I really want to see you,
Really want to be with you,
Really want to see you, Lord,
But it takes so long, my Lord.
– George Harrison (1943-2001), from “My Sweet Lord” (1970)
Modern humans have existed on earth for roughly two hundred thousand years. Those earliest moderns lived in terror of predators, disease, hunger, weather, and lethal attacks by one another, so among the earliest human inventions were religions that featured powerful gods. In an effort to ease our fears in a world where we had no control and even less understanding, we imagined large beings in human form who could protect us. And to ensure the favor of these made-up gods that we imagined were as brutal and as fickle as people, we invented the notion that they could be placated by sacrificing some of what we most valued, especially our firstborn children. The whole concept of religions to serve cranky gods is an entirely human invention. And this idea that we can improve our lives by placating gods is a stubborn one, so even as late as the birth of Jesus the Jewish tribes were still sacrificing birds, animals, and grain to a god they called Jehovah. With such a history, it is easy to see why the execution and the miraculous rising from the dead of the greatest Jewish Teacher Who had come to us from the genuine Godhead must have seemed to be the ultimate sacrifice. God sacrificed His Firstborn to Himself! Now God is placated forevermore!
But the genuine Godhead doesn’t play human games. There is no evidence that the death of Jesus has ever made an afterlife difference for a single human being, and if it ever had happened we would know that by now. The genuine Godhead is all that exists, and that Godhead is infinitely greater and far more perfectly loving than any religion ever has imagined. Each of us is inextricably part of the Godhead. And God doesn’t want our sacrifices, our worship, or anything from us at all but that we work in eternal harmony toward eventually achieving the Godhead’s own level of absolute and perfect love. And since all religions are based in fear, one of the primary missions of Jesus when He came to earth two thousand years ago was not to start a new religion, but rather to free us from all the old ones.
Chapter Six of Matthew is the second of the three chapters that give us the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. It feels like a cozy harbor after the sea of surprises in Chapter Five; it rests so gently on our minds that we fail to realize how radical these ideas were when He first spoke them. Chapter Six is about rising above religious fears, how essential that is, and how easy it can be.
My children are in their early forties. They are successful enough in earthly terms, but they are even more successful at what is more important: they live useful lives of love and kindness. Our oldest often reads these posts, and she was so bothered when she read last week what Jesus had supposedly said about divorce that she brought it up to me. “That doesn’t sound like Him,” she said. “That’s not loving. That’s legalistic.” And she is perfectly right! I have been through the Gospels repeatedly, but I never had noticed that the early church had apparently slipped in among the Lord’s exhortations about love this legalistic whammy: “I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of un-chastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (MT 5:32). Of course that has to be wrong. If Jesus had ever said anything like that, He would have been injecting a fear-based, arbitrary rule and polluting the purely love-based substance of His Gospel message. There probably are other such religious insertions lurking among the Lord’s love-based teachings. My firstborn has given us a timely reminder that we should be seeking out and discarding them all.
Chapter Six is so straightforward that I am giving it to you without comment, and with its superscripts intact so we can more easily discuss it. Let’s sit together on the hillside and listen.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
9 “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’
16 “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. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 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.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew’s Chapter Six is about easing the terrors of people whose ancestors always had lived deep in human-made and fear-based religions. It is the Lord’s first gentle instructions to people who never had lived without religions, who never had attempted to venture into life without worrying about offending their imaginary gods. They were free now to seek and find the true Godhead as they never before had been free in their lives! Jesus couldn’t take them in one leap to His own perfect level of understanding, but He could support them in learning to be less afraid. He could help them begin to trust in the comforting certainty that the genuine Godhead loves them infinitely, so there is nothing that can harm them. In Matthew’s Chapter Six, Jesus speaks to us about daring to free ourselves from fear. Now next week we will listen as He begins to teach us some of the practicalities of this freer and more abundant life.
My sweet Lord, Mm, my Lord.
I really want to know you.
I really want to go with you.
Really want to show you, Lord,
That it won’t take long, my Lord.
– George Harrison (1943-2001), from “My Sweet Lord” (1970)