Testing vs. Temptation, By the Power of the Spirit
I don’t mention it in the podcast, but the Ash Wednesday hymn, Savior When in Dust to Thee (LSB 419), (which by the way is one of the few false steps in the hymnal replacing the tune Spanish Chant which we stubbornly refuse to leave with the unpronounceable and not at all memorable tune Aberystwyth) but back to the point that him is a great example of the things enabled by the Spirit. The words of the hymn are a litany of sorts (another feature of Ash Wednesday), by thy helpless infant years, by thy life of want and tears, etc…. That litany is the very thing that was enabled by the Spirit. Jesus’ saving work is the work of God. The Father’s will, Jesus’ work and the Spirit’s power.
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Ok, last time we looked at different ways that people might talk about spiritual practices, and then we honed in on the Lenten triptych of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Using the sermon on the mount we looked at Almsgiving and generalized it to acts of mercy. This time we are going to look at prayer through the lens of Matt 6:5-14 when Jesus teaches what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Here are the past entries: Background, #1, #2, #3
First, whole books have been written about the Lord’s Prayer. I would not be surprised to find that whole books have been written about individual petitions. So, 500 words, you do the math.
Jesus prefaces the prayer itself with another warning similar to that about almsgiving which I labeled getting your heart right. If you are performing a spiritual practice, but the intention is in the horizontal dimension, that is you have an audience in your neighbor, it is not really a spiritual practice. The giving of alms to be seen giving alms might still be a good thing, but it is not a spiritual practice. Jesus says you’ve already received your reward. Likewise he says before prayer, don’t do it like the hypocrites. It might be harder today to imagine a reward attached to being seen praying which might actually help with the intent. The hypocritical part is not public prayer or praying with others. Too many Lutherans especially are uncomfortable with this. And I have heard these verses as the excuse. (We are also given to more formal prayer or collective prayer, so our evangelical friends bubbling prayer lives seem, well, so extroverted.) The hypocritical part is when the emphasis in prayer is not on communion with the Father, but upon some effect here. The reward of a spiritual practice for the practitioner is seeing God. If your eyes or your heart is looking elsewhere, that just isn’t going to happen.
Jesus then attaches a second warning about prayer – empty phrases and many words. He also attaches a note of pure gospel. Just thinking off the top of my head I’ve heard a Lutheran use this as a whip against “ramble-on-prayers”. I’ve also heard a Baptist use it as a scourge against “dry-as-dust” written prayers. Empty phrases and many words can be in the eye of the beholder. I was once a parishioner in a congregation where the prayers of the church took no less than 15 minutes. Every hangnail, birthday party and brother’s-sister’s-uncle’s-college-roomate’s passing wish was brought to the congregation in prayer. And each was prayed from the heart complete with “ahs”, “ohs”, “please Lord’s” and flowery phrases. Parson’s wife could tell you how that was just so not me. I was raised in a family where if you weren’t on your death bed, there is no reason to be bothering the whole congregation with your troubles. But a great Christian lady who I got to know at that congregation, without knowing my thoughts, once shared that the prayers were just so overwhelming to her. So what does this mean?
Look at the note of pure gospel. Your Father knows what you need before you ask. Prayer is not a quid-pro-quo. If I put in 10 mins of prayer, then I will get what I need. No! You are not looking for the perfect words that will sway God to give you what you desire. The outcome of prayer does not depend upon you at all. Prayer comes from the Gospel. You Father knows what you need and is not going to deny you that because you used a contraction or said too many “ahs” or mumbled on like an idiot. Instead, be at peace. You are entering the presence of the one who wishes you Shalom. You can be at peace recognizing like Moses you are standing on holy ground or Solomon at the Temple. You can be at peace with very formal planned prayer. You can be at peace wrestling or arguing with God, think Jacob and Abraham. You can be at peace being very expressive like David dancing. The warning is about prayer as a work. Prayer is not a work. It grows out of the core of the gospel. Prayer is one of the ways Christ promises his presence with us. It is that presence that we are seeking. Everything else our Father already knows and daily and richly provides.
I’ll continue next time with the Lord’s prayer itself.
Sermon Text: Matt 5:6, Rev 6:10, Rev 7:9, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, All Saints Day
Full Text of Sermon
A Lutherans we are trained to think in terms of paradoxes in tension. Here is what I mean by that. The big tension paradox is law and gospel. The law kills, yet is necessary to show us the gospel which makes alive. The gospel without the law just confirms people in self-righteousness. Think the self-esteem movement of today. That is the perfect example of gospel without law. It essentially says that God accepts you just the way you are. Used in the context before the law, that is deadly and leads to a bunch of the dysfunctions we see in our culture today. Likewise the law without the gospel doesn’t work. For a while you get better people as they struggle to keep the law, to be holy. But eventually they figure out it is a rigged game. Hey, I can’t do this!?! That is the proper place for the gospel message of God accepts you through Jesus Christ. Law and gospel go together and the Lutheran emphasis at least in America has been on the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. That is the name of Walther’s LCMS-famous book.
