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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name[1], he will give it to you.24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

The Old Adam immediately thinks of his flesh when it comes to this great and precious promise of Jesus.  God will give me anything I want.  God as the genie’s lamp.  This is the LORD of His Word of Law and promise.  Wanting, say the death of an enemy, will be heard by the Lord but not given.  The Name of Jesus is holy.  Jesus means God saves.  So wanting someone dead that I don’t like is not asking in HIS Name, Jesus’ Name.  His Name has no sin in it, nor selfish pride, no lust but only pure grace.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Anything to do with the Lord’s 1st article gifts of creation, His second article of the Apostles’ Creed grace of Christ’s redemption and His third article gift of the Holy Spirit and His work and witness through the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, will be given.  The Lord gives all creation, all redemption, all sanctification.  Whatever you ask. Sometimes, He gives not at the times we desire, but at His time.  Sometimes, it will be slow in coming.  Sometimes, it happens in an instance.  . 

“…do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

The Lord’s time is not our time.  In prayer we enter a time apart with our Lord, as the Lord did when He prayed on earth. Now the  road to the Father’s heart has been opened, and they shall entreat, they shall ask, knowing that they will receive, and thus have also the fulfillment of their joy.  So when it comes to faithful prayer to the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in His creation, redemption and sanctification, ask!  Ask! Do not be timid! He wants us to have His joy!

Romans 5:2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Ephesians 2:18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him

From Philippians:  “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

What part of “everything” do we not understand?  Great and powerful forces our arrayed against us daily and daily and hourly we need to pray as the Hymn of  Invocation for today amply sang![i]  The Lord gives us all creation, all redemption and all sanctification and there is  life time to pray!

 “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

“For most of us the prayer in Gethsemane is the only model. Removing mountains can wait.”  All prayer is reflected throughout the Bible but especially in the Psalms, the first and most important prayer book of the Church, in all the ups and downs of life, in our joys and sorrows, through the wilderness and tribulation of this world, His Word in prayer steadies us to be steadfast in His Word.

Names matter. God’s Name matters and eternally so. Names identify who one is.  I would dare say you would probably not buy designer clothes with the name, Ralph Lifschitz on it!  But when Mr. Lifschitz changed his surname to “Lauren”, as in, Ralph Lauren, it sounded a whole lot better!    Names also matter to the Lord in His Scriptures.  His Name we can count on.  “He restores my soul.He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3   Many times the Lord tells us why He does what He does, not for my name’s sake or yours, but His.  His Name is faithfulness.  He stands behind it.  The Lord does not change His Name, yet what changed was His Name became flesh, Emmanuel, God with us in all His Word, in His blessed Sacraments.  It is not a generic name.  A generic product is cheap, His Name is not cheap,but  by His Name He bought us with His blood. His is the name you can trust.  AS we pray, calling upon the Name of the Lord, this is the trustworthiness of His Name is crucial  when all other names, of government, business, stardom etc. fail…and much official Christian religion in it’s slap happy worship craze, false and enslaving doctrines…when the anti-Christ comes, will anyone know?   In the Harry Potter books and movies, it becomes clear that evil is lying in wait, the dark lord who is called in the movies, “He Who Must Not Be Named”.  But evil must be named and even more: There is the Name that Must Be Named:  Jesus Christ.  In His Name we pray and hope and wait.  Behind His Name is His Body and Blood.  He has made you His own by naming you in your baptism. and this is His joy for us all in His Name as we pray, confessing our sins, confessing His praise, confessing His Name.

Today is May Day and the Commemoration of St. Philip and St. James, Apostles.  I think May Day  was a celebration of  spring time, as in, dancing around the May pole.  I would dare say that is a distant cultural memory. But it was the Communists, especially in the Soviet Union that every year would observe May Day with displays of militarism in their official virulent atheism…an atheism by way that is becoming stronger in our day.

