“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. “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. But 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; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “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. 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. “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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
Throughout Lent, we are going to be learning about the prayer Jesus taught his disciples. This prayer is captured in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and while they are similar in many respects, they are also different because of the contexts in which they appear. Tonight, we read Matthew’s version, which is situated in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew does this on purpose, as he positions this prayer as the very centerpiece of the sermon. He inserts the prayer in the middle of instruction about acceptable practices for Jesus’ disciples. Giving to the poor and praying were not new things, as faithful Jews were accustomed to these practices. Jesus wasn’t giving his disciples new instructions, and he wasn’t bemoaning the lackluster ways the disciples prayed or that they never did. The fact that his disciples prayed was assumed.
The instruction was on how to pray, and the how of prayer was not focused on public versus private... but instead, Jesus focused on the motivations behind our prayers. WE are not to put on a show. It’s also significant to note, I believe, that the prayer Jesus taught his disciples was in Aramaic, not Hebrew – the language of the scriptures and of the prayers they would have known. Jesus taught them to pray in the language that they knew, which again speaks to the lesson on authenticity in prayer.
Lent is an important season. In Christian history, this was the season of preparation for new Christians to prepare for baptism. They would have learned copious amounts of information about the church and Jesus and scriptures. They would have prayed and considered their own sinful nature and been ready to receive God’s grace. The practice has broadened to incorporate all Christians into a season of repentance, cleansing our spirits – so some will fast and remove those things that have become obstacles or distractions to their faith and relationship with God. Others choose to adopt new practices to draw them nearer to the Almighty.
Theologian Nadia Boltz-Weber wrote a blog about how Lent and Ash Wednesday are her favorite times in the Christian year because Christmas and Easter get co- opted by society, but no so much with Lent. “But oddly nobody waits every year to watch the Ash Wednesday Peanuts Special. There are no Doorbuster sales at 4am on the first day of Lent. There are no big garish displays in the middle of Cherry Creek Mall with mechanical Children in sackcloth and ashes. Nope. We get this one all to ourselves. Our culture has no idea what to do with a day that celebrates the fact that we all sin and are going to die.”i
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. This is the day when we pause to remember, to claim, our mortality. We are one day closer to death, and in fact, we are all going to die. We are all human, no matter what super-creams, performance enhancers, or even prayers we pray...we are human, and with our humanity comes death and sin. We are sinful people. Look at your neighbor and say “I am a sinner.” How did that feel? Now, look at your neighbor and say “me too.” Yes, friends, Lent is a time when we try to get things on track. We will fail, of course. We are human. We are sinners. This is not to discourage us from trying, but we will fail. So, in many ways, Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular are times to conduct a reality check. It’s also an invitation to get real, to stop pretending we are indestructible, to stop pretending we’ve got it all together, to stop pretending that we’ve made all the right choices. Snap out of it. We’re human. We’re dust. We’re gonna die, maybe not tomorrow, but we can let go of the pretenses and get down to what’s important.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes that to say “I love God, but do not pray much is like saying I love life but do not breathe much.” So, this Lent, we are going to pray. Lord, teach us to pray. We are going to breathe. We are going to invite the Holiest of Holies to enter every cell of our bodies, to live each day with us. We are going to pray for ourselves. WE are going to pray for others. We are going to examine what we think about prayer – what we do with prayer, what God does with prayer. But, we need help. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. And, we’re going to go deeper into that...but tonight, we start with simply the instruction to be present and be real with God, speaking in our own language with our own words.
Tonight is about getting real with God. So, if we’re really being honest, there are times when we have no idea what to say to God, how to express what’s on our hearts – this could be in good times or in bad. I love the scripture that was read from Romans about the Holy Spirit interceding for us, expressing what we cannot. Sometimes we think that God wants us to craft excellently constructed prayers, and don’t always feel up to snuff. But, friends, I believe that God cares more about hearing the honest, authentic, real, unedited versions of the prayers of our hearts than some carefully calculated and constructed petition....
Honesty is music to God’s heart... ...Better than a Hallelujah...
Our prayers are an opportunity to open ourselves to commune with the Almighty God, our God who created us and has loved us from our beginning, who knows the numbers of hairs on our head. That same God invites us into relationship, and that begins with prayer. Lord, teach us to pray.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story of taking students for weekly vespers at a Vedanta Center, where they sat on the floor in silence for an hour, listening to God. She writes, “This is the longest that some of us have ever intentionally remained silent, which means that it is also the first time some of us have found the entrance to the vast wilderness inside. Young people whose heads stay full of iTunes, Spanish homework, instant messaging, play practice, parental advice, Guitar Hero, cross-country, term papers, e- mail, romantic sagas, CSI, chorale, X Box, debate team, Second Lie, basement, and the procurement of illegal substances can be startled to hear the sound of their own heartbeats for the first time. They had no idea there was so much space inside of them. No one ever taught them how to hold still enough long enough for the shy deer-soul inside of them to step into the clearing and speak.”
On Wednesday evenings, we will gather for a simple supper and study on the Lord’s Prayer, and we will try different prayer practices...something different each time...sometimes the prayer practice may be one that you enjoy so thoroughly that you choose to adopt it into your daily routine, other practices may seem foreign and strange and something that didn’t bring you into contact with anything holy...but we are going to try. We are going to open ourselves. We are going to be authentically human seeking the Divine, listening for God’s voice, quieting the voices around us, and experiencing communion with the Spirit and with each other.
Lord, teach us to pray, teach us to open ourselves. Teach us to use words OR sighs too deep for words. Lord, teach us to pray. Amen.
i Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/02/why-i-love-ash- wednesday-and-lent-part-1-sin/#ixzz3S8wCBgQR