, “Well”, he said, “you can just drive up that road there up to the hill, go on the top there and come back down that lane and your back here. That is my farm”. And the American said, “Gee, that’s a small farm. Back in America, you get in my car and you drive all day and you’re only halfway across the farm.” And the old farmer looked at him and said, “Well”, he said, “I used to have a car like that”.
Well, it’s nice to see someone who’s showing off being put down a bit, isn’t it? Jesus put down the Pharisees for showing off. Our reading is from Matthew, Chapter six, and let’s see if we can read it out.
Matthew 6. (NIV)
‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
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 honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
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. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 ‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
but deliver us from the evil one.[b]”
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
16 ‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
I suppose when I’m preaching to a British audience, this is a passage that rings true to our hearts, isn’t it? We certainly don’t want to exhibit our faith very loudly. Faith is a very personal thing, and one of the problems with being British is that, whilst we find faith to be private, we find it so private that we have no words, no vocabulary to talk about it with others. We find, and certainly if you’re like me, you find demonstrative, very demonstrative faith rather difficult to deal with – like preachers on the street corners. I somehow find nothing to resonate with as they proclaim their faith rather loudly.
Yet when you look at the message that we believe, the resurrection of the dead, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life; when we look at the restoration of the human condition that that love of God brings, we have this radical counter-cultural message which, when put into practice, shouts to the world around us that is often in great conflict with it. And it’s a challenge to be quiet about it when we are asked to. It’s a challenge not to do the right thing and it is a challenge to others when we do do what our faith calls us to do because they see it. And that is a challenge to them. It’s a challenge not to say the things that God calls us to say, to speak out against injustice and other things. It’s not always possible, is it, to hide our Christian faith as much as we would like to be able to do that? So we are called, aren’t we, to do good works, we are called to do the good works that God’s prepared for us to walk in.
Peter writes 1 Peter 3v15. “But in your heart, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.”
So, yes, do the good works. Give alms to the poor. Be sure. Be a loud Christian, in your faith, not necessarily in your words. Don’t be ashamed of what you believe and stand by it. Someone is bound to ask you why you say and do that. What words will you say in response? Not to initiate, but to respond to the questions they ask about how we live our lives and that hope that we have within us? What will you say?
Well, if you find that a challenge, I’d love to help you. And maybe we’ll run a little course one day just to help us have some words to say, to help us verbalize our faith. That’ll be one day soon, I hope.
The Collect for this week.
Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth, send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for your only son, Jesus Christ sake, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.