• Introduction: A long-time, successful Hollywood actor, Sean Penn[1], was quoted last Friday from a social media posting I repeat here: "Evangelical leaders should themselves be impeached by the Vatican if they themselves don't follow Nikki Haley's lead & clearly state they should not have followed Satin (sic) into the bowels of hell.  But, perhaps they are too busy at sex parties."
    • Others from the religion of secular humanism have voiced equally outrageous and polarizing thoughts.  Climate czar John Kerry was asked by a reporter, "I understand that you came here with a private jet. Is that an environmental way to travel?[2]"  John Kerry’s response, "If you offset your carbon -- it's the only choice for somebody like me who is traveling the world to win this battle."
    • I’m personally offended by Sean Penn’s outrageous statements linking evangelical support for former President Trump with church leaders who have fallen to temptations.  I don’t know what these two have to do with each other.  However, Sean has a point in that it really hurts the mission of the Holy Christian Church on earth when there are high profile scandals of hypocrisy within a church body’s leadership. 
    • I’d like for you to take stock on the thoughts and emotions you are experiencing right now regarding these two examples I’ve provided.  Think about whether those same thoughts and emotions you have after hearing these statements could be directed toward you or me when someone from outside of the Communion of Saints hears us making very uninformed statements or sees us doing something very hypocritical with respect to what we say we believe.
  • Let Us Pray: Lord Jesus, You came into our same flesh to redeem us from the otherwise certain eternal death.  Send the Holy Spirit to work in us this Lenten season to reflect on our sinfulness and see how that affects our ministry to others who are not a part of your flock.  We need the Holy Spirit to work in us true repentance, so that all our actions in Christian piety somehow bring glory to You.  We entrust this petition to You, Lord Jesus, who reigns with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: I think you’d agree the two examples I have provided in the  introduction to this message can really evoke virulent emotional responses from people who are of both the same and different world views. The more set in your mind you are about right and wrong based upon a set of beliefs will determine the intensity of the emotional response.
    • As I mentioned in the introduction to this message, I was really offended by Sean Penn’s ill-informed commentary on the Christian church.  I suspect a lot of people are indignant about what he posted on social media.  I, as a called servant of the Lord, feel as if he was lumping me in with the priests of another religion who succumbed to the temptations of illicit sexual desires.  We can stand in judgement of a religion which forces its clergy to take a vow of celibacy and therefore deny the appropriate sexual motivations God built into each of us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having sexual desire, because God made woman for man and man comes from woman.
    • Nonetheless, if one Christ-professing religion is caught in a scandal, it reflects on all Christ-professing religions – especially in a society hostile to God and His followers. Satan and his followers who do his bidding are ready and waiting to accuse any saint of breaking the Law of God. It may seem strange, but Satan knows the scriptures better than either you or I will learn them in this Age.  We read from Rev 12:10 after Satan was evicted from heaven for rebelling against the Lord - 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down, the one who accuses them before our God day and night[3]
    • God clearly stated throughout the scriptures starting with the 6th Commandment, that the good and righteous sexual desires He designed into humans should not be misused.  We should not adulterate what God has made for procreation and for the enjoyment between one husband and his one wife.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth - Or do you not know that the unrighteous will *not* inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor those habitually drunk, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God[4].
    • We believe Paul wrote this by inspiration from the Holy Spirit.  We also believe that the scriptures are the inerrant word of God.  If we are true to God, we follow this and others of His messages. When anyone associated with Jesus publicly commits sexual sins, as what has happened over years in another religion, isn’t there justifiable disappointment that brothers in Christ have stumbled?  That is one aspect of the scandal, but additionally, it creates a field day of accusations against the Lord’s Church on earth and even the Lord’s Holy Word. Satan brings a bull rush of accusations against those doers of iniquity as part of a strategy to bring down anyone associated with the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
  • Interpretation: In our Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday from Matt Ch#6, we see Jesus speaking about the proper and improper means of practicing righteousness.  Jesus started out Ch#6 - “Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of people, to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven[5].”  The Greek verb the Apostle Matthew used, which is interpreted as “in the sight of people”, is a passive voice verb where people are looking upon followers of Jesus to see what those followers are doing.  Jesus didn’t mention whether people would be looking to Christians for how to act or whether to wait for them to stumble.  However, let’s face it, there are people looking on for these and other motivations.  They are looking at you and me to see what it is like to be a follower of Christ.
    • I believe the reporter was sincere in his question to John Kerry about flying around the world in a private jet. For instance, shouldn’t people believing in man-caused climate change practice what they preach to everyone else? Shouldn’t Kerry be taking commercial flights that have scores of passengers so that the jet emissions aren’t an additional load on the environment like a private jet?  These are legitimate concerns, and one would think someone so committed as John Kerry on man-caused climate change would be sensitive to how his actions would be viewed by others.  After all, there are Kerry’s detractors and accusers who are waiting for him to stumble on any aspect of his religion, in addition to Kerry’s followers wondering how to properly act in reducing man-caused emissions they believe lead to climate change.
