Perseverance in Prayer Luke 18:1-8 October 16, 2022

Prayer is a common theme running through today’s Scripture readings, so that’s going to be my focus this morning. I want to start by saying what prayer isn’t so we can more clearly talk about what it is.

 

First, prayer is not an act of speaking vertically into the skies to a distant god “up there.” Perhaps we know this intellectually, but at a deeper pre-reflective or emotional level, many of us probably believe otherwise, and our prayer lives may reflect it.

 

Secondly, prayer is not something we do to change God’s mind or get what we want. Again, we may pay lip service to knowing better, but for different reasons including simple human nature, on a deeper level we may find that we do in fact believe this to some degree or another.

 

These two mistakes about prayer come naturally and easily to us because we find it difficult to believe in God’s unconditional love and forgiveness given to us freely through Jesus Christ. Our deeply entrenched sense of alienation from God, our fears that God is not on our side, result from the distorting effects of original sin. Jesus came to heal our alienation and to correct our thinking. Throughout his teaching ministry he contrasted the reality of God’s love for us and the liberality of his goodness with our fearful delusions of a stern, miserly, and distant god. Therefore we must hear the Gospel proclaimed to us often, immerse ourselves in Scriptural teaching, and of course pray.

 

Jesus says the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). This is a beautiful passage because in one brief sentence Jesus obliterates our false ideas of a distant or impersonal god with the truth that the Holy Trinity resides within each of us. At the core of your being, in the deepest most fundamental aspect of who you are, there resides the God who created you and loves you unconditionally.

 

This is now our starting point for being able to talk about prayer. I think that at its most fundamental level, prayer is our reply to God who calls us by name from the depths of our own being. Saint Paul says our spirits crying out to God, “Abba, Father,” and God’s Spirit will testify to us that we are his children (Romans 8:15-16). At all times and everywhere, God is tenderly inviting us to draw close to him as we would to a loving father whose goodness never fails. And even when we don’t know how to pray, Scripture assures us the Holy Spirit makes up for our shortcomings and intercedes for us (Romans 8:26).

 

As we draw nearer to God through prayer, what is finally revealed of us is what we always were in the eternal eyes of our Creator (1 Corinthians 3:9-15). Therefore perseverance in prayer is of the utmost importance. Jacob persevered all night wrestling with a mysterious man, not deterred even by a painful injury. As the rising sun drove away darkness, Jacob realized he was wrestling with God, who renamed him Israel and blessed him, thus altering Jacob’s identity and destiny in what was actually the realization of who Jacob was meant to be all along.

 

Even when we fail to persevere in prayer, God never ceases to invite us to himself again and again. Scripture says, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Take heart, because the God we worship is the same who instructed us to forgive unconditionally without limit (Matthew 18:21-22), who cried out from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

 

Finally, prayer is rooted in the good news of God’s love given freely to us in Jesus Christ. We don’t pray so God will forgive us and save us. We pray because God has already forgiven us and saved us. We confess our sins because we’re already forgiven, reconciled with the Father by the blood of Christ (Romans 5:10).

 

This is our hope as we gather each Sunday to pray with one mind and voice through the liturgy, and to be united to one another in Christ as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. In holy baptism we are united to Christ and to one another, and we know we share in the same Spirit (Romans 6; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 3:21). In the Lord’s Supper we receive the body and blood of Christ and all his benefits, the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life. Through this sacrament we abide in Christ and are strengthened to do his will. Receiving the Lord’s Supper is itself a prayer without words, a source of strength to continue our communion with the Lord in prayer after the conclusion of the liturgy.

 

Let’s now give thanks to our Lord and continue the liturgy which is the offering of our prayers as one family in Christ.

Sermon by:  Steven Lahr, Saint Michael Lutheran, October 16, 2022

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