28 July 2013

The Lord Jesus Teaches You to Pray

Prayer is possible, and it begins, because the Lord your God has chosen to communicate with you, and has thereby established a relationship with you, in which He invites you to call on His Name.  Everything depends upon the fact that He has called you to be His own, and He has named you His own dear child — in the circumcision made without hands, that is, your Holy Baptism into Christ.

As a newborn infant is held safely in the arms of his parents, sheltered in their home, protected by their constant attention, fed and clothed, washed, and cared for, so are you held, safe and secure, in your Father’s hand.  Before you have ever learned to know your need or how to ask for help, and while you are still so often oblivious to His providential care, He is meeting all your needs and preserving the life that He gives to you in body and soul.

But as you grow up, and live and learn in the household and family of God, He teaches you to pray: Not to play games with you, to toy with you or tease you, but to catechize you in the life of the family.  He would have you know and trust, more and more, what He is like, and to become more and more like Him in the way that you think and speak and act, in the way that you live.  He would have His sons grow up to be men after His own heart; and His daughters to become women like His Bride, the Church, the Mother of us all.

So He speaks to you and deals with you in love, and He bestows His Spirit upon you, by His grace, through the Ministry of the Gospel of His Son.  For it is in the Word and work of Christ Jesus, the promised Seed of Abraham, in His own Body of flesh and blood, that you behold the God and Father, and you learn to know Him, to love and trust in Him.

You have heard it, already, in the case of father Abraham.  When he was a stranger in a pagan land, the Lord God called him, and led him, and brought him to the land of promise.  He named him the father of many nations, when the man was yet old and childless.  And the Lord swore an oath to that old man, that He would be with him and bless him, and that all the nations would be saved through his Seed.  By the Covenant of Circumcision, the Lord God Almighty actually bound Himself to Abraham’s flesh, and sealed His promise in Abraham’s body, eventually to be fulfilled in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.  By the Spirit of the Lord, Abraham believed the Word and promise of God, and by such faith he was accounted righteous.

All of this, the Lord has already accomplished in calling Abraham to Himself, when He chooses to reveal to Abraham His plans for Sodom and Gomorrah.  For He has made Abraham His own beloved child by faith, but He also invites the man into the intimacy of friendship, and He catechizes Abraham in what it means to be a father.  By Word and example, the Lord prepares the old man to become the patriarch of His people.

In short, the Lord leads Abraham to pray in the righteousness of faith, and in the justice of love and mercy.  In laying before him the intentions of His wrath against the wicked cities, He provides Abraham an opportunity to call upon His mercy, and thus to lay hold of Him according to the true heart of His almighty power, which is chiefly manifested in compassion.

Abraham does so with humility and reverence, in the fear of the Lord, to be sure; in repentance, he knows himself to be dust and ashes.  Yet, in the faith and knowledge of God’s forgiveness, trusting His Word and promises, and responding to the friendship God has shown him, Abraham prays and intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah with an almost brazen boldness and courageous confidence.  In the righteousness of faith, he appeals to the righteousness of God.  And with that, he demonstrates profound understanding, that God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked, but will, rather, spare the wicked for the sake of the righteous.

Like a little child asking his father for good things, always eager for more, in the certainty of Dad’s generosity, Abraham is not shy about asking — and even continuing to push for more.  Except that Abraham does not appeal for himself, nor only for his nephew Lot and his family, but he intercedes for the entire population of those evil cities; not that he condones or defends their wickedness — he does not — but that God would be patient, and preserve the righteous remnant, and spare the rest on account of the few righteous.

This is not simply how Abraham happens to pray, but this is how he believes in God, and exercises faith in the promises of God, and lives in the confidence and expectation of God’s faithfulness.  And with such prayer he will teach his children, likewise, to know and love the Lord their God, to worship Him in repentant faith, and to live in the sure and certain hope of His mercy and forgiveness.  It is specifically for the sake of such catechesis of his children and descendants that God here catechizes Abraham by opening Himself up to the man.

This is what fathers do for their children: they teach them how to pray, and thereby teach them to know God rightly, to love and trust in Him, and to live in love for other people, too.  Along with all the other things a father teaches and does for his children, nothing else is more fundamental and important than prayer.  A father prays for his children, and sets an example of prayer for them.  He prays also for himself, because he lives by faith in his own God and Father; and he intercedes for others, beyond the family, because he exercises love for the neighbor.  Children learn from all of this, even as they learn to ask for and receive good things from their Dad.

So Abraham did for his family, for his descendants.  And, humanly speaking, you might consider, then, where and how the Lord Jesus first learned to pray, and how to pray, when He was a little Boy.  Surely His parents taught Him, with their words and by their example: Joseph and Mary of Nazareth, who were faithful in their callings, as they also had learned from their own fathers and mothers.  They catechized and taught their Son from the Holy Scriptures, and so did Jesus learn to pray from the Word of God in their home, in the synagogue, and at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Now, then, in much the same way, the Lord Jesus teaches His own household and family to pray: As the Son of God, a Man after His Father’s heart, He is a faithful Husband and Father to His Church; not only protecting and providing for His people, but also teaching them to live by faith, to live in love, to call upon Him, and to call upon the Father in His Name, to pray and petition, to praise and give thanks.  So does He catechize you today.

