Tag Archive | prayer

10th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

10th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 7/24/16

first reading:  Genesis 18:20-32

Psalm 138

second reading:  Colossians 2:6-19

gospel reading:  Luke 11:1-13

When we’re in awe of someone who does something really well, we want to capture a bit of their magic. A kid who meets Derek Jeter wants to know how he holds the bat.  An aspiring singer gets to meet Beyonce or Adele and they want to know, “How did you break through?”  A struggling writer gets to meet J.K. Rowlings and asks, “Do you have any advice?”

We see someone we admire, we look up to, someone who we KNOW has the “inside track” and we WANT TO KNOW.

Jesus was praying.  And when he was done, one of the disciples had the courage to step forward and do the same thing.  “Lord, how do you do it?  What’s your secret?”  “Lord, teach us to pray, as John the Baptist taught his disciples.”

Durer's praying handsJesus not only teaches the disciples words, but teaches them about attitude, perseverance, and the character of God.

First, Jesus gives them the words.  What we have before us is a form of our beloved “Lord’s Prayer,” or “Our Father.” It’s not as wordy in Luke’s gospel, but it catches the spirit of the longer form we all know from St. Matthew (6:9-13). And it pretty much sums up the things that are most important in life and faith.  Jesus DOES know what he’s talking about.

“God, you are holy.  We pray for your kingdom.  Give us the things we need.  Forgive us, as we forgive, and save us.” Then, after giving them the words to use, he teaches them about perseverance and attitude using a silly story about two friends.  One friend is needy, and the other is tired.  New Testament scholar David Tiede puts it this way:  “The man making the request is some kind of midnight fool, and the man in the house only responds to hush the noise.”¹

I know what that’s about.  I have three kids, and all my great parental rules went out the window when I had my third.  I’d do almost anything to placate the older two while the baby was napping, and I’d do almost anything to keep the baby quiet in the middle of the night while the older two were sleeping (because they had school in the morning)!  I gave into my kids’ demands, not out of any great love or affection for them at 3am, but because I just wanted quiet.

Martin Luther, in the Large Catechism, might’ve had our gospel reading in mind when he wrote:  “…call upon God incessantly and drum into his ears our prayer.”²

Although… contrary to the story Jesus tells and the quote from Luther, Jesus tells us that God DESIRES to answer our prayers.  For as much as we grant requests because we’re pestered, God grants us the needs of our lives out of LOVE.  In this, Jesus tells us about the character of God.

The persevering part is for US.  So that WE don’t forget to pray, or forget the importance of prayer in keeping relationship with God.  God, in fact, desires, LONGS, to answer our prayers.

Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  If we sinful people, on our best days, want to give the best to our children and those we love – how much more does God?

This is where I claim a certain amount of humanly ignorance.  This is why I really don’t like to preach on prayer. Because our understanding of it is so so small.  Our experience of it is imperfect, even though God IS perfect.

Because the first question that comes into many minds is “Well, why do certain prayers go unanswered?” Sometimes the response to that question is, “ALL prayers ARE answered – some with a ‘yes,’ some with a ‘no,’ and some with a ‘not yet.'”

But that response is REALLY unsatisfying.  What parent, begging in prayer for their child’s chemotherapy to work wants a “not yet” from God?  What child, pleading with God for their mother to stop hitting them, will be comforted by a “no?”  Every week in worship we pray for peace, and yet are almost daily confronted by some national or international act of violence.  Is our answer to senseless death, “not yet?”

I think we can all agree that certain prayers deserve a “no.”  I think we can all agree that sometimes God is perfectly just and even loving to deny us some of the things we desire.  Janis Joplin asked in her famous song, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedez Benz?”  I can hear the Lord saying, “Nope.”  But the prayer of an abused child?  The prayers of couples struggling with infertility?  Of the spouse sitting by their loved ones hospital bed?  Our prayers for peace on our streets?

What’s up with this God?  Why the delays or “no” answers?

This I cannot tell you.  I only fall back on God’s command TO pray, and God’s promise to hear us.

That may, at times, seem small consolation when we’re in pain.  I’ve been there.  I’ve felt it.  And we may even get really angry with God at times.  I’ve been there too.

But that’s when we also fall back on another promise of God – the promise that we are not alone.  That is the ultimate promise of Jesus’ words, of his life, of his death, and of his resurrection – that we are HIS. We are NOT left to face our life circumstances, or our deaths, alone.  “I am with you always,”³ MEANS something.

Are we freed from every painful circumstance?  Are we showered with every material desire?  Are we granted the worldly power we seek?  Not always.  Maybe hardly ever.

