Jesus takes all the fun out of being United Methodist and religious. Don’t those two go together? How are people going to know we are Holy Methodists unless we dress alike (custom UMC t-shirts of some nature), pray in public, make grand displays of our faith in the public sphere, Facebook every mission-related activity, and invoke God in every conversation? Has Jesus not been an evangelism seminar? Jesus needs to offer coffee, small groups, and a service for men who can’t tuck their shirts in. Moms need a morning out and Jesus needs to say more about the sanctity of straight people being married. What is he, some snowflake libtard? Public piety and a healthy sense of religiosity define one’s Christianity.
Just kidding! LOL! I know they don’t but you’ve got to be honest, even on our best days, it’s a distinction we have trouble making. Just take a look at this:
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“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. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5“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.6But 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. 7“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:1-7
If we can’t practice our piety in public to be seen by others, how are we going to recruit (sorry, I mean evangelize) others to join our churches? Especially when institutional trust in religion is at an all-time low. Public practices of piety are our stock in trade. We would collapse and die without publicity. We give evangelism awards and applaud each other on the back for cookie sales. Those are public displays of piety. We brand everything, from disaster relief ministries to youth events. We have idolized the corporations and corporate practices that are bankrupting our communities. Yes, we’re giving to the poor but these giving actions are preceded by the trumpet sound of car magnets, t-shirts, and official name badges. We don’t call “practicing our piety before others”; we’ve cleaned it up and use the term “witnessing”.
Everyone prays differently. Cokesbury’s catalog is dominated by books on different methods of prayer. I think Jesus says: don’t use your prayer time to make other people uncomfortable. Just as he says don’t make a big deal out of what you do (focus instead on the how-Jesus is big on methodology), the way you communicate to God is intensely personal. Do what’s right for you but don’t weird other people out with your words or actions when you pray. Don’t be a spectacle. Spectacles are for other people to see. Who is your audience when you talk to God? Here’s a thought: give God the privacy and time God deserves. Keep your password protected, like you would any sensitive communication.
Religious people love clichés. (If someone tells me they’re going to put a hedge of protection around me I’m going for the weedeater.) Jesus has heard them all. Be a better speaker and writer by using fewer clichés. The same thing goes for prayers. I know it feels fun, especially when you get on a roll and the “father gods, we just wannas, and hosannas” start to roll off your tongue. Maybe Jesus is burnt out on hearing so many repeated phrases. Try saying what’s on your mind. It doesn’t make you any holier, more religious, or smarter. Talk to Jesus. Spit it out. Drop the jargon. It’s you Jesus wants, not the Dollar Store trinkets you’re bringing along.
Richard Lowell Bryant