Sunday’s sermon: How to Do and Be

Text used – Matthew 6:7-21

  • I went to college at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, which is referred to throughout much of the UW System as “The Singing University.”
    • Choral education = popular major
    • But beyond the academics of it, people knew that if you loved to sing, you could find a place at UWEC. → 9 separate vocal performance opportunities
      • Large ensembles
        • Women’s Concert Chorale
        • Concert Choir
        • Symphonic Choir
        • Treble Choir
      • Small groups
        • Fifth Element
        • Innocent Men
        • Gospel choir
        • Newest: Novum Voce (perform only Renaissance music)
    • But the epitome as far as campus-wide recognition and status was the men’s choir: The Singing Statemen. I often joke that at my college, no one knew who the football players were, but everyone knew the Statemen.
      • Nothing like a Statemen concert
        • Always dressed in black tuxes with tails, white cummerbunds, and white ties
        • Always ran on stage in a way that looked like chaos but inevitably found each choir member perfectly in his place
        • Always included a boisterous and rousing rendition of the UWEC fight song
        • Always included a song for which they’d invite former Statemen in the audience to join them on stage → Because the Statemen weren’t just a choir. They were a brotherhood. “Once a Statemen, always a Statesmen,” as their motto went.
      • My friends and I went to a lot of Statemen concerts because some of our closest friends were Statemen, but there was one particular song that continues to reverberate within me almost 20 yrs. later. It’s a song that’s become a bit of a signature of theirs at this point – so much so that, when the Statemen put together a 50th anniversary choir in 2016, this is one of the songs that they sang. – song: “Ave Maria” → But not the more well-known version by Austrian composer Franz Schubert. This is the version by German composer Franz Biebl published in 1964.
        • Put a link to the Statemen’s 50th anniversary of this song on Facebook this morning (for at home or later)
        • Power of this version of the classic Latin prayer = layering of sound and harmony → each section of the music begins with a single voice (or, in some versions, a handful of voices singing in unison) → following that introduction, the music blossoms into this deep, rich tapestry of sound

  • The melody and harmonies progress in such a way that it doesn’t hit you all at once like a wall of sound but grows slowly sort of the way bread rises. One moment, it’s low and simple, but a few moments later, you realize it’s big and complex and resonating. And it’s that element of this that made me think of our Scripture reading this morning. → today’s passage = part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
    • Begins with Jesus’ teaching about prayer (speaking in the terms of Biebl’s “Ave Maria,” this is that first section) → And Jesus opens this section on prayer with a simple refrain: When you pray, don’t our out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard.[2]
      • Adds another layer to his teaching on prayer: Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask.[3] → To that simple refrain of the centrality of prayer in our lives of faith, Jesus adds this assurance that God is listening.
        • Assurance that our prayers aren’t just floating off out into the ether … aren’t just words disappearing on the wind
        • But even deeper than that, Jesus assures us that God knows before we even ask.
          • Scholar puts words to the amazing audacity of this declaration: This is an extraordinary claim on God’s behalf! The creator of the whole world and its people is predisposed with intimate interest in individuals’ lives and actions.[4]
      • Develops the beautiful complexity of his lesson of prayer with yet another layer – a layer full of its own harmonies and themes: Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as its done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.[5] → I love the depth that we find in this because it’s a different translation. We all have the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer that we learned growing up – debts and debtors, trespasses, sins. And sometimes those words have become so familiar that we forget what we’re actually saying … what we’re actually praying. We rattle our way through them because “it’s that time in the service” without thinking about them, sending them straight out of our mouths without letting them marinate in our hearts and our souls. So this different translation of those oh-so-familiar words makes us take them in and ponder them and pray them in a whole new way.
        • Sheet of Alternative Lord’s Prayers → ways for you to add your own depth and harmony to the melody of the prayer that you’ve known and recited for so long
          • Exercise: we’re going to recite the 2-sided one together (back of the page, the one from the Dominican Sisters Retreat, March 1993)
          • Scholar: Jesus’ prayer thumps along to the beating of our hearts. … If one brings this prayer to life, once one leaves the privacy of the prayer room and returns to the chaos of real life, strange things will happen.[6]
        • To finish out this section, Jesus takes that singular theme of forgiveness and develops that with more attention and depth: If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your sins.
          • Scholar: While the beginning lines of the prayer elevate our attention toward the heavens, by the conclusion we are stuck in the belly of our soul, because we are unwilling to forgive others and thereby unable to receive the forgiveness promised us by God. … Imagine what it would be like if forgiveness retained a place in all human relationships. Imagine that instead of pointing fingers at each other we presented gifts wrapped in the fabric of forgiveness. What if, rather than laughing at the predictable fall of hypocrites, we raced to catch them and soften their landing.[7]
    • From there, Jesus starts a new section with a new theme: fasting – text: And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward.[8]
      • Goes on to layer and develop and beautify this theme of fasting
        • How to fast
        • How to present yourself to God while you’re fasting
        • Jesus’ assurance (similar to his assurance in his section on prayer): Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[9]
    • And the final theme that Jesus introduces and then layers and beautifies in this portion is the idea of treasures and reward.
      • Stems from his previous theme (just as his theme of forgiveness stemmed from his discussion on prayer)
      • Sort of like that beautiful, drawn out, full voice, full harmony ending “Amen” from “Ave Maria” → This short discourse on treasures really puts an “amen” on this entire section of text. – Jesus: Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.[10] → Sure, this applies to our material treasures – our monetary treasures. “Follow the money” is a phrase for a reason, right? But more than that, Jesus is reminding the people – all the people gathered around him from that Galilean hillside and down through the millennia to us gathered today – that it’s more about their heart-treasures.
        • Their attention
        • Their devotion
        • Their focus
        • Their fixation
        • Wherever it is that your heart lands again and again and again – when you’re sad or scared or struggling – that’s what you treasure. The question this morning – one for you to ponder as we move on with our worship and our business as a congregation – is simple: Is your landing place – your treasure place – God? Amen.


[2] Mt 6:7.

[3] Mt 6:

[4] Robert J. Elder. “Matthew 6:7-15 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 122.

[5] Mt 6:9-13.

[6] Amos Jerman Disasa. “Matthew 6:7-15 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 124.

[7] Disasa, 124.

[8] Mt 6:16.

[9] Mt 6:18.

[10] Mt 6:19-21.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s