Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"No Trumpets Are Necessary"

Text: Matthew 6:1-4

Psalm 81:1-5

We all know that in any band, the trumpet section is usually no place for musicians with introverted personalities.  The trumpets are literally the brassiest instruments.  They comprise the section of the marching band that most often carries the melody.  In a jazz band, the trumpet players are those who most often stand – and stand out - during a performance.  Trumpets were the “chops” of the big band era of Dorsey and Shaw.  Trumpet stops and sections are among the most powerful and dominant on the great French and German pipe organs. 

At the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Dinners which I’ve been privileged to attend, what instrument do you suppose is used to announce the entrance of the new enshrinees into the assembly hall?  It’s certainly not a piccolo.  Trumpets have that musical capacity to draw attention to themselves.  That is the nature of trumpets, and often the nature of those who play them best.  It is no wonder then that of the musical instruments mentioned in the Bible, trumpets are mentioned most often….. some 140 times!  The harp comes in a very distant second.  We can’t say for sure exactly what kind of trumpets were in the minds of the Biblical writers.  But we can be sure that they were used on the most important festal occasions, judging from the frequent mention of trumpets and horns in so-called “temple Psalms,” such as we’ve read this morning.  They are dramatic and they command attention, making them an appropriate instrument for worship when the goal is to grasp every- one’s attention and focus it upon Almighty God.

             For all the mention of trumpets in the Old Testament, Jesus mentions trumpets only twice in the gospel accounts;  first, near the beginning of His teaching ministry when He said not to use them to draw attention to things that don’t call for attention, and then toward the end of Matthew’s Gospel when He declared that an angelic trumpet would one day announce “the Son of Man” [that is Jesus Himself]  “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”This morning, I’d like to focus our attention on Jesus’ first teaching, the crux of which is that while some things demand and deserve our attention, even warranting a flourish of trumpets to announce their presence, other things do not, such as our faith-motivated service.

            As part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He teaches that religious piety and practice, and religious service to others, do not call for a flourish of trumpets.  Quite the opposite.  These are things which are to be done with quiet reserve, and for good reason.   Jesus warns those in His congregation:  “….whenever you give alms [ie. whenever you reach out with aid to the poor], do not sound a trumpet before you…”

        It is such a strong inclination to let others know when we do good.  And that’s not a terrible thing.  When I was in grade school, I remember how excited I’d get when the teacher put a sticker on the top of my homework paper showing that I’d done exceptional work.  I couldn’t wait to share this with the world.  So I’d toot my horn, first showing my paper to my parents, then to my grandma, then to anyone else who seemed to care.  My sister though… she didn’t digit much.  Who of us couldn’t share such experiences when we’ve excelled at school work, or in our athletic endeavors, or in our vocational pursuits, or in our family life.  It’s just fine to take pride in our accomplishments, and to share that with others we know and love.

            Yet Jesus makes clear that with regard to our religious devotion and charity, we must be wary of how much attention we call to ourselves and our good works, and more importantly, our motivation for doing so.  Jesus throughout His life witnessed people -- many of them devoutly religious people – tooting their horns about what they’d done to help someone else.“Oh, I saved this one from starving by giving them food when they were hungry.”  “I drew from my resources to provide aid to that poor family.”  “I gave of my time to visit that one who was sick or in prison.”  “I pray every hour on the hour, and attend temple three days a week.”  What troubled Jesus was not all these good things that people had done for others or their level of religious commitment.  Those things were awesome in His eyes.  What troubled Jesus was what appeared to be an underlying motivation which was more self-serving than noble:  “Look, people, at what I’ve done.  Aren’t I awesome!?”  In Jesus’ view, that becomes their reward – favorable recognition and kudos by others.  That’s why Jesus expands on the warning:  “….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.”

            Jesus is teaching that our motivation for helping others, in whatever way we choose or areequipped to help others, is to serve God and the purposes of God’s Kingdom.   We are not to clamor after human accolades to the neglect of the One who is meant to be praised by all of our religious behavior and service.  It should be God’s approval and God’s praises we are to seek when we do good things in God’s service.  If what we primarily seek is the approval and praises of others, God is more or less left out of the equation.

            To be honest, we who have chosen Christian ministry as a vocation have to admit that at least one of the reasons we have entered the ministry – the reason we would most like not to be found out – is the need to be respected and admired by congregations we serve.  We may deny it.  We may try to live lives characterized by humility and meekness.  But we pastors can be found wishing from time-to-time that our congregations would be more unanimous in adulation and support, more willing to appreciate us, more outspoken in praise of us.  The problem we face is that every positive comment following a sermon, or Bible study, or act of care only creates in us a desire to hear more.  A single trumpet announcing our arrival at worship or a board meeting would one day seem too few, and eventually – if we follow that self-serving road far enough – even a hundred trumpets would not seem sufficient.  I believe when Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others,” He had on His radar all of us, but particularly the religious leaders of His day, and ours, who ran and run the risk of hypocrisy.  I suppose what I’m saying is it’s okay to compliment and thank your pastor and one another, but not too loud, and not too long.  For your service and my service are always and ultimately to the glory of God, not to the glory of our selves.


            As much as those who first heard these words of Jesus, we all need to be reminded – clergy and non-clergy alike – that trumpets of praise and adoration are to be reserved for the truly important and praiseworthy things in our religious life.  So if it’s not self-proclaiming trumpets that God wants from us, then what does God desire?  While not in this particular context, I love how the prophet Micah answers regarding sacrificial service:  “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Jesus said, “….when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret.” The purpose of our giving, our serving, our reaching out to others, is not self-promotion [or church promotion], or engaging in one upsmanship with our church neighbors.  That is not humility, but hubris.  The purpose of our giving, our serving, our reaching out is entirely a matter of gratitude; of response to the One who gave first, who gave most, who gave best.  And that is best done with quiet reserve.  Then, as Jesus says, “(our) Father who sees in secret will reward (us).”  No trumpets are necessary.