"The Power Lies in the One Who Answers Prayer"
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Luke 11:1-13
July 29 and 30, 2007 (Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Crete, Nebraska);
August 4 and 5, 2007 (Immanuel Lutheran Church, Parkers Prairie, Minnesota)
IN NOMINE JESU
As a pastor in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, I have a very low tolerance for false teaching, as one should expect. There are a few heresies that make my blood boil more than others: justification by good works rather than by grace through faith in Christ, becoming an angel upon death, and insisting that the power of prayer lies within the prayer itself (or the pray-er himself or herself). One of the hallmarks of false teaching is that it takes the focus away from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and places it upon "me, myself, and I." There's something appealing about thinking we play an active part in our salvation. It is wrong, but it is appealing. It is also a spiritual pandemic, for it has infected many who claim to follow Christ. Many cannot help but be infected for this poison was injected into them by those who purport to be their shepherds. We hear this nonsense from our friends, and we also take a bite of the apple. When we take that bite, we get not a worm but the old serpent himself, seeking to deceive us, hissing in our ears, "Did God really say…?"
What our Lord really says to us in our text is that the true power of prayer lies in the One who not only answers prayer but who also teaches us how to pray. In a rare moment, one of the Lord's disciples asks Him to teach them how to pray. No doubt these were sweet words to our Lord's ears; someone asked Him how to talk with His heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit had been active in this unnamed disciple, for He had given him the faith to come to the Lord, asking Him how to pray, for prayer to God presupposes faith in the heart of the one praying. Prayer is an act of worship, for when we come to our Father in prayer, we do so confident that He will hear us and answer our prayers. Just as God gives us faith to believe in Him, He also gives us the words to use when we come to Him in prayer, as He does in our text. Our Lord gives us the model prayer, the Lord's Prayer. The words we use each Sunday in the Divine Service are His words, used in His coming to us in the Divine Service, the Gottesdienst, His serving us through Word and Sacraments. The prayer our Lord gives us is not a means of His grace, as the Word, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper are, even though we hear His prayer in His Word. Yet when we hear the words our Lord teaches us to use, we can be assured that Hs grace is present as we hear the address of the prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven. "With these words," Martin Luther teaches us, "God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father" (Lord's Prayer: Introduction). God the Father Almighty is not only the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, He is also our Father. We are His children, for He has declared us to be His children by His grace through our faith in His Son, faith given us at our Baptism. The blessed Apostle St. Paul writes, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:26-27). He is our Father, for He created us; He created us so that He would love us. This is why He gives us His Means of Grace and the means to speak to Him.
As we heard earlier, prayer is indeed an act of worship. It follows the pattern of the Divine Service. God gives, and we respond. Regarding prayer, God indeed is the primary Actor, for He gives us the faith necessary to pray, and we respond, praying in that faith He has given us. This is the relationship God has established with us, a relationship modeled in the home, as parents establish their relationship with their children. They give their children good things, as the Lord acknowledges they, though evil, do. They teach their children to be confident to come to them with their requests, for the parents have the divine charge to take care of and provide for their children. As one Lutheran theologian said, "Parents feed their children daily bread. The children respond by speaking to their parents" (Buls).
Yes, the children do speak to their parents but not always in ways that honor their fathers or mothers, the tone disrespectful and the language vile. When one switches the letters in the word vile, one forms the word evil. To do or speak evil is to commit sin. Children are quite accomplished in sinning, especially against their parents. Apart from saving faith in Christ, their souls are as soiled as the diapers they filled. Unlike diapers, sin is something that children never outgrow; they simply pass it along to their children. We know this on the basis of Scripture, for "the Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation" (LSB 268). We inherited this death gene from our first parents, Adam and Eve, who first fell into sin. We have inherited their sinful nature and called it our own. We have merited the price Adam and Eve won for us: death, a wage we cannot escape paying, and as one now-sainted pastor said, "The death rate is the same as it's always been: one per person" (Korby).
