Jesus warns his followers about the dangers of exhibitionist religion: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness (or rightness) in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1a).

We are called to be servants, not showboats. And impressing others with our public displays of holiness may bring hollow, human praise. Jesus, however, said he’s not impressed.

When reading those stern words — as part of an Ash Wednesday service — my mind first went to those proud and pompous religionists Jesus was targeting at the time. Our tendency is to cheer him on, “Go get ‘em, Jesus.”

Our familiar second response is to apply his warning to those in our own time who we consider to be religiously arrogant and legalistic — and, in general, wrong. Rarely, however, do we apply his warning appropriately to ourselves.

I want to do that.

Many in my more moderate or progressive tribe of Baptists have discovered and implemented liturgical practices in recent decades that previously weren’t observed widely in our tradition. And the embrace has been deep — with churches learning and experiencing new ways of worship.

[Yes, I know there are those Baptist churches in which such liturgies have long been a part of the congregations’ worship practices. I’ve held membership in such churches.]

Increasingly, Baptists (and others whose worship styles have been more free-form) have found the following of the Church Year to be a spiritually beneficial way to more deeply embrace the fullness of Jesus’ life and teachings. This approach allows for more focused and needed times for reflection and reorientation.

And, perhaps most helpful, these seasons help us avoid any attempted end-around from the sweet manger scene to the glorious empty tomb. We don’t get to skip the helpful, but hard stuff.

Even more conservative Baptists now observe Advent and hold Good Friday — if not Maundy Thursday — services. There is less fear than in the past among these often-suspicious Protestants that if they light more than one candle a year they’ll instantly become Catholics who have to do what the pope tells them.

However, I’ve detected some spiritual one-upmanship among those of us who have more fully embraced these liturgical expressions of Christianity. And that attitude — though likely unintended — fits within Jesus’ warning about practicing one’s faith to impress others.

Therefore, we should beware of trying to out-stole one another. Jesus’ warnings about publicly displaying our religious acts seem to have particular relevance in the age of selfies.

There is often an arrogance that suggests one who more slavishly attends to the liturgical cycle and symbols, and who preaches from lectionary texts, is somehow more sophisticated and informed (that is, more “right”) than those who do less so and are, therefore, considered less than right.

Liturgical practices are a means, however, not an end. Ministerial dress-up and seasonally colored table and pulpit adornments do not make worship authentic. Honest contemplation, confession and praise are the real components.

Candles, multiple readings and smeared foreheads don’t necessarily raise our spiritual thermometers. They can help, but they are means to benefits that come from reflection, humility and redirection.

As a pinch-hit preacher, I’ve learned to worship — and lead worship — in a variety of settings. In doing so, I’ve noticed how my personal preferences can sometimes be elevated to a status they don’t deserve.

Yet, any preference or practice that carries an air of superiority seems to align with what Jesus warned his followers to avoid. Touting one’s knowledge or use of liturgical practices can do that as easily as misappropriated almsgiving, prayer and fasting.

So, just a warning to us to not be so enamored of our worship practices — many of which weren’t understood, much less practiced not too many years ago. To gloat about how (and how well) we embrace such practices — and treat them as ends rather than means — must sound to Jesus like the loud street corner prayers and the trumpeted offerings he rejected.

Let us beware that our favored worship practices do not equate with measurements of spiritual rightness. If they do, then the need for confession we talk about so much during the Lenten season may be applicable to us in these ways.

While it is easy to point out elitism, judgmentalism and legalism within fundamentalism and hyper-Calvinism, those undesirable attributes find a comfortable home in our camp as well.

Self-critique is not as much fun as pointing out the errant ways of others. But it does seem more constructive.

We need to be careful about how we put our faith on public display in order to impress others. At least Jesus thought so.

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