Giving in Secret

By Rev. Stefan Francke, SWPO

Homily ICMA World Conference Kaohsiung 2019 – Tuesday October 22

Matthew 6.1-4 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

It would have been a lot easier if we had Matthew 5:15-16 as the text for today. In this passage, Jesus tells us not to hide under a basket the good we do. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.”

Such a text would have been a great encouragement for our conference.

For it would be a nice image: the work that we do in ports and on vessels, the light we try to spread – isn’t one of the aims of this conference to put all of this work on a candle?

Does not our work deserve more attention than it often gets? We all know the expression “sea blindness” – many people have no clue about the importance of seafarers and neither do they have any clue on the welfare work which supports the seafarers during their hard work under difficult circumstances.

Aren’t conferences about maritime ministry meant to put our light on a candlestick? Isn’t that the reason that some welfare organizations have award events – as a reward for the great work that is done by the maritime missions?

Putting our light on a candlestick – we need to promote our work, right? We need to shine, for that will attract people to support us. And we cannot do without support. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works. Let them see our good works via our newsletters, Facebook pages, annual reports and conferences.

But, Matthew 5:1-16 is not today’s reading. We hear different words from Jesus: “Be careful not to practice your rightenousness in front of others to be seen by them. …

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Quite a different language and a different image.

Do these words of Jesus mean that we shall not celebrate this week?

Do these words of Jesus mean that we should try to be as invisible as possible – put our missions out of sight as much as possible?

Do these words of Jesus mean that we should refrain from asking attention for the welfare work to seafarers?

There is a saying: what happens on the ship, stays on the ship.

It means: about certain things you remain quiet when you are on shore – for they will not understand anyway.

Yes, a bit of that is part of our work.

We are here with many chaplains, the ones who actually do the ship visiting, the ones who actually run the seamen’s clubs – they know what I am talking about. What happens on the ship, stays on the ship.

  • A conversation you have on a quiet spot on deck – or in the ECR.
  • A moment of prayer in between the chaotic dynamics of loading and off- loading – or a docking period.
  • Sharing bread and wine with just a few guys on a Sunday night in the chapel of your mission.
  • A great joke by one of the crewmembers which takes away the tension of your presence.
  • A cadet, who wants to show his strong face, but when you sit alone with him, he tells you about his insecurities.
  • The phonecall you have to make to the Port Inspection – you struggle before: what shall I do?

A right hand dialling – but one has to remain discrete.

Hard to tell what exactly is happening when you visit a ship or when you receive visitors in your mission.

These things are not always big lights to put on a candle stick.

In my foundation we like to use the image of sharing sparks of light.

Just sparks – and you are not always aware of the fires they might be igniting.

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The words of Jesus actually provide me with some relief.

For what we do, ultimately is not about getting as much attention as possible, it is not about being liked by a big crowd, it is not about being acknowledged by ship owners – it even is not about getting recognition from the seafarers – it is about what God thinks is important.

God’s valuation of what we do matters.

The language of reward is not a language of earning or deserving, it is the language of grace.

You have your reward in heaven – for God’s love is unconditional.

With this mindset, I can feel relaxed when I visit a ship. Numbers and success are not the key words.

But we work from grace.

I like the example that general secretary Jason Zuidema once gave during a lecture. When as a chaplain you sell a SIM card, what is happening is not a commercial transaction. It’s about connecting a seafarer to his family.

Financially, it is not an interesting fact – but from the perspective of grace it is a great gift.

So yes, we are very blessed that we can work for, with and on behalf of seafarers. And this week, during this great conference, we may celebrate this mystery of right hands and left hands.

Thanks be to God. Amen.