He urges you to pray with all boldness and confidence.  That is the chief and central point to His two little parables.  You should not be shy or hesitant in going to the Lord in every circumstance, whatever the time of day or night.  You can count on Him to provide for your every need, so that you will lack for no good thing, for yourself, and for your family and friends.  And you may ask Him with the confidence of a child seeking help from his or her Dad; except that He is not a sinful man, but the gracious and merciful Lord, who is merciful to all who call upon Him.

Jesus not only urges you to pray — as elsewhere the Lord commands you to pray — but He also provides you with the very words by which to call upon the Father in His Name, and He promises that His Father will hear and answer your prayer.  He will not ignore you.  He will not deny your prayer, nor refuse to meet your need.  Neither will He give you evil things instead of good, but He will pour out His Life-giving Holy Spirit upon you, that you not perish but have everlasting life.

The Our Father is more than information or instruction.  With these Words, the Lord God does for you as He did for Abraham: He initiates and establishes a relationship with you, an intimacy of friendship and familial love.  He draws you into a fellowship of faith with Himself, and thereby also makes a place for you within the broad fellowship and family of His one holy Church.  He teaches you to pray, not in lonely isolation, not as a private individual, but within a community of brothers and sisters in Christ, with one God and Father in heaven.

To pray in this way is to be and to live as a disciple of Christ Jesus, a Christian.  It is to actively rely upon the Lord your God for all that you need, for body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting.  It is to live by faith in His forgiveness, and therefore, also, to forgive those who sin against you.  It is to eat from the open hand of God, and to open your hand in love to feed and care for your neighbor, for your own children and family, and for your fellow Christians, and for the fellow who comes calling on you for help in the middle of the night.

As you pray, so do you believe, and so do you live.  Or, so you should.

Where do the confidence and courage come from?  Where are such faith and love to be found?  How shall you pray as you ought, and live and love in harmony with that prayer?

The answer is found, and is given to you, in the very One who teaches you to pray.  Your boldness and confidence rest upon His generous love and gracious mercy toward you.  Your faith resides in His faithfulness.  As a child of God in Christ, you learn to rely upon your Father through His constant care for you, and through His compassion upon you in all trial, fear, and need.

Jesus teaches all of this, in teaching you to pray.  But that is not all that He does.  For one thing, He exemplifies the life of prayer in His own practice.  Especially in the Gospel of St. Luke, the Lord Jesus is frequently found in prayer; because He lives in perfect faith and perfect love, and so He persists in perfect prayer.  That belongs, first of all, to His life as the true and perfect Man.  And then it also belongs to His merciful and great High Priesthood as your Savior.  It is still the case that He actively prays and intercedes for you, now and forever, at the Right Hand of the Father.

The Lord Jesus Christ, by His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection and Ascension, is not only the One who prays for you, but He Himself is your Voice of Prayer to the God and Father in heaven.  As He is the Word of God to you, made flesh and dwelling with you bodily in the Gospel, so is He also the divine Word that avails for you and speaks to the Father on your behalf.  And He is also, already, the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all of your prayers, and to all of your needs.  It is in Him, by His Ministry of the Gospel, that the Father gives to you the Holy Spirit.

For the sake of this one Righteous Man, Christ Jesus, the Lord God Almighty forgives you all your sins.  He does not punish or destroy you, nor count your transgressions against you, nor withhold any good thing from you because of your sin.  On the contrary, He rescues you from every evil of body and soul, and saves you from sin and death, and reconciles you to Himself in Christ Jesus.

With His forgiveness of all your sins, He also feeds you with the Bread that you need: Bread for each day, yes, to nourish and support this body and life on earth.  But also the Bread of eternal life, the Bread which does not perish but preserves you in the imperishable Body of Christ.  Hence the very natural connection that Christians have always made between the Fourth Petition (for bread) and the forgiveness of sins and the fellowship of the Lord’s Altar, of His Body and His Blood.

It is in the eating and drinking of these Holy Things, this Bread and this Cup, which are given and poured out for you and for the many, that you are firmly bound to Christ, your Head, and that all of you are knit together as one Body in Him.  Forgiven and forgiving, you eat and drink together with the Lord, and with each other in Him, unto faith and life forever.

Beloved in the Lord, as He so teaches you to live by faith in Him, and in fervent love for family, friends, and neighbors, so, then, pray for one another.  Pray that God’s Kingdom would come to all of us, and to all the world.  And pray that He would take not His Holy Spirit from His Church on earth, but continue to pour out the Spirit generously upon us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The One who teaches you to pray is faithful, and He will do it.  Not because of your resolve or perseverance, but for the sake of His own righteousness.  For Christ has come, and He remains with you in peace and love.  He has taken His stand with you, and as He has died for you and risen from the dead, He ever lives to make intercession for you.  His prayer for you is signed and sealed with His holy and precious Blood, by His Cross and Passion, and in His Holy Communion.  And His own Resurrection and Ascension are indeed the answer that your dear Father gives to you: Amen, Amen, it shall be so.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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