It’s getting close to the time of year when we eat too much rich food and, like Luther, are subjected to gout-dreams in our wintry captivity. Thus our thoughts turn, with Chesterton, to Milton.
Pardon, dear Lady, if this Christmas time, The Convalescent Bard in halting rhyme Thanks you for that great thought that still entwines The Wicked Grocer with more wicked lines; These straggling Crayon lines–who cares for these, Who knows the difference between Chalk and Cheese?
Not wholly sound the saw, accounted sure, That weak things perish and strong things endure: Milton, six volumes on my groaning shelves, May groan till Judgment Day and please themselves As, harsh with leaden type and leathery pride, Puritan Bards must groan at Christmas tide:
My table groans with Stilton–for a while: Paradise Found not Lost, in Milton’s style Green as his Eden; as his Michael Strong: But O, my friend, it will not groan there long.
This sermon was originally preached at Emmaus Lutheran Church, Dorsey, Illinois.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. It is a special celebration for us; we remember the life and faith of those who have gone before us and are now with Christ. That is who the saints are; they are those who have departed this life in the faith. They are witnesses to us of the Christian life.
But what is the Christian life if we are to look at those saints who have gone on before us? What does it look like when it is modeled for us by those who have died in the faith that we know are all too human? Those who we know were sinners in their lives, who fell far short of the glory of God? And what about the life modeled by those saints who are still living? They are sinners, all too human, too. We are all sinners. We all know just how bad we can be, and those we remember as saints could be just as bad.
In the Old Testament Church (yes, it exists), we see many saints whose actions didn’t seem congruent with the sanctified life. Adam and Eve, our first parents, disobeyed God and visited all the pain and suffering of sin upon creation. We’re still feeling it. Noah, who followed God’s directions and saved his family from the great flood that God used to wipe the human slate clean, got drunk and made a fool of himself. His descendant, Abraham, lied about his marriage and nearly put his wife in compromising situations with the Pharaoh of Egypt and with Abimelech, the king of the Philistines at Gerar. His son Isaac did the same thing. His son, Jacob— who gives his name to the nation of Israel— steals his birthright from his brother Esau. Further down the line, David, Israel’s greatest king, has a man killed so that he can seduce that man’s wife. And the list of Old Testament saints goes on, but sinners all of them.
And just look at the lives of the Apostles. Saint Peter was a man with a bad temper who cut off a slave’s ear and constantly second-guessed Jesus. Saints James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were hot-tempered, nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus himself because they wanted him to rain down fire on the heretics living in Samaria. Saint Matthew had been a tax collector. Saint Paul, of course, oversaw the murder of Stephen and was a persecutor of the church. Though their lives were changed by their time with Jesus, their records weren’t spotless. These saints who Jesus called to be his disciples were sinners, too.
And the saints of the later church were sinners, too. Saint Augustine of Hippo, the great church father and writer, told us all about his past sins in his Confessions, in excruciating detail. Saint Cyril of Alexandria, while a defender of orthodox theology regarding the nature of Christ, was also infamous for his tendencies to use violence and invective to get his way. Jolly old Saint Nicholas may have punched a guy during the proceedings of the Council of Nicaea (though we’re not sure). Saint Olaf of Norway was a violent warrior-king, as was Saint Louis of France. And our very own Martin Luther was often harsh in his words and wrote some rather unkind treatises toward the end of his life.
I know myself, too— and thanks to the Old Adam who lives in my bones, I know how “unsaintly” I can be and am. I know I’ve personally broken every one of the Ten Commandments in one way or another, and I’m sure you have, too. The worst part is, on account of our sinful nature, you and I cannot stop doing this. And yet you and I and all the folks I’ve named are Christians. Saints. And all are imperfect and in many respects, far from Christlike. So on this Feast of All Saints, what is this Christian life supposed to look like when we sinful Christians carry it out so imperfectly? How do we see Christ in the life of those who so often fall short of the glory of God? What makes a saint a saint?
Last week, after church, we were trying to determine which plaques in the entryway correspond to the windows here in the sanctuary. Some of the associations are pretty obvious, but some less so. The Law and Gospel window is pretty easy to name, but what about the eternal life window? And which one is the Christian Life window? Well, we think we figured out which one that is (and even if we’re wrong, I think I can make a compelling argument for it!). If you look around behind yourself to the back right of the sanctuary, you’ll see a window with a big bird in a nest feeding its young.
That big bird that you see is a pelican. In medieval times, it was believed that, when food was short, mother pelicans fed their young with blood from their breasts. It is a powerful image of a mother’s sacrificial love for her offspring. The mother pelican feeds her young with her body to keep them alive; her flesh is their food, and her blood is their drink. Of course, we know that in reality, pelicans don’t do this, but this is what the pelican motif alludes to when we see it in the church, and you’re probably noticing an apt analogy to another One who feeds and sustains his children with his blood. Christ feeds and washes us with his blood in order to make us his children— like pelican chicks, we rely on him for our life and our sustenance, and he feeds us in turn with himself. It’s a beautiful image of reliance upon Christ for all we have, especially the forgiveness of sins.
It’s this image that our epistle reading is pointing to this morning. The Apostle John— that same John who was one of the hot-headed “Sons of Thunder”– is writing to the church in Ephesus to encourage the people there to stick to their faith in the face of those who were trying to lead them astray into various heresies and sowing discord among the congregation. The lives of the people in the church at Ephesus were far from perfect. They needed a reminder of what the Christian life looks like, and John tells them.
John reminds those to whom he is writing that they are children of God— that God loves them so dearly that he calls them his children now, even though they are imperfect sinners. They are children of God, now, even though they have not seen him yet and are not like him. But they have a promise, a promise that when he comes in glory, all who believe in him will be made to be like him, perfect, blameless, and purified. And even now, they themselves are made pure just as their Lord is pure because they put their hope in him. The promise for them, though not realized fully, is already fulfilled when they trust Christ as their parent; when they are washed in his blood in baptism and fed on his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. This is their assurance–when they cleave themselves to him, like the chicks of the self-sacrificing pelican, they are made pure just as he is pure and have the assurance that they will see him as he is. This is the Christian life, living fully reliant on Christ for all they need, relying on him for strength even when they fail to live up to their title as his children. As John writes, “each one who has this hope,” that they are children of God and will be like him when he comes, “purifies himself, just as he is pure.”
We’re in the same position as the addressees of John’s letter. We’re sinners living in a sinful world who live imperfectly in our Christian calling, but Christ makes us his children and invites us to trust in him until he comes. He will make good on his promise. We have not received it in full yet, but in his body and blood we receive a foretaste of the full sustenance that will be ours when we are with the saints in glory. And when we trust in him for this fulfillment of the promise, we start leaving off those sins that beset us daily, and though we will not be perfect, we start looking more like the saints that Christ call us. This is what justification and sanctification look like.
And we can take comfort in knowing that he has revealed to us that those who are departed from this life in Christ are experiencing the fulfillment of this promise and are living wholly reliant upon him in Heaven. In John’s Apocalypse, John is shown “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9, NKJV). And the elder who is with him tells him who this multitude is:
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple. And he who sits upon the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:14-17, NKJV).
Those who are with Christ living in his presence in Heaven are experiencing the joy and sustenance of the Christian life. They live now in his care, relying on him for all their life and needs, and he is in their midst. But they still do not know fully what they will be. They are not yet as they are supposed to be; they are souls without their bodies, and though they are in the joy of Christ’s presence, the best is yet to come. They are not like him yet, but they will be— the promise still applies. Heaven will only last so long. When the Resurrection comes, this countless host arrayed in white will be resurrected, made whole and pure in body and soul. Then they, and we, will be like Christ and see him as he is, perfected and wholly reliant on him in the new creation. There will be no more death, no more pain, no more crying or sorrow, and “no more curse…[because we] shall see his face, and his name shall be on [our] foreheads” (Rev. 22:3-5, NKJV). Only then when all things are made new will we be truly pure as he is, living as his perfect children forever.
So when you find yourselves looking less than saintly, remember that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to make you his children and lead you in the way you should go, and that no matter what your sins are, when you hold fast to this promise of his Gospel, he will deliver you from the power of sin that rules in your life. When you and I trust him and look to him for our source of life, like the pelican’s chicks in the window back there, we can have hope that he will purify us to live with him in blessedness forever. We are sinners in this life, but in this promise, we are saints, and so we can join with the rest of the saints on this, the Feast of All Saints, those who have gone on before us and those yet to come, rejoicing and shouting “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10 NKJV).
This sermon was originally preached at Emmaus Lutheran Church, Dorsey, Illinois.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Come on, don’t you know that there’s a war on?”
This was a common phrase that you might have heard during World War I or World War II if you lived in the United States or the UK. It was often said tongue-in-cheek; it was sometimes used to reprimand people who were complaining about rationing or various extra wartime duties required of the civilian populace. It reminded people that, for the time being, they had to set aside their own personal desires and wants, and instead see to the care and needs of the nation and the military first and foremost. And perhaps in one of those most rare occasions, it may have been said to remind someone that yes there was indeed a war going on, and how could they have forgotten?
It seems sometimes that here, in the United States, we forget that there’s a war going on. We’ve had soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan since I was about 10 years old, which means that we have been involved in constant warfare for nearly two decades. Being at war has become commonplace. The fact that we are at war has, for most of us, faded into the background. So, being stateside in the US, we sometimes forget that there indeed is a war going on. Afghanistan and Iraq are far away, on the other side of the globe, and very few of us, outside of members of the military, actually go to those places. We wouldn’t be able to tell you what Kandahar or Mosul look like, and very few of us would be able to say anything knowledgeable about desert warfare or the stresses and fears and concerns faced by men and women fighting in uniform over there. That’s because for us, there isn’t a war on. But the war really doesn’t impinge on our lives, unless we have family members and friends who are serving overseas in the military, fighting actively in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our lives go on unimpeded. We don’t have to think about IED attacks, snipers, or suicide bombers or any other kind of enemy combatants. For us, life goes on as usual and we feel we are pretty safe. Or so we think.
Today, on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, or Michaelmas, our lectionary readings remind us that there is indeed a war on, but another war— one in which we are on the front lines. Perhaps it’s even more accurate to say, we’re in the no-man’s land between the two fronts. On one side, we have the Devil and all his demons, seeking to destroy the children of God and bring them to despair and unbelief. And on the other, we have the hosts of heaven under the command of the archangel Michael, fighting valiantly to protect Christians from the attacks of demons and devils. It’s a very real war, with very real casualties and with very real stakes. Luther says in his 1532 sermon for Michaelmas,
“Now you have often heard that the devil is around people everywhere, in palaces, in houses, in the field, on the streets, in the water, in the forest, in fire; devils are everywhere. All they ever do is seek man’s destruction….and it is certainly true, were God not continually to put restraints on the evil foe, he would not leave one little kernel of grain in the field or on the ground, no fish in the water, no piece of meat in the pot, no drop of water, beer, or wine in the cellar uncontaminated, nor would he leave a sound member of our bodies….we are in grave danger every day and night as targets of the devil. He always has a crossbow stretched tight and a gun loaded, taking aim to strike us with pestilence, syphilis, war, fire, and violent weather.”
Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. Eugene F. A. Klug (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002): 7:375, 380
Nothing makes the Devil happier than to lead people to destruction and to bring them to harm, especially to drive them to sin and unbelief. He does this through the work of his demons and through the sinful and fallen world, with the aim of tempting people away from their faith in their Savior. And how does he do this? Well, as Luther says, with all manner of attacks, attacking us in mind, body, and spirit, harming our bodies, but especially attacking our souls through temptation,
In the Gospel this morning, Jesus says that temptations to sin— skandala, in Greek, where our word “scandal” comes from— must come in this fallen, sinful world, and woe to it for that reason! It’s an unfortunate part of reality. When Adam and Eve were first tempted by Satan to doubt God’s word and good will for humanity, creation cracked, and sin pervaded it. Thus temptation to sin is built into the fabric of our world, a discordant thread woven into creation. It is a conduit for Satan and his minions to attack people, especially God’s saints, his little ones. And Jesus takes it further— “nevertheless, woe to the one by whom such temptation to sin comes!”
Have you ever been tempted? Sure you have— let’s have a show of hands [raise hand]. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all given into it. I won’t ask anyone to enumerate or describe how you’ve been tempted— if you need to talk about it, Pastor Kern will be more than happy to give you private confession and absolution— but common to all people are temptations to be greedy, to steal, to gratify the base desires and lusts of the flesh, to harm others, to exploit them for our gain, to make gods of ourselves and out of our desires and possessions. Look at the Ten Commandments— that’s a list of all the different ways we can be tempted, and we all have at some time or another given into temptation to break one (or all!) of those commandments. When we fall into sin, it’s as if we’ve been struck by a bullet or a crossbow bolt, and because we are sinners, we’re the walking wounded. Sometimes, left unchecked, that sin can do more harm to us than we know, and we end up joining the dead, both in body and in faith. More casualties of the war.
Have you ever been tempted to sin by someone else? Have you ever tempted someone else to sin? Have your actions ever misrepresented your faith in Christ and perhaps brought someone else’s faith, the faith of one of Jesus’ “little ones,” to harm? All of us could be that person, and perhaps at times we have been. Therefore, woe to us if so! Jesus says in our Gospel that it would be better for that person if a big millstone, one big enough that it needed a donkey to turn it, were tied around his neck and he were drowned in the sea. So cut out sin, he says, and do not despise Jesus’ little ones, for God the Father knows what happens to them.
When we hear the phrase, “little ones,” we often think that Jesus is talking about literal children. After all, he had just held up a child as an example of what a person must be like to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus is being figurative, in a way, when he speaks of “little ones.” You see, before God, we all are little ones, not just the kids. We are all small and helpless and in need of protection and care, just like children are. We are all prone to stumble. We are all vulnerable. There are no exceptions, no matter how “holy” we may seem or wish to be. I am a little one, Pastor Kern is a little one, and y’all are little ones, too. And because we’re all little ones, we need protection, guidance, and safety from the assaults of the Devil and his demons, as well as from the sin that can lead us little ones astray and causes us to harm each other. Not only do we need protection, we need deliverance.
And God has provided protection for us. In our Gospel, Jesus says his little ones have angels in heaven who “always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” We know that God has set his angels to protect his people. Angels, it should be said, are not our deceased relatives or chubby winged babies— the former idea is derived from the heretical teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the latter comes from the Italian adoption of Roman depictions of Cupid during the Renaissance— God made them to serve him as his messengers and they are warriors sent to do God’s bidding on behalf of his people. Our reading from Daniel tells us so— God set the archangel Michael to contend for Israel against the demons impelling hostile nations to attack Israel, and he commands the angelic hosts in the war in heaven against the Devil’s forces in John’s Revelation. There’s a war on in heaven, and Michael and the heavenly hosts are contending against Satan. John writes in Revelation that Satan and his evil angels are thrown down by the heavenly forces, and a voice proclaims, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10-11). When we hear this, we wonder, “Wow, did Michael and the angels defeat Satan?” The answer to that question is both yes and no. Michael and the angelic hosts did defeat Satan and his armies, but only because of the saving work of Jesus Christ in his death on the cross and his resurrection. For the voice continues: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Jesus is really the one who defeated Satan. The angels are reaping the victory.
You see, Jesus already won the battle and the war— Michael and the angels are fighting a mop-up operation and taking no prisoners. The Accuser is on the retreat. Jesus’ saving sacrifice has destroyed the power of sin and death, has broken the Devil’s back and ability to harm all those who trust in Christ. He lived, died, and rose again for you so that your sins would be forgiven and no longer counted against you, that you might live with him in blessedness forever as God’s children. And while we live in these latter days, where Satan still prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, we can trust that, because we are washed in the blood of the Lamb and have his word, we are safe in him and the angels at his command protect us, too. We will still face temptation— it’s inevitable until the Last Day when Christ returns in glory and the dead are raised. But we will always be able to trust that Christ has defeated sin, death, and the Devil, for us, and that the war is won. When we stumble, he will pick us up and heal our wounds. He will help us, his little ones, to avoid the Devil’s arrows and bullets. There’s a war on between the forces of heaven and hell, but the enemy has already lost. We can sing joyfully with the hymn writer Jacob Fabricius in a hymn that is, not coincidentally, numbered 666 in our hymnal:
“As true as God’s own Word is true, Not earth nor hell’s satanic crew Against us shall prevail. Their might? A joke, a mere facade! God is with us and we with God– Our vict’ry cannot fail.” (LSB 666)
I have finally gotten through the backlog of sermons I hadn’t uploaded here and now everything is up on the blog! Feel free to peruse them here. Do note that most of these also have links to video of the live, preached sermon, which sometimes differs a bit from the manuscript–I will sometimes add extra illustrations on the fly or choose to reword something in my manuscript, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really intend to go back through the videos and rewrite my manuscripts to match the final product. As an old pastor of mine, Gerry Kuhn, used to say, “There’s the sermon I wrote, the sermon I gave, and the sermon you heard.” Sometimes having the disparity between the written sermon and the one given can be a useful homiletical tool when looking back at a text.
If you like anything you read, please comment! I’d love to know what stuck out to you, what you thought was an effective homiletical move, and what you think could have been different. (Nota bene: This is an invitation for constructive criticism, not trolling; not that I would expect anyone to do that here, but hey, this is the internet, and people are sinful.) Thirty sermons don’t make a person an expert on preaching by any means, and so I am still growing and hoping to learn more. The reason why this site exists as it does is to create a portfolio of public work that not only records what I have done in my preaching over my vicarage, but also to be a record of my work for my seminary professors and for future congregations that I may serve. It also exists so that the people who originally heard these sermons can hear them again and contemplate them if something in them stood out during the delivery.
Thank you for reading/listening/watching, and enjoy!
Final Sermon preached as Vicar at Living Savior Lutheran Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our
Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Thirty Years War was a terrible
time for Europe. From 1618 to 1648,
Europe was wracked by violence, famine, and plague— Protestant and Catholic
mercenary armies scoured the landscape, especially in Germany. By the end of the war, one third of the
German population had been wiped out in what would be the largest known war for
three hundred years until the
outbreak of World War One. It would also
be known as a war that was as hard on civilians as it was on soldiers. In the midst of it all was a German Lutheran
pastor, Martin Rinckart (1586-1649), the archdeacon of the walled town of
Rinckart’s war was, by most accounts, a terrible one. Troops were forcibly billeted in his home (they didn’t have the 3rd Amendment then), and the contents of his pantry and barn were frequently requisitioned by foraging soldiers, leaving him and his family with few resources. In 1637, nineteen years into the conflict, plague brought by refugees fleeing the Swedish army swept through Eilenburg, killing 8,000 people, including Rinckart’s first wife. Among those killed by the plague where all but three members of the town council, many children, and the pastors serving in the neighboring parish. As a result, Rinckart had to do the work of three men, visiting the sick and dying, and overseeing over 4,000 burials. 1637 was an unimaginably awful year.
on the heels of the plague came famine, and so Rinckart shared what little he
and his family had with those starving in his community. When the Swedish army showed up in Eilenburg
in 1639, they levied a 30,000 Thaler tribute on the town, a sum that
beleaguered Eilenburg could not pay. (It
is roughly equivalent to $460,500 in today’s money.) Rinckart went into the Swedish camp to parlay
with their general for mercy on Eilenburg, but the general would not
budge. He wanted his 30,000 Thalers, and
so Rinckart turned to those who came into the camp with him and said, “Come, my children, we can find
no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.” With this, he fell to his knees, and began to
Prayer comes to the forefront in our
Gospel reading this morning. Jesus,
sitting with his disciples, is approached by one of them who asks him to teach
them how to pray properly. After all,
John’s disciples had a certain mode of prayer
So did the people in the Dead Sea communities. Fixed prayers were a standard part of the
spiritual life of your average first century Jew. “Does Jesus have one that he promotes,
too? Does he know a better way?” they
may have wondered. So Jesus begins: “When
you pray, say:
“‘Father,[a] hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.[b] 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.[c] And lead us not into temptation[d]’” (Luke 11:2-4 NIV).
And after he has said this, Jesus illustrates the importance
of such a prayer. He poses them a
hypothetical situation: suppose one of them has a friend who shows up outside
the house at midnight and raps on the window.
“Hey, buddy, can you lend me three loaves of bread? I have a friend passing through on a journey
who stopped at my place, and I’ve got nothing to give him.” And the one in the house replies, “Don’t
bother me! The door is locked, we’re all
in bed, and I’m not getting up!” Some
parents here this morning might sympathize with that sentiment— doubtless
you’ve all heard the midnight water call.
And yet, the disciple in bed will get up, if not on account of his
friendship, then on account of the brazenness of his friend in coming to bother
him at that hour—if only to make him go away.
(This reminds me of many a night in college, though instead of bread, it
was pizza money our nocturnal visitors were after.) Jesus encourages the disciples to approach
God the Father with the same boldness in this prayer, continuing: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and
you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks
receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be
opened” (Luke 11:9-10 NIV).
teaches the disciples to pray in Luke 11, his prayer does several things for
them. First, it orients the disciples to acknowledge God as their
Father. Not some distant thunderer, not
some cosmic horror, but as a God who has a relationship with his creation that
is so close that he views them as his children and they view him as their
father. Second, it orients the disciples to ask God to “be” God (“let thy
name be made holy,” “let thy kingdom come”)— it orients them to rely upon God
to do his will in the world and fulfill his promises. And third,
it forces them to reckon just how totally reliant they are upon God and how
helpless they are without him. Daily
bread— everything that one needs to live both now and in eternity—,
forgiveness, and protection from the assaults of sin, death, and the Devil, all
come from him and him alone. When the
disciples pray as Jesus has taught them, they talk to him in such a way that
indicates their full reliance on God and his promises for their lives and their
utter helplessness without him.
Altogether it is, as Dr. Peter Nafzger, our professor at the Seminary,
says in his recent notes on this text, a prayer focused on asking God to do
what he promises to do–it is “an expanded version of the recurring prayer
throughout the Gospels, ‘Lord, have mercy.’”
And we need his mercy, because
without it, we’d be lost! In a weird and
twisted way, our sinful selves desire to be free from God’s provision and
mercy, seeking after evils and illicit pleasures that separate us from him and
go against his will for us. Left to our
own devices, we seek self-aggrandizement and see ourselves as our own
sustainers, believing that everything we are and have and do depends on
us. But in our sin-warped vision, we
seek the things that destroy us, focusing on temporal pleasures that are
fleeting, and misallocating the gifts we receive. We fail to acknowledge our creator and his
gifts for us. In our unthinking
arrogance or ignorance, we go our own way.
Invariably, left to our own devices,
we go so far down the rabbit hole of self-gratification and self-reliance that
we get in trouble. We might find
ourselves caught in a particular sin that, though at one time it felt “okay” to
engage in and not wrong— even healthy— now suddenly becomes all-consuming. Or we might find ourselves caught in
activities that are unethical, and though we know what we’ve done is wrong,
we’re in so deep that we cannot get out of the web of lies and deceit we’ve
created to maintain ourselves in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed. Or maybe we’ve placed so much dependence on
ourselves that we find ourselves juggling too many responsibilities at once,
thinking that everything depends on us and telling ourselves that we can handle
it all, hurting ourselves and others due to our foolish pride. Or if things do seem to go well, we perhaps
think that we deserve all the credit, even when we do not because we’ve needed
other people for our success. And when
we hit rock-bottom, failing to conduct ourselves properly or to carry out our
vocations in a way that helps our neighbors, we can find ourselves in a
hopeless position, one full of despair, fear, and self-loathing because we
could not carry ourselves and the rest of the world on our shoulders like some
sort of Atlas. When that happens, we
seek some kind of relief, some kind of mercy.
But how do we know to ask for it and where to find it?
This is why Jesus teaches the
disciples his prayer because he gives us the words to speak and know that God
the Father is the one on whom all depend for their life, well-being, and all
they have. When one is being crushed by
sin and adversity, the words of Jesus’ prayer remind him that God is the Lord
and also the loving Father of all; that he will keep his promises and be God to the one praying; and that he
is the source of all that is needed for this body and life, of all love, and of
all forgiveness. As Luther writes in the
82] Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need, and faithfully provides also for our temporal support. 83] And although He abundantly grants and preserves these things even to the wicked and knaves, yet He wishes that we pray for them, in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand, and may feel His paternal goodness toward us therein. For when He withdraws His hand, nothing can prosper nor be maintained in the end, as, indeed, we daily see and experience.
“Behold, thus God wishes to
indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need.” Luther is talking
more about the petition “give us this day our daily bread” here, but
it goes for the whole prayer. Jesus, in
teaching his disciples (and us, by extension) to pray in this manner shows them
and us that all the good we have comes from God, not just those things that
satisfy our daily needs (and for which we ought to give thanks to God), but
also the gift of forgiveness of sins, protection from the powers of hell, and
everlasting life. It is all his mercy,
and he gave us his ultimate gift of mercy to sustain us in every need when he
sent Jesus to win salvation and life for us through his death on the cross and
resurrection. The Lord’s Prayer reminds
us of this gift and our reliance upon God for it— we could not gain that act of
mercy and love for ourselves. But God
teaches us to remember it. He teaches us
to pray, to boldly ask him to remember us in his mercy, and indeed to know that
we have already received it from him.
Indeed, as Jesus says to his disciples in our Gospel lesson, “If you then, though you are evil, know how
to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 NIV).
That mercy has been given for you,
my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is
yours, and you can go before your Father in Heaven, asking him to be God for
you with all the boldness and unmitigated temerity of a guy knocking on your
door at midnight asking for bread for a guest and more. When you are weighed down by guilt, shame,
fear, and stress, and you don’t know how to pray for the mercy you need but
don’t know where to find, let the words of Christ’s prayer point you back to
him who takes those sins and buries them in the tomb, clothing you in his
mercy, and giving you eternal life and everything you have. His mercy is for you, and he will sustain you
by it, fully reliant on the Father.
And now…the rest of the story. Remember Martin Rinckart? When he got down on his knees with his parishioners to pray to God for a solution to their suffering and the harsh tribute that the Swedes planned to inflict on their town, the Swedish commander was so moved by their display of faith— it may be fair to say that God softened his heart toward them— that he cut the tribute from 30,000 Thalers to 2,000. You and I might not see that kind of answer to prayer in every circumstance; indeed, it seems miraculous. But we know that, “though [we] are evil, [and] know how to give good gifts to [our] children, how much more will [our] Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God the Father is your good Father and mine, and he will always be merciful to us and give us what we need, we who are fully reliant on him, when we ask him as dear children do their father. This is his promise to us through Jesus Christ our Lord, and we can thank him just as Rinckart thanked him when the Thirty Year’s War ended with our prayers and songs, perhaps with words like these of Rinckart’s:
Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices Who wondrous things has done In whom this world rejoices; Who from our mother’s arms Has blest us on our way With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.
And now may the peace which surpasses all understanding keep
your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.