Because we are sinful and evil, we cannot pray as we ought. The words don't come from our lips. Our hearts are not in our prayers. We pray for those things God has not given us to have. These things all make our prayer lives difficult. This makes it impossible for the power of prayer to lie within us or our words. Our prayers would necessarily have to be perfect to be powerful, but they are not perfect, for we are not perfect. Yet this does not prevent God from hearing our prayers, for He has promised to hear and answer the prayers of His people—in His time and in His way. Sometimes God grants our requests. Sometimes the time is not quite right for Him to grant our requests. Sometimes the answer is no, and our request is denied. I have had to deal with this reality in my own life recently…and painfully, as the Lord answered my prayers to spare my bride's life and to heal her of her cancer in a way I did not want answered. He did, however, answer my prayer to relieve Beth of her suffering—again not as I really wanted the prayers answered. But God, in His most infinite wisdom, called her to Himself, to her eternal rest. Throughout Beth's bout with cancer, I realized, much to my chagrin, just how powerless and insignificant I am. In my preparation for this sermon, I came across these words that give me some comfort, words Luther preached in 1525: "However, you should, by all means, be conscious of your own unworthiness, taking confidence not from your own doings, but from the promise of God, and be so completely conscious, that if you were all alone, and no one else in the world prayed, you would nevertheless pray, because of this promise. …The second requisite of true prayer, following that of God's promise, is faith—that we believe the promise is true, and do not doubt that God will give what He promises. For the words of the promise require faith."
Faith eagerly receives the promises of God and delights in their fulfillment. Abraham rejoiced in having a gracious God, a God so gracious that He promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if even ten righteous people were found within the cities' walls. Abraham fervently pleaded before God to spare the cities for the sake of any righteous people living there, as we heard in our Old Testament Reading [Genesis 18:20-33]. God in His grace looked upon Abraham favorably. Abraham was like we are: nothing but dust and ashes, as God told Adam, "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19), as we are reminded each Ash Wednesday and again at the cemetery, as we commit the bodies of our loved ones to the ground, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself" (LSB Agenda, p. 130). The God who has created, redeemed, and sanctified us gives us the faith necessary to come to our God in prayer, as our Lord says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (Jn. 6:29). It is the work of God the Holy Spirit who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us in the one true faith, the same Spirit who gives us the words to use when we come to our heavenly Father. Even if we cannot utter the words we want to use, we need not fear, for the Holy Spirit remains with us and prays for us. As St. Paul writes, "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom. 8:26-27). The real power of prayer lies in the One who not only answers prayer and the One who teaches us how to pray, but also in the One who moves us to pray.
By the Holy Spirit we are bold, as Abraham was, to come before our heavenly Father, making our requests known to Him in the Name of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who opened the way for us to speak to Him by dying on the cross in our place. You see, when Christ died, the temple veil was ripped from top to bottom—a large, tall, and thick veil—rent asunder. Prior to Good Friday, the priests were the only ones allowed behind the veil, into the Holy Place, offering up prayers on behalf of the people, as priests were the only ones allowed to come before God in prayer. With that veil torn in two and stained with the blood of Jesus Christ, we now have direct access to our Father in heaven through His Son, whose blood sets us free to be people of God. Not only does the blood of Christ set us free to be people of God, it sets us free from our sins, for our Lord gave His body and shed His blood on the cross for you for the forgiveness of sins. This same forgiveness of sins that He won on the cross He gives to you by giving this same body and blood in His Supper. Through this holy meal our sins are forgiven, and our faith is strengthened. By Him we are strong to come before our Father in heaven, firmly confident He will hear us and answer our prayers. This is why we close our prayers with "Amen." As Luther teaches us, "This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means 'yes, yes, it shall be so'" (Lord's Prayer: Conclusion). By faith we are bold to pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs, "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:1-6). We are bold because the true power of prayer comes from the One who has given us the means to pray and who answers prayer, and we may say, "Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer."
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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