(Second in a two part series on Abraham)
Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
Chutzpah? I’m going to begin with a story that’s political, but it’s not partisan. Political, but it’s not partisan. As I listened to one of our presidential candidates this past week, I heard him refer to a major and nationwide problem, and then instead of suggesting that we could fix this problem if we worked together, he simply said, “And I’m the man who can fix it.” It wasn’t an isolated case of one politician saying one time that he or she could fix some terrible situation we have going on in our country. It’s bothered me, and no doubt all of you, for a long time, and it will bother us this week as well, that candidates use the “I” language instead of the “we” language.
Everybody who knows anything about this great country of ours knows there are three branches of government, knows that there are all kinds of checks and balances in our Constitution and Bill of Right, knows that there’s virtually nothing that lone rangers can do at any level of government, knows that it is simply what I’m going to call misplaced chutzpah to talk about what one presidential candidate can do, if only the masses will vote for him or her.
At first glance at today’s Old Testament lesson, it might seem to be misplaced chutzpah on the part of Abraham as he intercedes with Almighty God to change his mind about destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. The idea that a mere mortal would approach the immortal and almost always invisible God and ask him to spare a metropolitan area for the sake of 50 righteous people, the chutzpah that it would take to suggest that it would be unfair for the righteous to be treated the same way as the unrighteous? And then when Yahweh says yes to his prayer that he dares to ask a second time, what about if you can only five 45 believers, and when God says yes, he says what about 40 believers, and when God says yes, he says what about 30, and when God says yes, he says what about 20, and when God says yes for a fifth time in a row, the chutzpah that it would take to ask one more time, for a man who admits that he is nothing but dust and ashes, for a man who knows he is a poor and miserable and wavering and frail and sinful creature, to ask one more time, what about 10? Would you spare this city, where my beloved nephew and family are living, would you spare them if you can find 10 believers?
Moses records these amazing words, words which teach us so very much today about The Gift of Prayer, “He answered, ‘For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.’ And the Lord went his way, when he had finished to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.” Three questions we want to ask today about the gift / the amazing privilege of prayer – 1) For whom shall we pray? 2) How shall we pray? 3) For what shall we pray?
(For whom) shall we pray? St. Paul answers that question in his letter to young pastor Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Everybody knows we should pray for friends and family, but Jesus takes it a step further in His Sermon on the Mount, “Pray for those who persecute you.” Some would extend their prayers for those who have already died, and yet the writer to the Hebrews has this to say, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
Our catechism answers the question for whom should we pray, “We should pray for ourselves and for all other people, even for our enemies, but not for the souls of the dead.”
The story of Abraham interceding for an metropolitan area which included Sodom and Gomorrah reveals the heart of a man who cared deeply about others, including those who did not follow God. His prayers were For those who “deserve” it and those who (“don’t). The reality of our sinful nature, of course, is that not a one of us deserves the mercy of God, there’s not a one of us that doeth good and sinneth not, as the King James version would say it. But when the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are included in the equation, well then a few believers are deemed worthy while the many unbelievers are considered unworthy. The pleading of Abraham was not only for the few who might have been believing in the one true God but also for those who obviously were not.
We would learn again today that we have every reason to pray both For people we know and people we (don’t). You see, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, and so we pray not only for those who are inside of the church but for those who are outside in the world. Christ died for all, and so we pray for those who think and talk and look and act like us and those who think and talk and look and act different than us. Jesus loves all the little children and so we would care deeply not only about the little children in little Janesville, MN but the little children in Zlehtown, Liberia, not only about the salvation of children in Mankato, but also the salvation of children in Minneapolis and Monrovia and Moscow and you fill in the blank. That’s for whom should we pray.
Question #2 (How) shall we pray? The catechism answer is this – we should pray in the Name of Jesus, we should pray with confidence, and we should pray according to God’s revealed will. In our text for today, we find that it’s God who initiates the conversation, not Abraham. It’s God who comes down in person to tell Abraham and Sarah face to face that they’re going to have a baby in less than a year. It’s God who asks himself whether he should hide from Abraham what he is about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah, it is God who reminds himself that he has chosen Abraham to be the father of a great and a mighty nation, it’s God who talks to himself and reminds himself that he is molding and shaping Abraham so he can command his household in such a way that all nations on earth would be blessed with the Messiah.
