Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Lent 2 – Reminiscere (March 8, 2009)
For an audio MP3 of this sermon, CLICK HERE
TITLE: “Prayer Answered”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel lesson just read from Matthew 15.
Why do we pray? That’s a question we’ve been wrestling with in catechesis at school this week. Why pray? If God knows everything, if He knows our problems before we even have them, aren’t we wasting God’s time by praying, not to mention our own? If you have ever struggled with prayer, you know what I am talking about. Prayer for the Christian can easily become rote, just one more thing to do in your list. And it isn’t too hard for it to move from being rote to not being there at all. After all, God knows what I need. Why should I mess with the system? Let him do His job, and I’ll try and slog through this down here on my own.
Our catechism seeks to answer this question for us. Basically there are two reasons we pray. Here’s the first one:
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.
In other words, we pray because God asks us to. Now to be fair, he also commands us to do this. But He commands us because He knows what great benefits prayer gives to the suffering Christian. A number of scripture passages come to mind, Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me. God commands us to pray because we are His baptized children. And as His baptized children, we have a place in His holy kingdom. We have a place at the table, with the dinner conversation. So God commands us to pray, to bring our confessions and thanksgivings and praises and requests to Him. Why? Because He longs to hear them. God loves to hear your prayers. He is the doting father, listening and responding to the needs of His beloved children.
That brings us to the second reason we pray. Luther gives us this answer in the conclusion to the Lord’s prayer, where he is answering the question of what amen means:
This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen, means, “yes, yes, it shall be so.”
We pray because God invites us and commands us to pray, and we pray because God promises to hear us. Think of that! You have the ear of the king. You are royal sons and daughters, who can enter into the throne of grace whenever you want, and know, no matter what happens, that God will not only hear your prayers, but answer them. That is why prayer is such a great and mighty gift. We live in a world of living on hold, talking to machines, pushing buttons in the hopes of having your problems solved. We can use a personal touch, a ready answer, and a sure promise today. That’s what God gives us in prayer. He does this not because we’ve earned it, but because of who He is, and because of who we are as his beloved adopted children.
So keep all of that in mind as we examine our text for this morning. We have a Canaanite woman. She was alone. Her husband is no where to be found. We don’t know how she lived or what she did, and her daughter is vexed with demon possession. She is a foreigner living among Jews. We can hardly grasp that level of problem. How do you help someone who is possessed?
But she goes to Jesus. Jesus, the Son of David, can help her. She had heard of His mighty works. He had healed the sick, fed thousands from the bread of His hand, preached, taught, and yes, He had cast out demons. Surely He could help her. It was her only hope. She went, and she asked, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is severely demon possessed. It was prayed in faith in Jesus. She asked for what she needed. She plead on the basis of His mercy, and not her worthiness. Everything was right. Slam dunk.
Only He ignores her. The answer didn’t come when she wanted. But she doesn’t give up. Faith clings to God’s Word and promise, despite all appearances. She keeps pleading, to the point where the disciples cry out, ““Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”” (Matthew 15:23 ESV) You can imagine the scene. We don’t care if you heal her daughter or not, just get her out of here! If we’re honest with ourselves, that’s how we are with other people prayers sometimes. I just don’t want to hear about their problems. God, please heal them so that I don’t have to listen to it anymore! God help us.
But the more the disciples tell her to be quiet, the more she cries out. Finally, Jesus answers the disciples and says, I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It sounds like Jesus is saying no to her, but she keeps crying. In fact, she gets on her knees, worships him and says Lord, help me! Then Jesus says, it isn’t good to take the food from the master’s table and give it to the dogs. Aha, says this woman of prayer. Now I have caught Him in His words. Yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table. She had caught our Lord. Of course, he wanted to be caught. But caught Him she had. She knows that God’s mercy is for her, not because of her worthiness, but because God’s nature is to show mercy and pity. God loves to take care of his children. Even the foreigners. Even the little dogs.
So now, take this story of persistent prayer and fold it back into what we learned about prayer at the beginning. God commands us to pray. He invites us to pray. He promises to hear us. But what He doesn’t promise is that His answer will be swift, or easy, or spectacular like we would want. He promises to take care of us, and to give us what we truly need. For this woman, it meant peeling away all the layers of false security that she or anyone else might have in their own personal worthiness to receive God’s help. The same may be true for you. It may be that prayer for you is more wrestling that singing and joy. It may be that God doesn’t seem to answer in the way you want, in the time you want. That doesn’t mean God won’t answer. It means that His answer is going to be bigger and better than you can even imagine.
How do we know this? No matter what your need, no matter what your prayer, what you truly need is Jesus, delivered to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. And here He is, right at this altar. Week after week, year after year, God is answering the prayers of His people from this place. He gives you want you need for all eternity, so that as you go through the changes and chances of this life here on earth, you heart may be fixed where true joys may be found.
So come, receive the crumbs from the master’s table. Come to His holy altar, be fed, have your prayers answers. Come, for all is ready. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.