Sermon on April 18, 2021

KaB Frankenberg

Volker Aßmann

Standards that challenge – The Sermon on the Mount

Cultivating the relationship with God (Matt. 6: 5-8)

This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here


“Be careful not to display your piety in front of the people!
Otherwise, you will no longer have any wages to expect from your Heavenly Father. (6.1)
And if you pray
don’t do like the hypocrites who like to stand in synagogues and on street corners for prayer,
to be seen by people.
I tell you: “You have already received your wages with it.”
If you want to pray,
go to your room, close the door,
and then pray to your Father who is also present in secret;
and your father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
When praying,
you should not string together empty words like the heathen who do not know God.
They think they will be heard if they say so many words.
Don’t do it like her because
your father knows what you need even before you ask HIM to do it. “


1. Show or real?
There are two groups of religious people: Some want to make a certain impression on other people – the most important thing for them is what people think of them and what they think of them. That is why adherence to rules and forms is so important to them. The others live their faith because it means something to them to know God and because this faith fills their lives. The most important thing is not what other people think and talk about them. Even if these people are of course also happy about recognition, but it is not the most important thing. And in the Christian faith it is about an actual and lived relationship with Jesus Christ. But a lot of it can be very superficial, like a facade behind which reality looks completely different – this is called religiosity.
Or this relationship is the central element and foundation of your life. Havana, the capital of Cuba, is partly a World Heritage Site, and many, many millions have gone into restoring the city. And it was worth it, the rows of houses in Havana are sometimes beautiful. But woe to you, look at the side walls or the backyards – you can be happy if you are not struck by a falling balcony.
Show or real?
It’s about authenticity! Just like there was this sentence in my youth: BE WHOLE OR LET IT BE WHOLE !! It’s about being a person who really knows God and God knows him.
“Not everyone who says to me: ‘Lord, Lord!’ Will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord! Have we not prophetically spoken in your name, cast out demons in your name, and performed many miracles in your name? Then I will say to them: ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you with your lawless doings! “(Matt. 7: 21-23)
Jesus warns very emphatically: “Beware of deception!” Do not deceive yourself! You can never deceive God and one day your facade will also fall in front of people. So don’t fool yourself! It is not the pious appearance that counts, but the personal relationship with God, which everyone has or does not have for himself. People are impressed by facades and pious and other appearances. But in truth only God’s sentence counts: “I know you! You belong to me because you trust in Jesus! ” At another point in the Bible we are warned about people who have some form of godliness, of religiosity, but who do not know God at all:
“They give themselves a pious appearance, but of the power of God, which could change them so that they really would lead a pious life, they do not want to know anything. (2.Tim.3,5)
And maybe you yourself are the kind of person the Bible warns about: appearance instead of being, facade and nothing behind it.


