Monday, May 22, 2023

Praying for YOU. . .

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (A), the Sunday after the Ascension, preached on Sunday, May 21, 2023.

Beloved, says St. Peter.  He is speaking of us.  We are the beloved of the Father by the Son.  So listen up, St. Peter is talking to you.  Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But that is exactly what we think.  Something must be wrong if my life is not happy and if things are not going well.  Could St. Peter be saying fiery trials are the default of the Christian life?

The he tells us that we are to rejoice as we share Christ’s sufferings.  That does not compute.  We will do almost anything to avoid such sufferings and presume that they are a sign something is wrong.  Yet St. Peter tells us to rejoice when we suffer as Christ suffered or because we belong to Christ.  Indeed, we should be glad that we have been counted worthy to suffer on behalf of our Savior.

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, says St. Peter.  There is no blessing if we suffer because screwed up and did wrong or evil but if we suffer as a Christian for being a Christian, we should not be ashamed.  We glorify God in our sufferings and not because we have been spared them.  Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. . . .

These words are almost incomprehensible to us.  When you go to the doctor he asks how much pain are you in and writes a prescription to relieve that pain.  When we go to the counselor, he helps us work through our troubles so that they go away.  It is no wonder that we think relieving suffering is the most important thing anyone and everyone can do for us.  So why would St. Peter suggest that suffering is not only inevitable but our glory and privilege in Christ?

The answer is hard.  The world is not our friend.  The world is set against God and the things of God and that will not change until a new heaven and earth replace what is now.  So you and I are automatically set in the cross hairs of the world’s contempt.  That is because we do not belong to the world.  The world can smell us out pretty quick and knows when we belong to Christ and not to the world.  Likewise the devil knows who is on his side and who is not.

In the garden of prayer on Maundy Thursday Jesus prayed for us and for moments like these.  He prayed because we belong to Him and we are not of the world.  
We may be in the world but we are not of it.  We are made of different stuff and that stuff is the creation of the Spirit by water and the Word.  Even though we may not remember this, Jesus cannot forget it.  And He cannot forget you and me.

What does Jesus do for us?  He prays for us.  I already here a sigh in you.  So what.  We are not sure that prayer makes any difference.  We all have a litany of prayers prayed where the answers did not turn out like we wanted.  So what good is it that we are in danger in the world, marked by the world as an enemy, and all Jesus is doing for us is praying?  That is our problem.  We do not esteem prayer so highly but thanks be to God our Lord does.

On the night of His betrayal and arrest, just before He will be marched to Calvary and crucified, we would think the Lord would be praying for Himself and all He was going to suffer for us.  But that is the miracle.  It was all for us and His focus on us never wavered.  Jesus prays for what will happen to us after He has done all He came to do.  He prays for us not with good words or nice words but pleading the blood of His sacrifice before the Father.  He prays for us not with noble intention but in agonizing moments just before a friend betrays Him and the cross will claim Him.  We may not be convinced of the power of prayer but Jesus is.

We tell brothers and sisters in Christ our troubles and they tell us they will pray for us.  We shrug our shoulders.  Okay, but how will that help pay the bills when the wallet is empty or feed the family when the cupboard is bare or heal the body broken with cancer.  We are not sold on the power of prayer and find it rather weak and passive.  We would like more than prayer.  Plus, we are never sure that the people who said they would, actually will pray for us.  We wonder because we have promised to pray for countless people and forgotten or fallen asleep in the midst of those prayers before we ever got to their names.  We wonder because we do not even pay that much attention on Sunday morning when prayers are prayed so do we really think God is paying attention or our brothers and sisters are paying attention to us?

We might be right about our prayers.  We doze, we zone out, and forget to pray because in the back of our minds we wonder if it even matters that we pray – even as we say the Amen.  Our Lord prays for you not with the power of words alone but by the blood of His suffering.  He pleads His blood before the Father all day long and all night long. He pleads for you, for all your needs, for your weakness.
He prays for you that your hearts may be united in Him and together in unity, that your faith may be confessed as one voice and your life lived from the grace sufficient for every need.  

You should be concerned about the trials ahead of you because you belong to Christ.  You should take seriously the challenges of what it means to belong to the Lord in a world unfriendly to His purpose.  Maybe it is impossible not to take the promises of your brothers and sisters to pray for you as good intention without being sure they will follow through.  But do not discount the Lord’s prayers for you as He lifts you in the cover of His blood before the Father and sends forth the Holy Spirit to keep you in faith.  Do not diminish the power of Christ’s prayers that have the urgency of His blood and the power of His cross lifting them to the Father in His name.  Christ is right now praying for you.  Praying that you be kept in His grace through His Word preached and through the Sacrament of His body and blood.  Praying that you be brought to repentance, forgiven and restored every time you sin.  Praying that you be kept holy and blameless in the cover of His righteousness until that day when He stands again upon the earth to finish His new creation.  

Christ’s prayers for you will never stop.  His prayers will work through you and turn your groans and sighs into words.  His Spirit is even now forming words upon your lips and faith in your hearts so that you may pray as He taught you.... Our Father, who art in heaven.  Even if you do not know the outcome of your prayers, Jesus knows the outcome of His and that outcome is your salvation.  

In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

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