We learn from this Bible story that we may pray to our Father in heaven first of all as dear children would ask their dear (father) This past week, Debi and I did a fair amount of child care with their mom gone on a youth trip to New Orleans. My time with them went pretty well, and mainly for this reason. This grandpa pretty much gives them what they want. When they ask for ice cream, they’re almost always going to get it. When they ask to go swimming, they’re almost always going to go swimming. When they wonder if they can have screen time, they’re probably going to get screen time. If children were going to vote for grandpa of the year, I might be in the running!
Our Father in heaven, of course, is the perfect father. If even good earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our father in heaven give good gifts to his children? Dear friends in Christ, I don’t know what exactly is on your hearts and minds today, but we do know that you may pray with absolute confidence in every one of your days to your father in heaven. Answer #1 to the question, how shall we pray, is with absolute confidence that our God will answer every one of our prayers in a perfect way, with perfect motives, and with perfect timing. The reason we have absolute confidence in our God, of course, is that Jesus Christ has taken our place by living the perfect life we could never begin to live, he has taken our place by suffering all that we should have suffered, he has died the death we should have died. He has paid the price demanded by a righteous God, therefore our sins are forgiven, therefore our souls have been redeemed, therefore our prayers ascend in direct fashion to the throne of our God. Abraham pleaded on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah mainly for the sake of his beloved nephew Lot and family, as it turned out there were only three or four believers, and not ten, and yet the end of this sorry story is that God spared a small town called Zoar for the sake of Lot and his two daughters.
We pray first of all with confidence and boldness, and secondly with persistence. As deeply troubled neighbors would seek out their best (friend). In our Old Testament story, Abraham asked not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, not five times, but six times in a row, and as often as he asked, he received. He kept on seeking and he kept on finding. He kept on knocking and the door kept on being opened. Also in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells a story about a friend who went knocking at midnight and kept on asking until the irritated neighbor gave him the three loaves of bread. He gave him the bread not out of the goodness of his heart, but just to get him to quit bothering him. If even an irritated friend will do us a favor to get us to be quiet, how much more so will our best friend Jesus give us what we need, and many times, what we don’t really need, but we want it?
Final question of the day, (For what) shall we pray?
Answer #1- Anything and everything that has to do with the (body) Our first inclination in life is to pray for our physical needs. A look at our today’s bulletin prayer requests includes thanksgiving and petitions for marriage, for the birth of a baby, for health concerns, for our nations political and racial wounds, and for our military folks. Prayer requests come flooding into our church office almost every day, usually having something to do with sickness and safety. Which is absolutely fine and God pleasing, Scriptures are absolutely full of invitations to pray and examples of God’s people crying out for healing and safety, crying out for protection and peace, crying out for daily bread and deliverance.
Answer #2 to the question for what shall we pray - Especially that which has to do with the (soul). The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town that regularly cries out for their God to bless the teaching and the preaching of God’s Word near and far, it’s like an army of grandmas and grandpas praying for the salvation of their children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren’s souls, it’s like all kinds of parents getting down by their children’s bedsides at night time praying that the faith of their children would grow and never die, it’s like Abraham praying for God to have mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s like redeemed believers in every generation praying for God to have mercy on people they know and people they don’t know, praying for God to have mercy on folks who seem to deserve God’s mercy and on those who seem not to deserve it, praying for God to have mercy on the Democrats and the Republicans and every body in between, praying for God to have mercy on the liberals and the conservatives and on those who don’t know what they are anymore, praying for God to have mercy on their friends and family and especially on their enemies and those who are bothering them world without end, praying for God to have mercy not with a misplaced chutzpah, but with chutzpah rising up out of Easter Sunday dust and ashes in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio (Prayer, Meditation, and Testing)! Luther taught that the life of a theologian would be one of 1)praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit, 2) meditating on the written Word, and 3)being tempted by Satan. That the cycle of life would be praying in the name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ, reading and thinking through the Word of God, and then doing battle with all that the enemies of this world and our own sinful flesh and the devil himself can throw our way. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people going on their merry way, spending their days storming the gates of heaven for favors small and large, spending their days fixing their eyes on their Savior with absolute confidence that He loves them and knows what He is doing, spending their days getting breathed on by the Spirit of God through Scriptures that are profitable for teaching and reproof, for correction, and for training, spending their days as a friend of mine likes to say, climbing every hill with the knowledge that it’s getting you ready for the next hill.
Worship Sermons & Letters