Monday, February 5, 2024

The God Who Prays

[This sermon was originally delivered at Grace Lutheran Church on February 4, 2024. The sermon was preached for Epiphany 5, Series B and was on the gospel text, Mark 1:29-39. This sermon delves into the topic of prayer, the example of Jesus in prayer, and touches upon how we can expect God to answer our prayer.]

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you, Amen.

Our Gospel text from Mark 1 this morning is full of several mentions of wonderful miracles.  The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is a delightful moment and one we’ll spend some time with in a few moments.  But first, we need to set the tone for our Lord’s miracles by setting focus on a different moment in Mark 1, a moment likely overlooked in our reading.

Mark 1:35 “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”  It seems almost mundane, so common.  Jesus goes and prays.  But we shouldn’t just gloss over this moment.  Sure, it is common, and that’s a good thing.  That alone is noteworthy.  It tells us Jesus did this regularly.  It was normal for Jesus to leave His disciples, to go out alone, to a desolate place, and there He would pray to the Father.  Jesus did this regularly because it was important to Him.  It was necessary.  Even as the Son of God in the flesh, Jesus kept this intimate connection and relationship with the Father.  He prayed without ceasing.

Its also noteworthy He would regularly head out to a quiet place of solitude to do this.  It was necessary to get away from the crowds and the distractions that His everyday ministry had brought about.  And that’s not to say Jesus’ time with the crowds was bad or unimportant, quite the contrary.  But it does demonstrate that rest and peace and solitude are also important.  In our busy world of the present perhaps we most of all people in history might wish to take note of this moment.  We too need these places and moments of quiet and solitude.  Places where the distractions and weights of the world can be lifted for a time.  Places where our hearts and minds might come into focus and intimacy with God alone.  Maybe this happens for you in a quiet room in your house.  Maybe this happens here in the Lord’s house.  Maybe you need to do as Jesus did, and take a walk out into the wilderness somewhere to be purely alone.

It is also noteworthy that while Jesus chose perfectly ordinary moments to find solace and pray to the Father in heaven, He especially took time to pray as the biggest moments of His ministry approached.  Luke 3:21 tells us that Jesus was praying at His baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.  Luke 6:12 tells us Jesus went on a mountain to pray, and all night He prayed to God before calling the 12 disciples.  Luke 9:28 tells us that just before His transfiguration, He took Peter, James, and John up on the mountain. And why did they go up onto that mountaintop? “They went up on the mountain to pray.” 

We can certainly learn from Jesus’ example that pray is important and prayer is good.  Likewise He sets an example of prayer without distraction.  We need those times of rest and peace and solitude to get away from everything that would lead us astray in this world and instead to let the Holy Spirit work on our hearts and lead us in holy prayer.  But there is also another example our Lord is giving in the midst of these examples.  In prayer, we are remaining in this intimate connection with the Father that is so essential to our lives.  Even as the Son of God in the flesh, Jesus found it essential that He, even He, remain regular in prayer and in intimate connection to the Father.  After all, He was here to do the Father’s will.  Jesus sets the tone that every else that we are led to do in this life must be founded first and foremost by prayer and by faith in God.

With this understanding, now we can turn our attention to the miracles of Jesus.  We see a beautiful moment in the house of Simon Peter.  Jesus enters the house of Simon and Andrew, the disciples lead Jesus to Simon’s mother-in-law who lays ill with fever.  We’re not given any indication of the overall severity of this illness.  We simply see the compassion and love that Jesus has for them all in how He immediately approaches her and heals her.  

The intimacy and connection Jesus has with the Father in heaven, He shows He also has with ordinary people like you and me and Simon’s mother-in-law.  He cares deeply for us, and that’s an understatement.  There was nothing special or unique about the mother-in-law that Jesus healed her.  She wasn’t famous.  There was no great reward for Jesus if He should heal her.  He simply chooses to heal her out of love and out of purpose.  This is what He came to do.

This reminds us that there is no care or concern or trouble in our lives that is too small, or too big for that matter, that we can’t take it to Jesus in prayer.  God wants us to pray.  He wants us to call upon Him.  We should never sell ourselves short with silly foolishness by coming up with reasoning like “Well, I don’t want to bother God with something small and trivial.”  Or “God is so busy, I’m sure He has better things to do than listen to my little concerns.”  Or even “Well I don’t want to call on God too much and begin to nag Him … I’ll just wait.”   None of these silly thoughts on our part have any basis in truth.  It is quite frankly impossible to bother or to nag God.  After all, even if we should choose to not pray, God still knows what we were going to say.  He knows it all. You can’t bother the One who knows everything in the first place.  And in our foolishness we have deprived ourselves of the chance to exercise our faith and lift our troubles to Him.

The amazing and deep love that Jesus has for us is clear.  And the fact that Mark’s Gospel tells us that He “healed many” makes His love all the more wonderful.  But there is something about this amazing love that does still trouble us.  As we hear the amazing accounts of Jesus’ healing many and even the individual miracles like Simon’s mother-in-law specifically getting healed, it makes us wonder: what about us?  Or what about our own loved ones for whom we pray, for whom we call upon Jesus to heal them and answer other prayers?  What do we say when it appears as if these prayers go unanswered?  Does God just pick and choose who to heal?  Did Jesus stop healing and giving miracles the day He ascended into heaven?  How do we address these thoughts?

I believe Mark 1:38 helps.  In that verse we hear Jesus say “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came.”  I believe this helps us because it gives us a glimpse into the heart of Jesus.  He very well could have stayed in Capernaum and let the crowds come to Him.  He could have put on quite a show just, probably even made a lot of money, just by staying put.  But that’s now how He works.  He came to preach in every place.  He came to seek out and save the lost.  To encounter as many as would hear Him.  He did come to heal and to give other signs that He is the Lord God and Savior.  And this all points us to the greatest sign at Easter.  The victory over death.  The day when all things will be made new.

When we wonder if we’ll get that healing we’ve prayed for today, by faith, we need to trust in God’s bigger picture.  He may indeed give us exactly what we want today.  A sick person might be healed.  But that’s only a temporary gift.  It won’t last, not forever.  Even Simon’s mother-in-law and her miraculously healed body eventually failed and she died.  Lazarus who was miraculously raised from the dead … eventually died again. While we’re so focused on getting our own personal miracle we miss the point of Jesus’ signs and miracles in the first place.  A single miracle like healing isn’t meant to fix everything, it is meant to point us to the greater signs that will fix everything, Jesus’ death and resurrection. As we fixate on the moment in front of our eyes let us not miss out on the bigger picture of what Jesus has in store for us.

It is good and well to lift up everything to God in prayer, even for the short-term immediate needs we have like daily bread or bodily healing and the like.  God may well answer precisely as we ask.  And He may not.  How God does this and when and where and how He acts we leave to faith.  But what we can grab hold of with certainty is God’s plan for us on the last day, with great hope and trust we know we will have a permanent healing of both body and soul when that Day of the Lord comes.  

By faith Jesus assures us we will be the future partakers of eternal healing and eternal life.  In Jesus we also receive more than just a healing of the body, we also receive a healing of the soul.  And when we have that healing of the soul, which comes with forgiveness of sins, we can know the present joy of Christ and how He has “healed many”.  It is how we can taste the present wonder of Jesus’ healing.  For His forgiveness is ours today.  His love is ours today.  He doesn’t leave us hanging and waiting and hoping only for the future joy of the resurrection.  He comes to us today.  He is with us today.  He loves us today.

To God be the glory, Amen.

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