Thursday, February 25, 2016

Do you quit praying before God has answered you?


Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire."  And her daughter was healed instantly.  Mt. 15:28

IN today's Collect we urgently call to the Lord to "defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul."  It is a tall order considering the many things that can go wrong, but our prayers are not the desperate plea of people who have no other hope, or of people who have exhausted every other avenue and decide they have nothing to lose if they "try God," as one bumper sticker suggests.  For Christians, nothing is more natural than to pray to the Father of all mercies who promises to defend us against all danger, and to guard and to protect us from all evil, no matter the odds against us.

Where do we obtain such certainty?  From God's Word of course.  Today especially from two of Scripture's well-known personages:  the patriarch Jacob, and the Canaanite woman.  Though separated by eighteen centuries they had much in common!  Both had enemies more powerful than they, both knew where to turn for help, both wrestled with God, and both received the answer they sought.  You are recipients of the same mercy.

Jacob had done very well for himself in the 20 years since he had double-crossed his brother Esau and fled for fear of his life.  He was blessed with a large family and with more wealth than one man could spend in a lifetime.  Now he earnestly desired to return to his ancestral home, but he was afraid; afraid because he knew that the moment he crossed the border he would meet his aggrieved brother, Esau who had vowed to kill Jacob.  Then Esau would claim all of Jacob's blessings as his own.  Jacob was afraid for his life, his future and for his family, so he prayed, but he did not just pray.  He also offered a sacrifice to the LORD, ate sacred bread, and called on the LORD to save him; and God did.  Yet as is often the case, God did things in a most unusual way.  He entered a wrestling match with Jacob, one that Jacob could not possibly win, but one none the less, that ended with great blessing because that is what God does!  The LORD gave Jacob a new name, Israel, even as he gives us today in holy baptism, and with that new name came the salvation that he needed.

Likewise, the Canaanite woman who, by her prayer, persistence and unwavering faith received the relief she sought for her dear daughter and left a legacy for Christians of every generation.  Consider her case if you will.  The Lord's disciples had no interest in her.  She was unclean, an embarrassment, a Gentile dog beyond the ambit of salvation, and unfit to eat the bread of angels, but she displayed more tenacity and faith than all the rest!  Like Jacob of old she wrestled with Jesus and would not let go until she obtained what was most important: the rescue of her dear daughter by the One who is mightier than the cold-blooded, vacant-eyed demons who deflower our children and rob them of their youth, their innocence and their future.

We should do the same, because the prayer we pray today for God to save us from the many adversaries that threaten us is one that He will always answer.  He answered it by sending his Son who came down from heaven to take the fight to the devil and fight to the death in order to release us from his thrall.  St. Peter writes, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls."  So let us pray and never cease.

How do we do that?  We are doing it now.  Scripture says, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations."  You have come to God's house to pray, praise and give thanks, to gladly hear and learn God's Word; the divine Word that fortifies you to resist the devil and makes you bold to fight the good fight.  Here we have access to resources such as today's epistle lesson that warns us against sexual immorality, but why such warning?  Because the devil rarely comes uninvited.  We dangle our fingers in shark infested waters with every sin.  To open an internet porn site is to open a portal for the demons to come into your home.  The internet never forgets and neither do the demons.  To harden your conscience so that you can enjoy your sin then repent later, is to invite the demons in to play.  Repent.  Confess your sins, and God who is faithful and just will forgive your sins, and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, for God has not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness, and today is the day of salvation.

We are come not only to the Lord's house, but also to the Lord's Table where we feast on the crumbs of heaven and O what crumbs they are!  "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  The cup which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ?"  Yes it is, and more besides.  It is the answer to all of your prayers, pardon for all of your wrongs, communion with the Living God, strength to live a holier life, the medicine of immortality, and the sure defense against the adversities that may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul.  Through Christ, by His Word and Sacrament, God grants you these blessings today.  Amen

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