But are we claimed and loved and strengthened and guided through the journey?  Are we promised a place prepared for us at the end by a loving Savior?

You bet.


¹David Tiede.  Luke. Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988. page 214.

²Theodore Tappert trans & edited.  Book of Concord.  Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.  page 420

³Matthew 28:20


Ash Wednesday, 2015

Ash Wednesday, 2015 (preached 2/18/15)

first reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

second reading:  2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

gospel reading:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians give us the theme of this Ash Wednesday, and for the season of Lent.

So how do we begin?

The prophet Joel tells us, “Blow the trumpet sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people…”  and the words we will use in our gospel acclamation until Easter – “Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…”

We have a solemn assembly this evening. God’s people are gathered. And this gathering begins our journey of reconciliation, of returning.

In tonight’s exhortation, which we will hear in a few minutes, we are summoned to the special disciplines of Lent – repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love.

These are ways we return and are reconciled anew.

repentanceRepentance.   Turning around.  Turning away from sin.  We don’t talk much about repentance. It’s certainly not fashionable to say, “I’m sorry.”

Political careers and personal relationships have been ruined because of the stubborn refusal to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

There is the popular phrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I don’t know who came up with that, but it’s a LIE, plain and simple.  The truth is, love means having to say you’re sorry – A LOT.

We’re imperfect human beings, you and I, and we inevitably do or say things that hurt others.  And it’s hard to admit when we’ve made mistakes, and when we love, cover-ups and denials only compound the hurt – they never help.

When we love and we’ve hurt, we repent and ask our beloved for forgiveness. And if we do this in our earthly relationships, how much more do we need to do this with God?

fasting1We also don’t talk about fasting much, unless of course it’s a diet that we think will help us be more beautiful or fit or healthy.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what spiritual fasting is.

Fasting is about denying oneself without the expectation of worldly benefit, and it’s NOT just about food.

Fasting is about sacrifice, giving up just a little piece of ourselves so we might experience just a tiny fraction of what Jesus gave up for us.

We have become too accustomed I think, to getting what we want when we want it – spending money we don’t have on things we don’t really need.

Fasting teaches us that it IS possible to go without, to wait, to have patience – whether it’s fasting from meals, or a specific food, and even better, fasting from unhealthy behaviors that teach us to have more respect for our bodies or for others.

Durer's praying hands

Durer’s praying hands

Prayer is something we DO talk about, but I wonder sometimes if we’re just giving it lip service.

How do we talk to God? I would guess that we are pretty good at asking God for stuff, even if it’s important stuff, like our health, or to take care of our loved ones.

But it’s easy to neglect praying for the needs of “others” – and by others I mean those we don’t know and will never know.  The hungry, those without adequate shelter (especially in this frigid weather), those of our brothers and sisters whose lives are being threatened for their faith…

And it’s easy to neglect prayers of thanks, especially if we’ve been feeling burdened.  It’s also easy to make prayer a ONE-SIDED conversation, not listening for how God is trying to speak to us.  Communication is important in maintaining and strengthening our human relationships.

We need to tell the special people in our lives on a regular basis that we are thankful for them; ask for what we need from them; respond when they need something from us; and listen when they speak.  It’s possible to have relationships without these things, but not deep meaningful relationships. And so it is in our relationship with God.

1366626254_186157Works of love, or to use the old word, ALMSGIVING, is the fourth of our Lenten disciplines.

We get nervous sometimes in Lutheran circles when talking about works of love because we don’t want people to confuse them with works that get us brownie points in heaven.

But that doesn’t mean that works aren’t important to faith. Good works, works of love, are ways we give thanks to God for our salvation, not ways we earn it.

One of the ways we show our love for God is to love our neighbors – both friends and enemies – in word and deed.  Jesus gave over his whole life for you and me, surely we can give a bit of ourselves to help our neighbors.

These four disciplines of Lent – repentance, fasting, prayer and works of love – help us to reconcile and return to the Lord our God.

It is a time to re-fresh, restore, and re-focus on our relationship to the One who gave us life and loves each one of us here.

For while Lent is a solemn time, the whole point of the solemnity is to draw ever nearer to God – to experience more our NEED for God, and the depth of God’s love for us.

Lent helps us make sure our journey to the cross of Good Friday is not without reflection on our sin which necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice, but also on his LOVE and forgiveness, which was his sole purpose.

Our journey to the cross of Good Friday is also a reflection on how we RESPOND to his great eternal sacrifice.

How do we say thank you for a gift we can never reciprocate? For a love we can never return in kind?


