Ash Wednesday 07’
“Our Father Who Art in Heaven”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. This year during these midweek Lenten services we will be focusing on the Lord’s Prayer, while traveling to the cross. Here is a prayer that without a doubt is completely conceived in the Gospel by virtue of Jesus Himself giving it to us. What better comfort and strength can be given in this penitential season than to reflect upon each petition of this prayer? To do such a thing will not only help us to grow in knowledge of God’s forgiveness through His Son. It will also carry us by faith to rejoice in the resurrection on Easter morning.
With this in mind, let us open our hymnals to page 323 and look at the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. I will read the petition itself along with asking the question, “What does this mean?” The congregation in turn is to respond with Martin Luther’s answer that is taken from His catechism. “THE INTRODUCTION, Our Father who art in heaven. What does this Mean?” With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. Above all else, these beginning words of the Lord’s Prayer draw us away from our works to first have faith toward God through the love He has shown to us by His Son.
Here is the point of the words read from the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Jesus uncovered the empty hearts of the Pharisees toward God who gave alms, prayed, and fasted all for show. They were attention getters and people pleasers, knowing how and when to do something for the best affect. Manipulation of the masses were their key goal. Yet, such a life was condemned by the savior saying, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Salvation does not come by outward works, but finally by faith in the heart.
On the other hand, how are we as a church to handle these words of Jesus? If taken in the most literal way, then everything that we are doing tonight is completely wrong. None of us should be praying together in this public place because that is supposed to be private. None of us should be giving alms or offerings because your left hand sure knows what your right hand is doing. And certainly none of us should be wearing ashes upon our foreheads as a sign of repentance. Matter a fact, those who do not come to church could make a pretty good case that we are a bunch of hypocrites no different then the Pharisees!
This would be true if scripture did not interpret scripture. There are plenty of other places in God’s Word that reveal just the opposite for instance Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Or Hebrews 10:24 says, “…Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.” Above all else, Jesus even gave us the Lord’s Supper that involves the presence of more than just me, but the whole community of believers to gather around His grace and forgiveness. So, the text from Matthew is not condoning what we are doing here tonight as a church. Instead, it lifts us up to see that behind outward works is to be a true faith toward God in who He is for us, our savior and Lord.
Like the opening words to the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Jesus makes the appeal to give such a faith three separate times in our reading saying, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Having a confidence to view one’s life in reference to God as Father is not just by picturing it this way. This is what the Jews already thought they had before Jesus came. However, it was only by the Son that anyone could truly know the saving love of the Father. The darkness of sin and death blurred having any other perfect trust in God. This is why Jesus had to cut through it all for us. Without His suffering and death on the cross there could be no way to look beyond our works to what God has done for us. We would still be stuck like the Pharisees trying to show off for man, rather than going about life with the approval of a true Father who has loved us by His Son.
To start off Lent and each day with these opening Words of the Lord’s Prayer tells us that salvation does not come by mere outward works, but finally by a true faith that has been put into our hearts. But, how do you know it is inside you? Is it because you feel it? Is it because you reason that you have it? On the contrary, look to where God has given it to you by what has been promised in a baptism into Jesus’ death. There is where you died and were born to new life. There is where you became a child of God. This is how we end up praying the first words of the Lord’s Prayer by confidence and remembrance of our baptism. God will not deny us the right to call Him Father, for He cannot deny His Son. And we say it together as “our Father” for this is what we all have united by the one faith in Jesus suffering and death for our sins.
Life very well may be filled with works. If we live, we will do and what we do depends on a lot of things. Yet, the Lord treasures more than what we see on the outside, he desires to turn and capture the harder part of man, His heart. This is why it had to take the love of His Son to change our sinful hearts to truly call God, “Our Father.” Amen. Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding be with your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life eternal. Benin . Amen.