Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lord, Teach Us to Pray!

Luke 11:1-13 Every little Lutheran knows that prayer is “speaking to God in thoughts and words” but during my years as a pastor, questions about prayer come up more than just about anything else.  “Pastor…
  What should I pray for in this or that situation?  How can I know I have received God’s answer?  Is it o.k. to pray for certain things and outcomes?  What can I do to have a more consistent prayer life?  How can I learn to truly pray:  “Thy will be done”?
Prayer is the most basic spiritual practice of the child of God, it really is the simplest thing to do, and yet we continue to have questions and concerns about our life of prayer.
And so the Lord speaks to us in his Word today, and invites us to join the circle of disciples as they listen to him and learn more about our life of prayer.  The Bible says:
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
            Jesus was a man of prayer.  Throughout the gospel accounts of those first-hand witnesses of his life, Jesus is shown praying-- again and again. 
He attended the synagogue on the Sabbath-- and he travelled to the temple for the high holy days—but public worship was not the whole content of his spiritual life—he was also a man of personal, private prayer.  Think of that!
Jesus was God in human flesh—his messianic mission was vital—the press of human need was constant—and yet Jesus always made time for prayer.  His prayer life was so deep and so profound that it made a powerful impression on all those who knew him-- and they wanted the same kind of prayer life for themselves—and we should too. 
Our attendance at public worship is important and there is no substitute for it—but it is still insufficient (all by itself) to give us all of the spiritual benefits and blessings that the Lord wants to bestow upon us as his children.  Many of those come through private, personal prayer which is why we join our voice to the disciples and ask Jesus to teach us to pray.  Jesus answers, “When you pray, say:  “Father…”
That we can address the living God of the universe as “Father”-- is the most important thing that we are going to learn about prayer.  It is the story of our salvation and the foundation for our life of prayer.  God is truly our Father and we are truly his children and that relationship exists ONLY because of Jesus Christ. 
The Bible is perfectly clear about this:  our access to God—our confidence to come to his throne and ask him for what we need—comes only in one way—and that is through faith in Jesus.  His death and resurrection has opened the way for us to be restored to what we were created to be—and that is God’s children. 
That is what it means to pray in Jesus’ name—not as a magical formula—but in firm faith that God really is our Father and we really are his children on account of Jesus and so we can go to God and ask him for what we need just as children go to their earthly fathers.  And so what should we ask for in prayer?  Jesus says:
Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation.”
            Please note:  out of all of the things that Jesus teaches us to ask for in prayer—only one of them pertains to material things—and that petition (for daily bread) is for the basics of life.  We need to hear that!
I think it’s fair to say that most of our prayer requests are about material things and earthly blessings—our health and our finances and our families—and there is nothing wrong with asking for these things.  But God’s priorities for us are first and foremost and finally, spiritual. 
Our salvation is what God is most concerned about and so our prayer life ought to take on those same priorities:  1. that God’s name would be made holy through what we say and how we live our lives and what is taught in our congregation—2. that we would do our part to bring about his kingdom by making sure that we remain in the Christian faith and raise our children in the Christian faith and support the mission of the church—3. that we would abide in his forgiveness and because he has forgiven us—we would be forgiving of others--and 4. that the Lord would guide our steps each day of life’s journey to preserve us in faith and keep us from times of temptation and bring us safely to our heavenly home.
These spiritual priorities of the Lord’s Prayer are a wonderful corrective to our prayers that are often times filled with things that only matter for the here and now.
Every earthly, material, temporal petition has to be prayed:  Thy will be done.  But these spiritual petitions of-- hallowing God’s name and advancing his kingdom and living in forgiveness and avoiding temptation--can be prayed for with absolute confidence because God himself has promised them to us.  Jesus tells a little parable that exemplifies the boldness that we ought to have when we pray:
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
            In the ancient world, bread was baked as needed.  For the friend’s needs to be met, the man in the home would have to get up in the middle of the night, remake the fire, warm the oven, mix the dough and bake the bread.  And not only would he do that—he would give his friend whatever else he needed  Jesus says that THIS kind of overwhelming generosity-- that can imposed upon at the most inconvenient times—with unexpected and abundant reults-- really exists between us and God. 
Jesus’ point is this:  We are not bothering God with our prayers.  We are not inconveniencing him.  We are not asking for more than he can deliver.  He is our Father and we are his children and there is NOTHING that we cannot talk to him about in prayer—for he has promised to hear and answer our prayer.  Jesus says:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
            In Luther’s Small Catechism, the question is asked:  Why do we pray?  And the answer is:  Because God commands us to pray and promises to hear us.  God wants us to be people of prayer—he wants us to talk to him and he desires that we would listen to him as he speaks to us in his Word.  And to assure us that we are not just speaking to an empty cosmos or engaging in an exercise of futility—he promises to hear our prayers.
You hear people say “Well, there’s nothing left to do but pray.”  But for the child of God, prayer is not a last-ditch effort when everything else that we have tried has failed—it is the first, middle, and last thing we do in an on-going conversation with our heavenly Father.  Prayer is not an act of futility—but an act of faith that God hears us. 
We have Jesus’ promise that “asking we will receive and seeking we will find and knocking the way will be opened unto us”.  But does this mean that if you and I ask the Lord for the winning lottery tickets he is bound to give them?  No.  He promises something infinitely more valuable.  Jesus says:
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
            All of us have enough sense to give our children good things.  None of us would intentionally give something to our child that would harm them.  And that is not just true of Christians but of all people—even unbelievers.  And if this wisdom is true of us as parents—how much more is it true of our heavenly Father! 
God is good—good beyond anything else than we can imagine—good beyond comparison to anything else that we call “good”.  He has demonstrated his goodness to us once for all in the gift of his Son.  The Bible explains it like this: 
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
The God who gave his Son for us is our Father.  That we believe this is because he has also given us the Holy Spirit—the presence of God in our lives who is the down-payment—the earnest money—the guarantee-- that all of the riches and wonders of God are also ours in Christ Jesus.
THAT is why we can pray “Thy will be done” with perfect confidence for our lives and for our families and for everything and everyone that we care about. 
We know what God’s good and loving will is towards us, because by the power of the Holy Spirit, we know his Son Jesus as our forgiveness, salvation, peace and hope.  God has already done that for us and so, as we pray for our daily needs, we can be confident that in all things—no matter what they are—God is graciously answering our prayers FOR OUR GOOD.
The lessons that Jesus teaches us today concerning prayer—who we are to pray to—what we are to pray for—and how we are to pray--are lessons that we will need to learn again and again over the course of our lives but they are only learned as we begin to be people of prayer.  May God grant this to us all for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.

