Blog / Book of the Month / The Lord's Prayer and Public Righteousness / Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 26th 2020 / Season Of Lent - Ash Wednesday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

The Lord's Prayer and Public Righteousness / Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 26th 2020 / Season Of Lent - Ash Wednesday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

The Lord's Prayer and Public Righteousness / Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 26th 2020 / Season Of Lent - Ash Wednesday / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Ash Wednesday February 26th 2020: Season of the Lent / Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21 "The Lord's Prayer and Public Righteousness"

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when 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.

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. There was a time when the church was essentially a public place, when even the irreligious and religiously opposed individuals of society would attend church services, in part because everything else was closed, well maybe not everything but most everything, commercial stores, sporting and entertainment related endeavours all took the day off, which meant that everyone employed at such locations or who would go to them had the day off from them as well. So it was that for a time the church, the congregation, was in a way the public square. And one of the most common prayers to hear both there and in schools and in homes was the Lord’s Prayer. Such prayer are not new, Christians have been braying them a long time. In fact ever since the disciples asked Jesus “how should we pray” and He said to them, pray like this, pray using these words.

Christians have been in this Land a long time, as far back as Giovanni Caboto, John Cabot, in 1497 and likely earlier than that. From 1763 when the Land that was becoming Canada came under English laws work and entertainment on Sunday was officially prohibited, in 1867 when the British North America Act came into effect bylaws about what could and couldn’t take place on a Sunday then seemed to fall under provincial jurisdiction, by the late 1800’s there was a push for federal laws and in 1906 Parliament enacted the Lord's Day Act. By the 1960’s amendments started to crop up and in 1965 there was the Saskatchewan Lord’s Day Act with its own provincial bylaws. After more amendments and additional wrangling and court cases it all ended up before the Supreme Court of Canada and in an odd turn of events the newly minted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,[1] which grants as a fundamental freedom your freedom of religion, then used the charter to strike down the validity of any and all Lord’s Day Acts in favour of the minority over the majority. Some were quick to open their stores on Sunday some were slower but by the early 1990’s most commercial and entertainment related businesses were open and sports like Hockey, Baseball and Softball followed suit general church attendance on a Sunday waned by comparison to those earlier days in part because the church no longer served the function of a public square where even the unbeliever might go because that was the place the community gathered together. Also well meaning Christians ended up in a situation where shopping and sports and other activities tempted them away from the Lord’s House.

First I mention all of this because we sometimes forget what a tug of war there was along the way. Some in favour some against, questions and concerns found themselves in Parliament, in court and out of court, raised in Legislatures and Municipal council chambers all across Canada. Secondly it was used and misused: some found in it great freedom to practice their Christian faith in peace with friends and family and community while others misused the sentiments that undergirded these Acts and bylaws to perpetrate crimes against non-Christian folks attempting to force conversion to Christianity especially in the residential School System. Behaviour unbecoming of Christians and in many cases painful and detestable sins of abuse where perpetrated under a cloak of righteousness. Instead of allowing people the freedom to hear God’s Word preached in sincerity and truth where they could by the power of the Holy Spirit come to faith without compulsion of force or threat, many people instead were cornered into or pressed into Christian living against their will. This created resentment against the church, sometimes this was for good reason sometimes it was simply the result of a heavy handed man made law that did not favour grace and mercy.

Most importantly though I mention all of this because of what Jesus says in our Gospel when He warns us to avoid making a big show of praying on “the street corners” in order to be seen by others, instead Jesus encourages us to “go into [our] room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” The Church more and more is become a private place, yes everyone is welcome, but everyone doesn’t come, not even all who could come do come; and you well know if you don’t use your freedom you are in danger of losing it. So we pray together in Church and we pray at home and in both places we practicing our righteousness not in order to be seen by the public but rather as a way to encourage each other inside our shared confession of faith, inviting friends and family to join us not by compulsion but in grace and love. Consider what we hear from the book of Hebrews where we are asked to both, “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [while at the same time] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”[2] Yes the outside World may observe us living our lives as Christians but we are not commanded to make a show of it.

Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent are always an opportunity to think again about how we practice our faith in the World, in the Church, with our friends and co-workers and in our families. If any of it is public is it to spread the love of Jesus or is it for personal gain and social advancement? How do we practice our Christian faith when the eyes of the World are not watching us, when only God sees? We look ourselves in the mirror and we wipe away our cross of ashes remembering our mortality and the shortness of the time we have been given to accomplish the work set before us. A fresh start to pounder anew the will of God the Father over and above our personal will: A time to reflect on the humility of Christ Jesus who made Himself nothing, who “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, [our Jesus] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[3] This is not the act of one who wants to enact religious riotousness by force of Law but rather the act of one who calls us and all people to embrace the law of God in freedom, in the knowledge and comfort that the Law has been fulfilled in Him. Lent then is not about the world watching your religious righteousness rather it is a time when we remember that both inside and outside of Lent God is the one watching our religious righteousness, He is the one who watches our heart, He sees in secret what the World cannot see … even if you are showing off your religious righteousness publicly the World will be blind to the true sincerity or hypocrisy of it God on the other hand truly sees.

For some this will be a terrifying thought, a thought they don’t want to think, however for others it is a great comfort because it means that God is actually paying attention, He actually sees you, He knows your heart, and He hears your prayers. So if you had a room of people, like it used to be the case in Public Schools, where everyone is praying the Lord’s Prayer God would know which ones pray with faith and which ones like parrots are only mouthing and vocalizing the words without faith in Christ Jesus and so your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer as Christians we know that God’s name is certainly holy in itself, that the kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, that the good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, that God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, and yet we pray because we are asked to do so with all boldness and confidence as dear children ask their dear father because we are tenderly invited to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children. With such understanding of our true relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son we pray the Lord’s Prayer seeking always that His name be kept holy among us, that His will would be done in our lives, and that we would have a truly thankful heart for all those things which He so graciously gives us.

The Lord’s Prayer is the preeminent prayer of the Christian; it contains everything necessary for understanding your relationship to God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit. When your ship of faith is listing or trimming, when it’s in danger of capsizing, when your daily struggle to keep sailing is challenged by the ways of the Word and your holding on the rigging of faith and a good conscience are being jeopardized, when you are tempted to abandon the church shipwrecking your faith,[4] when you have fallen overboard into the choppy waters of the World at just such a time let The Lord’s Prayer be a life preserver, hold fast to it in the raging sea of life and allow yourself to be pulled back into the ship of the Church. This prayer reminds you that God tempts no one, that He forgives your sins no matter what they may be and He promises to deliver you from evil, a promise which will come to completion at the Resurrection of the dead.

As Christians we pray this prayer together in the “privacy” of our church, in the privacy of our Hospital room, in the privacy of our homes and in the privacy of our heart. If there is an aspect of your prayer that becomes public, if a guest joins the congregation on Sunday or for some function whether by curiosity of invitation, if non-Christian friends are guests in your home, if there is someone in the bed to the left or the right of you in the Hospital who chimes in with you and your pastor while you are praying the Lord’s Prayer together, whatever the case might be, trust that this prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, is what it is, a prayer given by Jesus, it is in fact the Word of God and as we know, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”[5] So pray your prayer and remember whatever seeds are sown it is “God who gives the growth.”[6] And remember we do not need man made laws to help along the Work of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit will work His work regardless of whatever laws we might make. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need any Lord’s Day Act to accomplish through us what He desires. In fact history proves that extra pharisaical Laws and Acts tend to have unintended negative consequences.

So let your religious practicing of your righteousness be what it is whether in public or in private, don’t be a hypocrite acting one way with these people and another way with those people, let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no. Jesus is warning against worrying about what the world think about how you’re practicing your righteousness; He’s encouraging us, He’s encouraging you, rather to remember that the important one to keep in mind is God, and what’s more there’s no fooling God. When you “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father” when you pray the Lord’s Prayer saying “Our Father who art in Heaven,” He knows your heart and what you need. In the Small Catechism it’s recommended that we pray the Lord’s Prayer morning, noon and night and even more than that, there is no praying it too much, but also remember to study it and think on it, Jesus has given in this prayer a devotional work unsurpassed and worthy of continued contemplation both inside and outside of the Season of Lent and if you have this treasure in your heart no law of the land can force you to love it and no law of the land can take it from you. If your freedom to pray it publicly or even privately is stripped away, if you like Christ Jesus are led to your death for your private and public confession of faith even so this prayer cannot be taken from you and when you pray it even in your secret heart God the Father has promised to hear your prayers and will hear it for the sake of His son and in love toward you. Amen.

Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] PART I CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS Fundamental Freedoms - Section 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association
[2] Hebrews 10:24–25
[3] Philippians 2:7–8
[4] 1 Timothy 1:19
[5] Romans 10:17
[6] 1 Corinthians 3:7