6th Sunday in Easter
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
I recently was reading an interesting book by a professor from the University of Connecticut. The man has a PhD in Social Psychology, a field in which he uses statistics quite often. The book he wrote analyzed the use of statistics in media, such as, newspaper articles, professional papers, the internet, etc.
Dr. Wright is also a Christian. In 2010 he wrote a book titled, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: …and Other Lies You’ve Been Told. Although this is a book about statistics and the errors for which we must beware, Dr. Wright makes some interesting observations from these data. Concerning prayer, he writes:
“Presumably, the people who strongly hold religious beliefs also practice religious activities the most often, but this is not necessarily the case… Religions have many activities associated with them, two of the most basic are prayer and reading Scripture. Even if everyone in a religion prays, which is probably not the case, some certainly pray more than others. Likewise, some people read Scripture more often.”
He also notes:
“In every religious tradition, more people pray on a daily basis than read Scripture on a weekly basis. Also, those religions in which people pray the most tend to have the highest rates of Scripture reading.”
The importance of prayer has been passed down the generations. In our Christian faith, this instruction began as a question from the disciples to their teacher, Christ Jesus.
You see, prayer was very important to our Lord. Throughout the Gospels, we read of Christ praying to our Father in heaven to heal the sick and to forgive the sinful. Beloved disciples, afflicted strangers and even murderous enemies are raised up to God in the prayers of Jesus.
Jesus prays for himself at the garden of Gethsemane and, earlier with his disciples, he prays for all who were given to him by the glory of his Father. This is his prayer for you, for me, and for all who confess Jesus as Lord.
Prayer is very important to Jesus. It is how he conversed with his Father in heaven. Prayer is how Jesus regained strength, healed others and cast out demons. The disciples witnessed all this and wanted to have confidence in their faith and assurance for their supplications so they entreated Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” [Luke 11:1b]
Our Lord then gave us the prayer we use this very day. We call it ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. It is taught to our children when they are young and to new Christians young in faith. It is easy to learn and it encompasses seven petitions we ask of our Father who is in heaven.
You may remember being told by your parents, teachers or pastor that God will give you anything you ask in Jesus’ name. Certainly we all prayed for many things throughout our lives. Some things may have been simple like, “Please Lord, let me get through this day.” Others may have been a little selfish like, “God, let me get an ‘A’ on this test and I’ll go to church every Sunday!” While still others may have been cries of worry and despair, “Sweet Jesus, let my child overcome this illness and live.”
We also pray for other desires of our hearts too numerous to count because we believe in this scriptural promise. But what do we do when we are given that for which we prayed? Do we give thanks or do we complain that God took a long time to fulfill His promise?
God does indeed fulfill all his promises; it is we who foul His good gifts with our sin. We think we know what we deserve. We think somehow that God owes us for all the suffering we endure.
We deserve the punishment for our transgressions against our Creator. In His mercy, that punishment is pardoned. Therefore we should all pray to Our Father in heaven and thank him for not giving us what we deserve.
Instead, God gives us His grace. His grace is something we do not deserve yet He gave us this grace through the salvation of His Son, Jesus Christ.
This punishment of death and eternal separation from God has been removed by His mercy.
In God’s way, we are spared the penalty of our sin and given the gift of eternal life; both of which we do not deserve.
“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” [John 16:23b-24]
Jesus tells us he has overcome the world and all the authority of the Father is his. Jesus tells us that he is master and lord of all things in heaven and on earth. He also urges us to pray.
Next to proclaiming the Word of God, the greatest devotion Christians can render God is to pray. He knows we will suffer perils and tribulation. He knows we will grieve our lives and losses of loved ones. In all this, he insists we call upon his name so that our grief may be turned to joy.
Why do we pray? We pray because Jesus Christ commands us to take all our wants and woes to him. Just as he commands us to baptize all people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, he commands us to ask for our daily bread. Just as he commands us to eat his body and drink his blood for the forgiveness of our sin, he exhorts us to forgive those who trespass against us.
Why? Not because we love him with our weak and wicked hearts, but because God first loved us. He loved us to the point of his death on a cross. Yes, we killed Jesus Christ with our sin and hate. We hanged him on that tree because we are selfish and want only our own satisfaction. We are still killing him with our sin.
We strike him and mock him just as the Roman soldiers did so long ago. When we covet and curse, murder and hate, we scourge our savior with the whip of our sins. When we chase after money, power or lust and cast God from our lives, we hoist the Lamb of God to the pinnacle of the cross.
Do not think that you are okay because your sins are small. Do not think that you receive forgiveness when you do not truly repent. You may fool your fellow Christians and you may even fool yourself, but your heart is known to God. In fear or in trust, pray for your forgiveness. In grief or in joy, pray in thanksgiving.
Yes, we are being led to the slaughter by Satan through our daily sin. We cannot free ourselves as we watch our lives torn away piece by piece. Our only hope is in Christ Jesus. When we look to the cross for our salvation, what do we see? We see our own handiwork in the beaten and bloody body of Jesus.
Seeing Jesus on the cross, we ask how we are to be saved when he cannot even save himself. It is then that the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34] What does Jesus do at this moment of pain and death? He prays for you!
This prayer would mean nothing if it were not for his resurrection from the tomb. His forgiveness would be futile if not for his vanquishing of the Devil and his victory over eternal death.
Every morning in prayer, we thank God for Jesus Christ. We thank God through Jesus Christ because without him, we would not even know God. Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and says, “This child is mine. Whatever he asks in my name give to him as you would give to me.”
In Christ, our prayers are heard. Through our prayers, God sustains us as we live in this world of wickedness. And what about the other basic activity in our Christian life the reading of Scripture? The Word of God speaks to all people about the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. It speaks to us about our Redeemer. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit speak to us through the Word.
Through the Word, the Holy Spirit gathers us together, teaches and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one truth faith. Our prayer is where we give thanks for the Holy Spirit, for the Word, as well as for our daily blessing from our Father who is in heaven.
So how do we pray? How do we turn our prayers of selfish things into the will of God? Through our own sinful nature we could never know the will of God, but God’s will is revealed to us through the Word and Holy Spirit. Therefore, we pray.
We pray as Jesus taught his disciples. We pray to the creator of all things in heaven and on earth that all who hear His name may hold it in honor and glory.
We ask for His glorious kingdom ruled by the one, true and only righteous God to come to us and thereby destroy the power of the devil over us.
We pray that His will be done and not our own selfish will. We pray this so that our foolish requests for the destruction of our fellow human beings will not come to fruition. We continue to ask for strength in times of trouble, peace in times of war, and hope in times of despair. This is how our Lord provides for our daily needs just as he provides our food and clothing. These are his blessings in this life.
We ask our Father in heaven through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to forgive us our trespasses. By His love, our Father forgives his children. In a love as great as this, we, in turn, are able to love and forgive our neighbors when they trespass against us.
We pray for the Holy Spirit, who carries the wisdom from above, to enter our hearts and lead us on the path to righteousness. Every prayer from every heart is the Holy Spirit lighting our path. It would be foolish to hide this light and criminal to extinguish it. Therefore, let your prayers rise up to our Lord.
I close with a comment on prayer by the good Dr. Martin Luther:
“Do not make light of prayer, even though you might think that you are not fit or worthy to pray. Were that the case, no one would be in position to pray. May each Christian say to himself: Since prayer is so pleasing to God and so highly essential and beneficial to me and for the church, I shall attend church and pray as fervently as in me lies, for I am confident that prayer is not, nor can ever be, in vain.”
 Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: …and Other Lies You’ve Been Told
Bradley R.E. Wright, PhD, pg. 111