The promise of God, your Father in heaven, is that before you call, He will answer, and while you are yet speaking, He will act. He has indeed taught you to pray and has promised to hear you. But even before you have begun to do so, He is already providing for your every need.
Prayer does not begin with your choice or decision or effort. It does not begin in your heart or with your voice. It begins with God speaking His Word of the Gospel, by which He opens your ears, your body and life to receive His gifts, and opens your heart, mind, and voice to respond in faith.
He speaks, and He calls you to Himself. And as He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself by the Cross of Christ, His Son, so does He welcome you into His arms. He calls you by name, for you are His. And He speaks such beautiful words: That your sins are forgiven. That you are in Christ. That His Spirit dwells in you. That you are beloved and well-pleasing to Him.
Such are the words that God the Father speaks when He opens His mouth and speaks forth His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus shows you the Father plainly. He speaks to you with words that reveal the Father’s heart: Words of mercy. Words of kindness, gentleness, and peace.
He shows you the Father by laying down His life on your behalf, by His innocent suffering and death, and by the shedding of His own Blood to atone for all your sins. That is how you know what God is like. That is how you know Him and love Him as your own dear Father in Christ.
And so do the faith and prayer of Christ become yours. Though you are weak and weary and afraid, when you open your mouth in prayer it is Christ who speaks in you. When you call upon your God and Father in heaven, it is Christ Jesus who is heard, and you are answered for His sake.
He teaches you to pray in this way, in this confidence, by the Word that He speaks to you. His Word of the Gospel opens up your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your lips to show forth the praises of God. Thus do you learn to call upon Him for everything that you need, to call upon His Name, to pray, praise, and give thanks.
And as you have heard, so it is the Word of Christ that you speak in such prayer and confession. In the same way that Christ has come down from the Father in heaven, so does He return to the Father on your behalf, with you in tow. And in Him, you and your prayer ascend to the Father.
That is the truth. But that is not yet your experience. For here on earth you are scattered like the disciples were when Jesus was taken away to His Passion, to His innocent suffering and death.
You are scattered by the tribulations of the world. Scattered by the sins that you commit, with which the devil accuses you. Scattered by your fear of death. Scattered by the alienation that exists between you and God because of sin, and between you and your neighbor because of sin.
You are scattered not only by the consequences of your own sins, by your guilt and shame, but also by the sins of others against you: By those who mock you, those who hurt you, and those who take from you; by those who speak poorly of you, and by those who refuse to speak to you at all.
And you are scattered by the Cross, as well. For your suffering in this life does not end with your Baptism, and it does not end with your faith in Christ. To become a Christian is not to live a tranquil and untroubled life here on earth.
The peace that you have is not as the world gives. It is the Peace of Christ, the reconciliation with God that is yours by His grace. But in the world, He says, you do have tribulation. There’s plenty of trouble in the world, of course. And it gets worse when you are called to be a disciple, when you are called to take up the Cross of Christ and follow Him; when you are plunged into the waters of His Baptism, and you renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways. Do not underestimate how much the devil hates you, how vicious he is, and how savvy and clever his attacks.
In the world you have tribulation, and by that tribulation you are scattered.
But just so, the depth of your need and hurt compels you to cry out. And even in your misery, you are not alone. The Spirit helps you in your weakness. And Jesus teaches you how to pray. In fact, He does more than teach you how. He also prays for you. He Himself has become your Prayer. He is your Incense and your Intercession. As He goes to the Father, He takes you with Him.
Yes, for Christ is with you here, so that you may be with Him where He is. The Tabernacle of God is among men, that is, the very flesh and blood of Christ, your merciful and great High Priest. His Life-giving Holy Spirit is breathed into your body and soul by His Word of the Gospel. And though you are scattered by your sins, scattered by the Cross, and scattered by the assaults and accusations of the devil, the Lord who is in you and with you is greater than he who is in the world.
In order to save you from death and the devil, the Lord Jesus Christ has overcome the world. He has atoned for your sins. He has defeated the devil and crushed his head. And this same Lord Jesus has gathered you to Himself. He has called you by name, and you are His. So it is that you are here in this place of prayer on this Lord’s Day: You are God’s own child, baptized into Christ.
You are here because Christ has brought you here; because He has bound you to Himself in His own Body; and because He strengthens and sustains you by His Holy Spirit, even in tribulation, even in great weakness, even in deep sorrow, and even in the valley of the shadow of death.
He gathers you into His Church, and into the peace and joy of His Resurrection, by the speaking of His Word. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ that is preached to you. And as you hear and believe, so do you pray and confess the Name of Christ.
This is the rhythm of the Christian life. This is how you breathe. You inhale and you exhale the Holy Spirit as you hear and confess the Word of Christ. You inhale and exhale the forgiveness of sins by faith in His Gospel, forgiving those who sin against you, as you are forgiven by God.
As He has thus called you and gathered you into His Church, let me now describe that holy Bride, the Wife of the Lamb. Let me tell you what she is like. Let me tell you that in her midst there are those who have been lame, and those who have been sick, and those who have been afraid, and those who have been hurt. Into her stream people of all kinds, from all nations, because the Lord has sent His disciples to make disciples, to baptize, to teach, and to forgive sins in His Name.