The day for Philip and James is so understated  and it’s meaning will undo virulent atheism with virtuous faith and love in the Savior.  What was the main deed  that Philip is remembered?  He brought people to Jesus.  That’s all…and that’s enough.  The Soviets believed in salvation without God…as today’s atheists, and the church in its cultural captivity. For those who don’t know:  the Soviets were praised by the cultural elites in this country in the 30s and 40s.  Che Guevara t shirts are still the rage.  Life on our own terms. Many want a Messiah to be, “…sovereign of the world. IN reality, He was to become the Savior of the world.” (Luther) For anyone reading this of a certain age, the Soviets in their display of armed forces is also a distant cultural memory: thank God!   Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Come and see…in a place of no importance in Biblical, world or cultural history till then, Nazareth.  Nathanael saw his Savior. Philip, James, Nathanael…no power players on the world’s stage but in the Kingdom, great indeed because they brought people to the Savior who loved them from the foundation of the world.  This is still the way of Jesus Christ in the midst of the other false saviors. And you might be part of someone’s divine blessedness with a simple invite to “Come and see”. You can be daily part of someone’s blessedness in prayer for them, asking in His Name.

The Lord gives us the Name which all in heaven and earth will bow down: Jesus.  Jesus tells His frightened apostolic flock in the night He was betrayed call upon my Name to the Father.  I will stand behind my Name as I go the Cross and when you see Me again.  My Name is your salvation.  My Name means I have overcome the world. I will go to the Cross not to wreak vengeance on sinners, as the world wills, but in the vindication of God’s grace for sinners to save you, for My Name’s sake, My Father wills.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[i] “Rise, My Soul, to Watch and Pray”
by Johann B. Freystein, 1671-1718
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

  1. Rise, my soul, to watch and pray,
    From thy sleep awaken;
    Be not by the evil day
    Unawares o’ertaken.
    For the Foe,
    Well we know,
    Oft his harvest reapeth
    While the Christian sleepeth.
  2. Watch against the devil’s snares
    Lest asleep he find thee;
    For indeed no pains he spares
    To deceive and blind thee.
    Satan’s prey
    Oft are they
    Who secure are sleeping
    And no watch are keeping.
  3. Watch! Let not the wicked world
    With its pow’r defeat thee.
    Watch lest with her pomp unfurled
    She betray and cheat thee.
    Watch and see
    Lest there be
    Faithless friends to charm thee,
    Who but seek to harm thee.
  4. Watch against thyself, my soul,
    Lest with grace thou trifle;
    Let not self thy tho’ts control
    Nor God’s mercy stifle.
    Pride and sin
    Lurk within
    All thy hopes to scatter;
    Heed not when they flatter.
  5. But while watching, also pray
    To the Lord unceasing.
    He will free thee, be thy stay,
    Strength and faith increasing.
    O Lord, bless
    In distress
    And let nothing swerve me
    From the will to serve Thee.
  6. Therefore let us watch and pray,
    Knowing He will hear us
    As we see from day to day
    Dangers ever near us,
    And the end
    Doth impend–
    Our redemption neareth
    When the Lord appeareth.

Hymn #446 
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Matthew 26:41

 

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Intro:   Polycarp’s martyrdom on this date around AD 156 deeply impressed the nascent Church and can not be glossed over.   Polycarp was a link between the time of the Apostles and post-apostolic era.  He was martyred when he was 86 years of age by being burned,and when the flames did not hurt him, he was stabbed in the heart.  Eyewitness accounts said the smell was of baking bread.  His name means, “much fruit”.  Below is a short bio from The Apostolic Fathers edited by Jack Sparks of the Eastern Orthodox Church:

“Take the oath and I will let you go,” said the proconsul. “Revile Christ.”

“I have served Him eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “and in no way has He dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Thus the aged and much revered bishop spoke, in full knowl­edge of the outcome. His martyrdom was sealed. His life had stretched from the days of the apostles till the middle of the second century, and on a February day in about 156 he moved on with honor to the church enrolled in heaven.

