You want to pray? Pray like Jesus.

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Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

How many times have you heard those words lately? These are the words shared by many in response to the mass shooting at First Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, TX. We read them tweeted by the president and we repeated by countless others. Many express such sentiment in the aftermath of tragedy.

But what does that mean?

What does that mean coming from the lips of those who rarely attend and have little connection with the church? What does that mean coming from the mouth of someone who may or may not pray all that often? What does that mean when it echoes across social media, TV journalism and political rhetoric?

What does it mean to you?

When a disaster flattens a community, when a tragedy occurs, when numerous lives are taken, how do you pray? What do you say? What words do you use?

I’ll bet you’re intention to pray far exceeds your actual prayers. I know that sounds harsh. But reflect on that statement for a moment. Am I wrong?

What do you say to God when bullets fly, bombs explode, blood is shed and communities are devastated?

Do you ask God to help people feel better? Do you pray for the pastors who will be conducting funerals for all those who died? Do you pray that God would spare people from future tragedy? Do you ask what you should do to help?

What do you say?

It’s a tough question. Prayer is tough, because it deals with tough issues. Prayer is hard, because it rips open our hearts and releases our emotions in the presence of the one who created us. Prayer pleads for mercy, cries out for help, lashes out in anger, and gets in the face of the God who is infinitely more powerful than us.

If your prayers aren’t filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear, then why bother? Why bother simply saying what you think God wants to hear, rather than what’s going on in your heart? Why try to talk God out of a blessing or convince him your are right (and he’s wrong)? Are you afraid you’ll hurt his feelings? Or that he’ll shut you up — for good?

I believe he wants you to let it out. Release your wrath. Scream in terror. Demand that he listen and respond. Read the psalms. What? Yes, read the psalms. They do all this and more. They get in God’s face and challenge him to do something!

And you know what? He does. He comes and experiences it all. Then Jesus went away to pray. Do you think his prayers were calm, cool and collected? In the face of all he would go through? I doubt it. Go back to the gospels and read about Jesus’ prayers from the cross — filled with pleas, tears, rage and fear.

You tell me you’ll pray? Let me hear you pray like Jesus.

 

“To what has God called you?”

Transcription of Sunday, October 22, 2017 sermon based on 1 Peter 2:9-10. 

Oct 22 cover picI know that some of you have had the opportunity to take a river cruise in Europe. You’ve ridden on some beautiful boats and sailed down some magnificent rivers. You’ve seen the scenery, cities, cathedrals, and castles. What a great trip!

Others of you had the opportunity to travel to Germany and you’ve toured the places where Martin Luther lived and worked. I know there are a few people in our congregation who have gone to see the passion play in Oberammergau, put one once every ten years.

That’s why there is a buzz in the congregation today. You are really excited because you heard we were going to talk about Luther’s doctrine of vacation! Actually we are talking about Luther’s doctrine of vocation, one of the most important teachings that comes out of the time of the Reformation.

What is your vocation?

When I ask that question you translate it in your mind to, “What do you do for a living?” “What’s your job, profession, or career?” We expand the definition of vocation to include those who are full time parents, students and your side hustle which earns you a little extra money.

That question becomes a little harder to answer once you’ve retired from the workforce. It’s more challenging to answer once you no longer have a job or a profession or a career. Our identities are so tied up in what we do, that we easily lose our identity when we clean out our desk and hand over the keys. Now we don’t have to get up and go to work every day.

What is your vocation?

When the Bible speaks of this, it includes more than just your profession. It’s more than just being a carpenter, fisherman, farmer, shepherd, soldier, government official, or a grower of olive trees. When the Bible speaks of what you vocation is, it refers to your station in life at this time and in this place. This would include more than what you do to earn money. It has to do with relationships, like being a parent or grandparent. Or being a spouse. Part of the community. A citizen of your country.

When we speak about pastors and teachers and those in full time church work, we say they haven’t been “hired,” but “called.” Each one of you has also been called. God has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Now you are God’s people.

