As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts. In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom. We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.
A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew.
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.
“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.
“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
#Ashtags. Seriously. It’s a thing. It’s even in the Wall Street Journal.
This year some people have taken to Instagram to publish photos of their foreheads emblazoned with the ash cross they received at their local Ash Wednesday gathering. They’re tagging these photos with #Ashtag.
I want to give the benefit of the doubt and say that these folks are well-meaning. They want to share their faith with the world (or at least the 150 million other Instagram users). I want to applaud the displays of devotion. I really do.
I struggle to balance the #Ashtag with our Scripture lesson for today. While people will most definitely notice the huge black cross on your forehead, I’m not sure that posting a #selfie of your forehead garners the same effect.
I almost imagine that if Jesus were standing on a mountain here in Oklahoma in 2014 and delivering this message He would say something like:
“And when you receive the ash cross on Ash Wednesday, allow people to see it in your normal course of life. Put your phone away. Resist the temptation to #selfie and #ashtag your ashes.”
At the heart of the matter isn’t whether or not we should post #selfies. The heart of the matter is what’s in your heart. The question that we must answer with everything we do is “Who does this glorify?”
So, when one snaps that photo of their crossed forehead and posts it to Instagram with the #Ashtag, who are they trying to glorify? Are they saying, “Hey look at me, I got #ashed!” or are they saying “Hey look at Jesus! He’s awesome!”
And, therein, lies my struggle.
It occurs to me that we often take the command to “Go and make Disciples” to mean “Go and share your faith.” Yet, it’s not about our faith. It’s about His name and His Kingdom and His transforming power.
So, as we go, are we to take #selfies of our expressions of faith? Or, are we to simply and quietly walk out our faith and allow the world to experience the Kingdom of God wherever we happen to go? Again, what’s at the heart. What’s the motivation?
“To whom does this #selfie or #ashtag bring glory?”
So, on a mountain a couple of thousand years ago, Jesus challenges us to search out our heart. Don’t playact. Don’t store treasures on earth.
He challenged us to ensure that the glory goes to God and not us.
He challenged us to ask—and honestly answer—ourselves:
“To whom does what I’m about to do bring glory? Me? God?”