The 40 days leading up to Easter have historically been a special time to focus on our relationship to God. In some traditions, people "give things" up. In other traditions, folks are encouraged to add special times of prayer and refleciton. At BG Presbyterian, Lent will be filled a variety of activities for worship, study and reflection. In addition to the activities listed below, we will be reading together through the Gospel of Matthew. Each day, a reading and reflection will be posted here. We will archive all the reflections on the Pastors' Page.
Today's scripture and reflection are below.
LENT BOOK STUDY - In Lent, we’ll hold classes on the Bill O’Reilly’s best seller Killing Jesus: A History. This is a contemporary look at the events and impact of the end of the life of Jesus. The well-known politics of Mr. O’Reilly will not be under discussion, but he has proven his skill as a thought-provoking author. Please call the office to sign up and to discuss how to secure books. Classes will be held after the worship service on March 9, 23, 30, April 6 and 13.
LENT LUNCHES - The Bowling Green Ministerial Assn. will again sponsor Lent Lunches this year, to be held at Trinity United Methodist Church (across from the Court House) on Wednesdays from noon – 1:00 pm. Lunches will be simple but adequate – hearty soups and salad, prepared by a different church each week. Our turn comes on the opening meeting, March 12. Call the office if you’d like to prepare food or help serve. Our own Dr. Bob Vincent will be the speaker on that day.
The theme is "God and the Human Landscape" and the BGMA is scheduling speakers (not clergy!) from the BG community to offer 20 minute thoughts on six different topics.
LENTEN READING AND REFLECTION -
Day 7 - Matthew 6:1-34 (Wednesday, March 12)
6 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (some manuscripts add “openly”)
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (some manuscripts add “openly”)
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that 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 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The Sound Eye
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Serving Two Masters
24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (mammon)
Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
In these verses of instruction, Jesus covers topics that his listeners would have recognized as the three pillars of the righteous or holy life - prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. In speaking of these behaviors, Jesus cautions his hearers to perform their acts of piety “in secret.” This may strike us oddly, having just read in the 5th chapter that we are to be “salt and light” proclaiming a message to the whole world. We can make sense out of this when we examine this passage as a whole and see that basically Jesus is talking about the motivation for our actions. If we do them so that others may see us, then we are seeking (and receiving) our reward from them. But if we are doing them solely for God (in secret) then it is God who will give us our “reward” - it is our relationship with God that will be enhanced. By performing such actions publicly so that others may see us and be impressed, we are neither honoring nor pleasing God.
We are still left with a bit of a problem here, as in other places, specifically Matthew 5:17. It seems Jesus is telling us to perform our good works openly - to let our light shine - precisely so that others may see them and glorify God. By focusing on the MOTIVATION for doing what we do, we are also determining our desired reward - do we want to please God, or do we want to please others? In either case, we will receive the “reward” we desire - and that reward only.
The statement about serving two masters sums it all up nicely - who are you trying to please? You have to choose.
We should also like to note here that the use of the term “reward” may cause us to jump to some “works righteousness” conclusions - thinking we can earn our way into heaven by doing the right things. Again, by focusing on the RELATIONSHIP we have with God, we can cast this idea in terms of wishing to please and honor the God who has already reached out to us and claimed us.
William Barclay tells a lovely story which illustrates the “rewards” we might expect to receive from a holy life. The poet George Herbert was a member of a little group of friends who used to meet to play their musical instruments. Once he was on his way to meet with this group, when he came upon a man who cart was stuck in the mud in a ditch. George Herbert laid aside his instrument and went out to help the man. By the time he arrived at his friend's house, much time had passed. His friend said, “You have missed the music!” Herbert replied, “Yes, but I will have songs at midnight.”
As we seek to honor God through our actions, may we be blessed with “songs at midnight” and the satisfaction of knowing that our lives are pleasing in God’s sight.
What follows is one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, in which Jesus tells his listeners that they have no need to worry about material or earthly things. Rather than being an instruction against planning ahead, these verses make the point that even while we are involved in our planning - our reaping and sowing and all the activities of our daily lives - we do so with the understanding that these things are not of ultimate importance. It is God and our relationship with God that is truly important. Jesus also makes the point that worrying never accomplishes anything anyway, so it is better for people of faith to put their trust in God - each day will bring with it new challenges and troubles, but we put our trust in a God who loves us and who will be with us no matter what.
Day 6 Matthew 5:20-48 - Monday, March 10
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
We are in the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, the great collection of Jesus’ core teachings. As noted before, the location and setting of this underline the importance of these lessons. They roam all over the place, which makes it tough for us preachers. Each verse is challenging in one way or another, and there are some that are as hard for us as they must have been for Matthew’s audience.
So let’s try to take a step back and look at this whole section together. I’m immediately struck that almost every example is a matter of relationships, not personal morality (except perhaps the swearing sections). Remember, Jesus was primarily preaching to people who had been taught that religion was a matter of purity. One stayed right before God by eating, drinking, working, worshipping, marrying etc. in pure ways, therefore pleasing God. This was a core idea of Judaism as it unfolded through the Old Testament.
There is plenty of carryover of this line of thinking yet today in Christian churches. I remember the old line from some Methodist friends back in the day: “We don’t smoke and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with the girls who do.”
Jesus focuses on none of this, which must have been startling. Remember, he is opening up the heart of God. What matters to God in our lives? The answer, in about 20 rapid-fire examples, is that how we treat one another is what matters to God. And maybe the section on swearing is just including “how we treat God” into the same framework.
These are challenging verses, but we are not to be discouraged. In yesterday’s reading Jesus called us “salt” and “light”. We have, built into us, the very nature of God’s children. WE CAN DO THIS…at least some of it, some of the time. Take another look – aren’t there some of Jesus’ teaching points that you’ve fulfilled in the past? Don’t other people come to mind who have just been amazing in how they have treated others?
The Sermon on the Mount is meant to uplift, not to beat down. So let’s all find some piece that we can live out today. We aren’t perfect, and neither were the disciples who got to hear this face to face. But we have the right stuff inside us to treat one another extraordinarily and sacrificially well. Jesus says, “That’s plenty. Take your best crack at it, as we walk through life together.”