Luke 11:1-13 - Lordís Prayer, Tenth after Pentecost, August 5th, 2007, (some excerpts from Sermon 2001)
Regarding the Second Petition, we know that the Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray that it may come to us also. The kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
Regarding the fifth petition, we pray that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor on their account deny our prayer; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them; but we pray that He would grant them all to us by grace; for we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.
There is a paradox in prayer. We see this paradox in the Gospel Reading, when Jesus said: ďHow much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!Ē The paradox is this: How can you ask for the Holy Spirit unless you already have Him? Or put another way, how can you ask for forgiveness unless you already have it?
You cannot call upon God as Father unless you are redeemed. You cannot say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. No prayer comes to the Father except through Christ. No prayer is good that is not offered in faith, just as no work is good that does not flow from faith.
But how, then, can an unbeliever ever ask for the Holy Spirit? How can a lost person beg for forgiveness from God, if He does not hear his prayer? The simple answer is, he cannot. No unbeliever can ever truly pray to God, for forgiveness or for anything else. He must be saved, not through prayer, but through the power of Godís Word that brings Christ and His forgiveness to men.
Yet you as believers may ask for forgiveness. God will certainly hear your prayers, since your lips have been cleansed by precious water, and your tongues loosened by Godís Word. For although all of your sins were forgiven the moment you first came to faith, yet you continue to ask for forgiveness nevertheless.
Why pray for what you already have? For one thing, because you should remain in a state of repentance throughout your life. Also, God desires to reassure you, over and over and in various ways, that He has poured out full and free forgiveness to you.
For if you consider your sins apart from Christ, you will see nothing but guilt. You will see many sins, every day. How could you not be ashamed, when you see how great your sins are? You should indeed sorrow and lament for your transgressions. You should weep on account of your iniquities.
For whenever we speak about Godís kingdom, we must acknowledge this fact: That satan and all who follow him (whether they know they follow him or not) do not want God to rule over them. That is what sin and evil are - denying God the right to rule over our lives. Therefore we all, by nature, resist Godís kingdom, because we are all sinners. By every sin we commit, we proclaim our rebellion against Godís law and order. Even if we try to obey Him, we cannot help but sin. That is how rebellious our nature is against Godís kingdom.
As sinners, we would rather rule over ourselves, and decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. It is so much easier to live a good life when you alone decide what ďgoodĒ is. If you have a problem with adultery, just say that Godís old-fashioned rules do not apply to you. If youíre a thief, say that you really needed that thing, so God would surely not condemn you. If you gossip, say that it was only the truth. If you hurt someone, say that they surely deserved it. It is easy to explain how the sins you do are not really sins at all. So we can justify ourselves by writing our own commandments to follow. It is easy to be good when you write the rules.
But rationalizing your sins only increases your guilt. Everyone tries sometimes to excuse or explain away their sins. But that is to deny God the right to be the One and Only Righteous Judge.
When you allow Godís Word to judge you, the multitude of your sins that is revealed could cause you to doubt that you are a Christian. A believer should not do such things. Perhaps you have backslidden, you might think. Perhaps you have fallen from faith, you might think.
In order to give you reassurance and comfort, the Lord speaks His Absolution over you. He preaches Christ crucified for you. He feeds you His Supper of remission. He reminds you that you belong to His Kingdom.
Many of you first entered the Kingdom when God anointed you at the Font. As Jesus said, ďNo one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.Ē Just as Godís holy Name was placed on you in Baptism, so you also entered His Kingdom through Baptism. More than that, He anointed you as royal kings upon the earth with His Spirit.
In various ways, through the Word, spoken and preached and splashed and distributed, the Holy Spirit works repentance by transferring sinners from the kingdom of darkness into His Kingdom of Light. He works faith by making you distrust your own good works and love. Instead, He gives you faith in the grace of God alone, and in the all-availing sacrifice of Christ.
Now you belong to Christ, and He is your Lord. He rules over you as your King of righteousness, life, and salvation. He shed precious Blood for you. He suffered horrible agony for you. He paid the ultimate price - death and the punishment of hell - so that you now belong to Him. Because of the Cross, you no longer are ruled by sin, death, and an evil conscience. Even though by your own nature you belong to the kingdom of Godís enemies, yet through Jesus you belong to God.
That is why your efforts play no part in your salvation. It is not through good works that you enter the kingdom of God or receive eternal life. It is only through Christ, through Baptism, through Godís Word, and through the Holy Spirit. All the credit, all the work, and all the glory belong to God alone.
But if you were saved through your prayer, then you could claim some of the credit. If your prayers saved you, then you would be saved by a good work, and it would no longer be by grace.
Still, your loving Father wants you to continue asking Him for forgiveness, so that He can give you His answer in His Word. In prayer you speak. In the Word, He answers. You ask for forgiveness, and in His Gospel He gives it. So we are not forgiven in prayer, but in answer to prayer.
So we should not ask, ďWhy pray for the Kingdom at all if it comes without our prayer?Ē Thatís the wrong question. Following that question to its conclusion will lead you to see God as a miser who only reluctantly gives you gifts if you badger Him incessantly. But He is gracious and loves to flood you with every kind of blessing. By praying to Him, you recognize Him as the Source of all goodness. You learn to trust and depend upon Him alone. You learn to yearn for the good gifts that come from His fatherly hand.
As a Christian, the Spirit leads you to pray not only for yourself, but also for others who are not presently in the Kingdom. You pray that the Spirit may enter the lives of those who are lost, who are still in the kingdom of darkness. They are perishing in their sins. You earnestly pray that the Kingdom may come to them also.
But always remember: God makes His Kingdom come, not you. He may use you, or you may happen to be there when the Kingdom grows. The Word may come through your lips, but in yourself you are not capable of making the Kingdom grow, even though it seems like itís your job to make disciples.
Of course, because the grace of God has come to you through His Word and Sacraments, you want to use opportunities to tell others, as God gives you opportunity. You want to be used by Him for the sake of the Kingdom. But God will make His Kingdom grow where and when He wants it to, with or without your efforts. When you are trying hard, He still may not make it happen. When you are not trying at all, that is when He might work miracles.
Therefore, you must avoid like the plague any idea that one Church is more effective or more alive than another because of what it does. You must resist thinking that human good works can save people. Instead, no one is saved except solely because Godís Word and Sacraments go where He sends them, bringing the benefits of Christís Blood and Death.
While the Means of Grace are in your midst, you are an effective Church. You are as alive as you can ever get in this world, through Christ who has revived you from spiritual death. Godís saving power and His Holy Spirit will be active here in creating and nurturing His Kingdom. You do not need something beyond His Word and Sacraments to be effective. The Word and Sacraments are already as effective as they could ever be. They are the very power of God for salvation.
Therefore, may you see how truly valuable is this Word around which you gather here in Godís House. May you savor your Saviorís Body and Blood, and receive it often. May you see how powerful Godís grace is as it works among you. And may Godís Kingdom grow among you as He desires, and may you be a part of that growth as God uses you to take His Gospel to the ears of those who are lost. Amen.
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