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Giving Up Popularity February 22, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday

February 22, 2012

Focus: God rewards His children.

Function: That the hearers give up the mindset of being popular.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

Giving Up Popularity

            Ash Wednesday is before us.  I don’t know how all of you feel, but working in the church office, I can tell you that Lent came quickly.  It seems like just a couple weeks ago we were celebrating Christmas.  But here we are.  And as we do every year, we come to worship on Wednesday’s during Lent; we come here to prepare ourselves; to prep ourselves spiritually for holy week.

One of the things that many Christians try during Lent is giving up something.  Catholics give up meat.  I’ve had friends give up soda or pop, chocolate, or TV.  I’ve even had a friend give up Facebook.  Perhaps a number of you are planning on giving up something this Lenten season.  If you do, remember the reason, you’re spiritually preparing yourself, aiming at a closer relationship with God.

As we move through Lent, we’re going to focus on giving things up.  But I won’t be preaching about these little things in our lives.  Instead I’ll be focusing on things that God wants us to give up in our lives permanently.  Things that all too often we find ourselves doing or wanting, even though they don’t fit what God has in mind.

Let’s set the stage then for what we’re giving up today.  You don’t know her, but Mary is a girl not unlike yourselves.  She’s a regular church attender to her home church.  But one day, she felt she really needed to confess something to her pastor:

Pastor, I have a troubling sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday’s and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I shouldn’t think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.” The pastor replied, “Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake.”

Alright, so it’s a joke.  But it starts to hit the point.  It starts to question our values as a society.  In Mary’s case, it was an issue of pride, but it also was a matter of popularity.

Being good-looking tends to help you be popular in America.  As kids grow up, they’ll no doubt see that in high school, college, and even in their careers.  You certainly don’t want to have a face made for radio.  We see it all over the media, in the TV shows and movies we watch, the magazines, the billboards, you name it.

But we won’t be voting for the best looking among us today.  Our school isn’t going to have a beauty pageant.  But instead, let’s shift to the text at hand.  Matthew was very much talking about popularity in our gospel lesson today.  But yet again, this is somewhere we’ve gone astray.

In American Christianity, we’re like the Pharisees: we like to be seen.  Many Christians make a show out of obeying the law.  When they give money to church, they try to make sure everyone knows they’re giving.  If they help someone in need, they want recognition.  They get upset if they don’t get a thank you.

If you go into a group prayer with other Christians, you may notice that there are still people who compete to be the best.  They want the wordiest prayer, or the longest, or the one that’s most churchy.  The Bible tells us that God hears any and all prayers.  So just pray.  I was taught growing up that prayer is a heart to heart talk with God.  Just talk with Him.  Have a conversation.  Don’t worry what others think.

You can see popularity spread throughout Christianity.  My wife and I were watching an old episode of the Cosby Show this weekend, when they brought in a gospel choir.  In that song was Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  It made us think of prosperity gospel preachers.  You know who I’m talking about.  It’s the Joel Osteen’s from TV.  If you just do these things, God will prosper you.  He’ll make you rich.  He’ll give you that car or that job you dream of.  But it’s a popularity game, both for the preacher and the hearer.

And it leads us right back to Matthew.  You have the wrong motivation.  If you do these things, God will make you rich.  You follow the law because you think you’ll reap rewards.  You should follow the law, but you should do it because that’s what God commands and expects from you.  It’s sorta like parenting.  Should kids get paid for following the rules, or should they follow them because that’s why they’re there?  Parents set rules to help their children grow up well.  God created the law to help keep us in line.  Don’t expect a reward for something you should be doing.  Don’t expect a bonus or a promotion at work for just doing your job description.

Matthew goes through a laundry list.  Acts of righteousness before men, giving to the needy, praying, and fasting.  He could easily have kept going.  These are things that are good to do.  Things we should do.  Things God expects us to do.  But Matthew warns us, watch why you’re doing them.  Don’t be like the Pharisees and the hypocrites.  Don’t do it to be popular among the people.  Don’t look to be seen.

Jesus Christ said “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  Paul reflected that in our text a couple weekends ago and told us to follow Christ’s example.  That’s why we’re called Christians.  Because we follow Christ.  The earliest Christians were called “the Way” because Jesus said He was the way.

So if as Christians, we do as Christ did, we follow His example, we must constantly look back to Christ, and to what Christ did, to remind ourselves of who He was.  Was Jesus popular?  Did He want to be?  Did He expect to be?  The answer to each of those questions is “No.”

Jesus didn’t come to be the king that everyone expected Him to be.  Do you remember when the crowd tried to force Him to be their king?  They wanted Him so He would provide for them.  Most Jews expected their Messiah to come, be king, and destroy Rome.  They wanted freedom from persecution.  They wanted to become the leaders, to be the best, to be popular.  They cheered for Jesus when He came into Jerusalem, even though He rode on a young donkey.

Then what happened?  How quickly did every one turn away?  Christ did the unpopular thing when He allowed Himself to be arrested, beaten, and flogged.  He did the unpopular thing by not fighting back.  He did the unpopular thing when He bore that cross on His shoulders and carried it up to the top of Mt. Calvary.  He did the unpopular thing when He bled and died on the cross.

Think about the aftermath of these events.  Remember Peter’s triple denial.  Remember the disciples hiding from fear that the Jews would kill them.  Remember how the women went to the tomb with spices on the third day, expecting to have to treat the body for odor.  Christ didn’t do the popular thing.  He wasn’t who the people wanted.  Rather, He was precisely what the people needed.  He did what we needed.

On that day, the Son of God gave Himself up for us.  In His death, He bore our sins.  We are now forgiven.  Christ did what was expected of Him by His Father.  He didn’t do it to be popular.  That then, is where we take after Christ.  We don’t have to sacrifice our lives to forgive others, but we humble ourselves as Christ did.

As Christians, we don’t seek popularity.  We do what God expects us to do.  We live as His children, whom He loves so very dearly.  We pray, for a relationship with God.  We care for the needy, so that the needy are cared for.  We do acts of righteousness, not to be seen, but because they need to be done in this world.  I can’t promise you exactly what God meant when He said to store up treasures for yourself in heaven.  All that I do know, is that the most important part of that treasure by far is the salvation that Jesus Christ has already given to us.  Brothers and sisters, give up popularity and simply live the life that God gave you.

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