Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Desolation and prayer. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 5B, preached on Sunday, February 8, 2015.

    It is funny – not humorous but surprising – how often you find that desolation and prayer together – both as the occasion for prayer and its location for the prayers.  From the ruins of our lives, many prayers are born, to be sure.  So it was in the Gospel for today.  Many came to Jesus found themselves in a desolate spot. Their desolation varied – ill with a fever, afflicted by demons, but all with no where else to turn for hope.  And Jesus was the answer to their prayers – even as He is today. 
    The Gospel lesson says much in one small sentence.  In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus went out to a desolate place and there He prayed.  Where did He go and why was He praying?  He was alone with His Father in heaven.  Was He praying for peace amid the stress and press of people looking to Him?  Or, perhaps, strength for the outcome awaiting Him at Calvary.  No, look at Scripture.  When Jesus prays, He prays for you and for me, for all those who would turn to Him in their needs, for the grace sufficient for our every need.
    In the midst of life's troubles we find ourselves so very alone.  Even surrounded by other people, we feel alone.  When we face the prospect of illness – whether ours or those whom we love.  When we face the demons who afflict our lives – those of our own making and those whom the devil sends to try and wrest our faith from us.  When we have everything and feel like we have nothing, alone and in the ruins of our lives, we cry out.
    We raise the lament of our troubles and we cry out with the frustration of our powerlessness to fix it all.  We survey the landscape of our lives and know there is but one place we can turn.  So, like the folks in the Gospel for today, we come looking for Jesus.
    We look for Him whose healing power binds up our wounds and ills.  He gives us healing – not merely the quick fix of this body for this life but the healing that overcomes death once and for all.  We look for Him who can silence the taunting voices of our demons – those inside of us and those from the outside.  We seek the One who can silence the demons and make us strong in the face of temptation, strong amid trials, and strong amid the tests of living as the people of Christ in the world.
    We look for Him who can lead us through the ruins of this mortal life and of our own broken lives and rebuild us with the grace of forgiveness, restoring to us the clean hearts and the joy of salvation that sin has soiled and despair has overcome. We long for the new lives of our baptism, for a past that is over and a future that is assured.  We long for the food that feeds us until we hunger and thirst no more.  Jesus is our answer.
    The miracles of Jesus confirm His claims.  The One whom the prophets foretold and who keeps the law perfectly. The One in perfect communion with the Father and who can enable us to live in perfect communion with our heavenly Father.  He bestows upon us the new vocation of life as a child of God gives us the power and Spirit from on high to live this new life to God's glory and for His purpose.  Who provides hope for our union with God and our reunion with Him who made us for His purpose and glory.
    Jesus is attracted like a magnet to all our troubles.  As much as we want to run away form them and hide, Jesus runs to us in darkness and the shadow of death.  He wears all our wounds and sins in His flesh in order to redeem us from sin and its death.  We meet Him not on the mountaintop of our greatest moments and accomplishments but in the valley of the shadow, in the nooks and crannies where guilt shames us and we hide.  Where we run to escape, He runs to find. 
    Prayer is this holy conversation.  The Spirit enables prayer by opening up our hearts to pray and giving us the confidence that the Lord hears and answers with His good and gracious will.  The conversation that arises from the desolate places of our lives.  There we lay out our laments not to inform Him but to deliver them over to Him who can answer them.  What a foolish idea that God requires us to tell Him what weighs upon our hearts or burdens our lives! He does not need us to explain to Him what we want or desire or need.  No, prayer is not to inform an unknowing God but to deliver to Him our longings, our needs, and our desires with the confidence that His good and gracious will shall be done for us. 
    When we say our “Amen” to our prayers, we are turning over all our thoughts, words, and worries to the Lord, to His wisdom, and to His grace, everything that we have prayed to Him for – only faith can say this.  Only faith leads us to let go of these things and to trust that God’s answer is not something fearful but the welcome response of grace now and grace eternally.  And there we listen.  We listen with hearts of faith to hear the sound of His voice – not in condemnation but in redemption.  "I have redeemed you..."  "I forgive you..."  "I will raise you up."  "You belong to Me..."  That is why in desolation the people of old came to Jesus.  That is why we, in our desolation, come here today and huddle before His cross.  In His lonely moments of suffering, Christ is there to hear, to answer, and to give birth to our new lives of hope and confidence.  We can still find grace, mercy, healing, strength, and hope.  We find it in Jesus.    Amen.

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