    • Jesus had concerns for how true followers would practice what some call Christian piety.  Piety is defined by Merriam-Webster on-line[6] as:
      • 1: the quality or state of being pious: such as
        • a: fidelity to natural obligations (as to parents)
        • b: dutifulness in religion : DEVOUTNESS
      • 2: an act inspired by piety
      • 3: a conventional belief or standard : ORTHODOXY
    • In short; piety is putting into action what you believe.  Jesus was making clear to His disciples, and the people who were listening in on the Sermon on the Mount, that practicing righteousness in pious actions needs to be something kept between God and the individual doing the act of piety.  Acts of piety are not to be held out for all to see.   Don’t be sounding a trumpet when helping out the poor so that everyone can see what a great thing was done.  Jesus said don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.  God sees what you are up to.  He is looking on at a much closer distance to you & me than we may perceive.  God sees what is in our heart to understand the true motivation behind prayers and fasting.
    • It’s nice to receive the praise and adulation from others for something we have done.  Entertainers crave it.  Extroverted people seem to need this from others more than introverted people.  There’s nothing wrong with the desire to be accepted and approved by people who we respect. However, when that desire for approval gets out of hand, and we start doing things for show instead of practicing righteous piety in accordance with God’s word, we are no longer doing all to the Lord’s glory.  The examples Jesus gave in our text from Matthew were scenarios where people were doing things to bring attention to themselves for how great they were.  They received the reward for their pious actions from the people they were trying to impress.  They were *not* receiving the approval from their God and Lord in heaven.
  • Analysis: It is something the Jews know as the “sheema” which needs to be in the forefront of our minds as all times. It is found in Deu 6:4-5 - “Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength[7]. There has never been anyone greater than the Lord Jesus.  Did He go through the trouble of becoming man by being born in a filthy stable in order to impress man?  Did He go around Judea and Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing just so He could impress synagogue leaders and the general populace?  No, Jesus did all He did as God in man in order to serve the Lord God, heavenly Father, with all His heart, soul, and strength, by doing the will of the Father.  Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience even to the point of a horrible death on a cross, Jesus’ Father is our Father!  And, because Jesus was and still is perfect, we can be sure that He practiced what He preached.
    • When people decided to argue with Jesus about some of His teachings, - 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’[8].  As I just said, that same Father Jesus referred to as His Father, is our Father. The Father will reward all as He sees fit.  If there is any desire in our soul to obtain approval from the Father, we see in the text of Mat Ch#6 how that approval comes about: acts of piety which are done …in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you[9].
  • Conclusion:  Fellow saints will see our acts of piety and ideally be motivated to follow them.  However, I should caution, the more piety any of us makes public, the more likely we will be targets for accusations of hypocrisy. The accusers will be waiting for you & I to stumble so they like Sean Penn can accuse us of things, whether in context or not.  Sean probably still thinks he’s smart with that public comment.  I suspect he has already received his reward.
    • And yet, this risk of hypocrisy should not dissuade us from listening to God’s word, then putting it into practice.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians - 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people, 24 knowing that it is from the Lord that you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve[10].  Whether there are accusers just waiting behind a bush to catch you in hypocrisy or not, the sheema still applies. Jesus was asked by Pharisee who ambushed Him in Matt 22:36-40 - 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.” 
    • We are going to be judged by others from now until we breath our last.  Unlike John Kerry who came under scrutiny for his egregious attempt to justify himself for grossly violating the tenants of his religion, we need to seek only the justification which comes through Christ taking our sins from us and taking them to the cross.  There is no piety we can do to offset our sins.  We can only seek the forgiveness from our Lord, be assured we are forgiven, and in Christian piety – go and sin no more.  Let’s spend the next 6wks reflecting on our sins and sinfulness and work on improving on our witness to the world on what we believe, by actually practicing what we preach. Amen.


 


[1] https://www.theblaze.com/news/sean-penn-tries-to-attack-evangelicals?utm_source=theblaze-dailyAM&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily-Newsletter__AM%202021-02-16&utm_term=ACTIVE%20LIST%20-%20TheBlaze%20Daily%20AM

[2] Icelandic reporter Jóhann Bjarni Kolbeinsson quoted from https://www.foxnews.com/politics/john-kerry-private-jet-iceland-climate-award

[3] Rev 12:10 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation%2012&version=NASB

[4] 1Co 6:9-11 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%206&version=NASB

[5] Matt 6:1 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matt+6&version=NASB

[6] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piety

[7] Deu 6:4-5 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=deu+6&version=NASB

[8] John 8:54 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%208&version=NASB

[9] Mat 6:4 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=mat+6&version=NASB

[10] Col 3:23-24 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=col+3&version=NASB