Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Ash Wednesday + March 1, 2017
Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The Introduction
“Our Father, who art in heaven”
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
During this penitential season, we will turn our eyes to something which is integral to our life as Christians: prayer.  You heard Jesus’ instructions in the Gospel about what prayer should not be, namely where it should not be aimed.  In these midweek Lenten services, we will go through, petition by petition, and learn from Jesus how to pray.
These first words, sometimes called the introduction, Our Father who art in heaven, teach us about the basis for all prayer.  Before any words come out of our mouth or heart, we should know who we’re asking.
It’s plain to all people who acknowledge the existence of God that God is eternal, almighty, and even the creator of the universe.  But that knowledge alone is not comfort.  God may be almighty, but if He isn’t happy with you that immediately becomes a frightful thought.  But through Jesus Christ, God the Father becomes your Father.  As Jesus told Mary after His resurrection, “I am returning to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17)
So, God is almighty, eternal, and so forth, but best of all, He is also for you.  Through the certainty of your Baptism, God has made Himself your Father.  “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).  Out of love God took the initiative to adopt you as His dear child in Baptism.  He does not renege on His Word, so when you go to Him, it is as a beloved child. That means when we go to God, we don’t have to bend His ear or get enough people behind us also praying.  God’s heart is moved by His love for His children.
This also takes the guesswork out of whether God will hear us when we go to Him in prayer.  Prayer is not the same as wishing or hoping into a void.  God our Father invites us to come to Him with our needs and hurts, our joys and thanksgiving.  “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Ps. 50:15)
Even though Jesus advises that we each go into our room and pray in secret, He also says that prayer is very communal.  Even with the opening words, “our Father,” we are reminded that it is not us against the world, or even “me and Jesus.”  As children of the heavenly Father, we are part of a whole body of believers.  Within this Body, we are all children calling upon the same Father, none of us better than another and none of our prayers “more effective” than another’s.  Someone once wrote, “The weak should know that God is no less their Father than the Father of Mary, John the Baptist, and Paul.”[1]
As members of this Body, we also direct prayers not just to our personal needs but the needs of the whole family of God—even of the whole world.  If God is our Father, we are surrounded by many brothers and sisters.  So in teaching us to pray to God, our Lord also teaches us to love and care for one another.
With the words, “who art in heaven,” it’s important to know why Jesus adds this.  Later in Matthew 23, Jesus tells us, “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (v. 9).  Our Father in heaven is one of a kind and to be distinguished from any earthly father.  He is above all other fathers in majesty, so we owe Him the greatest reverence of all—more than we show our own family and even all rulers of this world.
God the Father is also above all in power, so we approach Him not hoping He can do something, but knowing He can do all things.  The prayers we bring to Him will not overwhelm Him, even though we ask for the salvation of the world, for Him to provide for each person, and for deliverance from all the deadly evils which surround humanity.   He is Almighty to save in any and every disaster that befalls us in our life, or in the wider world.  Nothing slips His notice, and nothing is beyond His loving work.
When we hear that God is in heaven, we might think that’s far away.  But, heaven is simply God’s dwelling place, not a matter of distance or how far we have to travel to reach Him.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1)  Even though He dwells in unapproachable light, remember that He willingly sent His Son to share our flesh and now He is our Advocate.  That’s why another psalm says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Ps. 145:8).
“Our Father who art in heaven” teaches us about God adopting us by grace in Holy Baptism, they teach us that God wants to hear every desperate cry, and that He wants us to trust in Him to preserve all His children through the ills of this life until we receive our inheritance of eternal life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[1] Martin Chemnitz, The Lord’s Prayer