We first meet Polycarp as the relatively young bishop of Smyrna when the aging Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to mar­tyrdom. It was in Smyrna that Ignatius made that famous rest stop on his final journey, and Polycarp was the only individual on record to whom the great martyr ever addressed a personal letter. In the years that followed, Polycarp gathered Ignatius’ letters and passed them on to others.

Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons in the latter half of the second century, tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of the apos­tle John and indeed knew others who had seen the Lord in the flesh. The witness of Irenaeus is important because he appar­ently grew up in Smyrna. What he says of Polycarp indicates that the bishop of Smyrna was most concerned about the pres­ervation of the orthodox faith. One incident he reports demon­strates the severity of Polycarp’s attitude toward heresies and heretics. Polycarp, says Irenaeus, once met the heretic Marcion on the streets. “Do you recognize me?” asked Marcion. “In­deed,” replied Polycarp, “I recognize you as the firstborn of Satan!” (Adv. haer 3:3,4).

Though Irenaeus hints at several letters by Polycarp, only  one has come down to us. That letter is to the church at Philippi and reflects the same concern for truth and orthodoxy we have already mentioned. His letter is filled with, indeed almost made up of, quotes from the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as the letters of Clement and Ignatius. Some critics have sneered at Polycarp because he is so uncreative and offers no new theological insight. We can be glad he was the way he was. Through Polycarp we have not only a link with the ear­liest days of Christianity, but a faithful transmission of apostolic doctrine as well. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.

Near the end of his life Polycarp made a visit to Rome to dis­cuss with Bishop Anicetus a number of church matters, appar­ently including the date of Easter. The Eastern churches were still celebrating Easter on the exact date of Jewish Passover, while Rome was using a specified Sunday each year. Neither agreed to change, but their fellowship was not disturbed. Before he left Rome, Polycarp, at the invitation of Anicetus, led in the celebration of the Eucharist. The two men parted in full agree­ment to leave their respective traditions as they were.

Last of all we have an eyewitness account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps by request, the church at Smyrna pre­pared a full account, to be sent to the church at Philomelium and other places. This clear and simple testimony of the martyrdom of an aged saint should bring tears to the eyes of any believer. Some have questioned the record because of the miraculous ac­count of the means of his death. But there is great danger in rejecting a miracle on the grounds that “such things just don’t happen.” Some have done so and thus have rejected the mira­cles of the Scriptures.

Polycarp’s last prayer is characteristic of the man and a clear testimony of his faith. He concluded with, “I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ your beloved Son through whom to you with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory now and forever. Amen.”

Below is a selection from The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  Please note that the first Christians were accused of “atheism” because they would not sacrifice to the false god of Caesar, and so they were considered as not believing and thus imperiling the ‘divine’ order of the Empire and the Emperor.

“…the police captain, Herod, and his father, Nicetes, met (Polycarp); they transferred him to their carriage and sitting down beside him tried to persuade him, saying: “Why, what is wrong with saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and sacrificing, and so forth, and thus being saved?” At first he did not answer them, but when they persisted, he said: “I am not going to do what you advise me.”  Since they had failed to persuade him, they uttered threats and hurriedly pulled him off so that as he was descending from the carriage he scraped his shin. And without turning around, he walked along briskly as though he had suffered no injury. As he was led into the stadium with the uproar so great that it [the announcement of Polycarp’s apprehension] was not heard by many….

 Now a voice from heaven came to Polycarp as he was entering the stadium: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” (Josh. 1:6,7,9.) No one saw the speaker, but many of ours heard the voice. And then as he was brought forward, there was a great uproar now that they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended. So when he was brought forward the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp; and when he admitted it, he tried to persuade him to deny, saying: “Respect your age” and all the other things they usually say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar, change your mind, say, ‘Away with the atheists.’ ” Polycarp looked sternly at the whole crowd of lawless heathen in the stadium, indicating them with a wave of the hand, groaned and looked up to heaven, and said: “Away with the atheists!” When the proconsul persevered and said: “Take the oath and I will let you go; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied: “I have served him eighty-six years and in no way has he dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

