Der Vasken’s Sermon on March 14, 2021

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today is the 5th Sunday of Lent. It is called the “Sunday of the Judge” and the focus of today’s Bible lesson is on prayer. I want to share with you a prayer that I came across in a history book I read a very long time ago.

The book was about U. S. history during World War II. I am certain I never forgot about this prayer because of who wrote it. The famed General Douglas MacArthur offered this prayer that has become known as “A Father’s Prayer.” He wrote this prayer in the Philippines during the difficult early days of the Pacific War.

According to MacArthur’s biographer, the General was an early riser and he started his day off every day in prayer and during those private moments, he repeated this prayer often:

• “O Lord, build me a son, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, brave enough to face himself when he is afraid.
• Build me a son, who will learn to stand in the storm and have compassion on those who fall.
• Build me a son, O Lord, whose heart is clear and goals are high—a son, who will reach into the future yet never forget the past.
• And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor so that he may always be serious but never take himself too seriously.
• Then I, his father, can say that I have not lived in van.”

I have always liked that prayer and thought I would share it today.

In the Bible reading we just heard, Jesus shares two stories about prayer. There are many ways to talk about prayer, but there are two parts of prayer, He says, that are especially important to a Christian heart. In the first story, He stresses that prayer must be persistent—that we must not give up if our prayers appear to go unanswered day-after-day. We must repeatedly and continually pray the prayers of our heart because God’s timetable may not be the same as our timetable, but do not give up, He says. Tell God what is in your heart and He will answer.

The second story is equally important. After encouraging His disciples to be persistent in prayer, Jesus taught them how to pray. He told the story of two men, who went up into the temple to pray. One man was a Pharisee—a highly respected man of rank, very devout in his religious practice. The other was a tax collector—a man, who was considered a friend to no one and considered a traitor and robber of the people.

And as the story unfolds, Jesus compares and contrasts these two men. It is within this comparison that He gives His main message. Here is a little background. The Pharisee was part of the religious elite. He knew the scriptures and teachings of the temple far better than most anyone else. That was his job in life. He and his peers were as knowledgeable as the temple rabbis. Because of their knowledge, the Pharisees often saw themselves as superior to the general population. They often came across as conceited and Jesus indicated that the prayers of these Pharisees often reflected that conceit.

The story continues and claims that this particular Pharisee stood up in the middle of the temple for everyone to see him. He prayed these words loud enough to be heard from every corner of the temple. “God, I thank you that I am not like other men. I am not like the robbers nor the evildoers or the adulterers, not even like that tax collector over there. I keep my fast twice a week and I give a tenth of all I earn to the temple.” He prayed these words with an attitude that said he was better than everybody else. He prayed, not with humility, but with clear arrogance and pride.

The story continues and talks about the tax collector. It says that the tax collector stood off in the distant corner of the temple away from everyone else. He was deeply in prayer looking down the whole time and he beat upon his chest as he said this simple prayer: “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This was a humble prayer from a humble man. The only thing this tax collector know about scripture was what he heard the Pharisees read aloud during the temple services. But there was one thing he knew better than the Pharisees. He knew what it meant to have a humble heart.

And so Jesus teaches that it was the simple tax collector and not the educated Pharisee who found favor with God. He ends by saying: He, who humbles himself in this world, will be exalted in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So on this 5th Sunday of Lent, we are encouraged to spend time in prayer to find a little more time in our lives to offer prayer to God—remembering that it is what is in the heart that counts in prayer even more than the words we use. What comes from our heart makes all the difference in the eyes of God.

So, we should ask ourselves when we pray:

• Do we thank God like the Pharisee that we are not like the others?
• Or do we pray like the tax collector whose heart is wide open to God all the time?

Let me end on this thought. The Pharisee left the temple that day unchanged, but the tax collector left uplifted because he didn’t compare himself to others. He came to spend one-on-one time with God.

Something for us to think about during the remaining days of Lent. How do you pray? We are encouraged to open up our hearts and pray every day.

Amen.

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