Monday, May 13, 2024

The other Lord's Prayer. . .

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (B), the Sunday after the Ascension, preached on Sunday, May 12, 2024.

When you mention the Lord’s Prayer everyone in Christendom knows exactly what you are talking about.  Even many who have never been Christian and certainly those who have fallen away know the Lord’s Prayer.  It is a common heritage even deeper than the creeds though with a little trifle over words like debts or sins or trespasses.  We call it the Lord’s Prayer but it is not really His.  He gives the prayer to us.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it the Christian’s prayer.  In some liturgies that is how it is introduced.  As the Lord has taught us, we are bold to pray...  Even in our liturgy this prayer is introduced with its own prayer:  Lord, remember us in Your kingdom and teach us to pray...

Today we heard part of another Lord’s Prayer.  It is not at all as universally known or appreciated as the Our Father.  But it is no less the Lord’s Prayer.  The exegete calls this the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.  What we heard is but a snippet of the entire 17th chapter of John in which our Lord prays alone in the Garden before He is betrayed to His voluntary sufferings, dies, and rises again.  Jesus prayed for Himself in that Garden – that if possible the cup pass from Him but nevertheless the Lord’s will be done.  But this farewell prayer is not only about Jesus or what is to come in the next hours or day.  It is mostly about you and me.

This is a prayer of intercession.  He pleads to the Father not for Himself but for those whom the Father gave Him out of the world – those who belong to Him and have kept the Word of the Lord by faith.  Jesus conspicuously does not pray for the world but for the ones the Father has given Him –  for God’s baptized people of faith.  Jesus prays because He will no longer be in the world as they are and yet their well-being remains His burning concern.  Jesus has lost only one – Judas – whose heart was overcome by the devil and who, in despair, would choose death over repentance.  Jesus prays for us so that His joy may be full.

Jesus prays for our unity of faith.  The Church needs this prayer because we have used all kinds of things to divide us.  While division over doctrine is regrettable, it is necessary to preserve the truth.  Division over other things is a scandal.  Jesus knows that both divisions will come – the necessary division in order to maintain the truth and the sinful divisions caused by pride, preference, personality, and place.  So He prays that we will be united – not as negotiators bring disputing parties together but as a people joined in the Word, sanctified by that Word, and living in that Word.

Jesus does not pray that God remove us from the world.  This is no prayer for a safe and easy escape but for the courage, strength, conviction, and endurance to live within the tension of being in the world but of Christ, being in Christ while resisting the impulse to live as one belonging to the world and all its values.  Jesus prays because it is not simply against flesh and blood but principalities and powers that we battle.  Satan may be defeated but he will go down fighting to steal us from our Lord and from the future Christ has appointed.

He prays that we be sanctified in the truth.  There is some history here.  Jesus says He is the truth.  Pilate asked Him what is truth.  Our Lord insists that truth is not in the mind of the beholder nor subject to personal interpretation.  Truth is not yours or mine – it just is as Christ is whether you believe in Him or not.  He does not change.  The Jesus who is yesterday, today, and forever the same speaks a word that is eternal.  Its message is not adjusted for the times nor is its truth changed to fit the preferences of people or a culture.  What Jesus prays to the Father, the Spirit brings forth as our confession of faith and our witness to the world.  God’s Word is truth.

The doctrinal controversies of the past and present are not simply about doctrines but about the Word of God.  The Christian world has come to believe that the Scriptures are only partly God’s Word and partly man’s.  When they speak of salvation, the are true, infallible, and without error.  When they speak of other things, who knows?  We do not contend for doctrines but ultimately every doctrinal controversy is about Scripture.  Is it God’s Word?  Is it without error?  Is it dependable in every age and time?  Is it the Word that does what it says and saves us?  No Lutheran would risk dividing Christianity over anything less than the truth of God’s Word but neither would a Lutheran fail to insist that God’s Word is what God says it is and it does what God says it does.

The Lord has consecrated His life and purpose to you and me.  He has become flesh and blood for you and me, lived the holy and righteous life for you and me, suffered and died upon the cross for you and me, rises and lives never to die again for you and me.  This is the message of the Scriptures which in our ears becomes faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Christ has consecrated Himself for us in life, in death, and in the resurrection from the dead.  Now He prays that we may be so consecrated in this truth as well.  Most translations use sanctify – the word that means to make holy – and the word consecrate interchangeably.

So what does it mean to be sanctified or made holy or consecrated to the Lord?  How sad it is that we tend always to rush to behavior.  God wants us to be good.  Well, sure He does.  But that is not what these terms mean here.  God could have accomplished good behavior with the force of the law and the threat of punishment but God’s purpose is to change your heart.  To be made holy is to be made pure – with pure thoughts, pure words, and pure actions.  Pure means good but it also means honest, genuine, authentic, and without deceit.  Our Lord seeks to undo the hypocrisy of good works which have no heart behind them and hearts which cannot muster themselves to do the good they think.  To be pure is to be of one heart, one mind, and one will – Christ’s heart of forgiveness, Christ’s mind in His Word, and Christ’s will for salvation.

You have heard Christ consecrate Himself to you and to the purpose of bringing you at last into His everlasting presence on high, wearing the new and glorious flesh He wears, and living no more with sin or suffering or disease or death.  So what is it that you will consecrate yourself to?  Though we talk in highfalutin words it is not so dense.  Be here in the Lord’s House every Sunday.  Be in the Word of God together in the Church and at home.  Pray not only for yourselves but for others as our Lord intercedes for you.  Serve without counting the cost and forgive without counting the cost.  There is one more thing.  As Christ’s consecration to you has brought Him joy, so does your consecration to Him bear the fruit of holy joy in you – joy without fear or anxiety or bitterness or envy to put a damper on things.  It is not why we are sanctified but joy is the fruit of His sanctifying work.  Part of that joy is the gift of a clear conscience through absolution.  Part of it is our absolute confidence in the Lord’s unwavering love and will for our salvation.  Amen.

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