Proper 12c General Prayer

Gracious heavenly Father, You have promised that when we call upon You in the day of trouble You will deliver us and so cry to You in prayer with our whole heart:

As we experience Your faithfulness and receive Your answer to our prayers help us to observe your testimonies and keep Your statutes and in this way show our faithful love and obedience.

We confess that You are the Judge of all the earth, punishing the wicked and delivering the righteous.  Turn the hearts of those who have perverted Your good gifts of marriage and family and sexuality in our nation.  Raise up leaders who will walk in Your ways and renew our fellow citizens in their love for You.

We give You thanks and praise that when we were dead in trespasses You made us alive in Christ, canceling the debt that stood against us by nailing it to the cross.  In Baptism You buried us with Christ and raised us to walk in him.  Fill us with Your Spirit so that Christ’s triumph over sin and death would always be our own.

Heavenly Father, help us to be people of prayer, trusting that we are Your children and You are our Father and that we can confidently ask for the things that we need, trusting that You will give us only what is good.  Especially do thank You for the years of wedded live that You have granted to Ken and Barbara as they celebrate an anniversary and for the gift of marriage given to Jared and Brooke as they begin their married life together.  Bless both of these couples with every good gift of body and soul

Come to the aid of those who stand in any material need:  healing for the sick; deliverance for the addicted; food for the hungry; and friends for the lonely.  Especially do we remember Stephanie who needs Your healing and for mission work in Turkey that needs Your protection.    

As we pray for Your kingdom to come bless the work of our church so that Your gracious reign would come to many in our community.  Especially do we ask Your blessing upon our call process that You would lead us to a pastor who will reach out with the Gospel in a powerful way to the people of San Angelo.  We also ask Your blessing upon Daniel as he is ordained today and installed as the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cisco.  Prosper their life together.  

