Seeking and Sharing the Fullness of Life

Doing the right thing: a modest entry to the kingdom

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.

Notes

Matthew 6.1-6
“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.

  1. ‘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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Modesty rather than drawing attention to ourselves – think of Little Jack Horner: “what a good boy am I”
  5. Hypocrites: Greek actors – people pretending to be someone they are not
  6. Remember how Jesus uses laughter. Is the purpose simply to ridicule or to take some of the sting out of the criticism?
  7. 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…
  8. And I have heard pianists who didn’t let their left hand know what their right hand was doing…
  9. 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).
  10. More people meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus than on the road to Damascus.
  11. Doing the right thing may go unnoticed, but it does not go fruitless – even if the harvest doesn’t fall into our laps.
  12. When we are forced to live privately, we have the opportunity to do right
  13. 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.
  14. 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.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you Paul. It was very powerful how you were able to draw such clear connections between these words from Jesus and two major current realities: the pandemic lockdown and the Black Lives Matter protests. Yes, sometimes keeping quiet behind closed doors is complicity with evil, but other times it the necessary humility that keeps us able to keep doing right. Thank you for helping us to grasp the difference.

  2. Have just re listened to last nights message and found some very powerful images for me to continue thinking about over coming days .
    Many thanks Paul.

  3. I’m interested in this idea of doing the right thing without fuss. Our charities and advocacy organisations want us to do the right thing and publicise it as widely as possible to encourage others to follow suit. And if the right thing is unpopular, it can be encouraging to know you are not the only one. But I guess it is important to be very aware of our motivations. Are we ‘virtue signalling’? When do we make our right contribution very obvious, and when do we actually want to do it on the quiet? These are good questions to ask. (I’m also looking forward to calling my actor friend ‘a very good hypocrite’ with a look of innocence on my face.) Thanks Paul!

    • I think we need to draw the distinction between issues and people – I did not develop this properly in the sermon.
      When righteous action (doing right) is tackling systemic issues – racial, gender and age discrimination or the massive injustice of wealth distribution, we may need to take a higher profile.
      When we are dealing with individuals, we need to be quieter.
      Does this help?

  4. I have just listen again to your word to us from Sunday – you charted a straight talking, uncomplicated course which is clear to see and called us to follow. For some reason the story of Mimosa by Amy Carmichael came to mind – an Indian woman who was told once that there was a God that loved her – nothing more – who lived 30 years of her life with no more knowledge then that – but every day entered her back room – closed her door and there opened her sari to the God that loved her – for me a powerful image. Thank you also for reminding of the prayer learnt long ago in England. Sylvia

    • The Amy Carmichael story is very good. I learned about prayer from my mother’s Anglo-Catholic parish priest. He had served in Australia for several years, was head of the Bush Brotherhood and later was Archdeacon of Northern Queensland. He was described by an Australian friend as being “as English as marmalade”.
      He spent 14 years repeating for an hour each day the single syllable “God” as he meditated on the text “Be still and know that I am God”. Along with Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (whom Robert Gribben mentioned in his excellent sermon), Peter Mayhew was one the saints I met in London.

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