A model prayer
Dear friends in Christ,
The overall theme for this summer’s sermon series is “Precious Lord, accept our service.” The Bible says that “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” Our response is to serve him by serving our neighbor, by offering our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Christ made us part of his body, the church. In turn we offer our body parts to him in service. Precious Lord, accept our service.
Two weeks ago we spoke about the hands that serve. Last week we spoke about the hands that reach into your pockets and wallets and give generous, regular and cheerful offerings. We are not going to move away from that theme of hands. We fold them and bend our knees to offer prayers to the Lord, our God.
I put up on the message board of our church sign this week that the theme of our sermon is “A Model Prayer.” As afternoon rush our traffic creeps along in front of our church, I wonder how many people thought that that Messiah Lutheran worshippers would hear a sermon on the Lord’s Prayer this weekend. That’s surely a model prayer, but there are many model prayers in the Bible. Today we are going to look at a prayer Paul prayed as he prayed written to the church in Ephesus when he was imprisoned in Rome . It is “A Model Prayer” as he prayed 1) for faith to know Christ, 2) to grow in Christ; 3) to show Christ.
Let’s be clear on this that there is nothing more important in this world than to know Jesus Christ. I have seen opinion polls to attempt to determine the most important discovery or invention the world has ever seen. It would be interesting to see what you think the answer is. The answers people give are fascinating. Some say it was the wheel, the discovery of electricity, the steam engine, the telephone, refrigeration and agriculture. Some say it is the computer and the internet. Some people answer that question thoughtfully in ways that I would never have thought. Someone said it was the use of coins, a monetary system so we don’t have to barter anymore. Commerce is easier. Many say it was in 1928 when bacteriologist Alexander Fleming found a mold that had killed a Staphylococcus bacterium. It led to penicillin.
As important as penicillin was and is for the history of this world, Mr. Fleming needed to know Jesus Christ. Ben Franklin discovered that lightning is electrical charge as he so dangerously flew that kite in a lightning storm, but he needed to know Jesus Christ more. Only by faith in Jesus can we rest assured that we will be part of the “great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, who stand before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”
In words just prior to our sermon text Paul explains a great mystery. He says that there is a huge difference between Jew and Gentile. While people are diverse, different cultures, different languages, different likes and dislikes, different genders, yet all are the same. All have sinned; all have failed to please God; all deserve one destination for eternity that is no fun to even speak about it; all are in desperate need of an escape from the deserved and righteous wrath of a holy and just God. That applies to everyone. Sin is the great equalizer – man or woman, young or old, Jew or Gentile!
Yet there is an escape from God’s wrath. That comes through a greater and better equalizer that God himself provided - Jesus Christ. Because of him the unholy and imperfect are declared holy and perfect; because of Jesus we are perfect in his perfection. Because of him our sins have disappeared from the mind of God. Jesus bore them on the cross; he was punished for them on the cross. Three days later he proved all this was true when he was raised from the dead. Allah doesn’t do that. Buddha doesn’t do that. No god does that. Only Jesus does. He is whom we really need. He is whom everyone needs.
The people in Ephesus found that out. When Paul was with them, they were convinced by God’s mighty power. In this letter they were reminded of that too. Earlier in this letter that they had all been dead in their transgressions and sin, but he also wrote, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” They came to know him. They needed to come to know him; they were alive in Christ Jesus.
No longer were they worshipping in that 80,000 square foot pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Diana. It was an impressive temple! Incredible! 106 double columns 40-60 feet high made of marble. Marble floors! What a place! Yet salvation was not found there. Jesus was not known there! Diana didn’t provide a righteous life for all like Jesus did. Diana didn’t shoulder the sins of all like Jesus did. Lord, thank you for revealing Jesus. Thank you for allowing us to get to know Jesus. Our prayer is to say thanks for bringing us to faith in Jesus; our prayer is that others would know as we do by God’s grace.
Not only let me got to know him, Paul prays, “But for this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Lord, let me and others grow in faith in Jesus.
While Christians and unbelievers share the horrible problem of sin, there is a huge difference between them, the people of God have a new nature that believes and follows Jesus. Different translations of the Bible call this new nature differently – the new self, the new man, the new person. Paul uses a different term; he calls it “the inner being” here. That inner person is a creation of the Holy Spirit. The inner being wants to follow Jesus. That inner person needs to be strengthened and grow.