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever is good for our neighbor and gives glory to You; whatever works for our final salvation, grant to us dear Father for we ask it in the name of Jesus who promised us that You will give who ask.  Amen.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Proper 11C General Prayer

Hear us, O Lord, as we cry aloud to You in prayer; be gracious to us and answer us:

You are the God of our salvation and we trust that You will not hide Your face from us or turn us away from us in anger but will be our help in every need.  Especially do we give You thanks that You met the needs of Monty and gave him a new job.

Grant healing to those who are ill, especially Carla, Janet, Sara, and Uriah.  Comfort those who mourn and assure them that their loved ones will look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

As You heard the prayers of Abraham and Sarah and granted them a son, hear the prayers of all those who desire children and watch over expectant women.  Bless our homes and make them places where You are welcome.  Strengthen our marriages and help us to build our family life on the promises of Your Word.  Especially do we pray for Josie as she celebrates her birthday that You would bless her in body and soul all her days.

We give You thanks for the salvation You have provided to us in Jesus Christ who has reconciled us to You by his death so that we are holy and blameless and above reproach in Your sight.  Help us to continue in this faith, stable and steadfast.

Empower our congregation’s witness to the Good News of salvation that is being proclaimed in all creation under heaven.  Come to the aid of all of those who are suffering and afflicted for the sake of Christ and given them courage and hope

Continue to raise up ministers of the Gospel so that Your Word would be fully known throughout the world.  Especially do we ask You to bless our call process and lead us to a faithful shepherd with a heart for the lost.

Amid all the competing priorities in life let us always choose the good portion of putting You first and hearing Your Word.    

Whatever else You see that we need; whatever glorifies You and serves our neighbor; whatever works for our final salvation, grant to us dear Father for we ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Good Portion

Luke 10:38-42 We can easily imagine the scene before us:  having important guests for dinner and all that entails—a house to clean—the meal to prepare.  And all the while we are rushing about trying to make sure that everything turns out just right—the folks that are supposed to be helping us—our kids or our husband--are just laying around—to our eyes not doing much of anything at all.  I can hear myself saying:  “What on earth is wrong with you—have you lost your minds--get up and get to work”!

That’s the way I was raised and I bet you were too.  I never told my parents that I was bored or that there was nothing to do because their response was:  “I’ll find you something to do”.  We identify with poor old frazzled Martha because she looks like us:  more to do than there are hours in the day—her “to-do” list pushing her onward mercilessly.

The Lord wants us to see ourselves in Martha because he has something to teach us about ourselves-- and something to teach us about what our life with God is really all about—for you see, even though we identify with Martha-- it’s Mary that the Lord commends—Mary is the one that he lifts up as an example—Mary is the one who chose the good portion:  to be with Jesus and hear his Word. 

This scene reveals our in-born difficulty in understanding that our relationship with God is all about his gracious gifts and not about our frantic strivings to get his attention or our ceaseless efforts to please him—thinking it depends on us.

This is the natural religion of mankind and it becomes readily apparent that this is true of us too when we find ourselves identifying with Martha --even when we have the Lord’s own words that Mary is the one who got it right that day-- because she was content to sit at the Lord’s feet and RECEIVE from him the one thing needful.  The Bible says that:  As they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.

Jesus entered into that village for exactly the same reason he entered into world--to give life.  He said that he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” –he said that it is the devil who comes to steal and destroy while he came to give abundant life.  You can bet that the devil was there that day—trying to choke out the word of life out of Martha’s heart with the cares of this world.

Now, I have no doubt that Martha was glad for Jesus’ visit to her home—it was an honor.  We know her from other places in the Gospels as a stalwart confessor of the faith.  But that day she saw Jesus as someone who was going to add to her burdens rather than take them away.  What about us?  Is that how we see our life with God?

We need to ask ourselves on this Lord’s Day:  “Have we received the Lord’s visitation (his real presence in Word and Sacrament) as a burden (getting up early, putting on special clothes, arranging our many other tasks) or are we thankful to simply be in the Lord’s presence, to hear his voice, and receive his gifts of salvation?  As we sit here in church this morning:  is Jesus a burden or a blessing?  Are we Mary or Martha?  The Bible says that:

A woman named Martha welcomed Jesus into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.

