The sermon this evening comes from the first two verses of the Epistle that we recently read. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Have you ever thought what it would take for you to have a person-to-person, heart to heart chat with the President of the United States? Suppose you just walked up to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and walked right into the White House. How close to the President do you think you would get. You would probably have a chat with the Secret Service, but not the President. For that matter, how close do you think you could get to the President of General Motors, General Electric, or any other major corporation without an appointment? For some people even seeing their own boss is impossible without an appointment. It seems things have been this way for a long time for in the book of Esther we read, "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live." In that day a person who tried to see the king without an appointment was subject to the death penalty.
How different it is with God. He speaks through the Apostle Paul in today's Epistle, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Now this might sound like a command, but listen to the grace of God's promises to serve us. God speaks to us through his servant Asaph in Psalm 50, [:15 (ESV)] "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." And through his prophet Isaiah, [65:24 (ESV)] "Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear." And again through Asaph in Psalm 81, [:10 (ESV)] "I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." Jesus himself said, [Matthew 7:7-9] 7 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." Over and over again, God invites us to enter the Heavenly Throne Room and share the deepest feelings of our heart with Him. We can enter God's Throne room 24 / 7 and share our joys and sorrows, our failures and triumphs, our confidences and our fears. The line is never busy. We never get put on hold. We never have to leave a message so he can return our call. No, God is always ready to hear us.
So, what is our response to this unlimited generosity, this open, unlimited invitation from the God of all things? Too often our response is, "I don't have time right now. I pray before meals and before I go to bed. Isn't that enough?" We join with the people in Jesus' parables who said, "I have bought a field ... Please have me excused." "I have bought oxen ... Please have me excused." And "I just got married ... Therefore I cannot come." We often see prayer as a chore. We don't see the privilege or grace in God's invitation to pray. We see it as one more verse that commands us to do something.
When we do this, it is easy for us to think of our prayers as traditions or favors that we do for God. It is as if when dinner is ready tomorrow and we hear words similar to, "Dinner's ready. Come and get it!" that we think to ourselves, "Oh man… now I hav'ta go and eat some of Mom's cooking again. I sure hope she appreciates the effort I put into eating her food." That seems ridiculous, but that is the way we often think about prayer.
I'm reminded of a cartoon that I saw in an engineering magazine a few years before I entered the seminary. The scene depicted the waiting room of an executive office from late nineteenth century Washington D.C. A man sat there next to the prototype of a new weapon set up on the floor of the room. An officer in the Union army bent over and talked with him. The caption read, "I'm sorry Mr. Gatling, but General Grant is too busy fighting the war to see you right now." Are we too busy? Do we find ourselves telling the one who created time and gave it to us that we don't have time for Him?
Tomorrow, millions of people all over the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving. Very few will give thanks for the opportunity they have to come before the throne of God. The sad truth is that most people don't really know whom they are thanking on Thanksgiving Day. Many will babble some words over a turkey and think it is prayer when all they are doing is violating God's Holy Name. The fact is that most of the people at the table will be thinking, "Hurry up with the prayer already! Let's eat!" For many it is the day to rest and build up strength for the Christmas shopping season. For others, it is a day off from work and an opportunity to watch lots of football. Some will have happy reunions with family and friends. Others will fight depression because they are estranged from family and have few friends. Most of them will not be able to turn their eyes up to their creator because they don't know who He is. Even more tragic is the fact that those who do not know their creator while they are here on this earth will be separated from him forever when they enter an eternity of suffering after they leave this life.
In spite of this rejection, in spite of the fact that we continuously tell God that he can keep his gifts and then slam the door in his face, He still cares for us. He still seeks us out. Jesus still says, [Luke 19:10 (ESV)] "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." How is it that, even though we reject Him, God still wants to hear from us any time of the day or night? The answer is love. His love for us wants to talk to us in His Word and Hear from us in Prayer.
This love that allows us to call Him Father and bring everything to Him in prayer is one of the many facets of the same love that caused him to send His only begotten Son to be born of a virgin and live a life of poverty under the authority of the law. He showed that same love when he allowed those who rejected Him to nail His Son to a cross. The Son showed that love through His crucifixion and death when He took our place as the target of God's wrath against our sins including that of rejection. In love, the Son rose from the dead and created a new pathway through death away from eternal suffering and into eternal joy. The Holy Spirit brings that love of God to the believer as he creates and sustains the faith that allows us to receive all of God's gifts and receive them with Thanksgiving. The love of God that the Holy Spirit places in our heart takes action as we make our requests known to him.
How thankful we can be that by the Father's grace for the Son's sake through the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit we know our creator and will live with Him forever. We Christians, of all people, are the only ones who can be truly thankful, not just tomorrow, but every day. Salvation is ours through Christ Jesus. The windows of Heaven are open to us, not by appointment only, but 24 / 7. When our time on this earth is finished, we will enter an eternity of Joy with God. Oh that God's Word would spread so that more people will come to know this blessed relationship.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. + Amen
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