 Since he persisted and said: “Swear by Caesar’s Genius,” he answered: “If you vainly expect that I will swear by Caesar’s Genius, as you suggest, and pretend to be ignorant who I am, listen (to what I say) openly: I am a Christian. If you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, name the day and hear (about it).”  The proconsul said: “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied: “To you indeed I have considered myself accountable; for we have been taught to render fit honor to rulers and authorities appointed by God in so far as it is not injurious to us [cf. Rom. 13:1,7;1 Pet. 2:13ff]; as for these, I do not consider myself bound to make my defense before them.”

Comment:  Note that what the Christians were asked to do, burn a little incense to Caesar and swear by him is really a ‘small thing’, as it was pitched toward the Church.  As the proconsul said, what is wrong with saying, Caesar is Lord?  Indeed!  It might seem such a small thing to “go with the flow”, do what others are doing which seems so much fun and the like.  But it’s not a ‘small thing’ and Polycarp knew what it meant:  denying Jesus Christ who saved him.  

I like Fr. Sparks’ comment that Polycarp’s one letter shows he was not creative.  He quoted the Bible. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.”   I took a course in seminary, “Creative Ministry”.   We make ministry ‘creative’?  No, the Lord does.  He re-creates us through His Ministry of Word and Sacraments through His called pastors and bishops.  Polycarp was not creative:   he was faithful.  He was a faithful servant of Jesus.  Satis est.  That is enough and Christ will fill us by His grace for us sinners.

Let us pray:  O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil.

Then!  When?  After the Descent of the Holy Spirit, after the Voice  speaking from above had said:  This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well please (Matthew 3: 17).  And since he did everything in order to teach us, and suffered everything for the same reason, so here also He willed to be led by the Spirit into the desert, to meet the devil in combat, and so that no one should be shocked if, after receiving baptism, he suffers even severer temptations: as though something strange had happened; but that he may learn to stand firm and endure with fortitude what happens according to the ordinary rule of our life.

This is the reason you received arms; not to stand at ease, but to fight. And God will not prevent temptations from rushing against you.

  1. And this first that you may learn how stronger you are now than before.

  2. Then that you learn prudence; so as not to be overbold because of the greatness of the gifts you have received: for temptation will steady you.

  3. Thirdly, so that the evil demon, who is uncertain whether you have renounced him or not, may not be left in doubt, through this test of temptation, that you have abandoned him, and wholly renounced him.

  4. Fourthly, that you may become stronger, and more tempered than steel.

  5. And fifthly, that you may receive a kind of indication of how precious is the treasure you have been given. For the devil would not have attacked you had he not seen you now held in honor. It was because of this he attacked Adam, because he saw he was given great dignity. For this reason he attacked Job, because he saw him raised up and honored by the God of all. It was because of this He Himself says: Pray that ye enter not into temptation (Mt. xxvi.41)•

  6. For this reason the Evangelist speaks of Jesus as, not going, but as being led; and this was according to the design of our salvation: implying that we are not as it were to leap into temptation, but, if we are led there, to stand firm against it. And consider where it was the Spirit led Jesus. Not into a city, nor into the market place, but into the desert. For since He wished to attract the evil spirit, He gives him occasion, not alone from his hunger, but also from the place. For then especially will the devil attack us, when he sees us alone and separated from each other. It was in this way he attempted the woman in the beginning: approaching as she was alone, and her husband absent. For when he sees us in the company or others, and united, he does not dare attack us. For this special reason should we ‘come frequently together’ (cf. Hebrews 10:25): so that I it shall be more difficult for the  devil to attack us.

