A sermon on Matthew 6:1-6 by the Revd Dr Paul Sheppy
(Our church is departing from the Revised Common Lectionary for one year to hear mostly readings that are not included in it)
Tonight we were privileged to have as our visiting preacher, live from Oxford in the UK, the Revd Dr Paul Sheppy. Paul is and has been many things – liturgical scholar, county cricket umpire, advanced sports car driving instructor, luthier, musician, poet and hymn writer – but above all a wonderful pastor and preacher. There is no written version of the sermon available, but you can listen to the audio or watch the video, and Paul’s brief notes are below.
It is also possible to watch the video on the whole service here, including the sermon.
“Beware of practising 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.
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.
- ‘piety’ is dikaiosunē – usually translated ‘righteousness.’ This passage is about doing the right thing and putting things right! It’s how chapter 6 ends: Seek first the kingdom of God and [his/its] righteousness, and the other things [you need] will be added for you.
- In times when we are still restricted in the way we can move about in public, the call to avoid self-publicity is somewhat strained for us. “If only…” we think.
- Doing right without making a fuss? Sometimes, we must make a fuss: Black lives matter! But in our daily living we take care to ensure that things are right between ourselves and our neighbours, between ourselves and those in need, between ourselves and those who despise us.
- Modesty rather than drawing attention to ourselves – think of Little Jack Horner: “what a good boy am I”
- Hypocrites: Greek actors – people pretending to be someone they are not
- Remember how Jesus uses laughter. Is the purpose simply to ridicule or to take some of the sting out of the criticism?
- It is unlikely that anybody actually hired a brass band to draw attention to their donations to needy causes – although we can probably think of publicity seekers who might think that they’ve missed an opportunity…
- And I have heard pianists who didn’t let their left hand know what their right hand was doing…
- Throughout the gospels we pick up reminders that the God is at work secretly. The seed grows secretly, the wind blows as it will. Nicodemus comes by night (“the teacher in Israel” is how he is described).
- More people meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus than on the road to Damascus.
- Doing the right thing may go unnoticed, but it does not go fruitless – even if the harvest doesn’t fall into our laps.
- When we are forced to live privately, we have the opportunity to do right
- There is an old Roman saying “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” We reply: Let righteous be done, that the kingdom of heaven may come on earth in our day.
- Know this, the one in the heavens knows our tribulation and will keep us in the right way if we will trust to do right without fuss and without favour.
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve thee as thou deservest;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not for seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward
save that of knowing that we do thy will.