Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You are Invited to Pray to your Father in Heaven

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others...Pray then like this.

Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed by your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Dearly beloved. The whole world does pray. The heathen pray – the hypocrites pray – the ungodly pray. They pray in idolatrous temples and street corners. They babble on television and radio to false gods. They babble to the gods of the imaginations whom offer that which men want. They pray for a Better Life Now with a Purpose Driven Life. Though often times done with pious motivations, it is the blindness of sin that prayers and promises are offered for the attention of men – for fame and wealth. Public prayer has always been a booming business. Late night television will offer so called preachers who are staging miraculous healings for monetary donations. In this way evil men use prayer to molest and exploit the spiritually weak and wounded for fame and wealth. The Pharisees understood this perfectly well for they sought to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. And this was their livelihood - prayer and fasting, in which they saw themselves as meritorious of both God’s mercy and the praise and money of the common folks.

Likewise, our own sinful flesh desires to contort prayer and devotion to God into a public spectacle. Oh how we like the praise of men! In evangelical circles today prayer in liturgical settings has become mere autobiographical ramblings of those who have dedicated their lives to Jesus. While testimonials can often be a wonderful way to share our lives in Christ, so often they become ego-centric stories, more concerned about the will and decision of the believer, than the divine will of our Father in heaven. Prayer can often become a babbling commentary of one’s personal life story rather than a perfect life story in the body of the Lord Christ. It is natural to place ourselves at the center of prayer. To use its magical power to receive the things we want. To receive the praise of men, to be perceived as pious and truly Christian. Yet to those who use prayer to satisfy their desire for attention, reputation, and riches, our Lord says, "They have their reward." The reward has been given! The television preacher who whipped hundreds of people into a frenzy with astonishing miracles received his thousand dollars. The shouting and screaming of the people testified to his apparent greatness, his prestige, and charisma. The million dollar book writer received his when he promised a Better Life Now, praying in the name of a false god who offers worldly riches, success, and happiness.

And we, you and I, redeemed children of God, often would like to sound a great heavenly trumpet when we pray so that we ourselves may be praised. It would be grand that others see our reverence and our generosity with the offering plate. So often we come to God, with our vain repetitions and endless litanies of wants and desires. We want health, worldly security, happiness, and good reputation. We want our will to be done. We want our kingdom to come. We want our power and glory to come to fulfillment. And our personal kingdoms often seem to be just around the corner. If another wish is fulfilled I will surely be where I want to be! If the Lord grants me this favor, surely I will have arrived. This car, this boat, a new bike, a promotion at my job, an A on my thesis paper. Here lies our prayerful kingdom, the greener grass on the other side, where all has been made well – all perfect – where each and every wish is fulfilled.

But dearly beloved, what poverty in which our vain litanies have been heaped up! Our selfish kingdoms that we have dreamt up for ourselves will only be reflections of our hardened hearts - hearts which willfully riot against God’s will! And in our kingdoms will be the utmost of famine, where the grass is withered and dreadful – and where all is certainly not well. This is the consequence of the human will, the fallout of a fallen world, the death of a sinner. May the queen of angels rejoice that our will is not done! Our rebellious prayers, our kingdoms are not brought to fulfillment. Our needs, wants, and desires before uttering them have been eternally known by a Heavenly Father. We do not have to appeal to the powers of this world with our prayers to receive that which we so dearly need.

