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Oct 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 29, 2017 – Matthew 6:16-18

“Watch Me, Daddy!”

Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18

Intro: Saturday night I had dreamed I was with group of young guys

We were talking about travel plans when a small plastic cup hit back of my head
– it was one of them clowning around, so I grabbed it and tossed it back
• it happened again and then be came a steady tap, tap, tap
◦ it was no longer funny, but annoying
• that is when I woke up to my five year old grandson patting the back of my head
◦ and I heard him whispering, “Grandpa, wake up”
– contemplative spirituality is the ongoing practice of waking up
• waking up to the present moment – and to God in this moment

According to Anthony de Mello, “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep . . . and they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and beauty of this thing that we call human existence.”

◦ that was exactly the problem Jesus faced
◦ his disciples and the crowd did not know they could be religiously active and asleep

de Mello again, “… you’ll never understand a word of what the scriptures are saying until you wake up. Sleeping people read the scriptures and crucify the Messiah on the basis of them.”

• sometimes we need a tap on the head

“Whenever you fast”

Fasting was not optional in their situation as it is for us
– it was built into their culture – everyone would fast at some time
• there were collective fasts on annual holidays
• many religious people observed regular fasts–e.g., weekly
– the two most common fasts for ordinary people:

  1. An expression of grief – usually over a loss
    • the death of a a loved one
    • the conquest of their nation and temple during Israel’s exile
    • the loss of their independence
    ◦ Jesus was asked why his disciples did not fast
    ◦ he indicated that fasting was for grieving and not celebration (Mt. 9:14-15)
  2. A forced fast
    • perhaps due to illness or a scarcity of food–e.g., in times of famine
    ◦ starvation was never thought to have spiritual benefit
    ◦ instead, it was a problem to be solved

The first thing Jesus has to say about fasting is how not to do it
– two things to avoid:
1.) don’t go around with a sad expression
2.) don’t disfigure your face (the same Greek translated “neglect” in NASB is translated “destroy” in vv. 19 & 20)
• it is not as easy for people to see we are fasting as it is giving to charity or prayer
◦ so you have to drop pretty big clues
that they will be noticed (shine) so others cannot help but notice
◦ both facial masks, sad and disfigured, beg others to ask, “Are you okay?”
◦ the second (disfigured) is an intensification of the first (sad)
◦ so, if the “sad face” doesn’t work, ramp it up
– some people long to be known, others want to be unknown
• often the difference is, those who long to be know do not want others to know their inner self
◦ i.e., who they really are, but for the best image they project of themselves
◦ it is because the others do not want their inner selves to be known that they prefer anonymity
◦ “If you knew me, you wouldn’t like me. You would reject me like everyone else has”
• I think Jesus stresses hypocrisy, because we all go through phases of it
◦ we want others to have a positive opinion of us, whether or not it is true

As the hypocrites; the were not hypocrites because they pretended to be religious
– that is not what made them hypocrites
• they were truly religious – and thought others should know that they were
◦ this was not same as a grieving widow wearing black
◦ culture provided multiple ways to express grief publicly
• this was more like wearing their fast as a badge of their holiness
◦ to let others know their deep devotion to God
◦ Helmut Thielicke calls this a “religious glorification of hunger”
– typically, if I fast it is for my benefit – the good it does for me
• but God does not find that motive very appealing
◦ Jews who returned from exile wanted to know continue their bi-annual fasts
◦ God’s answer:

Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and …? (Zech. 7:5)

• unlike the hypocrites of Jesus’ time, they weren’t trying to look pious
◦ but to get something from God with out true devotion to…
◦ God says, “Rather than fast, go and feed the hungry”

Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor . . . (Zech. 7:9-10 and Isa. 58:3-14)

“But you, when you fast”

“Anoint” would be the equivalent of wearing perfume or cologne
– these are good-mood fragrances
• and rather than disfigure your face, wash your face
• that way it will not be obvious that you are fasting
◦ and so not draw attention to yourself
◦ if your fast is real, the only one who needs to know is your Father
– notice that our Father in heaven is also our Father in secret
• he is transcendent: above and beyond human perception and knowing
◦ contemplation is a way that we awaken to and become aware of him
◦ not thinking concepts or theology so much as reflecting on God himself
• regarding our meeting God in secret, Helmut Thielicke said,

“Here and only here must one begin to become a Christian”

◦ the only place where the truth of our spirituality is known
◦ the One who knows is Father and he reveals it to one who meets him there

I would like to say a few things about fasting

There is no inherent value in it (cf. Jesus’ parable in Lk. 18:9-14)
– as Paul says, in a different context but valid here as well:

. . . food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat (1 Cor. 8:8)

• for health reasons, some people cannot fast – at least not food or water
• for God, fasting neither enhances or diminishes our prayers
– but like I said, there are personal benefits we derive from it

  1. As a way of simplifying life
    • “I can do without that”
  2. As a way of controlling our appetites and addictions
    • a way to practice self-denial – but I want to qualify this statement
    ◦ it is our lower self we deny – the one we lose to gain true self (Mt. 16:25)
    ◦ the part that wants to exaggerate, rage, cheat, hurt
    • we never deny true self – the identity Jesus reveals to us
  3. As a way of exercising our independence (cf. Mt. 4:4, we do not live on bread alone)
    • freeing ourselves from our attachments
    • we can fast social media, email, even our cell phones
  4. As a way of devoting ourselves to our work (Mk. 3:20; 6:21)
    • of course this can backfire
    (if all I can think about when I fast is food!)

Conclusion: Can you see, this is not our typical Evangelical spirituality?

The kind that constantly advertises itself and announces everything it does
– and memorizes a testimony script of the new and improved me
• yes, I give the credit to God, but it is still me that everyone sees
• and my name that they remember afterward
– what Jesus calls us to is a contemplative spirituality that Pharisees find dangerous
• and it is heretical to the showboats who want us to know how well versed they are in scripture and doctrine

Jesus takes us to a place where our devotion to God is secret
– into silence, where no trumpet announces our piety
• we close the door on anything that competes with God
◦ close the door on our pesky anxieties “whose ugly faces keep staring through our prayers” as through a window (Thielicke)
• we shut out any concern we have regarding the opinions of others or our reputations

Of all the marvelous functions of the brain, the most important is our ability to choose
– yesterday I found myself reflecting on the moral forces that have shaped history
• the push and pull of good and evil moving through time
◦ and how every nation and every person has been affected by it
• two of our biblical heroes reminded us that we have choices to make

See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil . . . . I call heaven and earth to be witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live . . . (De. 30:15-20)

. . . choose for yourselves today whom you will serve (Jos. 24:15)

◦ both say, choose today and that “today” when a choice must be made is everyday
◦ if we value our freedom, it is this freedom to make our own decisions regarding our lives
– fasting reminds me, eating and drinking is a choice
• so is watching television, reading scripture, killing time, and so on
– fasting awakens me to what I do habitually
• and reminds me that changing or breaking a habit are also choices

I’ have recently begun asking myself a question at various intervals during the day:

“What am I thinking right now?”

This allows me to step back from my thoughts
– then, my second question is:

“Do I want to be thinking this thought?”

– and I answer with a simple yes or no
• if I answer No, my third question is:

“What do I want to be thinking?”

– and then I get to choose

In this is a way I have learned to tap myself on the head
to wake myself up to God’s presence
and to the choices at me immediate disposal
And I believe that in doing this
I have seen some definite, if subtle, improvements

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