Sunday, June 14, 2020
When I was in college, I rented a house with two other guys in a nice neighborhood because of the generosity of a woman at the church we attended. The front yard had become pretty weed-infested, so in the Spring and Summer the weeds would grow, and our front yard would soon look more and more dissimilar to the rest of the houses in the neighborhood. When we did manage to mow it, we fit in with the rest of the neighborhood – but only for a few days and then it became apparent that we weren’t as diligent about the long-term care of our lawn as our neighbors were.
That picture that I’ve just described is an accurate metaphor for the SOTM.
Sometimes we are content to deal with surface issues rather than dealing with the root causes of issues. We can tend to cut off the weeds at the surface instead of going after the roots.
For instance, as this concept relates to conflict resolution, perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “The presenting issue is rarely the real issue”? This means we tend to deal with surface issues instead of root issues. When we cut the weeds off at the surface it only strengthens the root.
This is also what we’ve been seeing on the news in the last couple of weeks. We’ve seen protests and calls for our country to revisit the underlying causes of systemic racism. I shared last week that I have needed to come to terms with my own racism by virtue of growing up in the context of institutional racism and white privilege — both IN me and ON me – as well as my own insensitivities. It took me about 30-years for this to even begin to dawn on me. [Let’s not take the bait of political tribalism…forums]
The scribes and Pharisees were content to deal with outward appearances instead of dealing with heart issues. What Jesus is doing here in the SOTM is He’s seeking to deal with issues systemically, saying that the Law is not just about outward (or surface) issues but issues related to the heart – related to motive.
Today, we are entering a new chapter, a new unit/section on the SOTM, so this would be a great time just to review where we’ve been so far. An important goal for today is to locate ourselves in the SOTM. We need to address our passage, yet we also need to stay connected with the wider context.
Chapter 5 had three major sections.
The first section was the Beatitudes which deals with the character of a Christian. Another way to think about the Beatitudes is that Jesus is casting a vision for what the vital Christian life looks like.
There’s an emptying and then a filling with the first four Beatitudes describing what amounts to our conversion experience (Justification)…
- Poor in spirit…The essential admission that we have come to the end of ourselves and we don’t have the resources to save ourselves.
- Those who mourn…As we are honest about our sinful condition there will be grief, or repentance, over our condition as well as for the injustice that grips our world.
- The meek…Grieving over sin and suffering develops in us in a humble learning posture (disciple means learner).
- Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…This reflects the desire to know, to love, and to serve God. It is our response of gratitude and worship for awakening our hearts to the grace of God.
- We receive and then give away mercy
- Mercy cleanses our hearts and restores purity.
- Purity gives way to serenity and a true and joyful peace, which empowers us to become peacemakers.
- Persecuted…Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it.
The third section of chap 5 is found in vs. 17-48 and deals with our relationship to the Law.
Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial and civil law and we are, therefore, freed from their constraints. Yet God’s moral law is still in effect.
What is God’s moral law? Jesus sums it up in Matt 22:37-40: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Chapter 5 concludes (v. 48) with the admonition for us to be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect.
That sounds pretty impossible, right? What’s Jesus saying here? This verse is a summarizing conclusion of the whole of chap 5. The idea behind the word (teleios) is wholeness or integrity. God desires the internal to match the external.
A better translation might be: “Therefore, you shall be integrous as your heavenly Father is integrous.”
It’s not talking about moral perfection but a wholehearted (re-) orientation, of our lives from the inside out – that is, systemically.
Now as we begin chapter 6, this next section (vs. 1-18) deals with how we are to “practice our righteousness”
Or, how we are to worship…
- Generosity (almsgiving) is an act of worship
- Prayer is an act of worship
- Forgiveness is an act of worship
- Fasting is an act of worship
Having said that, notice that none of these involve singing or listening to sermons. It’s not that singing, and sermons are NOT worship, it’s saying that our (personal) worship is to include generosity, prayer, forgiveness, and fasting.
Theologians have several terms for these worship practices: the most common is “spiritual disciplines,” or “spiritual practices.”
Another term is “means of grace.”
Contemporary theologian NT Wright refers to these practices as “covenant behaviors.”
What we will see in the coming weeks is that what these “acts of righteousness” invite us into is finding a consistent rhythm for us, as Lloyd-Jones says, “to nurture the soul, our piety, [and] our worship.”
