December 6, 2015 A+D
St. Luke 21:25-36
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus expects us to be able to read the signs around us. They ought to be as obvious as recognizing that a budding tree is about to come out in leaf. The elderly relatives aren’t as crazy they seem. The world is getting worse. The weather really is more extreme. There are a lot of doomsday threats hanging over us: Russia, North Korea, and Iran are all led by man men who either have or are desperately seeking nuclear weapons. We are threatened by terrorists. Anti-biotics might quit working. We might run out of water. We might run out of oil. The government might move to make Christianity more and more difficult to practice. Who knows? What we know is that the world isn’t getting better. Our sins have polluted the world. Creation is falling apart. Men’s hearts are failing them. Violence is on the rise. None of this is a surprise: Jesus foretold it and He has told us to notice.
He doesn’t tell us this that we might try to fix it or that we would wring out hands and retreat into the privacy of our homes. He tells us that this means the Kingdom draws near and we should rejoice and we should pray. And while we pray we should work. Martin Luther once quipped that if he knew the world would end tomorrow he’d plant a tree today. The Church’s slogan is: Ora et labora, pray and work.
Jesus tells us to pray that we might have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man in His glory.
I once heard that Christians shouldn’t ask God to spare them from testing because God uses testing to bring us closer to Himself. This is what Jesus does to Philip when He asks him where they can buy bread for so many people just before the feeding of the five thousand. The Bible says that Jesus asked Philip that in order to test him. Jesus didn’t do it to hurt Philip but for Philip’s good. So testing from God is good.
Why then would we ask to be spared it? Because it is painful. Jesus prays in Gethesemane to have the cup taken from Him. Talk about an ineffectual prayer! There is no way that cup could be taken from Him. He had to drink it and He knew it. He repeatedly told the disciples that it was necessary for Him to be crucified, but He still prayed to be spared it.
That means that you are pretty much off the hook for anything. I don’t mean that we should pray against God’s revealed will. We shouldn’t pray to be successful at our sins, to get away with an illicit affair, to not be caught stealing, and such. Even though we might well pray for mercy after the fact, that even though we’ve sinned we be spared the full consequences of that sin and we might even pray that it never happened – because we can pray for our heart’s desires. We can pray for impossible things.
Where God’s will has not been revealed we should be bold in our prayers. We should be unashamed to be honest with God, laying ourselves bare, being vulnerable to Him, trusting that He really will do what is best and He won’t be disgusted with us but will keep on loving us. We should cry out to Him from our pain morning, noon, and night. We should be bold and we should be persistent.
The parable of the persistent widow was told as a reply to the suffering Christians whose prayers seemed to go unanswered. Jesus tells His disciples that they should pray always and not lose heart. The widow’s virtue is not that she seeks justice or convinces the judge of her case, but that she is persistent. Then Jesus says to the disciples: “Will not God give justice to His elect who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay longer over them? I tell you He will give justice to them speedily.”
We don’t pray to get God to do things. We’re not Odysseus and He is not Zeus. We don’t have to trick Him or appease His bruised ego. We pray because that is what we have been given to do. We pray and work but first and throughout comes prayer. Lacking an answer or resolution, faced with tragedy and injustice and mockery, we keep praying. We refuse to believe that God doesn’t hear or that He will delay forever. Prayer in the Name and hope of Jesus is an “act of deep, albeit irrational, trust that somehow, somewhere there will be a way made out of no way.” It is the Syro-phonecian woman being called a dog by Jesus but still praying. It is Job raising his fitst to heaven in confusion but still praying. It is Abraham giving away Sarah but still praying.
The socially secure and powerful don’t need to pray. Prayer is for the desperate, for the weak, for the disenfranchised.
Jesus tells us to pray that we might escape the tribulations to come. We ought to see the signs around us. The world is coming undone. We don’t want to be tortured. We don’t want to watch our children go hungry or be put in prison. We don’t want to suffer the violence of the earth. We want to go and be with Jesus. And we know that no man, no government, and no other power in the Universe can help us save the One who came to give His life as a ransom for many. So we pray, we beg, we cry out for Jesus to come, to save us, to keep His Word.
And while we pray, even while we lament and cry aloud for justice, for peace, for relief from our enemies, we also lift up our heads and rejoice. Our redemption draws near. We will stand before the Son of Man in His glory without shame for He has washed us clean. We will stand without guilt for He has pronounced us righteous. We will stand without sorrow for He will wipe away every tear. He who has died for us, has purchased and won us with His own Blood, is coming back to get us. Lift up your heads and your hearts, your redemption draws near.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.