Thursday, September 17, 2015

When it appears the Word and prayer do not work. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 16, Proper 19B, preached on Sunday, September 13, 2015.

    The past weeks we have heard Jesus renew the call to faith, to trust in the Lord and in the promises of His Word.  Today we hear Him lament the faithless generation that does not trust what it claims to believe.  Though these words were spoken long ago, they could have been said today.  The disciples had been given the authority of Jesus' name to call people to repentance, to announce the kingdom, to heal, and to cast out demons.  But then they encountered one where this strategy did not work.
    What a strange story!  A demon who resists the Word of the Lord?  I think I have a computer like that.  You type in the right words but nothing happens.  That is how the disciples saw the Word of God.  You throw God’s Word at the problem and boom, things happen.  The Word of the Lord was to them a powerful weapon to use against the enemies and then they went away.  In the Name of Jesus!
    The truth is that sometimes that is exactly how we expect God’s Word and prayer to work.  We want a tool that we can use when we are in trouble, when we cannot handle things on our own, or when we meet up with an enemy too big for us to ignore.  But Jesus told His disciples and He tells us that we meet the Word of God on the plane of prayer where trust finds it voice.
    What is prayer?  Maybe it is easier to say what it is not.  It is not advice to God on how God ought to do His work.  Remember how God responded to Job.  Prayer is not a plan we present to God so that we can get Him on board on our side and we can get what it is we desire from Him.  Prayer is not some crystal ball to delve into the mind of God and predict the outcome.  Nor is prayer a secret code that turns a wish into a command simply by adding Jesus’ name to our laundry list of wants and desires.
    What prayer is meant to be is a conversation of faith – from the faithful who trust in the Lord to the God whose mercy is not in question.   By conversation that means we do not spend all our time talking but we listen as a people who believe in God’s good and gracious will and who are willing to trust everything to that good and gracious will.  This means praying the promises as well as our problems. 
    Prayer is our expression of confidence in that good and gracious will.  In this respect prayer is itself a form of witness or confession before the world.  When the world sees God’s people at prayer, the world is confronted with the picture of a people who believe in the Lord, who are confident of His mercy, who trust in His wisdom to grant them what is best, and who are content with God’s answer.
    Prayer is the willing trust that prays in every circumstance “Thy will be done.”  Even when we have told God what we want and poured out the desire of our heart, by praying in Jesus’ name we are trusting in the good and gracious will of God for the right answer at the right time.  Instead of cajoling God into giving us what we want, every prayer that ends in Jesus’ name is  an echo of the Garden where Jesus prayed, “Thy will be done.”
    When you handle the Word of God, you better be prepared to handle it from the vantage point of a prayerful people who believe in the Word and promises of God.  The disciples thought Jesus had given them power.  What Jesus had given them is access to grace and mercy.  They thought they had a Word to throw at a problem and make it disappear but Jesus had given them the authority to address all things with the Word of the Lord from the vantage point of faith that God will act through His Word.
    When Scripture says everything is possible for him who believes, this is not a strategy to us to get what we want done by the God who acts at our beck and call.  No, indeed; this is a call to faith.  Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.  Look at how Jesus condemns the faithless generation – a people who want power but who refuse to trust in God’s revealed and promised mercy.
    We want wonder working power but the real power is the faith that trusts in and counts on God’s gracious will.  When Jesus acted, the people demurred.  This boy is dead.  The cause is lost.  Nothing more can be done.  But the faithful wait upon the Lord, content to trust in His mercy and having confidence in His grace – despite what they see. 
    God is faithful.  He will do it.  Perhaps our greatest failing as God’s people is not the long list of  old and familiar sins we commit week after week but our failure to trust in the gracious will of God and to believe His Word will do what it promises.  The mark of the Spirit’s work in us is not only holiness of life but confident trust. Then we will begin to understand the power of God’s Word.     Then we will be set free from the troublesome enemies of God and of our faith that prey upon our doubts.  Then we will discover what prayer is and we will make time for prayer.  Then we will rest our cares on Him who cares for us and our souls will know His perfect peace.
     We encounter the Word of God on the plane of prayer, of a people confident in that Word and confident of God's gracious will.  God is faithful.  He will do it.  Do not wring your hands but fold your hands and pray that Word against the problems that confront you and pray the promises God has made as your comfort.  Prayer is not only prompted by problems but the richest life of prayer is the fruit of confidence in God's promises and those promises prayed with as much fervor as our problem.  When we do this, the Word and prayer will cease being merely tools to use in time of need and we will delight in that Word and Will of God no matter what happens.  And God will bring all things to pass according to His promise.  Amen.

No comments: