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Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

Note: this sermon was adapted from one in Concordia Pulpit Resources.

Sorry there is no audio this week.

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon today is on the third chief part, the Lord’s prayer.  We’re on three of six and that means we’re halfway through Lent and halfway to Easter.  In the ancient the church entire catechism consisted of just the Ten Commandments the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  By the Middle Ages many other element had been added to various catechisms.  It was Luther who returned to the basic three and then added what was necessary to know about Baptism, Confession and the Lord’s Supper.  When we’re done this morning with the Lord’s Prayer we’ll be done with the content of the ancient catechism.

The truth is, though that we’ll never really be finished with the Lord’s Prayer or the catechism, because, as Luther says, in it we have enough for a whole lifetime of prayer, and our heavenly Father gives us reason to make prayer our whole lifetime.  Nevertheless, our brief look at the Lord’s Prayer this morning can get us started in understanding better how our Father gives us every good reason to pray.

How did your week go?  What did you do?  Whatever your role in life, employee, student, child, parent, grandparent, you did the things you were supposed to do, more or less this week.  Everyone has duties and responsibilities.  One of your duties, believe it or not, was to pray.  How often did you pray last week?  It’s our duty to pray.  God commanded it.  In fact, Paul tells us we are to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes 5:17)  And as Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel, he says, “And when you pray…” (Mt. 6:5) Notice there it’s not “if you pray, it’s “when.”  Our lives are to be lives of prayer.  So how did you do?

I was raised in a Christian family.  I was taught to pray before meals.  I do that pretty well.  I wasn’t taught to pray after meals like Luther instructs in the catechism.  It’s just something I’ve never done.  Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been so hungry that you ate without prayer?  Is that okay?   Is prayer optional?  It’s good to do it if you remember to, but it’s okay if you don’t?

What would Daniel the prophet think about that kind of attitude to prayer?  It was Daniel’s refusal to stop praying three times a day, the traditional Jewish prayers at the temple that landed him in the lions’ den.  Remember Daniel had not been commanded to cease praying to his God forever, just for 30 days.  We might have been tempted to say, “Well, it’s just thirty days.  No biggie.  After all, prayer is optional.  Daniel certainly did not see it that way because he knew it was his duty to pray and in spite of the consequences, Daniel prayed.  Daniel agreed with Peter and John who would tell the Sanhedrin centuries later, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Ac 5:29) Daniel knew it was his duty to pray regardless of the consequences.

Now someone might say, “Hey now preacher, that’s not right.  I shouldn’t pray just because God commanded me.  God is not forcing me to pray.  I should just be praying out of my heart.  What are you trying to say, saying, ‘God commanded prayer’?”  When we come to almighty God with all our meager little complaints, problems, and needs, how do we know that God will listen to us?  One of the reasons we know God listens to all our prayers is that he told us to come to him.  “Got any problems?  Come, tell me about them.  Pray without ceasing.”  God tells you to pray so that if you have any doubt that he hears your prayer, simply open the Bible and read that yes, God has told you to come and pray.  His command here is gives us confidence rather than a burden.  God promises to hear our prayer.

Luther makes this interesting comment in the Large Catechism about prayer, “Babbling and bawling [is] not prayer.” (LC III 7)  There is a certain form to our prayer and a certain discipline of things we need to do. For example, bowing your head and folding your hands are appropriate to teach our children.  Bu these things are not what makes prayer.  Some may think that if they put more energy into a prayer, God will listen to it more attentively.  If I bawl and cry out to God, then he will listen.  There was a competition of sorts between the prophets of Baal and Elijah (1 Ki 18:16-46).  Each was to build an altar and pray to their god/God to accept the sacrifice.  The prophets of Baal had the most sincere prayers ever; they walked around their altar, bawled and cried out with loud voices.  They even cut themselves to show their sincerity.  But there was no answer because they prayed to a false god, an idol.  The effectiveness of prayer is not from the energy we put into it.  Rather, it’s from the person who hears our your prayer, the one true God.  Elijah prayed to God, and God heard Elijah’s prayer.  And God sent down consuming fire from heaven on the altar and burned up the sacrifice.  Elijah’s God, the one true God, answered his prayer.

Imagine this situation.  Supposed you call 911 because your house is on fire and you say, “I need the firemen to come; my house is on fire,” and the operator replies, “You don’t quite sound sincere enough.  Come one, put your heart into it.  Make me believe your house is on fire.”  That doesn’t make any sense does it?  Let’s keep this one going.  Okay, so what if the operator says, “I’m glad you called, but we’ll only know you’re sincere if you get a hundred friends and family to call too.”  Some of us think about prayer this way and it’s not helpful.  It’s not the sincerity my 911 call that gets the help.  It’s the duty of the fire department to answer the call.  God wants us to pray from the heart and to be sincere, but God answers prayer because he is a good and gracious God.

Do you ever feel so unworthy that you think God doesn’t want to hear much less answer your prayer?  He promises you that he will.  Come and call upon him.  There’s a reason he tells you this.  The reason is the cross.  On the cross, when Jesus died for your sins, he made you acceptable to God.  There is nothing that stands between you and God.

We’ve come all this way and not talked about the Lord’s Prayer yet.  But this is why the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s prayer is so important, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  If God were to look upon our sins, he could only deny our prayers—all our prayers.  But because Jesus took our sins away on the cross, God does not see our sins.  He only sees us as his dear children, as holy and as worthy as his only-begotten Son who took our place and gave us his.  See, the privilege of prayer is all because of the cross of Jesus.  God has promised to hear your prayer on account of Jesus.  Jesus gave you the permission to say, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  You can call him father in sincerity and truth.

Luther says this to one who doubts God will hear his prayer: “You should say, ‘My prayer is as precious, holy, and pleasing to God as that of St. Paul or the most holy saints.  This is the reason: I will more gladly grant that Paul is personally more holy, but… God does not consider prayer because of the person, but because of His Word.” (LC III 16)  Our Father promises to hear our prayers because we are his dear children through Jesus and his cross.

When children sing in church, it makes me happy to see the smiles on their faces.  But there’s a special joy in seeing the faces of the fathers and mothers as their children sing praises to God.  Parents have great joy when children phone home.  They rejoice because they have live their children.  Because of your faith in Jesus, this is God’s attitude when you pray: “My children, who have been adopted into my family through Holy Baptism, how wonderful it is that you are now talking to me as dead children talk to their dear father.”

This is exactly what Luther is teaching us when he explains the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father”: “With these words [Our Father] God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence, we may ask Him as dear children as their dear Father.”

We should all form a daily habit of prayer.  It would be good if we could learn this form youth.  It’s a great blessing to be raised in a family where parents teach their children to pray regularly—when they get up in the morning, at meals, and when they go to bed at night.  They pray without ceasing.

Sometimes our heavenly Father teaches us the habit of prayer.  He may remind you to pray by putting you flat on your back in a hospital bed so that you must look up to heaven and remember him in prayer.  Sometimes he teaches you to pray by allowing you to have difficulties in your life.  These are all opportunities to be reminded of the godly habit of prayer.

Luther says this, “Whenever a godly Christian prays, ‘Dear Father, let your will be done’ [Mt 6:10], God speaks from on high and says, ‘Yes, dear child, it shall be so, in spite of the devil and all the world.’” (LC III 32) In spite of the devil and all the world, God’s will is done for your ultimate blessing.

One of the greatest examples of this is a prayer I want you to remember throughout this Lenten season.  On a hill, far away, stood three crosses.  From one cross a prayer came to Jesus’ ear, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42)  God privileged that child of God to hear the answer to his prayer immediately, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (23:43) As you offer your prayers to God, I hope the answer to the prayer of the thief on the cross will ring out and echo sincerely in your ears.  God wants you to be with him forever in paradise because of Jesus, your Savior.  Amen.

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