  7. And I add a seventh teaching the Lord imparts through temptation.  It is related to #6:  others have been there and been tempted.  You can seek out a friend in Christ to tell of your struggle. And you can help a brother or sister in Christ when they are tempted.  Temptation occurs more frequently when alone as St. John Chrysostom points out, but we are part of Christ’s Church.  We ask the brothers and sisters to pray, not only when sick, but when the evil one is doing his worse.  And in the midst of this communion of prayer, at the center is the Lord Himself, who has been here and been tempted, and so,
    For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

and

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.1Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
 
8.  And one more teaching:  the importance of the teaching of Holy Scripture.  When Jesus is tempted, three times He quotes the Bible and three times He said, “It is written…”.  Nowadays, He could be charged with being a fundamentalist and so be it.  Jesus, in the flesh, needed the sure Word of the Bible, and so do we.  We learn this in temptation as well, as Jesus taught, “Lead us not into temptation…”.

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Facebook friends posted a CBS article entitled, “Surprising facts about your favorite fast food chains” with this teaser line:

“As Chick-fil-A moves into Manhattan, some New Yorkers are surprised to learn it’s closed on Sundays; but it’s not the only fast-food chain with quirks.”

So it is quirky for a store to be closed on the Sabbath?  At one time, many states and towns had  “blue laws” preventing businesses from being open on a Sunday…some still do even in New Jersey!

Now we have come to a point that the secularized and even paganized media thinks that the Sabbath, for both Jew and Gentile, is “quirky”, peculiar, out of place in our 24/7 world.  In one sense this is sad that the culture is increasingly becoming neo-pagan, but in another sense it is understandable:  that the ways of the Lord are not the way of the world, the flesh and the devil.  It is most certainly true. The Lord’s Way is out of place, and pace (!), in our 24/7 world. Friends in Christ, let’s  be quirky Christians in Christ, through in faith in Him and love toward our neighbor!

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St. Luke 3: 21-22:  

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke alone reports that Jesus was praying before His baptism.  His Baptism was unneeded because He had no need of repentance, as He was without sin,  but He was baptized to bear the iniquity of us all.  He was baptized in this mess of iniquity and wickedness, not to baptize this mess, but by cleansing us to get us out of the mess, out of the mess, cleansed in the water,  to be His. His Baptism was unneeded by Him so we would need His Baptism. He baptized us to walk in the land of the living, and not to keep on sinning to live as religious liars to our Savior in the land of the dead.  He had no need for repentance and in a sense He had no need for praying, except He was found in the flesh to find us. Jesus did not need a prayer, but He needed to pray as He was in the flesh.   If Jesus needed to pray, who was without sin, how much more do we need to pray day by day who have this body of death?  Answer: a whole lot more. Better answer:  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 8)  So the God who prays in the flesh knows how to help those whom He created and redeemed body and soul to pray.  And when we sin, God who is faithful and just forgives as we repent. He needed to pray in the flesh in order to serve us His so great salvation and He does today. From Luther’s Catechisms:

Mankind is in such a situation that no one can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, even though he has begun to believe. Besides, the devil, along with the world and our flesh, resists our efforts with all his power. Consequently nothing is so necessary as to call upon God incessantly and drum into his ears our prayer that he may give, preserve, and increase in us faith and obedience to the Ten Commandments and remove all that stands in our way and hinders us from fulfilling them. That we may know what and how to pray,  our Lord Christ himself has taught us both the way and the words, as we shall see.” 

 He gives His Words of prayer to those He has baptized.  The Christian is the baptized pray-er.  The baptized hold in faith the Father through the Son for us all. For myself the Bible bears out my own experience with prayer, For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, as it is written in Romans 8. “Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s Word, ought to determine our prayer.” (Bonhoeffer, Psalms:  The Prayer Book of the Church).  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words… the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  The Holy Spirit’s weapon of choice for prayer is the Word of God. Prayer is the 3rd chief part of the Small and Large Catechisms, that is the Lord’s Prayer. The Lutheran Confessions include prayers and orders for prayer, the only Christian confession to include prayer orders.  The Lord’s Prayer is the Word of God for us to call upon the Lord.  The Psalms are the Word of God to call upon the Lord.  The Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms is the “opposite of taking (His Name) in vain” (Prof. John T. Pless), the Second Commandment. 