And that works and is true if your primary goal is salvation of the individual. And don’t get me wrong, that is important. But the gospel is about more than my personal Jesus. The gospel is the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The gospel is the proclamation of the resurrection of all flesh. And when you are proclaiming that – that is law and gospel at the same time.
In this sermon I’ve got a section that I labeled gospel in the text. First it is all scripture. Second it is a listing of the question of the prophets and martyrs – “How long?” How long until the church or people of God is perfected? How long until the martyrs receive justice? How long until the Lordship of Christ is acknowledged by all? To the believer that is pure gospel. The Spirit has already called us by the gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and placed us on the walk of sanctification. We struggle now and long for that day when we don’t. How long is a cry for justice. For God to act. But that same proclamation if you don’t have faith in the work of Christ is either just lunacy or stark terror. The same proclamation works as law. Either it is dismissed as not applicable. (If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves – 1 John 1:8). Or it should strike us to the core. What if that is true? What if Christ is Lord, and I don’t acknowledge that? What does this Lord want?
The same words, the proclamation of Jesus is Lord is either the most consoling Gospel or the most damning law at the same time. The saints share a communion of hearing that proclamation as Gospel and longing for the day when the church at rest and the church militant are joined in the church Triumphant marching after the King of Glory.
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Posted in cross, glory, Matthew, podcast, Revelation, Sermons
Tagged All Saints, Apostles Creed, beatitudes, Lord's Prayer, Matthew 5:6, Rev 7:9
You all know the big Reformation Day Hymn – A Mighty Fortress is Our God. If you want to start a real fight, ask a Lutheran which tune is the better – the Bach setting or the original Luther. Parson and Parson’s mother disagree on this. It’s not a pretty fight.
But Ein Feste Burg is not what I want to talk about. Instead I want to talk about a more obscure yet more numerous genre of hymns that Luther loved to write. This Reformation Day the choir is going to sing a couple of verses from Lutheran Service Book #766 – Our Father, Who from Heaven Above during the offering. The congregation will echo the same hymn at the close of service with different verses. This is a great example of a catechetical hymn. By that I mean it is a hymn that is teaches to music. Like A Mighty Fortress, words and tune are by Luther.
The Small Catechism – the short basic teachings of the Christian Faith by Luther that he thought everyone should have memorized – contain the 10 Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. It was quickly expanded to include baptism and the Lord’s Supper and Confession (or the office of the Keys). It all fits in a few page or one “poster sized” wall hanging. Printing a catechism poster was one of the first uses of the printing press at the time. The head of every household for a couple of pennies could have the catechism in his home to teach both the basics of the faith and reading.
This hymn takes up the Lord’s Prayer. The Choir is singing 1 & 5 over the offering. The congregation will be singing 1 & 9 at the close of service.
|1) Our Father who from heaven above
Bids all of us to live in love
As members of one family
And pray to you in unity
Teach us no thoughtless words to say
But from our inmost hearts to pray
|5) Give us this day our daily bread
And lets us all be clothed and fed
Save us from hardship, war and strife
In plague and famine, spare our life
That we in honest peace may live
To care and greed no entrance give
|9) Amen, that is, so shall it be
Make strong our faith in You, that we
May doubt not but with trust believe
That what we ask we shall receive
Thus in your name and at your word
We say, Amen, O hear us, Lord
Observe how each stanza begins with a petition from the Lord’s prayer, and the rest of the verse answers – “What does this mean?” Luther would follow a similar format with:
Baptism – #406, To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord
10 Commandments – #581, These Are the Holy Ten Commandments
Creed – #954, We All Believe in One True God
Confession – #607, From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee
We don’t do that much anymore. In fact you could say that catechism style teaching is out of vogue. Asking a question, writing or memorizing the answer and building upon it in another Q&A seems to break our post-modern sensibility. As Steve Jobs would say – don’t just accept the dogma which is accepting someone else’s thinking. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was conflicted about that. At some level a catechism is invaluable. It gives you a starting point. Bloom’s taxonomy and all knowledge starts somewhere. Even Steve Jobs didn’t question Wozniak’s circuit board layout. I guess the synthesis I’d come to is a combination. Instead of the endpoint it too often became, the catechism is a start. We used to accept the memorization of Luther’s answers as proper catechizing. Now, its a good start, but you need to make the answers your own. That is the task of the disciple and of the Christian life – that we can truly say: Amen, so shall it be to “Make strong our Faith in You”.
I find it ironic that in an age full of irony with a people tuned to understanding layers of meaning taking place Palm Sunday in some quarters is being transformed into Passion Sunday. Well not at St. Mark in West Henrietta. Since we have been reading from St. John’s Gospel, I took the Triumphal Entry text for this week.
The King comes anyway is a refrain used. Everyone at that first Palm Sunday was clueless. The King came anyway. And truth be told we are usually pretty clueless ourselves. The King comes anyway. He comes in waters of baptism. He comes in bread and wine. He comes in the simple proclamation – do not be afraid, daughters of Zion. The king comes anyway, full of grace and truth. We ask in are prayers that he come to us also.