Thursday, August 11, 2011

What does God NOT know of your need?

Sermon preached for Pentecost 8, Proper 14A, on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

    Have you often wondered what it would be like to listen into the prayers prayed to God?  While I am sure that some of them might be noble and inspiring and others so touching and moving as to bring tears to our eyes, I wonder if most of them would be, well, disappointing. We assume that prayer is where we tell God what He does not know and so our prayers sound like the one sided conversations in which we tell God what He coulda, mighta, shoulda done.  We tend to instruct God on the best outcome and the best pathway to that outcome.  As He listens, I wonder if God does not sigh with disappointment that we do not see the absurdity of telling Him what He does not already know.
    What we declare to God are not the missing pieces of information that will help Him come round to our way of thinking.  No, we declare to God the desires of our hearts within the setting of the confident trust that says "Thy will be done."  What does God NOT know of us and our needs?  What does God need to be instructed about before applying the wisdom of His grace to us and our lives?  What could we possibly tell Him that He does not already know?  We do not inform an uniformed God but as we open our hearts to Him in honesty, we are informed of the grace that never disappoints us.
    From Job came the request – even demand? – to God to explain Himself. Job had suffered great loss, calamity, and pain and yet righteous (a believer).  He wanted to know why his righteousness was met with such trouble. God's response seems anything but kind.  Instead God challenged Job.  Who do you think you are?  Where were you when I made all things?  Do I need your help to make the sun rise or to put it to bed at night?  It sounds like anger.
    In reality the Lord was reminding Job that he came as creature before the almighty Creator.  If this God was great enough to make all things on His own, could not Job now trust in Him in this time of trial?  If God knew all things, would He not also know Job, his circumstances, his needs, his wants, and desires?  When we come as Job, God kindly reminds us He is God and we are not – not to put us in our place... but to put us in our place – we are not His equals but those who know and depend upon His grace for all things.
    The Lord through whom all things were made is not in need of our aid or assistance in understanding the world around us.  Nor is He blind to what goes on in our hearts and minds.  Why is it so tempting to us to think that we know ourselves and we know this world better than the Lord?  The Lord who stood in creation and sent forth His all-powerful Word to bring all things into being does not require our aid or assistance to understand what He made or to order His creation.  What He asks from us is honest trust.
    Remember what we heard this morning of Peter who encounters the figure of Christ like a ghost walking on the water.  He makes his peace contingent upon doing what Jesus is doing – walking on the water.  Jesus does not swat away such presumption but bids him come.  "It is I," He says.  But Peter loses track of Jesus and begins sinking into the sea of doubt and fear that is all around Him.  A moment ago Jesus was there bidding him come and then Peter fears he is all alone and doomed.  "Lord, save me!"  Jesus gently prods him.  "O ye of little faith..."  Jesus was always there.  God had not moved; Peter had moved his attention and trust away and so he sank down.
    We come each Sunday to the House of the Lord and begin with confession of our sins.  Unpleasant as it is, our trust will always be distracted by our sins and fears until God clears the way through absolution.
    We come as those soiled by sin, consumed by doubt, overwhelmed by fear, and trapped in our own prison.  We come as the guilty to be set free and only God can liberate us.  Jesus is there bidding us come to Him, to trust in His suffering and death on the cross, and to keep our focus upon Him.  We kneel in prayer praying the desires of our hearts, with the Spirit teaching us that God is trustworthy, that in our greatest need, His grace is sufficient.
    The Lord who has done all things well – from the creation to sustaining of all things – this God will not give us any less than His good and gracious will.  He has made no mistakes.  He has made no missteps.  His track record is exemplary.  We trust in Him not because we think He might have mercy but because we have seen, heard, and lived with the domain of this mercy and grace from our baptism through to this day and even to eternity.
    That is why God continually points us to what He has done, why His acts of mighty deliverance become our joyful song, and why we pray, "Lord, save me" in every need, in every trouble, and in every trial.  When the circumstances of our lives are darkest, still we trust and still we hope in grace. We trust in what He has done from the voice that spoke through nothing to make all things.  We trust in what He has accomplished in the Word made flesh for us and our salvation.  The yesterdays of God's mighty acts inform the todays of our troubles and point us to the tomorrow which He has prepared for us in Christ.
    Peter stepping out to walk on the water is no different from Job trusting in the Lord when everything in His life said "no."  And it is no different for us. Every ‘no' of our lives are met with the "yes" of God's grace and His mighty acts.  As He prevailed in the past, so He prevails now, the light of His grace is our constant support when the bottom drops out of life.
    Why did you doubt?  God asked of Job whose life was a mess of brokenness.  Why did you doubt?  God asked of Peter slipping into the sea of despair.  Why do YOU doubt?  God asks of us today.  What the Lord asks of us is not the wisdom to unfold His mystery but trust informed by His own track record – the track record of His wisdom, His good and gracious will, and His mighty works of mercy – the greatest of which is the cross.  The answer for Job when everything turned upside down was the same as for Peter who ventured out in the uncertain sea – Trust in the Lord.  Could this be our answer, too? So let your prayers reflect this confidence in His good and gracious will and let this be the cause of Your joy, the ground of your hope, and your eternal peace.


Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters, what a much needed admonition, and how well worded. I sometime cringe a little inwardly when we give God His “to do” list on Sundays. Often I feel that the Pastor uses the prayer to inform the congregation of certain circumstances that God obviously knows, and it makes me feel uncomfortable.

But there was one item, and please don’t think that I am being picky, or that I want to enter into a debate on the subject. I have genuinely been troubled by it for a long time. When you write, “Unpleasant as it (i.e. Confession) is, our trust will always be distracted by our sins and fears until God clears the way through absolution.” Does that mean that our trust is at a high point immediately after the Absolution, and then declines until the next Sunday, or when we are absolved again? I know that our Doctrine of Absolution is based on John 20: 23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained," and other passages. On the other hand, the concept of “justus et peccator” demands that we are, in fact, “justus” even before we receive Absolution. One could also argue that when we pray, “And forgive us our trespasses”, we are asking to be forgiven the sins we will commit “this day”, because God has already forgiven those sins that we have committed in the past. Although few pastors will say it so clearly, I heard at least one LCMS pastor ask, “When are your sins forgiven?” Then he answers, “As soon as you commit them!” I believe this is a true reflection of the state of grace in which Christians find themselves. At the same time I cannot simply dismiss the Absolution as something done “pro forma”. Could you shed some light on this for me? Thank you.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

I wonder as I wander said...

>>It sounds like anger.<< That's how I always took God's response-like a parent scolding an insolent, rude child.

I never imagined that God was speaking in almost a comforting way, "Were you here when I did this? No? Then trust that if I could do 'x', that I can take care of you".

Pastor Peters said...

George, I was not particularly thinking that it is automatic that we are distracted by sins and fears until God intervenes through the absolution, but it could be. We certainly do not need to wait until Sunday morning for that absolution, but Sunday does clear the way for the Word to makes its home in our hearts by getting rid of the baggage of sin, guilt, shame, regret, etc. God's forgiveness comes to us in many forms between the Sunday public absolution (including private confession). I was merely pointing out that guilt, fear, and doubt turn our attention away from Jesus as easily as Peter began to see only the water and his fears and sank into those doubts until Jesus intervened.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Dear Santa, err, I mean - God: Please do this for me....please give me this.....please give me that.....please heal me/us/them.

If God already knows of the things that we need prior to asking for them, then for what should be pray?