What’s in Your Wallet?
February 26, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
They seem to be everywhere.
It seems like you can’t turn on the television, regardless of which network you watch, without seeing one of those commercials from the Capital One credit card people. Sometimes the spokesperson is Samuel L. Jackson and sometimes it’s Jennifer Garner (who always makes me think of her father in Maverick or The Rockford Files), but no matter who stars in them, they all end with the tag line, “What’s in your wallet?”
But, even though the message of Capital One has nothing at all to do with the church, as I read the scriptures for Ash Wednesday, I was reminded of their commercials because, in a lot of ways, that is exactly the question that Jesus, and the Apostle Paul are asking us.
We begin as Jesus challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
At its core, what Jesus is asking us is, “What’s in your wallet?”
Why are you doing the things that you do? Are you doing good deeds so that your coworkers, your customers, your employers, or the people in town can see you doing good deeds? Is your motivation for doing good deeds so that you can be well liked, recognized, or honored by someone else? Do you give gifts to the church and to other charitable organizations for those same reasons? Are you in church on Sunday morning because being seen in church is good for your image, or for your business, or for some other thing that primarily benefits you and your financial bottom line?
Jesus knew that the people who were listening to him did all those things and just because our lives are separated from theirs by two thousand years, the motivations of people today aren’t that different. But Jesus warns against doing those things or allowing your faith to be motivated in those ways. Instead, we ought to be willing to do good, or to be obedient, or willing to things for the good of God’s kingdom, in total secrecy. I don’t think that it’s necessary, or even always possible, to do things in secret all the time, but our willingness to do things in secret is a good measurement of whether we are doing them for the right reasons.
Sure, it’s nice to get be recognized, or even to get your picture in the paper for giving a big gift, but would you have given the gift if you knew that those things wouldn’t happen? Would you have your feelings hurt if no one recognized you for your gift, or for your hard work? Our willingness to do things in secret is a gut check to recognize our real motivations. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Asking ourselves if we’re willing to do good for God without recognition, is a check to see what’s really in our wallets… and in our hearts.
And just to be certain that God’s real interest is in the condition of our hearts and is not just talking about money, we also should remember the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:
5:20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.2 For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Paul’s first imperative is to beg the people of the church to be reconciled to, or to make things right with, God because Jesus, who was without sin, took our sin upon himself so that we could become the righteousness of God. Paul also encourages them not to wait, but that now is the day of salvation. And while we are encouraged to get our own lives in order, we are also called to be careful in the way that we live so that we don’t cause others to stumble or hinder anyone else from finding faith and rescue in Jesus. Instead, because we are servants of God, we commend ourselves…
…wait, I want to explain what that means.
To “commend ourselves” is not to pat ourselves on the back, and not to praise ourselves, which is the first dictionary definition, but the second dictionary definition means to present ourselves “as suitable for approval or acceptance.” That means that, rather than saying that this list is why we are great, we are saying that this is a list of the things that have happened to us, and we are willing to offer them as illustrations of how we have lived our lives as an example to others. Paul then lists many of the terrible things that have happened to him in his ministry in hopes that, after seeing his example, others would recognize, honor, appreciate, and accept his ministry as genuine.
In other words, Paul lived, so that his entire life was an example of God’s grace, power, and ministry. And if I were to put that another way, I could say that Paul lived so no one ever had to ask what was in his wallet. You could always see for yourself just by looking at how he lived his life.
Which brings us back to the same question we asked before: Why are you doing the things that you do?
Lent is a time for us to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and check our motivations.
Are your motivations for doing the things you do selfish? Or righteous?
Are you doing good because it’s good for you? Or because it’s good for God?
What’s in your wallet?
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