A Good Daily Prayer
This sermon series started out titled "Pray Without Ceasing" and was modified to "Pray About It." Would a more accurate modification be "Without Prayer?" Isn't it true that for many of us our prayer life is no more than "O my God!" and a table prayer when we remember?
But daily prayer is a must as our petition tonight proves. Jesus commands us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." If Jesus hadn't specified "this day" and "daily," a once a week, month, or even a once a year prayer for bread would have been sufficient. And please note since the command to pray for daily bread is joined to six other petitions all of them are daily too.
How many of you even say the Lord's Prayer once a day? Luther said it should be said 3 times a day. The Scriptures commend much more frequent praying than any of us do regularly. Psalm 55:18 mentions praying at morning, noon, and evening. Psalm 119:164 mentions praying 7 times a day. Daniel prayed 3 times a day. Finally Paul gives the New Testament command, "Pray without ceasing." To tell you the truth, I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I do know that it doesn't mean pray infrequently, pray only in times of trouble, or pray when you feel like it.
Of all the Scriptural examples of people at prayer, our Reading tonight most fits us. The disciples were commanded by Jesus to watch and pray. They must have watched some because they passed down for the record that Jesus' soul was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death;" that He asked the cup of God's wrath be taken from His lips if the Father willed it; they also passed down that an angel came and strengthened Him so that He could withstand the full weight of death, hell, and damnation on His holy head as these pressed great drops of blood from His pores.
The disciples were commanded to watch and pray, and they did what we do. We watch: we see how Jesus suffers at the hands of the world. We see how every imaginable perversion, false faith, and outright lie is preferred to Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. And we do what the disciples did: we sleep. Luke tells you that they slept rather than prayed because they were sorrowful. Sleep brings more relief than prayer in a world where suffering, discouragement, and despair preach sorrow into your head.
Wait, wait; let's back up. We won't find motivation to be people of prayer from those who failed at it. We'll find it in Jesus and the prayer He gave to us. What was Jesus teaching us to pray for when He taught us to say, "Give us this day our daily bread?" According to our Catechism, we are asking the Father to lead us to realize that He certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers even to all evil people. This takes daily prayer out of the "must," "have to," "ought to," category. The Lord doesn't tell us to pray this petition each day or else He won't give us daily bread. How could that be? Look around you. Muslims who don't pray to the true God nevertheless get daily bread. Atheists who don't pray at all get it, and so do criminals, perverts, and prisoners.
Let's state the reality in terms of the Lord's Prayer. Even those who don't call God Father, want His name hallowed, or His kingdom to come get daily bread. How much more the Father's children? Ever even for a good reason sent a child to bed with no desert? If it all but breaks our fallen hearts, let us not think the holy heart of the Father could ever deprive us of daily bread for no reason, for evil reasons, or for forgetfulness. If those who use God's name recklessly, faithlessly, unbelievingly, still get daily bread, how much more those Baptized, bodied, and blooded to that name. If those who deny the kingdom, persecute the kingdom, or ignore the kingdom, are still given daily bread from the King, how much more those Jesus said it was the Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom?
The Lord wants us to pray daily "give us our bread," for our benefit not His. He wants us to realize each day that daily bread is totally a matter of His grace, not our goodness, not our work, not our planning, not even our faith. Moreover, God would have us pray this petition to lead us "to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving."
You heard the list of things that we mean by daily bread. We ask for not just food, drink, clothing and shoes; not just house, home, land and animals, but a devout spouse, workers, and rulers; good government, weather, and friends; peace, health, and self control. In your opinion, the government might not be so good, and who would think last summer's drought was? We pray in this petition that whatever the daily bread the Father gives us we receive it with thanksgiving. This takes nothing less than a miracle so big it radically impacts the rest of your life.
