In case you missed the announcements on television, today is Super Bowl Sunday. Many people across the country will be absorbed watching the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers square off in the title match.  The Super Bowl is an event full of anticipation, emotion, and noise.  Many years ago, after the Dallas Cowboys had won the Super Bowl, then head coach, Tom Landry, made this observation. "The overwhelming emotion--in a few days, among the players on the Dallas Cowboys football team--was how empty that goal was. There must be something more." 

“There must be something more.”  These are profound words reflecting that the cheers of the adoring fans fed, for a while, the self-worth of the players.  And when those cheers stopped, as cheering fans always stop, emptiness invades and fills the space left behind with the thought, “There must be something more.”  We experience that feeling in our desire for significance in other settings than just the Super Bowl.  When the recurring monotony of work or the stillness of sitting at home because of COVID becomes the focus of our lives, we are compelled to believe, “There must be something more.”  The good news for all of us is that there is something more, something infinitely more satisfying, and profoundly more rewarding than the applause of any person. That something is peace, and it is not a thing, it is a person in the name of Jesus Christ.  He is that “someone” more that each one of us needs.

          In our New Testament reading today, Jesus brings us to a new understanding of our personal search for significance.  Jesus understood our intense human desire for someone to notice us, to desire our company, to enjoy our presence, and even applaud us.  The desire to be noticed and receive attention comes at an early age. Babies learn early that if they cry someone will eventually come and tend to their needs.  That learned behavior does not go away with age.  Children who do not receive sufficient attention from their parents for doing good things may resort to excessive or inappropriate behavior to gather negative attention from a parent.  For many, this behavior response for attention goes on into adulthood.

          Jesus, positioned on the mountainside, was teaching his disciples and the crowd about the principles of Godly behavior and of whose attention matter most in life.  Was it God’s attention or the attention of those who one day might cheer for us? Jesus began with these words, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” We might at first be confused about this teaching because Jesus cautions against showing forth good works and yet if we read a few verses earlier, we would have heard Jesus tell his listeners, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”   Is there a contradiction here between showing your works and not showing your works? The simple answer is “No.”  In the first case, Jesus said show forth the light of God through works.  Jesus was cautioning his followers against the temptation to be being timid in exercising faith.  In this second charge to beware about practicing righteousness before others, Jesus was cautioning against becoming the center of the showing in giving to others. The two cautions combined then sum up to, “Show when tempted to hide; hide when tempted to show.” Therefore, when Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”   Jesus was addressing the motivation for our actions not suggesting or providing justification for inaction.  Jesus message was consistent, His followers must be people of properly motivated action.

        Jesus continued in verse 2, “Thus, when you give to the needy [Note well Jesus did not say, “if you give to the needy.”  He said “when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”  Giving to those in need requires right motivation for it to be honored of God. Some, as Jesus points out, gave in a manner so that everyone was aware they were about to give.  He described their giving as though they were making a trumpet call.

It is interesting to note here that in the Temple of Jerusalem, against the wall of the Court of Women were thirteen chests, or 'trumpets,' for charitable contributions.  The chests were narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, shaped like trumpets.  People would put money offerings into these chests.   In the Gospel of Luke, we read, that when the Temple was crowded, “many rich people threw in large amounts.”  Think about that for a moment.  Instead of putting or placing coins into this trumpet shaped receptacle, you throw large numbers of coins into that trumpet.  Do you think there would be a difference in the sound?  Throwing the coins into that metal trumpet, I am sure one would make a sound like thunder.  So, giving to the “sound of a trumpet” was not just an expression, it was what people did in a manner of speaking.  The motivation of the givers was to make sure everyone knew they were making a large contribution so that they could be praised.

Now I suspect that most of us are saying, “Pastor, I got that covered.  I send my tithe in the mail by check or I quietly place my offering in the plate at the rear of the sanctuary.  I do not try to get others to give me applause.”  I would say to you that’s good; but how did you do with the next part of Jesus’ teaching.  Let’s look at verse 3.  “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  That seems like a tall order to do something without letting yourself know you are doing it.  Therefore, Jesus was speaking metaphorically, not literally, and he was continuing to speak about motivation.  Jesus was saying, “While perhaps you are not giving to the needy for the applause of others, neither are you to give and quietly congratulate yourself.  Do not give and then say to yourself with a straight face, ‘What a great person I am!’”  “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Giving to the needy should done for God and not for your own applause.  Jesus finished this point that when you give to the needy do so in secret, “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Jesus’ call upon his disciples was that they must be properly motivated and give in the secrecy of one’s heart.