This Bride of Christ, His Holy Church, stands upon the twelve foundation stones, which are His Holy Apostles who preached His Word, published Peace, and proclaimed the Gospel of salvation. So, for example, are St. Philip and St. James the Younger remembered on this day.
The Church stands upon that Word, which seems so weak and wobbly and yet stands fast against the gates of hell. The Church stands upon the foundation of the Word of the Apostles of the Lamb: His Word and promise of forgiveness. For so has He spoken: He who hears you, hears Me. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. Do this in remembrance of Me. Go into all creation and preach the Gospel and baptize, for all who believe and are baptized shall be saved.
That is the Rock upon which the City of God is built and established on earth as it is in heaven. And you have entered that City by His Word and Spirit, by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism. For in that River of Life you have been cleansed and sanctified, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, and clothed in the white garments of His innocence and blessedness.
To be sure, there is no unclean thing in the City of God. And you are not unclean. You are not unholy. There is no sin or fault or blemish in you. You are cleansed, and you are holy, because you are in Christ, and He has brought you into His City by the righteousness of His Gospel.
This is a place of prayer, where you also pray, because this is a place where the Word of Christ is heard. And as you hear, so do you believe. And as you believe, so do you pray. And as you pray, so does Christ answer. And when you cannot speak, the Body of Christ prays for you. And when you can hardly dare to believe what Christ says to you, the Body of Christ supports you in Him.
Now, if it so happens that you are strong in the faith, that you already know the Word, that you stride through your week in joyful confidence, in the peace and joy of the Gospel, and that you need not be here for your own strength (though I wonder about that!), be here for your neighbor. For in the pews alongside of you, in front and in back of you, there are those who are struggling, those who are sad, and those who are afraid to pray because they do not think they will be heard.
There are those who wonder if they belong here. And yet, by the mercies of God, they are here. And they are part of the Body of Christ, or they are called to become members of His Body by repentance and faith in His Gospel. The truth is that your prayers strengthen them, your presence encourages them. And your words of peace and love in Jesus’ Name are living and active words, which spite the devil, and crush his head, and cast him away from your neighbor’s heart and mind.
That you might have such a Word to speak, to pray and confess, cling to Christ in the preaching of His Gospel. Cling to Him for yourself. Cling to Him for your family. Cling to Him for your neighbor. Cling to Him for the stranger, the widow and orphan, and the foreigner in your midst.
Cling to Him, and call upon His Name, and know that you are heard. For you are not simply a guest in the household and family of God. You are not only an acquaintance of the Bride of Christ, but you belong to her. You are part of her. So precious are you to Jesus, so beautiful by His grace, so glorious through His forgiveness, so much His very own in His Resurrection from the dead.
That is what He has given you in the waters of Holy Baptism. More has been accomplished there and still avails for you, than your entire life on earth should ever be sufficient to consider. You cannot exhaust this treasure. You cannot think of it too much. You cannot rely on it too strongly.
In Holy Baptism Christ has forgiven you all your sins, and by your Holy Baptism He is constantly washing your sins away. Though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, the waters of your Baptism wash over you, day after day, as you hear and receive the Gospel.
Like a little fish you are born in the water, and like a little fish you live your whole life in the water of your Baptism. For by that water, with His Word, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you and made you His own dear child. He has named you with His Name and made you a member of His family.
He has given you His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, the Author and Giver of Life, by whom you live. He has given you the Spirit, not because you are strong, but because you are His. Not because you are without sin, but that you may be cleansed. Not because you were holy, but that you should become holy in Christ Jesus.
In your Baptism Christ has bound Himself to you. He has taken His stand with you. He has made all of your sins and all of your hurts, and all of your griefs and sorrows, His own. The wounds that He bears in His Body are your wounds. And by His wounds you are healed.
He has bound Himself to you, and He binds you to Himself, so that, where He is, you shall be also. Thus are you crucified, dead, and buried with Him. But His Cross does not destroy you; it makes you brand new. And as you are crucified with Him, so are you also raised with Him: daily through the forgiveness of your sins, and at the last when your body shall be raised from the dead, immortal and glorious, perfected and imperishable, set free from every weakness, every sadness, every sin.
As He binds Himself to you, and you to Him, so also do you share His Ascension. So also are you seated with Him at the Right Hand of the Father in the heavenly places, hidden with Christ in God. As He has ascended, so do you ascend in His Body and in His prayer.
And so it is that here, at His Altar, in His House, is your place of prayer. Here you are gathered by the riverside of Holy Baptism. Here the Word of Christ is preached to you. Here your sins are freely and fully forgiven. Here you are set free. Here you live and abide as a beloved child of God. Here nothing at all shall harm you. Death and the devil cannot have you. Christ has you.
So this is your place of prayer, and in the Name of Christ you are heard. In Jesus’ Name you pray, and you are answered with a loud and resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in His crucified and risen Body. For in Him all things are yours in heaven and on earth, and there is nothing lacking.
Take courage, and be at peace. Christ has overcome the world, and you are safe and sound in Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.