Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homily for Rogate (The Sixth Sunday of Easter)


John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Praying does not come to you naturally. Often you do not know what to say. Undoubtedly, you have heard and you have seen others pray, and often you feel that you are not pious or eloquent enough in your prayers. And, be honest with yourself, sometimes you even feel ridiculous, muttering words into the air when you are alone, or even worse, when you are in the presence of others. And then, there are those times when you are filled with anger, resentment, and frustration, when you know that you should pray, but you just don’t feel like it, and you feel like a hypocrite and like it’s all so futile anyway.

Well, if it makes you feel any better, you are not in bad company, for Jesus’ disciples often found it difficult to pray as well. In fact, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model in answer to their asking Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” How to pray is something you have to learn, and I repeat, because prayer does not come to you naturally. The Lord’s Prayer is a master prayer, not so much due to its form or its structure, but because of its doctrine and its theology: It confesses God as God, and it confesses you to be His child, His creature and subject. Thus, any prayer that begins with an argument that you’ve done well, or that you’ve tried, or that at least you’re better than that poor schlep over there, is completely out of place and is, in fact, no prayer at all, but it is irreverent babbling or as a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.

Irreverent babbling? A noisy gong or clanging cymbal? Yes, I have felt that way about my prayers. How about you? Rev. Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has suggested that perhaps the problem is that you and I pray from our need instead of from God’s promises. Do you bring a shopping list of needs to God in your prayers as if He doesn’t already know what you need, and more, and better, than you do? Do you pray out of your troubles and trials? Do you pray out of disaster and calamity? Do you pray out of guilt and shame? Do you pray out of fears and doubts? Do you pray out of despair and death? Do you believe that you know these needs better than anyone else? Is it often difficult for you to pray “as God wills”? Do you live with the haunting fear that God does not know your needs as you do and that God will not give you what you think and what you know you need? Do you find it a betrayal of prayer to lay out all that you have determined is needed and then to end it all “in accordance with God’s will”? Why is it so hard for you to let God be God, to let Him love you as He chooses to love you, to receive from Him what He knows is good and best for you and for those you love?

Jesus teaches you to pray “Our Father” because God is your Father and He loves you and will only give to you and permit to befall you what will work for your good. As your human father is your source of being, who was before you and who brought you into this life and world, so your heavenly Father is the source of all creation who has made and still sustains all things. Thus, there is nothing in this life and world that is outside of His knowledge and power and He works all things, even the terrible and horrible things, toward His good purpose for you. Likewise, your heavenly Father alone is holy and righteous and good. He is the source of all goodness and the measure of all righteousness, who never wavers or changes. You can trust in Him. You can count on Him. What He has promised He will most assuredly do.

You confess this when you pray “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When you pray this petition, you are asking that your will would be realigned with God’s will, that you would want, seek, and desire what is in accordance with His good and perfect will. Again, you can trust that your heavenly Father seeks only what is good for you, even if that means your passing through times of trial and tribulation, for you will pass through, you will persevere and you will overcome, just as He has promised. In this is peace and contentment, for, the peace that the Father gives is radically different from the peace that the world offers. The Father’s peace is true peace, satisfaction and contentment with what He provides, while the world’s peace is a fleeting and insatiable peace that never satisfies, but only disappoints, leaving you longing for, desiring for, wanting and needing something more, something else, something different. Your heavenly Father knows what you need, even before you ask, even when you do not know, and He lovingly gives you and provides you all that you need to sustain and to support your body and life.

Indeed, this is what is meant by daily bread. Daily bread is bread sufficient for the day, replenished, as need be, each and every day that you live. It is like the manna with which God sustained Israel in the wilderness. God provided each person what they needed, which was not always what they thought they needed or wanted. Sometimes they did not trust in the LORD to provide, and they hoarded leftover bread for days to come, but it spoiled and stank and bred worms. God knows what you need and He gladly provides you food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. All this is meant by daily bread. And yet, so much more than what preserves the body does your heavenly Father give you what is good for your soul: His living and life-giving Word and the precious body and holy blood of His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Do you pray to God for forgiveness? Do you pray to God for the will, the love, and the strength to forgive others as God has forgiven you in Jesus Christ? Indeed, these two are connected. You can only forgive others if you yourself have been forgiven. And, if you have been forgiven by God, and you most assuredly have, then you must forgive, for the freed slave cannot in turn hold another in bondage. By so doing, you remain yourself in bondage to sin and death. Give as you have been given to. Bless as you have been blessed. Forgive as you have been forgiven, even if you are repaid with evil, hatred, and violence.

Do you recognize prayer as a defense against temptation? God does not tempt you, but the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature seek to deceive you and mislead you into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Do you pray to your heavenly Father to preserve and to protect you from these? He has promised never to leave you or forsake you, but that He is always with you, in the valley of the shadow of death or in the depths of Hades, there is nowhere you can go that He is not there. And, do you pray for deliverance from the evil one? Or, do you believe that man is your only enemy? I tell you that no man is truly your enemy but that your enemy is one, the devil who desires only that you pray not, that you believe not, and that you die in sin and unbelief. For, he is a bitter and angry foe who knows that he is already defeated and that his power and influence is quickly coming to an end.

Do you pray from your need instead of from God’s promises? God has promised to hear and to answer your prayers through Christ Jesus so that whatever you ask in His Name, He will give it to you. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray in accordance with what pleases God, in accordance with His holiness, His goodness, and with His good and perfect will. He has promised to hear you and to answer you because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, for Jesus has ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven, and He stands there as the doorway, the path, and the way through which men may pass and enter into the presence of God’s holiness. And this door, path, and way are very near to you, for they are as near to you as is Jesus Christ who fills all things.

Do you sometimes feel as if God does not have your best interest at heart or that He is reluctant to give you what you think you want and need? Though there are surely exceptions, even the most average of human fathers desire the best for their children. How much more does your heavenly Father desire what is good and beneficial for you and for all His children?

Julian of Norwich, a 15th century Christian mystic recognized by the Anglican Church and by some Lutherans, has written, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.” God is willing to give you whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name that you will be strengthened in faith, in body and in soul, and that you will persevere against the temptations of the evil one, the world, and your own sinful nature. When you pray, pray not from your need, but from God’s promises. And, what has your heavenly Father promised you? He has promised to preserve and keep you from temptation and the assaults of the devil. He has promised to never leave or forsake you, but to be with you always. He has promised you forgiveness of your sins and eternal life with Him in the resurrection on the Last Day through His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

And, when you pray, do not worry so much about what to say or how you say it, but talk to God as a son or as a daughter would talk to their loving father, trusting that He loves you, that He loves having you talk to Him, that He wants to do for you all that is good and beneficial for you, and that, even when He disciplines you, He will never hurt or harm you out of malice or anger, but that He will keep you and preserve you through trial and tribulation, suffering, and even death, unto life everlasting.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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