Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In his book, The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren, pastor and theologian, shares about an experience he had in the airport a few years ago. He writes; “Oh, I get it,” she said nodding. This gregarious young mom was sitting across from me in an airport area. Her little boy was asleep in a stroller, and she, noticing how intensely I was pecking away on my laptop, had asked me what I was writing about. When I did my best to summarize the main idea of this book, she said, “So you’re saying that Christianity isn’t very Christian anymore. You want Christianity to become more Christian. Is that it?” When I said yes, she responded, “Good luck with that! By the looks of things, it won’t be easy. Try to get it worked out in time for my little boy, okay?” This short interaction summarizes the way many feel about Christianity in our current culture, that there is something broken about it. That somehow the faith has lost its way. That faith communities rather than being governed by the rule of love, have been governed by lesser rules. Rules that seek to perpetuate an institution or an idea. We develop a god who dislikes the same people we dislike, a god who politically agrees with us, a god who measures others by some human standard, at times the church has diligently searched the scripture in order to build this god and make a god in our own image.
But our Gospel reading offers a response to this. Jesus teaches about three spiritual practices — giving, fasting, and praying. Jesus begins by warning us to be careful not do these practices in order for others to see how good we are. Jesus reminds us that when we give, our focus should not be on us but on God.
When we give, we should give as though it is a divine work we are undertaking and that it is a demonstration of our desire acting rightly and a commitment to making things good and just in the world. All our giving should be a response to God, a celebration of God’s blessings and act of honor. Our Giving is living out one’s sense of identity, calling, and relationship with God. This can at times be hard to do, but our goal should be to give with this in mind.
The second spiritual practice is that of prayer. I believe prayer is recognizing and acknowledging that God is inviting us into relationship in every moment of life. God hears our prayer in moments of joy, in moments of anger, and in moments of sorrow. I take comfort in the fact that God sees the totality of our beings, our failures and successes, our grief and our joy, our fears and hopes, our moments of hypocrisy and of right living, and still God longs to for our prayers. Prayer should ultimately ask the question where is God working in the world, how is God working in my life and how can I be part of that.
The third practice Jesus describes is that of fasting, going without food or drink for a certain period of time. But this practice of fasting can really be applied to any area of life. It can help us to recognize what we truly need in life, what is important, and give us avenues in which to deepen our connection to God. We are in the season when many people are practicing some form of a fast. We may hear of someone who is going to “give up” something for Lent. The goal with this practice or any of these practices should be to orient ourselves toward God.
Our Isaiah reading reminds us that God longs for our spiritual practices to inspire our actions. That our goal should not be to just practice prayer, or alms giving, or fasting, or any of the 100s of spiritual practices, but our goal should be to create a community with justice at the very center. Our spiritual practices would inspire us to act in the real world. In his sermon “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question, what are we doing for others?” Isaiah said we should long to be called repairers of the breach and the restorer of streets. A faith like this would be an appropriate response to the woman in the airport.
I recently read an article about Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. They were facing a dilemma. Over a 100 years ago they had received a 22,000-dollar gift which today would be equivalent to about $250,000 today. There was some lore in the church that there was a racist component to this gift. The Session decided they needed to investigate. After exploring the historical records of the church, they were able to locate the giver’s will and found that the gift was given “for a church of the white race only”. The Session and Pastor were shocked. The pastor said that he felt his whole body tighten up after reading the will. As a congregation they realized this is was an act of structural racism, that they as congregation were benefiting and would continue to benefit from gift given in an Anti-Christian spirit. As a session they wrestled with what to do. They didn’t want to just say, “That’s not who we are anymore, thanks be to God.” They considered making a one-time gift, but worried they would fall into a trap of thinking they were freed from their “racism”. So instead the Pastor and the Session did something bold. They shared this information with the entire congregation. The session committed an annual gift to a racial justice ministry where they, listened, learned, and then acted. The church also continued to work on a twenty-year partnership with Third Presbyterian Church a mainly black congregation. The pastor of Knox Presbyterian, Adam Fronczek, writes “We may have changed our hearts and do not believe in the same racist things people thought in the past, but the reality is that we took the money and benefited from the money and property. We need to stop, confess, and lament.” 
This is the spiritual practice Isaiah is calling us to. This is the spiritual practice that Jesus is calling us to. Not a faith built on a god in our own image, but a faith centered on our relationship with God where we are changed, where we long to be called repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets.
 Brian D. McLaren. The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian, pg. 19.