            If Jesus came to our home like he came to Martha’s home we would do exactly the same things--we would fly into action—making sure that things were neatened up and that the bathroom was clean and that there were refreshments to serve.  His visit would not mean “rest” for us-- but frantic action.  It would mean one more thing that we had to add to our busy schedules.  Jesus’ presence would be a burden rather than a blessing.

And a truer picture of what sin has done to “twist and distort” our understanding of what life with God is all about-- cannot be found than Martha’s frantic, exhausting, distracted rushing about—focused upon herself and all that she had to do. 

It’s the same attitude that keeps people away from church on Sunday.  After a long, busy work week they tell themselves that they need this time to get done all the things they didn’t get done during the week.  Their own agendas more pressing than the presence of the Lord who stands ready to give them rest.

How different is the picture of Mary!  Mary was not going to waste a single moment that she could spend with the Lord on anything else.  Mary was content to simply be in the Lord’s presence.  She wanted to hear his words and sit at his feet. 

You see, Mary knew that what Jesus came to do for her --was infinitely more valuable-- than anything she could do for him.  She knew that what Jesus really desired from her was the opportunity to give her-- what only he could give.

Jesus had shown that mercy and grace and giving heart in his ministry again and again.  When the wedding couple ran out of wine—he gave it.  When the multitudes were hungry—he provided.  When the widow lost her son—Jesus restored him.  Each miracle was a sign of his mission:  that he came to lift our burdens—not add to them.  We need to be reminded of that just like Martha did that day.  The Bible says:

Martha went up to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. 

            How human this scene is—how sadly familiar!  Martha knew all of the things that she wanted to get done—her mind was full of what she thought had to be accomplished.

Let me ask you a very simple question:  at that moment, who was it that stood at the center of Martha’s universe?  She did!  She had HER “to-do” list.  She had HER schedule.  And everyone within her orbit was supposed to do her will—even Jesus.  “If you really loved me Lord you would adopt my agenda.  If you really loved me you would act on  my time frame.  Don’t you care about me Lord?” 

But of course he loved her—too much to let her go on like that!  “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.”  And how could she not be!  We human beings are not equipped to be God and yet when we treat God as our servant—expecting him to do WHAT we want, WHEN we want it—when we insist that others (even Jesus) yield to us—that is exactly what we have become—weak little gods of our own, sad little worlds.  But Jesus loves us too much to let us go on this way.

Of course the Lord cared about her—that is why he came there that day and that is why he came into our world in the first place—to deliver us from the terrible, sinful burden of being our own gods—of going our own way—of making our will our master--and to restore us to what we are meant to be:  children of the one true God, re-born in his image by the Spirit-- who live in perfect agreement with his will and his timing.  He said:

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion.

There are all kinds of important things that we have to do—we have serious and weighty responsibilities—all of us feel the press of full schedules—but there is really only one thing that stands at the center of our lives—only one thing that can be the main thing—only one thing that gives order and meaning to all the rest—only one thing that is finally, irreducibly necessary—and it is not something that we do—but something that has been done for us-- by Jesus—the one thing needful. 

Christ’s death on the cross has paid for every one of those times that our “to-do list” and our schedule has taken precedence over God’s will and God’s timing.  His death has fully atoned for our rebellion against God that wants to turn him into our servant and lifts us up into his place.  And his resurrection is the promise of a brand new life for us in which we live “now and forever” in a right relationship with God as his children.

That is what Mary received that day at the Lord’s feet listening to his words.  It’s what we have received in Holy Baptism where the benefits and blessings of Christ’s death and resurrection become our own.  It’s what we receive each time that hear that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake.  It’s what we receive when we come to Holy Communion today--the assurance in body and blood that we are loved and forgiven.

            Christ is the Giver-- not the taker-- and he promises that these gifts of his gracious love will not be taken from us. 

The meal that day at Martha’s house came to an end.  The scraps were thrown out and the dishes were washed and Martha’s neat and tidy house got dirty all over again.  All of those things that Martha thought were so important—they came to an end too.  Over time Mary and Martha died and their home crumbled into dust. 

Everything was taken from them except for the needful thing—the necessary thing—and that was Christ and his Word of forgiveness and life.  That endures forever-- and because it does—so do they live forever—and so will we who have received Christ in faith.  May God grant it to us all for Jesus’ sake!  Amen.