Only one who has prayed "Thy will be done" can receive his or her daily bread with thanksgiving, but only one who has heard his Savior pray that prayer from the depths of hell, grief, and pain can say, "Thy will be done." Picture this: a Christian stands before a suffering, dying, troubled love one knowing exactly what he wants and they need, but from his lips comes, "according to Thy will," "as You will," "yet not as I will, but as You will." Where does that come from? Not from his heart or faith, and certainly not from his will. It comes from Gethsemane. If the Perfect Son of God could be so cornered by sin, death, and the Devil, that He had to cast Himself on the will of the Father rather than His own, we know us imperfect children need to as well. In such painful, frightful, dangerous circumstances, we get to flee to the will of God which is always good and gracious rather than our own will which is often conflicted and self-serving.
Thanksgiving for daily bread comes from Gethsemane in another way. We see there that the Father's will was to crush His Son to get every last drop of holy blood needed to fill a baptismal bowl, to cover up your sins, to feed you for eternity. That wasn't good for Jesus but it was certainly good for us. Given a choice between what was good for Jesus or good for you; the Father chose what was good for you. Thanks be to God!
Still can't see your daily bread thankfully? True some of you have daily bread in a loaf mixed with pain, worries, family troubles, doubts, despair, medical troubles, and more. It's one thing, as in the painting, to see before you a slice of cheese and a crust of bread and be thankful. It's quite another to see a slice of worry and crust of chemo and say, "Thanks." That takes a miracle. A miracle you shall have.
Go to dark Gethsemane. All the forces of hell gang up on Jesus. The spirit of worry, of fear, of depression, of despair. The unnamed fears in the back of our minds and the horrors in front all swoop and swirl around Jesus. And so does the cup of God's wrath. The Father approaches the Son holding a cup of wrath against your real sins. Don't think it makes it easier for Jesus to drink it because He's innocent. If you're innocent but a court considers you guilty of a capital crime, your innocence makes the walk to the gas chamber harder, more painful.
The wormwood and the gall in the cup is from your sins. All the times you haven't prayed. All the times you slept in sorrow rather than watched and prayed. All the times you actually thought to yourself, "What good will prayer do?" Or even worse you thought, "What good will prayer do" and still had the temerity, the nerve, the out and out unbelief to pray anyway! All that is swirling in the cup the Father is handing to the Son, and all Jesus has to do is pitch you out of the kingdom to avoid drinking it. No, kingdom for him; he seldom prays. No kingdom for her; she prays without hope.
To give you, to win for you the kingdom, Jesus drinks the cup. He seals the deal, so that every drop of baptismal water, every word of Absolution, and every molecule of the Body and Blood of Jesus in Communion gives you the kingdom. And since you have the kingdom, you know without a doubt you have all the daily bread you need. Isn't that what Jesus promises in Matthew 6? "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." In the Lord's Prayer you seek first that the Father's kingdom come, therefore all the daily bread you need is given to you. Thanks be to God!
Almost but not quite to the point of realizing you don't "have to" pray daily for bread but "get to" so you can receive it with thanksgiving? See in the reading how Jesus was deprived of daily bread. Rulers who were neither devout or faithful sent soldiers to arrest the innocent Jesus. Bad government rubber stamped the findings of kangaroo courts against Jesus. His friends certainly weren't "good" when they fell asleep even as they saw and heard His desperate struggles. Your sins caused all of this to happen to Jesus. Your sins deprived innocent Jesus of His daily bread. To pay for your sins, Jesus got unfaithful rulers, bad government, and faithless friends. Therefore, your sins all of them - are now paid for.
This means that when your daily bread has difficult things or lacks things you dearly want or need, it can't be to pay for your sins regardless of how hugely they loom in your mind, how loudly the devil shouts them in your ears, or how sharply they jab your heart. Whatever is or is not in your daily bread of this you can be sure: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ guarantee that your daily bread serves your going to heaven. The Father promises this and faith responds, "Thanks be to God!"
And suddenly whatever our daily bread may be it becomes to us the bread of heaven, of angels, of salvation. In this sense, I think Kierkegaard was right when he said, "'Prayer does not change God but changes him who prays'" (Acker, Teach us to Pray, 84). I pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and then what God gives me looks different. I need such a change of attitude, of perspective, of faith even as I need my bread: daily. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent Midweek II (20100224); Lord's Prayer IV; Passion Reading II