“Let us be Humble”
Matthew 6:1-21, March 6, 2022
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Distribution of Ashes
Communion – First Sunday in Lent
“Hear now the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter six, verses one thru twenty-one.”
1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So whenever you give alms, 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. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Having heard the words of Jesus surrounding the topics of piety, prayer and humility, let us consider how we might grow in the practice of our faith.”
“Let us be Humble”
Friends and neighbors, today, we shall pause to observe the distribution of ashes, as we also celebrate the Last Supper with Jesus. On this first Sunday of Lent, we come to remember that God made us from fragile yet blessed dust and breathes through us the breath of life and love. From dust we were ‘created in God’s image’ and to God’s good dust we shall return. With dust we claim the mark of God’s beloved creation. Therefore, we have begun our forty-day Lenten journey. Let us use this time, to reflect on who we are ‘fashioned’ to be as God’s beloved. While reclaiming the essence of Jesus’ teachings. In daily practices of prayer and service we will embark upon this Lenten journey. We follow Jesus, God’s Beloved Child, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh in whom we see God’s image most clearly. Therefore, come, let us pray for strength and imagination to follow Jesus wherever he will lead us this Lent.
Let us now bow our heads in prayer, as we call upon our Creator God to hear our plea. O God, we seek that you will forgive us for our misdeeds and our missed opportunities to reach out in your holy name, to help others. Open our hearts wide to the spreading desperation of those that have once again fallen victim to acts of war, as the evils of unchecked human nature are displayed for all the world to see. Help us as we seek to pick up the tools of humility once again, striving to part of the greater solution. Guided always by your guiding light in the world. Help us to find balance in how we live true lives of faithfulness to your codes – as found in scripture. Help us to respect the example set by your Son Jesus – as he taught by example. Remind us of how Jesus lived in the ways of true virtue and goodness. We ask that through your Spirit we shall fully embrace all that today’s lesson offers to us. May these lessons remind and teach us to live the lives of creditable witnesses, witnesses of what it means to live a life of godliness with reverence – without embracing hypocrisy, fear, and self-seeking. Help us to overcome our personal human natures that can cause us to be too self-focused and egotistical. Have mercy on us, as we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
There comes a time when we each must face our own personal humanness. We must also leave judgement of others moral conduct to God. This is a big ask. I do not ask it of you, but our lesson today clearly is speaking to us. Jesus speaks of hypocrites in the synagogue. He tells us of those who seek praise for even their most simple gifts, as they surely give in a way others will see their generosity. God sees the heart of all who give, the humble and the egocentric. The same God will praise your humility and your gift, while judging those who seek praise and adoration for what they do. Jesus speaks, saying “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” /Matthew 6:5c/ Jesus even goes on to bring The Lord’s Prayer into the conversation. Reminding us of what the words of the prayer are saying. When you pray, do you listen to what the prayer is all about. The Lord’s prayer contains enough for many sermons. You know the words; we say them together every week. The prayer is worthy of repetition. I find myself saying it at least once a day. Truly, it is a very unusual day when I do not say it in some context or another.
Again, Jesus speaks “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (He is reminding us to speak with respect as we pray.) Your kingdom come. (Jesus does not speak of our kingdom, but that of our Heavenly Creator God.) Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Some of us may be surprised to learn this is not a prayer asking for our will to be done! The prayer asks for God’s will to be done!) 11 Give us this day our daily bread. (Yet, it is ok to ask for our daily nourishment, so that we shall be able to be of service to God and to others.) 12 And forgive us our debts, (Yes, we ask for forgives!) as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Oh my! Forgiveness comes in the same manner we forgive others! Think about this for a bit!) 13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. (Jesus seems to understand the temptations we humans endure. Asking for a bit of help to shield ourselves from those things we struggle with – this is a wise ask.) 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” /Matthew 6:9-15/ Jesus repeats himself, using forgiveness of trespasses as well as saying the same with the use of the word debts. My experience is, that when a professor or a teacher, especially a teacher such as Jesus repeats something – it is ‘really’ important to listen to what is being taught. As it must be an important lesson. When I was in college, a repeated lesson from a professor always went on my study list, as in the end – you can be assured it will be on the final exam, kind of like we imagine “Judgement Day” will be.
How does all this conversation about the Lord’s Prayer help us deal with what is going on in the World Stage, especially in the Ukraine today? Well, first off, we need to pray about what’s happening. We really do. I stand before you as a Christian pastor, I believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Living Spirit of God. In simpler terms I have seen the three distinct personalities of God, through the scriptures, through our traditions and most importantly through my firsthand experiences. Thus, I have used the intellect, which our Creator has gifted me with. The bottom line for me is this: you either believe in a Supreme Deity, or you don’t. If you don’t, my prayers go out to you and to the God of my understanding on your behalf. For those that do already believe, as I believe, we must ask ourselves: “Do we honestly believe in God? Do we really trust God? Do we trust that our prayers are heard by God? If we say yes, then we need to be in conversation with God about what is going on. We need to use the fundamentals as spoken of in the “The Lord’s Prayer” as to what constitutes a true prayer and a true conversation with someone, someone we fully trust, in all areas of our lives. We also need to reflect on all that we have studied and learned over the course of our faith journeys. We may not always like what we hear. God, like a good parent, does not always give us what we want. But rather we shall receive that which we need. Being in conversation with God, through prayer, will change the one(s) praying. And in that altered state we shall better know how to act and or respond in any and all situations.
It is truly humbling to come to understand that believing in God does not change humankind. Nor does this mean that others will believe as we believe. Our Creator gave us ‘all’ free will. (God have mercy!) Our Heavenly Father sent his Son, Jesus, armed with the “Word” of God, for us all to hear. Jesus, while in human form, lived a human life and died a human death. Died an unjust and cruel human execution. Jesus promised us forgiveness for our sins, our wrong choices, just so long as we too are willing to forgive others. Before he died on the cross his words spoke of everlasting life. Jesus spoke of heaven. Jesus spoke of preparing a place for us in heaven. From the Gospel of John, we hear the words of Jesus. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” /John 14:1-3/
Before we partake of Communion today, we shall offer ashes to those that wish to humbly remember we are mortal humans, made in the likeness of God. We reflect-back to the words from Genesis. “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” /Genesis 3:19/
Today, on this first Sunday of Lent we shall also share in that last meal Jesus had with his disciples before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, near the Mount of Olives. We will recall how Jesus broke the bread, symbolizing his broken body, asking those present, all of us, to remember him. He then took the table drink of the day and spoke of his spilt blood, and his gift of forgiveness. Jesus gave his all, as others have done in his name in these Centuries which have since passed. As we close our Communion service of remembrance, we shall offer up a prayer of Thanksgiving. Let us be trusting of God’s love for us through Christ, as we humble ourselves in commemoration of the gift of the Son of God’s human life, for our salvation.