Christ calls you rather into a most intimate relationship with the Father. The Lord desires that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. Our spiritual sacrifices are not for the praise of men but for our own spiritual benefit for the sake of Jesus Christ. You are called to pray in secret that you might find comfort with God who already knows your needs. And comfort with God is comfort in a Father. For Jesus, through his work on the cross, has restored the relationship intended for us in paradise. For this reason we can say Our Father who art in heaven! Yet he is not distant. He is not away in heaven at the outskirts of the universe. For heaven has come near. Heaven has come down to earth, on earth as it is in heaven, through the birth of a virgin. And today we pray with Mary, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. And what great things the Mighty One has done for us. For the mighty one became meek and lowly. He washed the feet of his disciples. He became a servant to all. He fulfilled the law, was crucified with the weight of the world’s sins, burying every grievous crime in the deepest caverns of the earth. He rose spotless, free, and in glory and so shall you. Today you are raised to your heavenly Father who has come to you in the Lord Jesus. And this father knows you and hears you. He nourishes you with the pure spiritual milk, like all loving fathers feed their children – wishing that no harm come to them. For he promises forgiveness and blessings to His sinful children. For us the Lord gives His prayer in with riches can never be exhausted in heaven or on earth.

We pray Thy will be done. Here you pray against yourself. You pray against your personal uprising and insurrection. You pray against adverse ambitions and the personal kingdom that you have imagined for yourself. Your pray against Your Better Life Now and Your Purpose Driven Life. You pray against your desires that contradict the perfect desire a heavenly Father has for you. Your will, which is opposed to God’s divine will is crucified and buried. We should rejoice over this – our kingdoms have come crumbling down which were wicked since our conception. Our countless palaces were old, decrepit, and empty. After all there was only room for our selves. Thy will be done has broken the power of Satan and His will hinder every evil plan and purpose. Thy will has been done in Jesus who was crucified, died, and was buried for the remission of your sins. His kingdom has come and it is glorious. Thy divine will is all for you, his sinful children, in which he gives life and all blessing. Thy will is to strengthen and keep you steadfast in the faith unto death.

We pray Give us this day our daily bread. The Lord sustains all creation and His sinful children – providing all that we need – food, drink, house, goods, peace, good friends, good neighbors and the like. Yet our Father does not stop here. For the Kingdom that has come offers riches beyond the practicality of daily living. Jesus is the bread of life which has "come near." Though the Lord sustains our bodies with every physical need, His mission is not merely about the needs of this life but the needs of the next, which is redemption in Christ and eternal life. A more accurate translation from the Greek text is Give us today our bread that is coming. And the Lord is coming, He came in your baptism, He comes today in the Divine Service where he offers His Body and Blood, and He comes on the final day to resuscitate the lungs of all believers. Here He breathes the breath of life into our nostrils as was done in paradise. He gives eternal life to all who eat and drink him – His Body and Blood for the remission of sins.

In our eating and drinking we ask our heavenly Father to deliver us from the evil one. This world is broken with sin and you are broken with sin. The trumpets of glory of this world – fame – fortune – and the esteem of all men will not save you. But you have been delivered. It was the Lord’s will to pluck his sinful children out of the depths of Sheol and the powers of this world. Through Christ the Father rescues us from sin and the bondage of a shattered world. He forgives you and gives you faith that you may forgive others. For we have a God who loves to forgive! Through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through the psalms – through the prophets – through the evangelists. They all point to a heavenly Father whose business it is to forgive you your trespasses. Whose business it is be buried and resurrected so that you may receive new life. Our heavenly father does not grumble against you – he has not one complaint against you. For Christ did not grumble or accuse from the cross but rather prayed the psalms for you, declared your innocence, and died for you. The Lord prays that you feel no guilt or sorrow but remain steadfast in His Word which has declared you holy and free – blameless of sin – and resurrected with all saints in heaven.

The praise and glory of this world cannot save you. It is only through the atoning sacrifice of a crucified and risen Christ. For our benefit, the Lord invites us to appeal directly to our Father, to whom we have been reconciled. The Lord’s Prayer pours forth with His doctrine: the deliverance from the evil one, life and salvation, and the communion of God in His very Body. Christ does all this for you, inviting you to pray His prayer which He has made our prayer. Here we find inexhaustible riches with brilliance and majesty beyond measure. The kingdom of heaven has come near for today it is surely given to you from the risen Christ who gives himself in Word and Sacrament. For all this we are bold to pray - Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

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