Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Homily for Lenten Vespers - Week of Invocabit (Lent 1)

Luke 11:1-13; Genesis 32:22-30

The Petitions of the Great Litany: “Hear us, Good Lord”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We repent because there is someone to repent to who is gracious and merciful and ready to forgive us. We return home because there is someone to return home to, waiting with open arms to receive us. Likewise, we pray, because there is someone who has promised to hear us and to answer our prayer. This is to say that prayer is an act of faith. We pray because we believe that God will hear our prayer and will answer. Therefore prayer is beneficial, in and of itself, not because of the pious words we may speak or the acts of piety we may perform when we pray, but prayer is beneficial because it is the very fruit of faith itself. Prayer is an exercise in faith, and, by doing it, our faith is strengthened and renewed. And, as there is little reason to confess your sins if you do not anticipate an absolution, likewise, there is little reason to pray if you do not anticipate that God will hear your prayer and answer, just as He has promised. No, that is precisely why we pray: God does hear, and God does answer those who pray to Him in faith and trust in His Word, and in Jesus, His Word made flesh.
Faith and trust – these are at the root of our Old Testament reading this evening. Jacob wrestled with a man, with God, all night long and, though the man put Jacob’s hip out of socket, Jacob refused to let him go without a blessing. Jacob is an example demonstrating that, even when God seems to not hear and answer, in fact, even when God seems to be actively working against you, wrestling with you, and permitting you to suffer, the faithful continue to hold on, all the stronger, and to insist that God keep His Word and His promises.
Prayer is like that, because the power of prayer is faith. Too often, Christians become confused about prayer. I think, however, that they are truly confused about faith. Faith is not a work. Faith is not something that you do. Rather, faith is a quality that you have, or that you do not have. Faith is trust. Good Biblical examples of faith are infant children, even without rational understanding and knowledge, and adults who have been so rocked by trial and tribulation that they depend upon nothing and no one but God alone. The Scriptures are replete with such examples, particularly the Gospels and the parables and teachings of Jesus. In fact, the Gospel you will hear this coming Sunday is such a teaching – the account of a Canaanite woman who plead with Jesus to help her demon-possessed daughter. She had no other hope than Jesus, therefore she trusted in Him and clung to Him alone even when He at first rejected her and insulted her (kind of like God putting Jacob’s hip out of socket). She would not let Him go without His blessing. She received it along with Jesus’ praise, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.
This evening’s Gospel reading begins with Jesus praying. Perhaps you’ve never thought about it, but it might be helpful to ask, “Why on earth would Jesus pray?” What has Jesus to gain by praying? What does Jesus need? What does Jesus hope to receive in prayer? Well, while it is true that Jesus does not require absolution, as He is without sin, He was indeed a human being, a man, and He needed comfort and hope just like we do. Jesus prayed in faith and trust, just like we do, knowing that His Father would both hear and answer. In fact, Jesus prayed not only for Himself, but also for us; that is to say, Jesus prayed in our place for our failure to pray. Jesus was faithful for us. Jesus prayed for us. As Jesus’ faith was strengthened through prayer, so is our faith strengthened through prayer that we might persevere through all, trusting in God in strength and hope.
Jesus’ disciples understood that prayer was important. Still, they didn’t know how to pray, or what to pray for. Therefore, Jesus taught them how to pray. He taught them the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer constructed around the Lord’s own Words and promises. All the things we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer are gifts that the Lord has promised to give to us: His Name, His kingdom, His will as our will, daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from the evil one. We can pray in faith and trust in these Words, for the Lord has already promised to hear and to answer, giving us all these gifts. This is why, in the Small Catechism, Luther explains in each petition of the Lord’s Prayer that the Lord is already doing and giving these gifts even without our prayer. What we are praying for is that we would receive them and permit them to grow and to work in us – that we would have faith to believe and to receive what the Lord has promised to do, and is in fact doing for us.
I like to think of prayer as restoring a right relationship with God. Now, I don’t mean in terms of justification, making us right with God by means of the forgiveness of our sins – that is what Jesus has accomplished for us by means of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. What I mean is this: When we pray, we acknowledge God to be God, and we to be His creatures. We acknowledge Him to be good, merciful, gracious, constant, and loving. And, in this way we restore, or are restored to, a right relationship with God. The right relationship is receiving from Him. It is good to ask, especially when we ask believing in Him that He is good, that He will hear, and that He will answer in accordance with His righteous will and wisdom.
“Hear us, good Lord,” we pray in the Litany. “We implore you to hear us,” we pray. Is there any doubt that our Lord hears? No, there is not. Thus, such we pray in faith, in trust, in confidence that we are heard and that the Lord will answer in accordance with His good and gracious wisdom and will. If a friend will help you when you ask because you are insistent and ask repeatedly…. If a good friend will help you immediately when you ask…. If a father will give good things to his son who asks…. How much more will your heavenly Father and loving God give you what is good and right for you and for those for whom you pray?
In the Litany, we call upon the God who is, we call upon who He is, and we call upon what He has promised and what He has done. This is the foundation upon which we depend, in which we believe and trust, and the reason for our confidence and hope in prayer. We pray by all the things God is, has said, and has done for us and for all His people in Jesus Christ. In Him, through Him, and with Him we have all things needful and more.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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