Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 29 2023

Posted on January 30, 2023, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

January 29, 2023

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany 

Matthew 6:7-21
Psalm 20:7

Worship Service Video Sermon  Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I served in Phoenix, one year, during one season – either Advent or Lent – the music director and I decided that the congregation would sing the Lord’s Prayer, rather than speak it, during the Communion liturgy just for that season.

We announced it ahead of time. We announced it again during the announcements on the first Sunday, and most people in the congregation took it in stride. But on the first Sunday we did it, a woman came up to me after worship and said, “Pastor, why are we singing the Lord’s Prayer?”

And I said, “It’s just for something different, and it’s only for this season.” And her response was, “I don’t like it.” And I said, “Okay. But it’s only for this season.” And she said again, “But I don’t like it.”

And as we went back and forth like that, she asked, “Well, can we sing it and then say it?” And I said, “No…” “But I don’t like singing it.” “Why not?” “It doesn’t feel right. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Then don’t sing it. Listen as the rest of us sing, and pray it that way instead.” And after a moment, she said, “I can do that.”

When I think back on that conversation, I think about how important ritual is, especially in worship, and how much it becomes a part of us and the comfort that it brings. And I also think about the risk of it.

Like when something like saying the Lord’s Prayer becomes so much a part of us that we can end up not thinking about it until something about it changes. And that unsettled feeling we get from it causes us to examine where our heart is in the middle of it all.

Last week, in our Gospel reading Jesus began teaching his disciples how to live. He described who is in the Kingdom or Realm of God, and he also described the people who help make that place a reality here and now. Today, we read part two of that Sermon, and Jesus continues to teach his disciples how to live.

In this part, he describes the direction in which their hearts ought to be oriented. Our reading today starts with v7, and in verses 1-6, Jesus teaches about motivation for the spiritual acts people practice, such as almsgiving and prayer. That if you’re giving or praying just to be seen as generous or pious, then your motivation is backwards.

But that if you’re being open about your generosity, and praying to inspire others to be generous with the focus on helping those who need it – and on God – that’s different. All of it has to do with where our heart is as Jesus’ disciples.

And it continues in v7 with Jesus teaching us how to pray, and it’s why the Lord’s Prayer is as simple as it is. There’s a lot of depth in it, but the wording itself is clear and to the point. And that’s the point. There aren’t a lot of words and there aren’t any fancy words that might call attention to the pray-er or that could distract from their relationship with God.

It’s just a simple prayer to God that orients the hearts of the people who pray it, connecting them to God and to God’s ways. Reminding them that God’s intention is communal – Our Father, our daily bread. That we’re all dependent on God for daily bread, for forgiveness, and to be safe from evil. And that we pray it not just for ourselves as individuals but for the sake of the whole world.

And as Jesus continues his teaching, he again talks about our motivation for the spiritual practices that we do. Concluding with a verse that’s well-known to many of us: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of this – the entire Sermon on the Mount – lifts up the importance of community and strengthening the bonds of it. It directs our collective heart toward that.

I talk a lot about the individualistic nature of US culture, and the way it teaches us to be afraid of not having enough (or never having enough). And because of that, we end up hoarding things like food and wealth and status and power at the expense of others.

And we’re led to believe that in order for us to think we have enough, we have to push other people down or away and hold onto things so that others can’t have them.

But Jesus reminds us that we’re in this together. As his disciples, we’re members of a community – one that lifts each other up and seeks the wellbeing of everyone. That’s where our treasure is.

We often think of “treasure” as financial wealth or material possessions. And the verse, where your treasure is, is often interpreted to be descriptive – as in, take a look at your bank statement and you’ll see where your heart is by how you spend your money.

[1]But theologian Mark Alan Powell invites us to think of it more prescriptively: where you put your treasure, is where your heart will end up.

Jesus calls us to put our treasure in and with God. Because when we do that, we put it in and with one another. We move from a heart of scarcity and fear to one of abundance and caring.

I haven’t watched the entire video of Tyre Nichols being beaten by police officers. But I’ve seen part of it, and it’s horrifying. It would be really easy to not pay attention to it because it happened in Memphis and we’re here.

But when we examine our heart – why we do what we do in terms of spiritual practices and the way we live as Jesus’ disciples, we find that we can’t ignore it.

Because when we recognize that our treasure is in and with God, when we recognize that it’s in and with one another – with people – things like what happened to Tyre Nichols don’t happen. Because as Jesus’ disciples, we don’t only say that violence is wrong and pray for an end to it, we work to prevent it in the first place.

It’s “heart” work. It’s examining where our heart is when we do the things we do, examining where we put our treasure. And sometimes that’s hard work.

But when we recognize that our treasure is in and with God, we remember that God’s intention for us – for all of humanity – is communal. That we’re all dependent on God for daily bread, forgiveness, and to be safe from evil.

And as Jesus’ disciples, we’re members of a community – one through whom God works to help make sure people have their daily bread, to help us forgive, and keep people safe. It’s a community that lifts each other up and seeks the wellbeing of everyone.

That’s where our treasure is. That’s where God is. Thanks be to God! Amen.