Matthew 6:5-6

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6

Jesus uses the word “reward” several times in the Sermon on the Mount. This morning he attaches the word to our prayers, both public and private. How are we to hear this word and what are we to do with it?

The text isn’t complicated. Jesus discourages public displays of piety where the goal is to look good in the eyes of those who see us. Lutherans seem to have gotten that advice down stone cold. There aren’t too many street preachers in North Dakota and few Lutheran choirs dance as they sing. “Demonstrative” is hardly an apt description of Lutheran piety.

So too with privacy and prayers. We are about as apt to talk about our prayer lives as we are our sex lives. We think it too personal, too private. Or maybe we are afraid to admit the realities of how such things really work behind our closed doors.

So is this a part of Jesus’ teaching that we simply check off, “Done,” and move on? Or is there something else we would do well to consider?

Back now to “reward.” Have you ever noticed the close relationship between the words “award” and “reward”? A dictionary might say that an award is something we receive as an honor after some sort of contest or competition. A reward is something we receive as an incentive to do something or as compensation for something we have already done. Either way, the focus is on receiving something that we don’t yet have based on what we did to achieve or earn it.

If we hear Jesus’ words from this point of view we are left with the image of a God sitting at a huge control panel with an array of buttons in front of him. He sees and hears everything, even our prayers offered in private. And when we do the right thing God hits a button and a reward comes floating down from heaven into our lives. Or a variation on that idea, it gets deposited into our account and we don’t discover the final tally until we get to heaven.

The fundamentalist church we dipped our toes in when I was a kid taught us that doing the right thing would help us “earn a jewel in our crown.” Whatever that meant. But it sounded good.

This is not how I understand God’s presence and the idea of “reward” today. Today is see what Jesus describes as a “reward” as a built in feature of God’s creation. The reward we get for eating healthy food in healthy proportions is a body allowed to return to a healthy weight. The reward we get for investing time in our relationship with God in prayer is a deeper sense of connectedness to God. The reward is built in to the behavior. It isn’t about earning a reward, it is about experiencing the goodness of life as God intends it.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, often we care far more about what our neighbors think of us than what you think of it. We invest our time chasing rewards that don’t matter. Encourage us to slow down, to take time, to sit in and with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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4 Responses to “Matthew 6:5-6”

  1. David Armstrong Says:

    I like your interpretation of the referenced scriptures. I find your discourse encouraging. Hope all is well with you and yours…

  2. Carolee Groux Says:

    I agree with you that we Lutherans are a pretty reserved group. We don’t shout alleluias during the sermon, and we humbly fill the back pews first. Perhaps we should demonstrate our faith more often and openly as a witness to others. Would we then be thought of as “boastful”?

    1 Corinthians 27,29 says:
    “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…so that no one may boast before him.”

  3. Sharon Says:

    P. Kerry, your devotions on the SOM have been so enlightening and encouraging. As usual, I have been sending them on to quite a few folks. You and your words are such a blessing. God bless you for your labors of love.

  4. mary lou Says:

    Our UCC minister yesterday’s sermon topic was Patience. I think you are talking about the same thing but his text Mattew 13 about allowing the weeds to grow with the good seed until the harvest was waiting in God’s time seems very similar. We should go on doing what is right and let God decide when we should be patient continuing to pray for our faith and not to impress others.

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