To what has God called you?

Martin Luther wrote about this in reaction to monastic life in the early 16th century. Monastic life is what you take on when you take vows to be monks or nuns. You renounce worldly possessions, promise to remain celibate, spend your time fasting, praying, worshiping and working in your monasteries or cloisters, isolated from the rest of the world. This system developed to the point where people would look up to those who make these vows. They looked up to those who took on that lifestyle and considered them as those who merited God’s favor. It developed into a caste system within the church. Those who had taken these vows merited God’s favor more than other occupations. They were special; everyone else was common or lay people. They were so special they merit favor for ordinary people, too.

The thing is, as good as that sounds, there’s nothing in God’s Word commanding people to take these vows and live that way. There is nothing in God’s Word promising special blessings for those who do those things. These are man-made traditions that developed into very good works for God.

On the other hand God’s Word is filled with descriptions of what God had in mind for his people from the beginning of creation. God instituted things like marriage and family and government and jobs for his people. God’s Word is filled with promised blessing for husbands and wives, parents and children, and for government and citizens.

The whole idea of vocation isn’t a special niche of religious life. It’s not what you do for a living. It’s more about who you are at this point in time. This is not a coincidence or your choice. It’s what God has called you to.

God’s Word makes it very clear that there is nothing to merit his favor. Absolutely nothing. there is nothing you can do to make God happy with you, and there’s nothing you can do that will make God hate you. God’s Word says that clearly in Romans 3: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” Being right in God’s sight is about the law. It comes through faith in Jesus Christ. We attain the righteousness of God through our faith. By his perfect life on this and his innocent suffering and death and his powerful resurrection from the dead, Jesus did everything necessary to merit God’s favor for you. He did everything required. He paid for every single sin. You have that relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else needs to be done. Nothing else can be done.

To illustrate this Luther used the story of the Christmas shepherds. There’s a story we all know. We all know that when Jesus was born n Bethlehem there were shepherds in the fields at night watching over their flocks. They were the first ones to hear the announcement that a Savior had been born. They were the first ones to go and see the Christ who was just a baby. And then they returned. Where? To their flocks. To their jobs. To their responsibilities. With joy in their hearts and a message on their lips, into the role to which God called them.

We do the same thing. We have heard that our Savior has come. We know that Jesus Christ was born, lived, and rose again. We come hear his voice and to see him. He comes to us in his word and in the sacrament, his body broken for us and his blood poured out for us at the altar. We gather together and we witness God’s grace and then we go. Where? We go back to where we came from. We go back to our lives, to our families, to our homes, our community, to our jobs. We go back and we live as citizens, employers, workers, students. We go right back where God has called us with joy in our hearts a message of good news on our lips.

This would be a really good time to clear up a misconception in the church. I know this is still out there. There is a feeling among Christians that pastors do merit God’s favor more than the ordinary person in the pew. We get a little better seat at the heavenly banquet. God likes us a little bit more. We have greater rewards waiting for us because of the work we do as pastors of churches.

I assure you this is not true. Every single called and ordained servant of the Word is a sinner who has no hope apart from God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact, I would contend — and you can disagree with me if you want — that your vocation is more significant than mine. Let me ask you some questions. Do you believe we need Christians in the schools teaching our children? Do you believe we need Christians in government, making, enforcing and interpreting laws? Do you believe we need good Christian doctors operating on us in the hospital and taking care of us when we are recovering? Do we believe we need Christians in the military protecting our freedoms and in the local police department taking care of our communities? Do we need good Christians building houses, remodeling homes? Do we need Christians preparing and serving food and brewing coffee? Do we need Christians in every walk of life? Absolutely.

I’m not doing those things. You are! When God said let there be light, he meant his light would shine into every dark corner of this world. I’m not the one who’s out there. You are.

I’m going to end this morning with some song lyrics. it’s from Matthew West’s song “I sent you.”

 

I woke up this morning Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”