February 17, 2021
“Prayer and Fasting”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
A couple of Friday’s ago I was in charge of supper. So, I called up my Papa Murphy’s and told them what the Larson’s wanted to eat that evening. I selected a family size (we were hungry), regular crust, “Cowboy”, pizza. But when I arrived the pizza wasn’t quite done, so I sat and waited.
It was busy at Papa Murphy’s that evening. And my waiting led to watching and that turned into learning. The line for ordering and picking up were both long. Except, when one nicely dressed lady arrived, she went to the head of the pick-up line. Maybe she owned the place!! She was a bit pushy and impatient. She had already paid, so she got her pizzas and walked past the others who were in line. But one other lady didn’t keep quiet about this. She was quite brash. Some “In your face” words about how the line breaker was elitist and privileged came from her mouth.
And then there was “Marjorie”. She was there before either of those women had arrived. When both ladies had left she approached the counter and wondered if her order was ready. “When did you place your order?” “About two hours ago.” But the pizza wasn’t there. The order wasn’t found. So they put her at the head of the line and took care of her quickly. She didn’t stomp her feet. She didn’t call anyone names. She didn’t demand to see the manager. She thanked them and waited for just a few minutes longer before receiving her order.
I learned from every one of those people that evening. I learned from the first two ladies of how not to be. I also learned something better from Marjorie.
How do you learn the best? Do you learn from the poor examples of others? When you see such things do you say, “I’m not going to be like that person.” “I’m not going to make those choices.” Or, do you learn from the excellent examples of others? Do you watch them and make it a goal to follow their attitudes and actions?
Jesus is quite the teacher about godly disciplines in this section from the Sermon on the Mount, the section of Scripture we’ll be using during our Lenten worship. Concerning the giving of offerings, the praying of prayers and the act of fasting, Jesus first teaches us what not to do.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:1-2)
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think 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.” (Matthew 6:5, 7-8)
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in fall.” (Matthew 6:16)
We learn from others as we watch them. From some we learn what not to do and how not to live. As Jesus says here, “Do not be like them.” The examples I gave you from Papa Murphy’s was about some ugly ways that can pop up on Friday night when some people get tired and hungry. The examples Jesus gave were all religious ones, of people doing good things – giving gifts, praying prayers or fasting – but they were done for the wrong reason – so they could be seen by others. Their goal was self-recognition and praise, and I guess they got it. Just as Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
But our learning can’t be just from the negative. We can’t just look at someone who is making a mess of things and say, “I’m not going to be like that.” Learn from the positive. Follow the example of the best. Jesus is the one who gives this direction, “Follow me.” So, look at those disciplines – giving, praying and fasting – and follow the ways of Jesus. There was no showboating in the life of Jesus. He didn’t give to others, or pray, or fast, so that He would be praised or recognized. If you have studied the life of Jesus you have seen that “He went by Himself to pray”, or “He would go to lonely places to pray.” On Holy Thursday He prayed with great intensity, but privately, before He was handed over for crucifixion. His giving and His fasting also came from a humble heart.
Learn from Jesus but also learn of Jesus. What I want to say through that, is that our Lenten time is not just a lesson of how we are to be, but this is a time of knowing what Jesus has done for us. This is time of repentance – change – living life differently, and this is a time for absolute faith that Jesus came for the purpose of being our Savior.
How do you learn? Is it the poor examples of others that make the biggest impression on you? Or is it the best in others that you want to copy? I have another way of learning that goes far beyond those examples. Our lives our changed by God. How about making the words of the Baptist the words for this Lenten season, “He must become greater and I must become less”? (John 3:30)
I visit Dave Hitztaler regularly as he lives his last number of weeks or months on earth. Our conversations are treasured. He speaks of faith and the faithfulness of God. He said recently, “So many times in my life I have disappointed God, but He has never disappointed me.” A few weeks ago he said, “God has done more for me than I have ever done for Him.” His confidence in Jesus is remarkable. He is dying well. He is becoming less, physically – each day – and each day Jesus is becoming more, in his soul.
Dave can point to a moment in 1990 when his life turned around. Something in his life had become more important than God. Whatever it was became an idol. And Dave said that God does not like false gods. God wants to be our only God. Jesus wants to be our only Savior. 30 years ago was a turning point for Dave Hitztaler.
When Jesus spent time in teaching His disciples how to pray notice the first three prayers that He gave them. Those prayers put God in the right place in our lives. And when He is in the right place we are in the right place. If He is not in the right place, then we are not in the right place either.
“This, then, is how you should pray” ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” (Matthew 6:9-10) Your name, Your kingdom, Your will. Jesus, the Savior, and His blood and His battle and His victory must become greater to us.
Look at these three petitions and see how they especially deal with His atoning death and His resurrection. “Hallowed (Holy) be your name.” God’s name is holy, distinct, set apart, lifted up, by being the world’s Savior. In Ezekiel 36 God speaks about how He is going to make His name holy, “I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them…For I will take you out of the nations: I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Verses 23a, 24-26)
His name is holy only when He is who He is – our only Savior. His kingdom can only come when His reign is over all evil, and lies, and any false gods that we create. His will is that no sinner, none, would die without hope in Jesus. Our Father’s will is that all would have the confident faith that in Jesus we know of the deep, deep love of God.
Enough with phoniness and fakery. Enough with a faith that is lukewarm and momentary or is just for show. This is the time for Jesus to become greater and for all of us to become less. When Jesus is greater, then God’s name is holy, His kingdom comes and His will is done. Amen!!
(The sermon title and some of the thoughts of this sermon come from the Creative Communication for the Parish Lenten series, “Sermon on the Mount.”)