Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can't I just pray at home?


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First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings 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.  this is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4

THE sin of our day is to think that the Christian religion can be practiced in isolation.  Many who consider themselves believers rarely step a foot in the church.  They think that private prayer is more pleasing to God than the prayers made in God's House.  But St. Paul comes to the rescue today to tell us how things really are.  The words he writes are not simply random references to personal prayer, but liturgical traditions that he is teaching to a young bishop named Timothy; pastoral duties that he is to discharge within the life of the church.

This is not to disparage personal prayer, for it is good!  Very good!  Indispensable to be sure!  Any child of God who has done battle with sin and Satan, who has faced danger, illness, poverty, despair and frustration (and who has not?) cannot help but pray without ceasing, but we should learn to think of private prayers as extensions of the ones we pray in church; for it is here, in the body of Christ, that we learn how to pray, and what we ought to pray for.

We learn here, for example, that it is not God pleasing to pray for our favorite team to win today's football game, but that we would be quite remiss, on the other hand, if we did not entreat God "for every sort and condition of men;"  if we did not raise holy hands in supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings.  When Paul uses these four terms he is not merely stuffing the page with synonyms, but he is talking about four different kinds of prayers that the church prays, so let us consider his words very carefully.

The first is Supplications.  We can think of supplications as the prayers we offer for all that we need to preserve body and soul.  God wants us to remember that He is the source of every good gift.  He wants us to ask him Him for everything we need.  He wants us to receive His gifts with grateful hearts and use them to His glory and our blessing.  The Table Prayer, the Morning and Evening Prayers we learn in the catechism are examples of Supplications.

Next Paul mentions Prayers.  We can think of this term as referring to the fixed prayers that God's people carefully composed over the centuries to be offered over and over again.  We find them throughout Scripture and in the church's liturgy, prayer books and hymnals.  Some are long like the 51st psalm.  Others are short such as the Kyrie, which means Lord, have mercy.  It is a wonderful prayer, brief and to the point but as dynamic as they come.  It is a cry that pierces the heavens more quickly than a Tweet and brings the aid of the Almighty to our side when we need it the most!  Remember it and pray it often, or better still, learn to sing it as we did in the sermon hymn a few moments ago (The Lutheran Hymnal #6).

Intercessions are the prayers we pray for others.  Many times people ask us to pray for them and we promise that we will, but how often do we?  This is why the church, very early on, developed the Prayers of the Faithful, what we in our liturgy call the General Prayer.  It is the church's prayer, prayed in close connection with the Sacrament.  It is here that the One Mediator between God and Men, the Man Christ Jesus, showers us with His love, feeds us with His flesh and blood so that we might have life within us, and makes our imperfect prayers perfect.  He is the righteous man who intercedes for us and His prayers avail much.  Here no one is forgotten.  Here all are prayed for well whether mentioned by name or not.    When we think of all the need there is in the world we can do nothing else but pray, because contrary to what human pride tells us, we live in a creaky, dying world that is beyond human help, so we must seek divine aid for all the things that trouble us if we are to enjoy the dignified and godly life that St. Paul describes.

Lastly, the apostle speaks of Thanksgiving.  It is meet, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God, but in the New Testament, the word "thanksgiving" almost always refers to Sacrament.  Paul may be referring here to the Eucharistic Prayer which was a part of nearly every liturgy the church ever produced.  It is a prayer that surrounded the consecration and recalled the glorious events of our salvation.  It spoke aloud the Old Testament types of the coming Christ, and of their fulfillment in our Lord's incarnation, life, death and resurrection; whose benefits we obtain from this Supper, namely, the remission of sins, life and salvation.

These are the greatest gifts of God, bar none: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  Yet many Christians turn up their noses at them.  They imagine that deeds are superior to creeds, that works are superior to faith.  They don't realize that Christian deeds are fueled  by Christian creeds, and that Christian works are generated by Christian faith.  Self-righteousness is a virulent disease that we can easily contract, so be careful.  Good works, as indispensable as they are, cannot comfort us in the anguish of life or at the hour of our death.  Then there is only one deed that will calm our trembling hearts; that of the one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus who loved us and gave nothing less than Himself for us to deliver us from this present evil age.  May we love Him with all our hearts and serve Him with all our strength.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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