 What are the characteristics of baptized pray-ers and prayers?Formed by the Word and  Transformed by the Spirit,  Scripture, the Word of God  is the content our prayers and so living is praying and serving.

As Luther wrote, the Christ Himself is both the way and the words of prayer.  The Lord shows us the way of prayer.  His Way upon earth began with the physical Trinitarian invocation: 

That is why when I today am baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Son is there with his body, the Holy Spirit with his presence, and God the Father with his voice, to hallow it. (Luther)

 As the fullness of the Godhead was manifest in the epiphany at the Jordan River so the fullness of the Lord was at your Baptism.  The Name of the Lord associates intimately His Name with our Baptism, the only way and with the way of prayer also intimately that the way to begin prayer is in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Baptism and prayer, the Word of God are all together and have been ever since Jesus was baptized.  He is baptized for our forgiveness so that in Baptism we too are the Father’s beloved and He says on account of His Son:  You are my beloved child now.  I have made you my own by My Name and all my ways are your ways as the Son has hallowed you by faith through My Word. You call upon Me, Our Father as My dear children in this I take pleasure.

Luke tells us that at the Jordan River Jesus was praying. Luke reports more times of Jesus praying than the other three Evangelists:

  • Luke 5: 16 and 5:33, when He was alone praying
  • 6: 12, before choosing the 12
  • 9: 18, before Peter’s Confession
  • 9: 28, before the Transfiguration
  • 11: 1, before teaching the Lord’s Prayer
  • 19: 46, calls the Temple, “My House of prayer”
  • 22: 30, He told the disciples He was praying for their faith
  • 22: 40, many times in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • Then from the Cross.

In the Lord’s life we read the way and the words of prayer, every step of His way upon earth and in heaven,”… Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us”(Romans 8).  He came to do the Father’s will.  He was baptized for a fight so we can fight the good fight of faith. He taught us to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Prof. John Pless:

When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying against our own will. We are not praying that God would conform His will (in heaven) to our will (on earth), but that He would align our will (on earth) with His will (in heaven). To pray this petition is to invite trouble!

Jesus was inviting trouble and after His baptism it shows:  Satan tempts Him from His Father’s will, as Satan does the Church. In Baptism we invite trouble, we invite the fight and need to for ourselves and others.

Our intellectual elites have been telling us for a generation that there are moral grays, no black and white.  Then they obfuscate and confuse good and evil, with the subtle suggestion to listen to their erudition to get us out, all around the battle of good and evil raged, clearly and has become worse.  In fact so many of their solutions are giving into to sin, see abortion. When the actual first Star Wars came out I was happy that the movie actually and clearly showed the struggle of good versus evil. Maybe that is Star Wars continuing attraction and that life is one of engagement in conflict. Spoiler alert: in the recent Star Wars, Fin, who only had a number as a name part of the Imperial Storm Troopers, sees the evil he was helping perpetuate, said No.  He flees. He meets a woman who asks him if he part of the resistance. “Yeah, sure”.  Fin did not know it existed. Baptized into the resistance. Many people think the Church is a social club, not the Church militant.  The Lord’s Church is the resistance, the loyal opposition. So, as the Apostle encourages, “…take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

Before Pentecost, Acts 1 and 2, the disciples and Mary and others were praying in the upper room. Most of the chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we are told of someone praying.  Luke may have gathered so many reports of Jesus at prayer, along with the Church because He knew prayer’s importance in the good fight of faith. We were baptized to pray, to call upon God aright, learning His Word which is His will for us and so leaning on His Word.   The Lord invites us ever to prayer.  He teaches prayer and the way to pray. He inspires our prayer.  He intercedes for us.  The Church gathers together, as an arsenal, prayer:  the hymnbook and the good Book.  In the good Book in the Lutheran Study Bible includes the Small Catechism as does the Lutheran Service Book.  Set apart daily a time of prayer.  If  you say, I don’t have the time, pray, Be gone devil, I need to be with my Lord.  Jesus prayed before events in His life, He prayed during events in His life, He prayed after them.  He prayed at all times.  He prayed also out of need.  We can too, and I encourage you to do so, continue to do so and He fights by our side with the weapons of the Spirit,  In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