There is a fair bit of talk these days that Americans are obese. While that might be true of the physical body, that isn’t true of the inner being that Paul refers to here. Far too many people in our country and around the world need to fatten up. The body we have must be given the right things to eat -- protein, fruits and vegetables. We need to watch the calories and carbs and all. We need a good diet. The inner being also needs to be fed. The inner being needs the right diet – the Living Bread and Living Water of Jesus Christ. That’s how the Holy Spirit strengthens and makes us spiritually healthy Christian.
We need the strength in the inner being to fight temptation instead of being easy prey for that roaring lion, Satan who roams about seeking anyone he can devour. With Word and Sacrament the Spirit keeps us strong so that we weather the storms that assault us in life so they don’t blow us over.
Outward appearances have nothing to do with the strength that is on the inside. Remember the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus. Lazarus outwardly was so bad off that he was cursed to a life of begging and in ill health. Dogs licked the sores that he bore in his body. The rich man seemed to have everything, except what he really needed -- the new self, the new nature that loves the Lord and loves to follow him. By the grace of God, Lazarus, the sickly beggar was the spiritual heavy weight; the rich man was the spiritual lightweight. Lord, give us your Spirit so we grow and remain strong like Lazarus.
Our prayer is that we grow more knowledgeable of God’s love. Paul continues, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” We pray that we are rooted and established in love. What love is it talking about? Is it the love God has for us or is it the love that we show to God and others? We need to know his love before we can love. His love has no limits and is shown in ways we can’t fathom. There is always more of it.
My doctor told me recently that I need to be taking care of myself better. Some of my numbers in tests aren’t where they ought to be. With my family history, I can be in some trouble if I don’t watch out. So I am making an effort to drop pounds. I have a theme for my doctor visits – “shock the doc.” Every six month I see him, I want to him to see less of me. All that is fine and dandy except when my birthday, Father’s Day and anniversary all fall within three weeks of each other!
On Father’s Day I could pick whatever restaurant I wanted to go to. Judy suggested Stony River or Longhorn. Nah! Sonny’s Barbeque! A church bulletin gets 10% off for all the smoked sliced pork you can eat. Sonny’s in Buford! Is there a better place to have barbeque than at Sonny in Buford? That’s hawg heaven! We go there fairly often. It is right down from the place where I get the car serviced. I love getting the car serviced. I remember a server once said on another occasion that when they had an all you can eat sliced pork event, there were two good ol’ boys that came in and ate for three hours. They kept eating and Sonny’s kept putting it out the sliced pork. That’s happens when they say it’s all you can eat.
Let’s look at the deal with God’s love. There is always more. He has more love than Sonny’s has barbeque. We can always go back for more. We will never exhaust it.
When Satan thought that God had to surrender in the Garden of Eden when his temptations took hold in Eden and all creation was ruined, God had a plan of love already set up. A Savior would come in a most unusual way. God so loved the world that the Savior came as a tiny baby in flesh and blood. That flesh and blood he would sacrifice for the sins of all. No greater love can someone show than to give his life for his friends. Jesus didn’t just say that, he did it. He wants us to know that his love endures. The sacrament of Baptism connected you with Jesus so much so that all who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In the Sacrament of His Holy Supper we receive the body and blood given and shed for us in a most personal and intimate way with the promise of forgiveness. His love is revealed to us in this book and contains truth and promises that he promises never to take away. Lord, help me to grow and comprehend your love more and more.
Help me to show you are the Lord of all and the Lord and Savior of my life. Paul closes this prayer with a doxology. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” A dictionary definition of doxology is “an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service.” Isn’t that what we want our lives to be – an expression of praise to our God? His Spirit stirs within us. Scripture says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We pray that with his help and the power that he supplies, our lives would be billboards for the Lord.
The other night in Midweek Oasis we came across a really cool passage found in Zechariah 8. After they were held in Babylon for seventy years, they were free to return. Some did. God was speaking to them and to us as his people as members of the church. “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
Do you hear what that says? People from every nation will look at the people of God and notice what we are like and hear what we believe. They will see. Let them see the Lord. Let them see love and contentment. Let them see a people who know they have peace. Don’t be surprised when someone grab us by the coat and say ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” Lord, let your love show through me too. Let our prayer be the same as Paul prays with some subtle changes,
For this reason we kneel before the Father, from whom your whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. We pray that out of your glorious riches you may strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being,so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And we pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to you, Lord, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us, to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.