***I don’t talk about the imposition of ashes in this sermon.  If you’re needing/desiring a more “ash” related message, feel free to look at my sermon from last year by clicking here.

7th Sunday of Easter, 2014

7th Sunday of Easter, year A, 2014 (preached June 1, 2014)

first reading:  Acts 1:6-14

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

second reading:  1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

gospel reading:  John 17:1-11

There are SO many horrible things going on in the world these days.  I wake up in the morning and I’m afraid to look at the news.

People gunned down by a hateful deranged man in California.  A pregnant Christian woman sentenced to death for her faith in Sudan.  Two teenage girls gang-raped and hung in India.  Another girl in North Carolina beaten to the point of brain injury by her boyfriend.

The internet and 24hr news channels have made the world a smaller place, so we know fairly quickly events in the world – the good, but mostly the bad.  It can get overwhelming sometimes and I just have to turn it all off – all the images that are coming at me – because I feel powerless.

But there are other stories that don’t make the news or internet headlines that we can’t turn off.  The “stuff” that is happening closer to home – to ourselves, or the people we care about.  I’m sure each of us has a LONG list of people in our lives that are going through tough times.

What can we do in the face of everything going on globally, in our lives, and in the lives of those around us?

There are ways we can help through organizations that provide physical relief to those who are suffering or in trouble, and we should certainly support those.  There are concrete ways we can help our friends and loved ones who are going through tough times – a ride to the doctor, a phone call, a hand to hold.

But we also find another powerful tool in our readings for today.  And that tool is prayer.

In our first reading, which recounts the Ascension of our Lord, the disciples, along with “certain women,” including Jesus’ mother Mary, returned to Jerusalem and were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”

In our second reading we’re counseled to humble ourselves and “cast all our anxiety” on the Lord because he cares for us.  How do we do this?  Through prayer.  And our whole gospel reading is only part of what’s known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.

Prayer.  We don’t talk about it a lot.  We just “do it.”

But once in a while it does us good to reflect on the gift of prayer, to remind ourselves how vital it is in our life of faith.

There are many ways to pray.  We can speak prayers that are already written, as we do throughout our liturgy.  There are prayers we can say before meals, special prayers that have been handed down from generations like, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” or “Lord make me an instrument of thy peace” – or of course the greatest prayer handed down came from Jesus himself in what we call the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father.

Then there are the spontaneous prayers that flow from our hearts in our quiet, and not so quiet, moments with God.  Prayers said as we’re driving the car, walking down the street, watching the news, or before we sleep.

They can be long, when we have a list of situations and people to pray for, or they can be as short as the plea, “Jesus, help me!”

In a writing called, “An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer for the Simple Layman,” Martin Luther addressed this very topic.

He wrote, “…take note that a prayer is not good and right because of its length, devoutness, sweetness or its plea for temporal or eternal goods…. Not your zeal but God’s Word and promise render your prayer good.”

Prayer is the way we communicate with God:  the way we talk to God and feel God’s presence with us, and the way we listen for God to talk to us.

In our prayer time it’s helpful and wise to focus on four things:

1.  giving thanks for our blessings,

2. interceding for others,

3. offering our personal concerns, and

4. listening in the quiet for God’s guidance and to feel God’s love and strength support us.

I’ve already said that prayer is the way we communicate with God, but it is also through prayer that we are connected to one another.  We’re intimately tied to God and one another through Holy Baptism first of all, but in prayer those ties are strengthened, and we’re also able to connect with those who don’t know God at all, but still need God nonetheless.

When we pray we’re reminded of our common humanity, and of God’s utter love for each and every one of us.  For none of us is too great not to pray, or too great not to be prayed for.  Each of us is called to pray, and each one of us needs the prayers of others.

So there may be times when we may feel powerless in the face of all that’s going on around us, when in truth we have amazing power in our prayers.

Some of the situations we pray about may not change.  After all, God is not our heavenly Santa Claus or a genie, existing to fulfill every wish.  But perhaps even if the situations don’t change, our ability to COPE does.

I know from personal experience that when I’m going through a hard time, when I know that someone is praying for me, I am comforted and strengthened.

So while we may FEEL  powerless in the face of some situations, in truth we have great power.

It may not be the power we want – we may not be able to cure the cancer, and we certainly can’t take away the agony of the parents of murdered children.

But we offer in our prayers OUR presence, the power of GOD’S comforting presence, the power of strength to persevere, and the power of shining God’s light of love into the darkest places of the world.