Reverent hearts, it is an old, laudable custom to commemorate St. Stephen on the second day of Christmas. For just as the innocent children were the first martyrs after Christ’s birth, so also St. Stephen was the first after Christ’s ascension to praise our glorious King Jesus with his blood. Our predecessors used to say, Heri natus est Christus in mundo, ut hodie Stephanus nasceretur in coelo. “Yesterday Christ was born in the world, so that today Stephen would be born in heaven.” This is speaking rightly and truly of the fruit of Jesus Christ’s birth. If the Christ Child had not been born, the entire world would be lost. Thus Stephen’s sleep in death and entrance through the open heaven to the glory of God in eternal life will show us well what great usefulness and goodness we have from the incarnation and birth of the Child Jesus.

Stephen means a “garland” or a “crown.” Think here of our beautiful Christmas consolation. Whoever believes in the name of Jesus is righteous before God and can expect a glorious crown. Devout Christians are “virgins” before God (Matthew 25:1; Revelation 14:4) and have four different virgin garlands. The first is the garland of righteousness gifted. Second is the garland of righteousness begun. The third is the garlandof all kinds of cross and thorns. The fourth is the glorious garland of perfect righteousness.

The ancient teachers of the Church say that the Lord Jesus loved Stephen in life, in death, and after death. First, in life, for He filled him with His Spirit, with heavenly wisdom, and faith unfeigned. Second, in death, for He offered him heaven opened and waited for his soul. Third, after death, for He gave him the garland of glory and set up for him a famous commemoration until the Last Day. These are the beautiful flowers of Christmas. Those who truly love our glorious King Jesus Christ shall be certain of God’s grace in life, in death, and after death. They shall not die, but live, and proclaim the work of the Lord.—Valerius Herberger

 Acts 6: And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen… This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.

The freedmen, or literally, the liberated ones, were possibly descendants of manumitted slaves.  So maybe for them to hear that they will be freed freely in Jesus Christ would have been galling and going against the ‘freedom’ they had sought in their own synagogue and earned for themselves, but in Christ they were truly manumitted, eternally. In front of them and the high priest, in his speech, more like a sermon,  (Acts 7) Deacon Stephen went through Israel’s history.  He  pointed out the way the Lord led them in freedom for Israel only to reject the Lord’s Word and finally that happened to the Messiah Jesus and they resisted the Holy Spirit and the prophets who spoke by the Holy Spirit, and did not keep the Law.  The people did not want to hear any more and they stoned him to death.   Here was a man full of the Holy Spirit who was in love with the One born yesterday Who alone can free, what no law could free.  We could sing today, On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Himself:  Jesus Christ.  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).And the Lord said before He died, “Father, in Thy hands I commend my spirit” and “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”. 

It is recorded that Stephen’s face shined like an angel’s (6: 15).  “Angel” means “messenger”.  Stephen was a messenger of the message of glad tidings of Jesus Christ. People will misunderstand both the message and the messenger and think by killing the messenger, they will kill the message, but they can’t.  Pope Francis does not want his church to evangelize the Jews, funny, since that is what Stephen did.  Even if Church and State try to stop the message, it has not worked yet, for the Lord, even through the blood of His saints, wants all men to come to the knowledge of Christ and His Name to free all men and women.

Hymnody

Jesus! Name of priceless worth

To the fallen of the earth

For the promise that it gave,

“Jesus shall His people save.”

—Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love (LSB 900:3)

Prayer of the Day

Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (emphasis added), St. Luke 21: 36, from the Gospel Reading, 1st Sunday in Advent, Year C

In Advent, and at all times:  to whom or what do we bow our heads and fold our hands and pray? 

“What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? 2] Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. 3] If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.” (The Large Catechism, Explanation of the 1st Commandment, by Martin Luther)

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