O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
whose mercy never fails:
deepen our faithfulness to you
and to your living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Blessed are those who fear the Lord
and have great delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land,
a generation of the faithful that will be blest.
Wealth and riches will be in their house,
and their righteousness endures for ever.
Light shines in the darkness for the upright;
gracious and full of compassion are the righteous.
It goes well with those who are generous in lending
and order their affairs with justice,
For they will never be shaken;
the righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance.
They will not be afraid of any evil tidings;
their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their heart is sustained and will not fear,
until they see the downfall of their foes.
They have given freely to the poor;
their righteousness stands fast for ever;
their head will be exalted with honour.
The wicked shall see it and be angry;
they shall gnash their teeth in despair;
the desire of the wicked shall perish.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’
In today’s reading Jesus speaks of the times when we give alms, when we pray, and when we fast. His words are framed within a warning about the attitude we should adopt whenever we engage in these spiritual disciplines. In Jesus’ time, within that Jewish culture, the majority of people gave alms, prayed and fasted on a regular basis: it was part of their everyday lives. However, the familiarity of these practices had led people to develop rituals and routines that demonstrated how much more pious they were than their neighbours … or so they thought. In reality, their self-constructed systems of piety distanced them from God, just as they distanced them from the neighbours they were called to love and serve.
In the modern Church we encounter something similar in the way people have come to describe and to delineate their ‘churchmanship’. The differences between ‘High’ Church and ‘Low’ Church worship is an obvious example of the extremes we have created for ourselves. Then, within these polar opposites there are minute details which create even finer demarcation, and alienation. The insistence on personal preference when it comes to prayer and worship marks many of us out as being just as bad as those who are being criticized by Jesus in today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount.
Of course, there is something else we need to consider in relation to today’s reading … Jesus says when you give alms, and whenever you pray, and when you fast. These words contain an expectation that generosity, prayer and fasting are central to the way in which we live our lives. But are they? Just as we have created false differences that mark us out as belonging to different branches of the Church, so many of us have side-lined these essential spiritual practices because they get in the way of the way we live out our daily lives.
Today we are being challenged to consider our relationship with God, and how much importance we attach to that relationship. Are we more interested in describing ourselves as ‘Anglo-Catholic’ or ‘Evangelical’ than actually praying and worshipping? Are we so busy living out the demands of our diaries that we set aside the call to be generous with our worldly wealth, to pray and to be abstemious in our habits? Are we really doing all we can to foster and nurture an intimate and personal relationship with our heavenly Father, just as Jesus did when he walked the earth?
The choice really is ours, you know!
Prayers of intercession
Blessed are you, eternal God, to be praised and glorified for ever.
Hear us as we pray for your holy catholic Church: make us all one, that the world may believe.
Grant that every member of the Church may truly and humbly serve you: that the life of Christ may be revealed in us.
Strengthen all who minister in Christ’s name: give them courage to proclaim your Gospel.
Inspire and lead those who hold authority in the nations of the world: guide them in the ways of justice and peace.
Make us alive to the needs of our community: help us to share each other’s joys and burdens.
Look with kindness on our homes and families: grant that your love may grow in our hearts.
Deepen our compassion for all who suffer from sickness, grief or trouble: in your presence may they find their strength.
We remember those who have died: Father, into your hands we commend them.
We praise you for all your saints who have entered your eternal glory: bring us all to share in your heavenly kingdom.
Prayer for the week
your Son Jesus Christ came to make all things new.
Refresh us by the power of your Spirit,
that through the stillness of prayer
and the energy of service
we may discover afresh your call on our lives
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.