Practicing Piety:  A Bible Study for Asbury's Worship
(March 6 & 7)
by Rev. Lee Johnson

march 6, 2021


This week in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns his audience, of which you are part, to the word “piety.”  (See Matthew 6.1-4)  Apparently, according to Jesus, piety is to be practiced.  What’s that mean?  Well, piety is a “means,” a way or a path, which leads the believer into a more close relationship with God.  At one time or another, most of us have practiced piety. Just the fact you are reading this Bible study right now is an act of piety. You are practicing, seeking a closer relationship with God. Congratulations! Of course, there are other means, other ways. Take prayer and silence, for example. Both send you on a path closer to God. That’s piety. When you enter into those means, you are practicing. You may not name it as such, but that’s what you are doing – practicing. John Wesley, our Methodist founding parent, would be pleased by your practice. Wesley believed we live in a world of conflict that pulls believers away from God. Maybe the next time you feel conflicted, you should ask yourself: “How is it I am being pulled away from God’s ways?” For Wesley, the practice of piety helped free the believer from the conflict. Hmmm. If you have an aversion to conflict, it might help if you embrace the practice of piety. How do you practice piety - do you read a daily devotional?  Do you begin and end each day with prayer?  What about silence? 


For her sermon this week, Gayla asked around about piety, as in: “What do you think of when you hear the word piety?” I think of John Wesley, but then again I’m somewhat of a Methodist geek. All of the responses Gayla received were less than positive. One person said something like, “piety means holier than thou.” Well, in Wesley’s construct of piety, there is a connection between holiness (of heart) and piety. Still, the practice of piety in our Methodist tradition is not intended to set the believer apart and above others. Maybe that’s why Jesus begins his sermon: “Beware of practicing your piety before others so as to be seen.”  Note first, Jesus is not discouraging the practice of piety. Nor, he is saying, do not practice your piety in front of others. What he is saying is do not practice piety before others in ways that call attention to yourself. You know, holier than thou. Lucky for us, Jesus goes on to give an example of self-serving piety, those who give gifts in a braggadocios manner. Self-serving piety only moves you closer to self. That’s a poor use of your practice time. Instead, your practice is intended to free you of yourself and those conflicts inside, and move you closer to God. Why do you think the work piety can have such a negative meaning for people?  Does it for you?


Back to Wesley’s “holy heart.” For him, holiness (of heart) meant a heart perfectly tuned to the ways of God. Just as singing in perfect tune requires practice, so too does a perfectly tuned heart. That’s why Wesley encouraged his followers to give constant attention to their practice, not in ways that called attention to themselves, but in ways that moved their attention towards God. The practice of piety fit well with Wesley’s understanding of what it meant to be in full relationship with God. Think of it as “practice makes for a perfect heart.” Still, for Wesley, there was the matter of what believers were to do with their piety practice. Just leave at that and be satisfied? No, doing that would lead you right back to a conflicted heart. Instead, said Wesley, “A constant attention to the work which God entrusts us with is a mark of solid piety.” And, just what is the work to which God entrusts us?  Acts of service. Our service, mission, and giving is to grow from our piety. Such an understanding is a hallmark of our Methodist tradition. Can you think of ways in which your practice of piety has led you to serve and give? 


Matthew 6.1-4


Asbury's Weekend Worship:
Beginning Saturday, March 6 at 5:00 pm


Send me down the path of piety.

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