2. The God who rewards!
It seems that there is a reward for everything, be it just recognition and praise, from people or from God. And that there is only one reward: Either from God for faithfulness and genuine faith and following Jesus or from people to whom I play something out of trickery. Why does Jesus speak of reward 4 times here? Is it the bottom line in being a Christian? Should and can we earn something in heaven and in God’s eyes? The most important thing is the gift of eternal life and the relationship with Jesus as a gift of His love. And even if there is the “principle of reward for loyalty to God” in the Bible (2 Cor. 5:10), Jesus is concerned with something completely different. The day laborer who only gets a job shortly before the end of the day receives the same daily wage as someone who works from 8 a.m. Why? Because it’s about the gift of grace. And why do people still get a job in the afternoon?
What about them compared to the “early ones”? What do you think someone who is looking for day laborers, the strong and the young, will leave them standing in the morning and instead choose the old people or those with handicaps first? (Matt. 20: 1-16) The less well-suited people are not selected as long as there are better ones. This is how it is with us humans, this is how we fill vacancies. But Jesus promises the same thing to everyone, regardless of what they bring with them: Eternal life and forgiveness. There is no performance principle here. No, Jesus does not justify the principle of day laborers here, but that was everyday life back then, as it is today in countries like Cuba.
Jesus makes it clear: You cannot earn two heavens, not even one, and also no upper heaven instead of a heavenly cellar! It is and remains grace, His gift.
It’s about belonging to God. It’s so much more important than what you do.
Then why the subject of “reward” after all? Because it was the principle of the Pharisees and the facade people. The Pharisees wanted reward and recognition especially in front of people. And in doing so, they miss the approval of God. It is also not about what people do, in the family, in society, at work, in the community, shouldn’t acknowledge. True to the motto: “Don’t praise me, otherwise God won’t praise me anymore!” But it’s about motivation: Am I praying so that people will see this and give me recognition? Do I live certain religious forms for others to think big of me? Think bigger of me than it corresponds to reality? Or is it about the relationship with God that I want to cultivate and therefore seek His closeness? It is really not a bad thing to pray publicly with others in a group or in a church service! On the contrary: Jesus promises a special answer and blessing for common prayer. (Matth. 18:20) But if you pray so that others (and maybe even God) think: “What a great Christian!”, You can save every single word and sentence. They bounce back on the ceiling or fly unheard into the universe. Heb.11: 6:
“Without faith it is impossible to please God. Whoever wants to come to God must believe that HIM exists and that HE rewards those who sincerely seek HIM. “
Fritz Rienecker writes: “Wages are to be seen as ‘recognition’ that the father gives his hard-working child. Heavenly reward is Heavenly Father’s “embrace”. “
According to the teaching of the Jewish rabbis, the Jew shows his love for God through three achievements:
– Charity and giving
– prayer
– fasting
Jesus is in no way directed against these 3 things. HE does not say: Do not be charitable! Don’t pray Do not fast! Rather, it is about the way these things are done. It’s about our attitude and motivation. The basic principle is: Our inside is more important than the outside. After all, God is concerned with our relationship with Him and not with religious forms. And if the relationship to God is right in our lives and hearts, then this can also be expressed in our visible behavior! But not the other way around!
The custom of the Jews required them to pray at set times of prayer. And if you were still out and about, you would stop right where you were and pray. And so that the prayer could really work in public, many a Jew planned his activities in the same way that he was “by chance” in the market square or a busy street at prayer time. However, it is not the exact adherence to the prayer time and duration that is decisive, but the personal encounter of the prayer with God.
Jesus says: “Go into your room and after you have closed your door, pray to your Father who is in secret!” (6: 6)
In the house of the Jews there was only one room that could be locked – the pantry, which was also windowless because the store had to be secured from thieves and animals. Prayer is about seeking God and wanting to meet HIM and not about a pious show. Just like Jesus kept withdrawing in the evening or early morning to spend time with His Heavenly Father. The piety at the time of Jesus had developed in such a way that prayers, in addition to demonstrative prayers in front of the people, had become an unparalleled torrent of words: – 3 times a day a pious Jew said the so-called. ‘Eighteen prayers’, each ten times as long as a ‘Our Father’ – The “Creed” was added twice a day. – In addition the prayers at table and repeated “Praise to God”.
Jesus makes it clear: It is not the number and length of the prayers that is decisive, but what is in your heart and what you share and discuss with your God. In addition, there was the pagan custom (to this day in so-called mantras, so-called prayer wheels, etc.) of trying to impress God with countless repetitions of the same words, as if prayers were magic formulas.
God cannot and will not answer a senseless torrent of words because it does not address him at all. Perhaps we should also get thoughtful with almost countless repetitions of a single line of songs of our time! It’s about the content and our being.


3. Then why pray at all?
This distortion and caricature of prayer, against which Jesus is speaking here, has nothing to do with the trust of a child who knows: I only need to tell Dad my request and my wish once. He hears it, remembers it and that is enough. And HE will answer.
But is not all of this in stark contrast to Paul’s request: “Pray without ceasing! Do not let anything dissuade you from prayer! “(1.Thess.5,17) Prayer is rather than word-filled time of prayer; rather, prayer is constant communication with God, constantly and fundamentally in contact with God. The core message of Jesus about prayer is:
“… because your father knows what you need, even before you ask HIM.” (6: 8)
We should not inform God through our prayers, as if God did not already know everything.
Before God we can be completely real and we should do everything in our power to grow in this “being real”. We can’t fool him anyway and that’s why we shouldn’t even try. You can accept it personally for yourself and so can I: As a child of the Eternal God, be sure that your Father sees and knows you and knows exactly what it is like with you and in you. Just show HIM your trust and your love. The faith of which Jesus speaks is expressed as follows:
“Do not worry … but your Heavenly Father knows that you need all of this!” (6: 31-32)
In the Bible we find many different names of the one God, which make clear a certain nature of HIM. When Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, had to flee from Sarai (Abraham’s wife) together with her baby (Abraham’s child), she met God through an angel in the desert and protected and looked after them. (Genesis 16.7) After this encounter with God, Hagar gives God this name:
“El Roi – You are a God who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13 + 14)
It is precisely about this trust in God. If you can take away just one thought from this sermon, it is this: God is a God who sees you!
And praying means cultivating the relationship with this God!