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A Heart in the Right Place

(Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21)


You’ve probably heard someone remark: “Their heart is in the right place” after observing some sort of selfless act that immeasurably benefitted someone else and the good-hearted person neither expected anything in return nor got it.  And maybe it was said about you when you did something out of the kindness of your heart, and you didn’t realize it was noticed and appreciated by someone who was watching.  This humility comes from a place of outward focus, a place of God-centeredness.  It’s a realization or belief that our acts of kindness are to be performed without fanfare or recognition.  It’s a mark of true humility and a sign that your heart is in the right place.


And that, I believe, is the focus of our coming observance of Lent.  It’s a time for us to look inward at our hearts and to examine whose we are.  Are we truly God’s beloved children and are we in sync with our humble beginnings?  Jesus spent forty days in the desert humbling himself before God in preparation for what lie ahead.  And that makes sense when you consider Jesus knew he was the Messiah, the Chosen One, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace.  Who wouldn’t get a case of the “big head”?  For anyone else it would be near impossible to be humble.


So, Jesus starts out by stating: Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  That can be a tough one because we do want to walk our talk, we do want to do things in our community that glorify God and move people to give thanks to Him that we are who we are.  However, the catch is if we are doing it to bring attention to ourselves to get that recognition, that pat on the back, that “feel good” plaque we can hang on the wall in our den, we are doing it for the wrong reason. And nothing can turn someone from organized religion faster that a self-righteous Christian making a spectacle of him or herself for their own personal edification.  Don’t misunderstand me, Jesus was not prohibiting public prayer in the context of worship, but he was opposed to performances of what we might call private or personal prayers in public places to appear pious.  This is something some politicians are good at when they think the cameras are rolling and they gather up laying hands upon one another for a good old fashioned Christian photo-op.  Praying for the wisdom and discernment to vote the right way on a piece of legislation is one thing but doing it to gain the support of a block of voters is another.


Jesus then goes on to say: Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people.  I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.  Jesus doesn’t mince words here and calls it like he sees it when he uses the term hypocrite to describe people who do good acts for appearances only and not out of compassion or other good motives.  Their actions may be good, but their motives are hollow.  These empty acts will be their only reward.  Jesus points out that when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret and then, your Father who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.  It is easy to give with mixed motives, to do something for someone or a group of people if it will benefit you in return.  But believers should avoid all scheming and public displays and give for the pleasure of giving and as a response to God’s love.  To be sure our motives are not selfish, we should do our good deeds quietly or in secret, with no thought of reward.


Jesus then addresses the practice of fasting, going without food in order to spend time in prayer which, in and of itself, is noble and difficult.   Fasting gives us time to pray, teaches self-discipline, and reminds us that we can live with a lot less, and helps us appreciate God’s gifts.  Now fasting, other than being dietary, is not something we spend much, if any, time doing.  Back during the time of Christ fasting was mandatory for the Jewish people once a year on the Day of Atonement which doesn’t seem all that difficult.  When I was lifting weights and working out, I fasted once a week as a physical cleanse.  And basically, that’s what faith-based fasting is.  It’s a personal cleanse where you focus on prayer, getting your mind right.  The Pharisees however voluntarily fasted twice a week making a very noticeable display of their piety to impress people with their holiness and put on quite a show just so people would notice.  With Jesus, these public displays of prayer and fasting for the sole purpose of being seen by others was the height of hypocrisy.  He says: But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place.  Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.  Your prayers, your conversations with God, are private for a reason.  God wants an honest dialogue without anything else getting in the way.  He wants a sincere and heartfelt conversation with him as your audience.


Jesus then addresses the issue of our pursuit of worldly possessions that we put all of our hope in to make us feel better about ourselves, that we’ve accomplished something.  He says: Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them.  Instead, collect treasurers for yourselves in heaven where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Our intention should be to seek the fulfillment of God’s purposes in all we do, not merely what we do with our money.  He’s calling us to make a decision as to what to do with what we have that allows us to live contentedly with whatever we have because we have chosen eternal values over temporary, earthly treasures.  He’s making it clear that having the wrong treasures leads to our hearts being in the wrong place because what we treasure the most is what controls us whether we want to admit it or not.


And that’s the whole point.  Jesus wants our focus to be on God and what He wants for us and His creation.  And we can only truly do His will and His way if we are humble, subservient, and obedient.  So, for us Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ the forty days of Lent is a time of deep reflection where we humbly submit our will and our lives to God in recognition of the supreme sacrifice made for us on the cross of Calvary.  It is a time for us to get our hearts in the right place.




Let us pray.


Loving and forgiving Father, we come to you in humble prayer to clear our minds of all that distracts us and keeps us from being truly focused on you and what you would have us do in your service.   Guide us by your Spirit throughout these forty days as we seek your will for our lives.  Clear our minds of all that clutters it and distracts us from our true purpose of bringing you honor and glory.  May the acts of love and mercy we perform in public draw attention to your divine nature and omnipotence and not to ourselves.  And when we pray may we pray that your will be done and not ours.  We pray that through our relationship with your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ that our hearts will forever be in the right place.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.