Now the giving that Jesus talked about was most easily understood in the context of giving money.  But giving to meet the needs of others extends beyond just financial needs.  There are many people who have their financial needs met but are in great need of things money cannot buy such as friendship and comfort.  There are many people who need wisdom and counsel as well as love and affirmation.  None of these needs will be met through the offering plate.  These needs can only be met through human contact.  The onset of COVID-19 has made the need for human contact greater with each passing day.  It does not seem possible by just about 1 year ago we were talking about a two-week national pause to “flatten the curve.”  We all did that.  We separated for a two-weeks which became four-weeks, which has become months.  In those months, the nation has seen the following explosion of needs:

Sleeping difficulties – 36% increase

Eating disorders – 32% increase

Alcohol and substance abuse – 12% increase

Anxiety, stress, suicidal ideations, domestic violence, frustration, and hopelessness have all risen. The neediness of the world has increased by every measure in the past 11 months and, the end is not in sight.  How will we respond to the needy?

To understand our response, it would be good for us to go back to that mountainside and learn from our Lord, Savior, and teacher.  Jesus spoke about and demonstrated with his life that giving to the needy was an act of mercy.  Now mercy is not to be confused with kindness.  Kindness is doing good for people.  We send flowers to someone who needs cheering up and it is said that is kind, and it is.  We hold a door open for someone and we are being kind.  In kindness, we sacrifice a bit of our money or a few moments of our time for the benefit of others.  We should be known as people who practice kindness.  But Jesus came to give mercy not kindness.  I do not mean to say Jesus was an unkind person.  I mean to say what I said, “Jesus came to gave mercy not kindness” and called his followers to do likewise.  In our Old Testament reading today from Hosea, God said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  What then is mercy that God desires, and Jesus gave?

To act in mercy is to give to someone the very thing they desperately need and that they cannot provide for themselves.  You give someone what they need most that they have no way of obtaining for themselves.  Jesus gave mercy.  He did so not for the applause of others and he did not give to applaud himself.  He gave mercy according to the will of God. For each person on that mountainside and for each person here today and all those in between, Jesus gave.  He gave His life that all those who would profess Him as Lord before man would be made new.  The old would be wiped away, the sins of the past forgiven, and a new eternal life would be born again with God.  The people on the hillside and the people here desperately needed forgiveness and they could not grant forgiveness on their own.  To be forgiven is a gift of mercy to the needy.

We cannot replicate what Jesus did, but we can imitate what Jesus did. We can act with mercy and be forgiving of offenses committed against us.  We pray this every week, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The Apostle Paul said it this way, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Be merciful toward others and forgive them in the same way you have received mercy from God with your own forgiveness.  We can be merciful and forgive those who have offended us.  This is an act of mercy given to the needy.

We can imitate Jesus by granting mercy to those who need compassion, company, counseling, and consoling.  We have the capacity to be merciful to those made needy through COVID and reach out to them with our presence.  We can share the hope in Christ that we have, the mercy we received, and help others come to faith.  Nothing could be more important than to be an instrument of ushering another person to eternal life. 

We can extend mercy and help those in need to get connected or reconnected to the body of Christ, His church.  Becoming connected to the body of Christ is to break loneliness and hopelessness and give life meaning and purpose beyond simply existing for another day.  To be part of the Christian church is to be part of a continuous living body that is more than 2,000 years old.  Helping people find meaning is to extend mercy because you will have introduced them to the something more that they need.

In a few moments, I will stand before the cross and we will take the bread and cup as symbols of His gift to us.   The cross, the bread, and the cup make no noise on their own or together.  Yet they are symbols of a quiet thunder that captures our attention that we are in the presence of God and that His gift of grace and mercy is available to us.  It is the ultimate moment of being aware that “there is something more.”  Let us rejoice in the mercy we have received, and the call God has placed on our lives to share with those who are in need.  Amen and Amen.