Sunday January 29, 2023
God reveal your presence: as we now adore you and with awe appear before you.
Like the holy angels gathered all before you, may we ceaselessly adore you.
Bow your ear to us here; hearken, O Lord Jesus, to our humble praises.
© Gerbard Tersteegen 1729. Frederick William Foster and John Miller1789, William Mercer 1859 alt. All rights reserved. Used with permission OneLicense .net #A-723756
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship
There is always a choice.
To try to do it all ourselves or to ask God’s help in prayer.
There is always a choice.
To take what we have for granted or to express our thanks to God.
There is always a choice.
To horde what we have or to share what God gives us with others.
There is always a choice.
We have chosen to seek God’s guidance in our lives.
And that is why we gather in worship.
Lighting the Christ Candle
In the lighting or our Christ candle we see God’s light reflected to us and we commit ourselves to do all we can to shine that light for others.
When nothing seems to be going right, when we struggle to find a way forward, when we feel uncertain and alone, remind us that you are there to listen. When everything is going right, when we seem to have every thing we could want or need, remind us to stop and offer you, our thanks. When we remembering that all we have comes form you, remind us how important it is to share with others. As we gather here today, remind us that you are the reason we are here. Amen.
Gift of Music Great Is Thy Faithfulness #288
Today we continue with the teachings of Jesus. We hear Jesus’ teaching on prayer, fasting and wealth. This passage also contains the wonderful image of God’s care for the lilies of the field.
Matthew 6:7-34 Good News Translation
“When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagans do, who think that their gods will hear them because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven: May your holy name be honored; may your Kingdom come; may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need. Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. Do not bring us to hard testing, but keep us safe from the Evil One.’ “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.
“And when you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair, so that others cannot know that you are fasting—only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.
“Do not store up riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, store up riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. For your heart will always be where your riches are.
“The eyes are like a lamp for the body. If your eyes are sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eyes are no good, your body will be in darkness. So if the light in you is darkness, how terribly dark it will be!
“You cannot be a slave of two masters; you will hate one and love the other; you will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
“This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need in order to stay alive, or about clothes for your body. After all, isn’t life worth more than food? And isn’t the body worth more than clothes? Look at the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren’t you worth much more than birds? Can any of you live a bit longer by worrying about it?
“And why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow: they do not work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth had clothes as beautiful as one of these flowers. It is God who clothes the wild grass—grass that is here today and gone tomorrow, burned up in the oven. Won’t he be all the more sure to clothe you? What little faith you have!
“So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ (These are the things the pagans are always concerned about.) Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.
I’m sure as you listened to that scripture reading each of you found yourself focusing on a specific part of it that is a favorite to you. It may have been the words we commonly call The Lord’s Prayer. It may have been the familiar and beautiful “lilies of the field”. Or it may even have been the portion that encourages us to store up “treasures in heaven”. But just as I talked about last week, each part of the entire passage we just heard is connected.
Because Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience those hearing these words would have been very familiar with the 3 fundamental practices that are essential within the Jewish faith. These practices are prayer, fasting and alms giving or giving to the poor. In the reading we just hear from Matthew’s writings, this is what Jesus is teaching about.
He begins with prayer, the most well-known prayer in all of Christian tradition. It would be easy to spend the entire time talking about just this one prayer. In fact, entire books have been written on these 5 short lines in the Gospel According to Matthew. I’m not going to spend a lot of time this morning talking about this prayer, but there are a couple of things I want to point out.
First, it is a prayer of total dependence on God. It depends on God not only for the physical things that are needed each day, our daily bread, but also for the spiritual. When we pray to have our sins forgiven, we are not just admitting that we sometimes do the wrong thing, but we are seeking forgiveness, and a renewal of our relationship with God through that forgiveness.
This is not a case of telling God the things we need or admitting to God what we have been up to. God already knows these things. By naming these things out loud or even in our own silent prayers, we are simply verbalizing and perhaps admitting to ourselves our need for forgiveness and our dependence on God.
The other thing about this prayer that is important to remember, is that it is addressed to “Our Father”. This is not just about personal confession or personal needs and spirituality. This is a communal prayer. When we share this prayer together, we are not just acknowledging our dependence on God, we are also acknowledging our need for the community within which this prayer is shared.
Following this call to prayer, Jesus immediately moves to the question of fasting. Although this was a fundamental part of the Jewish tradition, this is not something that has a strong tradition in our own church or within the Christian church in general.
The truth is that most people who choose to fast today are doing so for personal health reasons, either to lose weight or as a body cleanse to get rid of toxins or to improve their digestive system. Others may actually be forced to fast because they simple can’t afford food. We need to remember that neither of these reasons for fasting is a religious practice, and it is the religious practice of fasting that Jesus is talking about.
Spiritual fasting, as a religious practice, served two purposes in the ancient world, and for those who continue to fast as a spiritual practice today, it still serves those same purposes.
First, it reminds a person that they truly are dependent on God for their daily food. This was much more apparent for the people of Jesus’ time because they did not have refrigerators or cupboards full of canned or packaged food to raid whenever they felt hungry. Although they would have had some foods such as grain or oil stored, fresh foods would have had to be purchased almost daily. They also didn’t have check books, credit cards or money in the bank so that they could run to the store any time they needed something. Most people had to work every day in order to afford what they needed for that one day. Intentionally going without food was a way of remembering and acknowledging their dependence on God. It was also an expression of gratitude for that food.