19-34 are again visionary – they refer to the fruit of practicing our righteousness, which is freedom from anxiety.
All of chapter six can be summed up in seven words: “Put God first in everything you do.”
That might be the longest introduction in sermon history! Fortunately, the verses we want to cover today are very straightforward.
We’ve already looked at v. 1, so let’s review vs.2-4…
“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” –Matthew 6:2-4
I do hope you see that these verses are VERY straightforward in instructing us that an essential part of our personal (and corporate) worship is generosity toward the poor (almsgiving).
A distinction that I’ve made over the years is to seek to distinguish between the “poor by choice” and the “oppressed poor.” The “poor by choice” is an obvious delineation. Yet when we speak of the “oppressed poor,” perhaps some of us might disagree about the depths or degree of “systemic oppression of the poor” in this country – and around the world??
I’d like us to look at what Tim Keller says in his book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just: “The causes of poverty put forth in the Bible are remarkably balanced…One factor is oppression, which includes a judicial system weighted in favor of the powerful (Leviticus 19:15), or loans with excessive interest (Exodus 22:25-27), or unjustly low wages (Jeremiah 22:13; James 5:1-6). Ultimately, however, the prophets blame the rich when extremes of wealth and poverty in society appear (Amos 5:11-12; Ezekiel 22:29; Micah 2:2; Isaiah 5:8)…A great deal of the Mosaic legislation was designed to keep the ordinary disparities between the wealthy and the poor from becoming aggravated and extreme. Therefore, whenever great disparities arose, the prophets assumed that to some degree it was the result of selfish individualism rather than concern with the common good.”
Topics like the depths of systemic racism and the oppressed poor are worthy of our ongoing prayerful, thoughtful, and humble dialogue. And I certainly hope we can do a lot more than just dialogue – I want us to get out there and come alongside to serve, listen, and love.
And I am grateful for our ongoing ministry to Haiti and Liberia.
I’d like to move us toward a conclusion with four overlapping qualities of a generous life with some practical ideas of how we can cultivate a generous heart:
Live a Simple Life. Generous people look to simplify their lifestyles. I think Warren Buffet is a beautiful example of this… Worth about $76b, he lives quite simply and quite generously in Omaha NE. Perhaps we can all consider areas that we can scale back in a bit. And this is a great opportunity to involve the kidlies. (Kurt Warner)
Live Like Everything is God’s (because it is ). Live like nothing is ours. Our houses, cars, our RV’s, our boats, clothes, and digital devices are not ours. It’s only by God’s grace that we have what we have. We are simply stewards (or managers) of whatever God has graced us with. Maybe you’ve heard this, but the REAL question is not, “How much should I give?” but “How much should I keep?”
Live with an Open Heart. There are over 2,100 verses in the Bible that talk about God’s heart for the poor. Living with open hearts simply means that we develop and cultivate a heart that is open to God’s direction. Let’s let the gospel sink deeply into our hearts so we have a heart like God’s and not like the worlds.
Live with Open Hands. Living with open hands means that we have a loose grip on our earthly goods.
I’d like to close today with a cautionary warning…
With God pulling back the curtain in areas like systemic racism and care for the oppressed poor—and with all of our own emotions that have surfaced in the last four months—there may be a temptation for some to place social justice at the center of our agenda. This would be a mistake.
I’ve seen many churches make this mistake. I’m thinking of the historic Mainline Churches and what we might label as the Emergent Church; but social justice is not the goal, it’s the fruit. What’s the goal?
Here’s how Jesus framed it in Luke 4:18-19…
As a church, we must make the commitment to keep the gospel at the center of all we do. It’s not about what we DO, it’s about what Christ has DONE.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon ME,
Because HE anointed ME to preach the gospel to the poor.
HE has sent ME to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
TO set free those who are oppressed,
TO proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Here is the illustration that I often use… Think of a wagon wheel with a hub and spokes. What a church places in or at the hub will determine its destiny. We must see Jesus and the gospel as the hub – with social justice as an essential spoke.
So, what have we seen today? Humankind tends to look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.
 Jonathan Pennington, The SOTM and Human Flourishing, Baker Academic 2017: 203.
 Pennington: 204.
 For Everyone Commentary.
 Studies in the SOTM, Book 2, pg. 9.
 Chapter 2.