On this day that reminds us to be thankful for our mothers, Jesus reminds us to pray. That is good. We need both reminders – to give thanks to mom AND to God for blessing us with mom – and dad. Our sermon hymn praises God for faithful mothers. God is pleased when they behave like Lydia, the business woman in today’s reading from Acts. They make it their business to see that their households are baptized, attend church and know God’s Word. Christian mothers live lives that “bear clear witness to Christ, our risen Lord” (LSB 855.13).
Years ago, I noted that we need to work on our thanksgiving prayers, since we tend to pray them so much less than our prayers asking God for stuff. But we need to work on our prayers asking for stuff too. Otherwise, Jesus would not have to tell us, “Ask, and you will receive.”
As Christians, we all know we should pray. The problem is we tend not to do it. When we do pray, it is kind of like when we were kids and we had a problem we could not deal with. We did not want Mom or Dad to find out about the mess we got into, but we did not know what else to do than to ask them to fix it. And so we go to God feeling a little guilty – afraid of the trouble we are going to get into, knowing we should be talking to Him more often than we do.
Various people have encouraged us to be Prayer Warriors. So then prayer becomes a sword, a weapon to use in our fight against sin. Since even the best sword is only as good as the person holding it, naturally we think that is the way it is with prayer – that our prayers will only be effective if the words are put together well, if I am skilled and not distracted or weak.
But no! That is the way prayer may be taught, but that is not the proper Christian view. In fact, I got that description of prayer as a sword from a Muslim teacher. Jesus does not describe prayer that way. In Islam, you better have your life just right, your prayers just right, your holy deeds just right so that Allah will care for your needs. But listen to Jesus say, “The Father Himself loves you.”
And because “the Father Himself loves you,” do you think that now He will deny your prayers because you did not put the words together right? Because you got distracted? No way. How many of you mothers or fathers, if your children asked you for something they really needed would say “no” simply because their grammar was wrong, or because they said hateful things in the past? No, even though the child takes their parent’s love for granted, the love of parents for their children still remains.
And God the Father’s love goes even deeper. It is a tragedy that the worst fathers and mothers abandon and forsake their children. Yet even the best mom in the world finds self-serving reasons not to give her children all the loving care they need. Other things became more important. Sometimes we make the right decision about priorities. Sometimes we must pick the least bad option about which need to meet and which need to set aside. Like with the rest of life, parenting requires sacrifice – and none of us can claim to have made all the right sacrifices. Not when our selfishness remains.
It is common to picture God the Father as a stern, grumpy and strict deity until Jesus comes along. And when we break His command to honor motherhood and fatherhood we certainly give God plenty of reasons to leave us as orphans. But at least we have Jesus, who is nice and smart and knows exactly what to say to change God the Father’s mind about you, to get Him to see it your way so that you get back on God’s good side – about the way that if you were in big trouble with mom, dad might help you by getting mom to calm down – or vice versa.
But that is not the way it is with God. Do not see God the Father as an old grump who is annoyed by you. Jesus says, “The Father Himself loves you.” Because He loves you, the Father sent His only begotten Son to be your Savior, to be a human like you spending nine months inside His mother’s womb before birth. Because the Father loves you, the Son became your perfect substitute and never disobeyed the Fourth Commandment, but honored Joseph and Mary all the way to death. Because the Father loves you, Christ willingly sacrificed Himself on the Cross to pay for your sins – for all the times you failed to treat your mother and father with respect and love and care; for all the times that you moms and dads have failed to be honorable and respectable caregivers. Because the Father loves you – Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
[He is risen indeed, Alleluia] – because the Father raised Jesus from the dead so that you now hear you are forgiven of all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
It is in, with, and under that Holy Name that we pray and we say our “Amens.” With faith IN that name, we use His name not to curse and swear and deceive, but we pray WITH His name as we call upon Him in our times of trouble, and praise and give thanks with His Name. And we pray UNDER Christ’s name. It is almost like we wear a Jesus costume when we go before God’s throne of mercy, as St. Paul says that all of us who have been baptized into Christ’s name are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Ephesians 2:18 says, “Through Him we… have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Luther explains that praying in Christ’s name is the way that Jesus “unites Himself to us, really puts us on a par with Him, and merges our praying into His and His into ours” (AE 24:407).
God’s grace overcomes all our anxieties about praying and gives us boldness and confidence. The Father answers all our worries about the performance and acceptability of our words by listening to them “as if they came from the mouth of Jesus. He is just as pleased with us and our prayers as [He is] with Jesus and His prayers” (Kleinig, “Prayer – We Speak to God”, 44). Luther goes on to explain that “there is really no difference [between Christ’s prayers and ours] except that our prayers must originate in Him and be spoken in His name… Aside from this, He makes us equal to Himself in all things” (AE 24:407).
All of us have room to grow in prayer. We still have much to learn about praying with trust in the truth that you are as much a child of God as Jesus is, praying to the Father like little children chatter on and on with their parents throughout the day.
So we ask as dear children ask their dear Father. “Father, I'm hungry - give us this day our daily bread. Father, I'm lonely and the kids make fun of me at school. Father, I am having nightmares and I can’t sleep. Father, my friends are in a big mess and need some help too.” And in the same breath we ask, “Father, can I have the keys to the car” - which I only thought of praying because Jesus this week says, “Ask” and I lost my car key and need some help to find it. Or you ask, “Father, can I have some candy? Or some cake?” That sounds silly, but many of our requests are for silly things like candy and cake. Yet even these prayers do not annoy God. And God most certainly gives you things in life that you really do not need, but are pretty sweet to have.On this side of glory you always you pray in a world filled with trouble. John 16 is only a few hours away from Jesus’ death, and His mother Mary will see that happen, and she will not be the last mother to watch her child die. That is how Jesus has overcome the world. But you still live in it. Rejoice and thank God for those times when He gives you the joys of this creation – like dinner with friends and the love of mom and dad. But also submit to His goodness and will. We are still children. We do not know best. Sometimes God says it is not time for healing yet – or that it is not time for candy and cake, which will spoil your appetite for the Bread of His Word, or the Supper of His Son. So we wait for Him to reveal His goodness, trusting that He will bring us to Himself in heaven, that Christ was forsaken by His Father at the Cross so that the Father would never, ever forsake you. Because the Father Himself loves you, you will not be destroyed in Hell. You look forward to the happy reunion in Heaven with faithful mothers and fathers– AND children – for Mary will not be the only mother who will see her child alive again after death. Those who have died in Christ will be raised in His glory, so that the arms that wrapped around you in love will hold you again. Because the Father Himself loves you, on the day Christ raises the dead, all your prayers for help and healing, faith and love – and candy and cake – will be answered. Amen.