Unfortunately, even then, some people tended to use the practice of fasting for other than spiritual reasons. Some used it as a way of demonstrating to everyone else just how faithful and obedient they were. They made very sure that when they fasted, everyone knew about it. It became a way of showing others just how righteous and admirable they were.
But our scripture today reminds us that in fasting, it is not what we do that matters but why we do it. If we are fasting for our own personal benefit or because it is trendy and popular, then it is not a spiritual practice. Many people today still give something up for Lent, but how many of us, if we are totally honest, are doing it as a way of recognizing and thanking God, rather than for reason of personal gain? This is why we are reminded that it is not the personal advantages that we achieve in this life that matter most but rather, the things that strengthen and enhance our relationship with the Divine.
These treasures we store up in heaven. They are not the admiration we might receive for demonstrating how faithful we are, and they are not the things that benefit us personally while we are doing them. But they are also not the personal blessings that we hope for in some future reality beyond death. The treasures of heaven that Jesus talked about are the love, the justice, the peace and the blessings that are created right here on earth each time someone makes the life of someone else, or the communal life we all share, a little bit better.
And so we are also reminded that it is in the recognition that all we have comes from God and in the expression of gratitude for what we have, that the truest meaning of giving is found. When we share what we have out of a feeling of guilt or responsibility we have accomplished no more spiritually than when we decide to fast during Lent in order to lose a few extra pounds. It is only when our giving comes from a true sense of gratitude and a true recognition of how God has blessed us, that it becomes a spiritual practice.
And our spiritual practices must be more than simply inside our heads. Like the ancient traditions, they need to involve both spirit and body. Our spiritual practices need to involve our whole being. If we only do things because of the benefits to the body they are not spiritual practices. But if our spiritual practices involve only our own personal thoughts and prayers, they do not have the power to make a difference in our world, in our own lives or in the lives of others.
So, if I asked you what your spiritual practices are, what would you say? Would it be prayer? Would it be giving to the poor? Would it be attending church? What about meditation or perhaps listening to or singing hymns?
Spiritual practices are those things that draw us closer to the Divine. They are the things we do, both personally and collectively to strengthen our faith, to learn and explore that faith more deeply and to connect and reconnect with God and with one another.
When we learn to do these things, when we learn to prioritize our relationship with the Divine above our own personal desires, then we can also learn to see the daily cares and concerns of life a bit differently.
“So do not start worrying: ‘Where will my food come from? or my drink? or my clothes?’ Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what [God] requires of you.”
Now this doesn’t mean you sit back and do nothing and wait for God to intervene and fix everything for you. We do need food, clothing and shelter. We do need to be able to provide for our families. But when accumulating these things becomes our greatest focus, we are serving the wrong master.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.”
Yes, we do need to look after ourselves and those we love. We do need to buy our food, to heat our homes, to pay our bill and look after the necessities of life. And yes, there are times these things can be very worrisome.
But when we start worrying about the bills that might or might not be as bad as we fear, when we start to worry about the unexpected expenses that might or might not come, when we start worrying about all the things that could go wrong, we are adding tomorrows worries, to today.
And so today, what we truly need is to take care of this one day, to remember to be grateful for what we do have, to attend to our relationship with God, and to remember to do something kind to help someone else. If we do these things, then not only will our lives be full and rewarding, but tomorrow’s worries will wait for tomorrow. Amen.
Gift of Music If You Will Trust in God to Guide You #286
We Offer Our Gifts
For all that we have received, we are grateful. And so, in gratitude, we offer our gifts. Let us sing our offertory response as our gifts are brought forward.
Offertory Response #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love
and the gift of the Spirit by which we live,
we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
© Abingdon press used by permission OneLicense #A723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Wonderous, Divine Source of all that is, we pray for all, who find it hard to accept ourselves the way we are and who, all too often, choose to hide behind the masks of possessions and power. Help us to risk living with a little less of these things
and to look at ourselves without fear through your eyes of love …
We pray for those in our world for whom it always seems to be winter, those who have no hope of the warmth and brightness of a spring just around the corner. We pray for those who have no food, no home, no money, no work. Help us to seek and find new ways to share what we have with them …
We pray for those who see only the darkness and loneliness of life and see no hope and no possibility of joy in the future. Help us to seek and find new ways to share your hope and joy with them …
We pray for those who face illness, suffering or death with fear and without hope. Help us to seek and find new ways to reach out to them that they may know that your love embraces them no matter what …
We pray for your world, teetering on the brink of a long bitter winter brought about by human neglect. Help us to work to restore a balance. Help us to rediscover and observe the rhythms of creation which you so wisely put into place. Help us to seek and find new ways to restore, to cherish and to respect all of creation …
We pray for ourselves as we face the challenges of the future and look to you for guidance and direction. Grant the courage to risk of losing the things we may see as important in order to recognize and embrace the greater gifts you offer.
Help us to be wise in the decisions we make, in the paths we choose to follow and in the ways we live into your call to deeper relationship with you. Amen.
Gift of Music God Who Touches Earth with Beauty #310
And so now we go out into this one day, trusting that we are not alone. The love of God goes with us, the example of Christ leads us and the guiding presence of the Spirit walks with us and within us each step of the way. Go with God.
Choral Blessing MV#222
May the peace of God be your peace.
May the love of God be the love you show.
May the joy of God be the joy you know,
and may the world that God would see be found in you.
© November 2001 Neil MacLaren. firstname.lastname@example.org. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756