Sermon for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, AD 2022

Matthew 8:1-13

In football, a long pass to the endzone, usually end of the game is called a “hail Mary” or sometimes “throwing up a prayer.” The idea is that of taking one last shot to win, looking more to providence or luck than skill or strategy. Of course, rarely is such a play done at the beginning of the game, when the coaches rely on their skill of their players and play calling, and no team would throw a hail Mary for every play of the game.

That is fine in football, but unfortunately most Christians approach their lives like a football game. They depend on their own abilities until those fail and they fall behind, and then maybe as a last resort throw up a prayer to God. You probably have heard people say, “all we can do is pray.” The things which we watch and consume as entertainment ingrain into us this view of prayer – it is a last resort and it probably won’t work. As a Christian, is your idea of prayer like this? Is it based on the scripture, the Word of God, or on other sources?

If prayer is our way of bringing our petitions to God, an interaction with God, why would you look to anyone about how or why to pray besides God? Probably because you convince yourself you know everything you need to know. You convince yourself that you are wise and spiritual and whatever you believe about prayer is right. Repent of this, and seek God’s word. Such a self-boasting does you no good! It won’t even help you pray, which is the devil’s goal. He wants to make your prayer seem arduous and difficult, like a waste of time. As you learned last week, the old man always sees the good things of God as arduous, which is why you must continually return in repentance to God’s Word and the Sacrament, where you old man will be killed and your new man strengthened.

How God wants you to see prayer is learned by faith in the Lord’s Prayer, where you pray, “Our Father.” Our Lord Jesus Christ has given you this prayer so you may know what to say in prayer. He not only commands you to pray, but has given you the words to do so. So it is foolish to see prayer as a last resort, if the very one you pray to tells you to do it!

This One who tells you to pray is not just some master, but your very Father in heaven, as Jesus tells us in the Lord’s Prayer. He wants you to come to him in prayer, not as a subject to a king or employee to a boss. The child comes to the father knowing the father wants what is best for the child, and wishes to give him every good thing. If you were raised by a good father, you have a small sense of what this means, and if you had a poor father or no father, you should understand what this means by the opposite of what you experienced. You Father in heaven does not need to be persuaded or coerced, and He loves to hear you ask Him. Bring your needs to Him, trusting that he gives you all good things, and He will hear you.

You may say, “well that is fine and good, but I don’t know how to pray. I can pray written prayers, but I just don’t know what to say otherwise.” First of all, this is naturally going to be the case. Our old Adam does not want to pray or ask anything from God. Yet because you are baptized, you have been made new, and from your new man you always please God with your prayers, because the new man prays in faith. There is no way to earn a right and Christian prayer, our prayer is made right by the work of the Holy Spirit in you. Yet the old man still clings to you and you need practice in prayer to wear him down. Learn to pray by doing. Do not worry about what others may think, but know that by prayer God is pleased and the devil is made furious.

God has not left you helpless there. Here Matthew has written down the account with the leper to show us how to approach God in prayer. The leper’s request shows perfectly shows the four parts of prayer and he brings his petition to Jesus. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

First, the leper knows who he is addressing. He kneels before Jesus and calls him “Lord.” When you address God in prayer you are not only addressing a loving Father, but the Lord of heaven and earth. Not only does he want to answer your prayer, but is able to do anything, there is nothing impossible with him. Therefore, when you approach your heavenly Father in prayer, approach him knowing this is not just some second-rate deity, some spirit, some powerful person, but the One who makes everything that exists live and have being. He is both a gracious and great God and nothing happens that he does not know.

Second, the leper knows this, that Jesus is Lord and can do all things, by confessing what Jesus can do. He says, “if you will.” He knows that as the Lord, there is nothing holding Jesus back on being able to heal him as long as he wills it. So when you pray to the Lord, confess that you know that God can do what you ask. Say to God that you know God is able to do anything and is not hindered by anyone. Maybe God’s will is to allow suffering for a time. The leper admits that it may not be Jesus’ will to heal him now. Perhaps he needs to suffer a cross of discipline to grow stronger in faith. Yet the leper still confesses that he knows Jesus can heal him.

Third, this is what the leper asks, “you can make me clean.” The most important part of the prayer is that you make your requests known to God. True prayer is to make a petition to God. The leper does not come to Jesus with just a bunch of words, but lets Jesus know his need. And this is the fourth part – he asks briefly. For a prayer does not have to be long-winded, in fact it’s better if it isn’t. Trust is built on the fact that you can make your requests known and you father will hear you and do what is best. There is no need for bargaining or cajoling when you come to the one who wants and knows the best for you.

The leper’s prayer is a prayer formed by faith in Christ. Prayer is not something that is a last-chance resort, but a confident request to a loving God. This is not something which is earned, but it is given through the Holy Spirit and you read and hear the scripture. The believing centurion did not have great faith because of some great achievement he had. Like the leper, he knew what Christ could do if he desired it. The centurion’s faith was strong because the object of his faith was strong – Jesus. Therefore He knew that as he could command men, the Lord Jesus could certainly command heaven and earth to do anything which was his will.

This faith Jesus had not seen in all Israel because they did not believe in him. There were many religious people in Israel, who had ideas of what faith meant. They thought faith was long winded prayers in front of many people or doing things to gain God’s favor. This was not strong faith in God, but in their own ability. Like how current ideas about prayer can be formed by movies and pop culture, so was their idea of prayer more from their traditions and culture than from the Holy Scripture. But as Jesus warns, faith in nothing else leads to dining at Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. So putting aside all fear and hestitation, bring your petitions boldly to the one who rules heaven and earth and can provide for all your needs. He surely has your best in mind, and can care for all your needs. Amen.






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