Sunday, May 21, 2017

It's true, my prayers are not all that fervent.

IN JESUS' NAME


THE church is like a bucket with a hole in it.  She is always losing her faith, her religion, her practice, reverence, holiness, vocabulary, self-understanding and her reason for being.

The Spirit, who is the church's power source, is not to blame.  Rather, the unstable element in the mixture is the human one, yet God loves to work this way; to use the weak things of the world, to confound the strong, to use the things that are nothing and to bring to nothing the things that are, but our work today is not to fix the hole for that is impossible as long as God is pleased to allow us a share in His glorious work.  Our job instead is to fill the bucket up again with the sound doctrine and practice of the church of the ages.

Case in point, the 6th Sunday of Easter is known as Rogate Sunday and is dedicated to the theme of prayer.  Surprisingly, Christians today know very little about the subject, but unlike prayer sermons you may have heard, today you will not hear a catechetical review of the subject.  Neither will the pastor urge you to pray more fervently or faithfully.  Nor will you learn any recently discovered technique to make your prayers more effective.  All such   notions ring hollow because they all share the same fatal flaw:  they understand prayer in the abstract terms; as an isolated reality, having a life of its own apart from the church and her worship of the Triune God.

Therefore the first thing we should learn today is that prayer proceeds from this Divine Service; that Christian prayer, which is Christian worship, is something the Spirit accomplishes among us in and through our Lord Jesus Christ who is the church's True Liturgist and the Righteous Man whose prayer availeth much.  Thus when we consider Christian prayer it is corporate, not personal prayer that should be first to come to our minds.  That statement will no doubt shock many people, so let us say it again.  The liturgical prayers of the church, those prayers written down for us in our Service Book and offered before this holy altar come first, and all other prayers Christians offer proceed from here; from this place where Christ our dear Lord is pleased to be with us in gladness and peace.   Now this is not the case for the Protestants by whom we are so strongly influenced; not the case for those "sects and denominations that deny the Gospel by way of the sacraments; and for whom the foundation of prayer is the shrine of their own heart instead of the flesh of Christ that graciously resides on the Christian altar."  The prayer of the Body has primacy.  This is the prayer we offer "with one voice" here in the church's Eucharistic worship which is the church's principle time and place of prayer.

Yes, corporate prayer comes first, but even more specifically the prayers the Bride prays in closest proximity with the Holy Communion she is about to enter with her Holy Groom.  Here perfect glory, laud and honor are rendered to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here all "sorts and conditions of men" are prayed for well.  This is what Jesus means when He says, "Truly, truly I say to you that whatever you ask the Father in my name, the Father will give to you," but to pray "in Jesus' name" is not accomplished by adding that formula to the end of our petition (though we will never stop doing it.)  Instead, to pray in Jesus' name is a reference to the prayers the church offers in their Divine Service and most   especially those prayed in close proximity with the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Think about it.  When did Jesus give this promise, "whatever you ask the Father in my name, the Father will give to you?"  He gave it on Maundy Thursday as He was instituting the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood.  That is where He said, "Truly, truly I say to you that whatever you ask the Father in my name, the Father will give to you."  The church has always recognized this fact by consciously embedding the Great Intercessions within the Liturgy of the Sacrament, and more specifically after the Preface on page 24 (The Lutheran Hymnal), and as close to the consecration as possible.

Now the church raises good and true prayers throughout her worship because her worship is prayer and her prayer is worship, but we should learn to think of the Eucharist as the fountainhead of all prayer, even as it is of all mercy!

Once we clearly understand these things and are fully convinced that the Christian altar, not the Christian heart is the wellspring of all prayer, then we can safely speak of all the other petitions a Christian prays which too are worship and which are an extension of the prayer that occurs at this altar, so let us pray; first before the altar, but "at all times and in all places" as well:  in the home, in the world and wherever the Golden Sun of Christ's Love is needed to dispel the devil's wicked works and wicked ways.  Only let us be careful not to think of prayer as something having a life of its own apart from the church's prayer offered here before your very eyes, for the prayers we pray "out there" and "in here" (i.e. the heart) are nothing other than continuations of the prayers offered at this altar; that is prayer offered in Jesus' name.  Neither let us ever think of prayer as an individual enterprise, for no Christian ever prays alone, but always in concert with his Lord and in chorus with the whole church of heaven and hearth.  This is the meaning of the communion of saints we confess in the creed.

Let us especially caution on this Rogate Sunday against understanding prayer as an   adversarial relationship, one in which we must enlist "prayer warriors" and "prayer chains" or hold "national days of prayer" to over-power our gracious God till He raise the white flag   and surrender to us.  These are unnecessary, "for," as Jesus says, "the Father Himself loves you."

Above all let us learn today that to pray in the  name of Jesus is to pray before this holy altar, where Jesus is factually present and where He graciously assents to pardon our sins, hear our prayers, and fill us with every comfort, every consolation, and all joy and peace until we, too, return to the Father from whom we came.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras




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