5th Sunday of Easter, 2014

5th Sunday of Easter, year A, 2014 (preached May 18, 2014)

first reading:  Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

second reading:  1 Peter 2:2-10

gospel reading:  John 14:1-14

I’ve been thinking about babies lately.  My son turns eight on Saturday – my babies are growing up.

There are some good things about that for sure, but there are some sad and worrisome things too.  Within weeks of my son turning eight, my oldest will be affirming her baptism in the Rite of Confirmation.

I’m bouncing between a growing child who is infinitely inquisitive and believes I know EVERYTHING, and the teenager who increasingly believes I know very little and SHE knows everything!

Where is all this heading you may be asking yourselves?  What does my reflecting about babies, and growing children, have to do with our worship today?

Throughout the week I kept coming back to our second reading.  It begins, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if you have indeed tasted that the Lord is good.”

We all now how difficult infants can be when they’re hungry.  And we all know how their disposition changes when they’re finally fed.  And we know that if an infant is fed, it will be healthy, and grow and change and grow some more.

In our second reading, this is the image we’re given – of us as newborn babies who are well-fed, satisfied, and growing – the picture of health.

Just as an infant needs “material” food to grow and be strong and healthy, in 1 Peter we’re told that we need “spiritual” milk to grow and stay strong and healthy spiritually.

And what is our “spiritual milk?”  What practices, what food,  helps us grow and stay strong and healthy in the faith?  I see four.

1)  We have the Word of God found in Holy Scripture.

2)  We have worship, during which we give our very selves over TO God, and receive FROM God within a community of faith.

3)  We have the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, in which Jesus literally feeds us with HIS very self.

4)  And we have prayer, in which we share with God, give thanks, present our worries and fears – and also LISTEN for God.

Just as neglect of an infant’s physical needs can result in failure to thrive, neglect of our spiritual food can result in our failure to thrive in faith no matter how old we are.

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we are in a LIFELONG relationship of love and learning with our Lord and in lifelong service to him.  We can never know all there is to know.  We can never completely comprehend the majesty and mystery of God.

1) The Bible.  I don’t know anyone who believes they understand everything in the Bible.  I certainly don’t.  Even the greatest biblical scholars are constantly searching, constantly reaching to understand more.

The Bible is a gift to us that is filled with the richness of the stories of God’s people.  The Scriptures help us get a glimpse of God’s nature, the Bible shows us Jesus.  In reading and wrestling with Scripture we grow and stretch out of our comfort zones to see God at work in the lives of people just like us, and people who are definitely NOT like us but who God loves equally.

2) Worship.  SO many people miss out on so much by neglecting worship.  Now there are those who say we can worship on the golf course or in the mountains or at the beach – but do they?

How many folks do you know that read Scripture or sing songs of faith or pray for the WORLD (not just for a good round) on the golf course?

Contrary to what some would like to believe, we’re not called to be Christians in solitude.  In Peter’s letter we’re given the image of ourselves as STONES, that together are built into a spiritual house.  There can be no house with just one stone.

Being part of a church isn’t always easy.  We can get caught up in personality differences, in all the STUFF that has to get done, and the work of running the “business” of the church, especially in a small congregation like ours.

But this is why worship is SO important.  It reminds us why we work so hard.  It reminds us that there is something at work here that is bigger than ourselves – and our worship together gives us strength from God and from one another to go out and face another day.

3) The sacraments are a vital part of any growth or health or strength in faith.  Even though we believe in only one baptism – every time we witness a baptism we can be reminded of the promises God made to us at the font.  And in Holy Communion we are continually renewed in faith through the forgiveness of sins imparted at Christ’s table.

They are the means by which God gives grace and forgiveness to each one of us, a way that God comes to you and me as individuals and as a community.

4) And we have prayer.  Prayer is something we do together AND individually.  We share our inmost fears and desires, and we pray together for unknown numbers of people we will never meet.

And we listen.  The listening is the hardest part, at least for me.  It’s the part that stretches us to grow the most – because we can never be quite sure what God is going to say.

As we receive our spiritual milk, Peter’s letter tells us we “grow into salvation.”  Now, growing into salvation doesn’t mean working at our salvation.  It doesn’t mean we’re earning it – it means we are constantly in the process of discovering what our salvation means.

Growing into salvation means being fed so that we are strong and healthy enough to explore all the layers of who this Jesus God-person was and is, for us and for the world.

Growing into salvation means allowing God to feed us through all of the means of grace – through the Word, worship, sacraments and prayer – so that we may be drawn ever closer to Jesus and to one another.

In this wonderful faith we have, centered on the miraculous love of Christ, we have a lifetime to learn and grow and love.  Praise be to God!