Monday, May 17, 2010

Seventh Sunday of Easter

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: John 17:20-26
Theme: Christ’s Intercessory Prayer

Dear worshippers of the risen Jesus,

Christ ascended bodily to His place of exaltation before the Father 40 days after His resurrection. Now also in His humanity He fully exercises His divine power. In this capacity He governs the universe for the benefit of the church and the proclamation of the Gospel. He also stands before the Father to mediate on behalf of the saints. The Scripture says, “[Christ] is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”1Christian living is a reflection of this activity.

Every Christian inherits the vocation of an intercessor who prays on behalf of the world. It is not reserved only for men called into the Office of the Ministry. It is an obligation of the priesthood of all believers. Though the pastor leads the congregation in corporate prayer during the Divine Service, every Christian is an agent that prays for the well-being of the world. Christ said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”2

Do not take this responsibility lightly. To pray with integrity for others is to direct your concern for their physical and spiritual welfare. Your praying can take many forms. It can be done within your private or family prayer life. It can involve verbal or written notes and messages to the people you are praying for. It can have both formal and casual aspects. Regardless, a regular pattern of praying is the healthiest discipline and it can help the individual to keep in step with the liturgical rhythm of the church. We make intercession for others not as mavericks or lone rangers but as members of Christ’s body and within the structure and order of the community of faith.

Neither is prayer only a matter of words. The directing of your resources for planting the seed of God’s word is faith and prayer in action. To visit the sick, show generosity to the poor, defend the weak, show kindness to strangers, etc., and etc., is all part of an active dynamic of prayer. It should go without saying that the greatest thing you can do for an unbeliever is pray that the Holy Spirit would grant them faith and that the Spirit’s work would not be rejected. This desire is to be accompanied with whatever actions are necessary to continually expose people to God’s word.

Today’s gospel contains the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus. Beseeching the heavenly Father, Jesus said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message.”3 Jesus of course already knows who will believe, but the disciples do not. We are not privy to the deep mystery of whether or when others will believe. Sin wields a powerful influence over humanity. We can never escape addressing it. Even mature Christians are called upon to confess their sins and repent, lest they fall prey to a hypocritical faith.

The Holy Spirit’s work cannot be programmed. But His means are well-defined. The word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are means of grace through which the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.”4 These are the means by which the apostolic message, the message of Christ crucified and risen, the message of sins forgiven, redeems sinners and comforts souls.

Among those in the court of Alexander the Great was a philosopher of outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told to draw whatever he needed from the imperial treasury. But when the man requested an amount equal to $50,000, he was refused--the treasurer needing to verify that such a large sum was authorized. When he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, "Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity."

Let us not be too timid to make bold requests of the Almighty. He will decide what is best for us. His riches and generosity are far beyond what we can fathom. When we pray for trivial things we betray not only the shallowness of our faith, but also our lack of understanding of God’s infinite compassion. We pray easily enough for earthly needs, and perhaps more readily still in times of emergency; but often prayer for spiritual well-being is neglected in our devotional lives. It is no small thing to pray to be kept from error and for protection from Satan’s power. God wants us to pray without restriction for spiritual blessings.

Even from the cross Jesus prayed for His enemies. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”5 The Bible says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”6 And when we are beset by so much anxiety, fear, or weakness that we can scarcely utter a word of prayer or formulate a thought- though our heart deeply desires to do so- there is surely no more comforting passage of Holy Scripture than Romans 8:26, “The Spirit also helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

This constant intercession is crucial to our spiritual well-being. The Christian life is not a matter of floating along on spiritual clouds or skipping through celestial fields of tulips- as if we had found some religious fountain of youth and prosperity. Rather it involves going daily into the fray; engaging the struggle of our own sinful nature, the temptations of the world, and Satan’s flaming arrows. These forces immediately weather the spiritual strength given us every Lord’s Day. Just as the newly baptized immediately begin to age spiritually, so also the believer, freshly absolved, is quickly accosted by falsehood, deceit, and temptation.

But this is no reason to despair; rather it turns us constantly back to the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. We can scarcely pray the Lord’s Prayer without letting our focus stray; how could we ever hope to go any length of time without needing to receive afresh Christ’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’ promise. That is what it means to constantly return to our baptism and live from its promise and power. The sacraments continually renew us to start again. The Last Supper- from the perspective of believers- is truly misnamed. It might be better called the First Divine Meal; a banquet to which the believer continually returns.

When our conscience condemns us who will release us from its accusations? When our companions desert us who will stand by us through thick and thin? When our integrity fails us who will give us a restored heart and a renewed mind? When our frailty frustrates us who will provide the vitality to carry us through? When darkness envelops us who will brighten us with radiance and warmth? When our mortality confronts us who will comfort us with eternal promises? Christ is our Advocate7, our Brother8, our Redeemer9, our Strength10, our Light11, and the broker of our immortality.12 He died for your sins. He won the victory over death with His resurrection. He has ascended in the Father’s glory. He will come again bringing that glory with Him. Amen.

+ in nomine Jesu +

Seventh Sunday of Easter
16 May 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Romans 8:34 2 Matthew 5:44
3 John 17:20 4 Luther’s Small Catechism
5 Luke 23:34 6 Hebrews 4:16
7 See 1John 2:1 8 See Hebrews 2:11
9 See 1 Corinthians 1:30 10 See Philippians 4:13
11 See John 9:5 12 See 1 Corinthians 15:54