The secret things of the Christian life
Our gospel reading is about secret things
It is about what is going on deep in here, in our heart. It is about what we treasure, what we long for and what we desire
What is it that we really want – more than anything else?
Do we want love, honour, vindication, security, possessions, power, peace, revenge, the gratification of our human desires – whether through sex or food or drink or something more.
Or do we desire intimacy with God in the secret place?
Problem here is that the people who Jesus is speaking said that intimacy with God was their greatest desire, but in reality their desires were set on very human things.
God had become a means to an end. Religion, spirituality had become a means to an end.
They gave in order to gain recognition
They prayed in order to be honoured
They fasted in order to impress others - the others who matter to them.
But, says Jesus, if your desire is for God, for intimacy with your Father in heaven, then we need to go about these things in secret.
Our Father is invisible, unseen, so what we do is unseen.
And we do it in secret so that he who is in secret sees us and meets us in secret.
So we give in secret.
When it comes to giving alms, to giving, then we do it in a way that our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing.
Automatically. Not really thinking about it.
When I drive, I am not really sure what my right foot and my left foot are doing – they just do it automatically:
And we are called to give without thinking: One of the great things about giving by standing order is that you can give without really thinking about it. It just happens. Or maybe here, where that is not possible, the money comes in and you immediately take out the proportion you want to give and you put it on one side for your giving. And you don’t really even think about it.
And we give in a way that is secret, so that we do not draw attention to ourselves. Maybe there is someone asking for money in the street, and for some reason you are prompted to give to them. Walk past them, take the money out and then walk back and drop it into their cup – almost unseen
We give – certainly not expecting to get anything back: recognition, thank you, memorial.
We give because we want to give,
we give from a sense of duty,
because we know that all we have comes from God (we are taking from Gods right hand and putting it back into his left),
because we want to be free from the love of money,
because we want to become like God who is so generous and
because we seek to live in dependence on God.
Think of the widow in temple who gave her last coin. She did it in secret. Nobody noticed her – apart from Jesus, and apart from God his Father.
And even if you do give everything – don’t get puffed up. Even when you are hanging in naked on a cross, having freely given your life in love for other people, you are only giving back to God that which God has given to you.
We pray in secret.
There is a place for public prayer. Jesus went to the synagogue.
There is duty and encouragement in public prayer: others encourage us and we encourage others. And we are in this together, part of each other in Christ.
But the real business is done when we are on our own.
Shut the door. To put all distractions outside (mobile phone - airplane mode or abandon altogether). Story of Suzanna Wesley, John and Charles Wesley’s mother.
We also shut the door because something intimate is taking place – I remember going past the door of one of my friends in theological college when he was praying. He did not realise his door was open, and he was pouring out his soul to God.
And we shut the door so that we do this in secret.
And we fast in secret.
Fasting – for some, fasting is about following rules of church. Learning to submit our will.
Fasting - because we are too churned up and cannot eat. Our longings and hopes are too much, to overwhelming. Like being in love, or sick with fear.
Fasting - to make ourselves vulnerable. We do not fast to make ourselves spiritual supermen and women. When we fast we become weaker, some of the muck comes to the surface, and we realise our need for and dependence on God.
Fasting - to remind us of the day when we will be set free from physical desires
Fasting - to give ourselves time to be with God
Notice that we do not fast to twist God’s hands and make him do something for us.
We do not fast or pray in order to get on in the world.
So we give, we pray, we fast in secret – because we are doing this not for ourselves, not for others, but for God.
I heard of two singers, both well known. Both said that they prayed before they went on stage. But that was where the similarity ended.
One prayed, ‘God make them love me’. The other prayed, ‘God be honoured in all that I do this evening’.
We do it this way because it is about intimacy with God.
The story is told of a bishop and a monk. They both died.
The funeral for the bishop was huge. He was honoured by many people for his wisdom, his good deeds, his generousity, his fame
The funeral for the monk – who had devoted his life to prayer for the last 40 or so years – was attended by only a handful of other monks, by those who lived in his small community.
An angel, looking on, said to God that this was not right. Why was one so honoured and yet the one who had done the eternal work was so neglected?
God said, ‘The first has already received his reward. But for the second: even now the angels have lined up to greet him, and the Lord Jesus Christ is now embracing him in welcome’.