Psalm 111: 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13; Mark 1: 21-28
February 1, 2015
As I said in the children's message, it is now 6 years here as pastor. We had a celebration of 5 years a year ago. One take away from that party was that I tell a lot of jokes...for better or worse. In acknowledgment of my anniversary, here's a repeat: a man was out fishing. He was an older gentleman and as he cast, snagged his lure on low hanging branches. He moved his boat in near to shore and heard a voice, “Psst, Mr., down here on the rock.” There sat a frog. The Frog spoke, “Mister, I'm a beautiful princess under a spell. If you kiss me, I'll become a beautiful princess again and be yours forever.”
Well, the old man grabbed the frog and stuffed it in his pocket and went on fishing. Finally he's done fishing and as he's loading his boat the frog peaks out and says again, “All you have to do is kiss me and I’ll become your own beautiful princess.” The man just stuffed her back deeper into his pocket.
They arrive home and he puts his gear away and then puts the frog into an old aquarium. The frog can't understand this, “What are you doing? All you have to do is kiss me and I'll will be your own beautiful princess.” The old fisherman replied, “Look frog, I'm 78 years old, a widower. I get to fish whenever I like and at this point in my life I'd just as soon have a talking frog.”
In our epistle lesson, Paul tells his readers that no idol in the world really exists. Likewise we know that there are no magical frogs that turn into beautiful princesses. When we study the idea of prayer, we understand it is more than wish-making.
In our series on Max Lucado's pocket prayer, we are addressing how our response can include the principal of prayer taught in scripture. We've covered just about one half of the sample prayer: “Father, you are good. I need help. Heal me...” That's how far we've gotten. Today we will finish this second petition...”and forgive me.” Then, “They need help.” Next Sunday we will wrap up this series...then it is time for Lent already!
In our three Sundays so far, I admit I've gotten off the track and dug into many of the qualities of God we understand when we pray in this way...we are reminded of God as loving father, Abba, daddy who wants us to enter into conversation...”I stand at the door and knock...I will come in.” God is trustworthy, God is good, God wants us to be whole and well in body, mind and soul. And God does heal us, instantly, gradually or ultimately.
“Forgive me” is the next request. I said last week, I'd have put this before heal me. Our relationship with God in Christ comes about because of the forgiveness available to us. We may need to remind ourselves from time to time that God is perfectly holy and has no connection with sin. We, as sinners each one of us, are disconnected from God until, through Christ, we are made clean. And we are made clean when we confess our sins and repent—meaning we determine to commit that sin no more. Jesus said, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
One of Lucado's points in forgiveness is that we don't have to live with the guilt of unresolved sin. “Dig around in the basement of our souls, and what do we find? Wasted years. Perversions. Destructive diversions. Anger at parents or exes. Selfishness. Arrogance. Racial slurs. We've cheated on exams, cheated on friends. The consequences can be ugly.” We can be defeated by our past mistakes believing that we no longer are God's child, forgiven and loved. Then these mistakes define who we are and we may feel that we are a mistake. Remember, God don't make mistakes.
On the other hand, we may try to deny our sin; tell no one, admit nothing, seek the appearance of innocence rather than seeking forgiveness. We build walls around our past and fail to receive God's forgiveness of specific sins.
We may all recognize some part of ourselves in these responses to our failures. But the good news is that we don't have to live with guilt. “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1: 18 KJV) Grace covers our sins, Jesus issues a pardon for our rebellion. Grace is a gift we can't earn, we can't lose; but we can forget it and that's when guilt may overwhelm us. Not that guilt is always bad; guilt can serve as a reminder when we get off track. Guilt can alert us when we are not living life the way God desires.
When we pray for forgiveness, God forgives. When we ignore the guilt and don't ask for forgiveness, the grace is still there but we are no linger living in close relationship with our Lord. So give God your guilt...forgive me...and then tell the Lord what it is you need forgiveness for. Our unison confession on Sunday mornings are necessarily vague and general; we acknowledge our general sinfulness. In your personal prayers, tell Jesus what you've done wrong. “I've done wrong” is not really confession...I lost my patience with my spouse, I yelled at the kids unnecessarily again, I failed to show kindness to that customer today. Confession should isolate the sin and let God take care of it. God has given each one of us the opportunity for a clean start; guilt is not something we have to live with. “ Father, you are good, I need help...forgive me!” And God will. 1 John 1: 9 says it well, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
I need to move on or we'll never finish this series. “They need help.” This is the short form of what we might call intercessory prayers. We pray for others. In and through our relationship with Jesus, we develop a concern for others—we love because God first loved us. And often our only recourse is to offer up their needs to God. Intercessory prayer acknowledges our inability and God's ability. “(God) is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” (Eph. 3: 20) Jesus demonstrated this ability in today's Gospel reading. When Jesus drove the unclean spirit from the man they said, “with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." The Lord has the power and the ability to answer all that we ask or think. It is a good thing to be specific when we pray; as we get to know God better we will know better how to pray for others. When we hold our prayers for wholeness and wellness, we don’t get very specific after the first time we pray for that person. God knows. Sometimes all we can ask is that God's will be done. We have a wonderful example of that in Jesus. We can pray for others in love and trust in the wisdom of God and the power of prayer.
The power of prayer...really kind of a misnomer. In his book Wisdom from a Pastor's Heart, Douglas Connelly shares this story which is so important for us to understand when praying. “A friend of mine said something recently that I've heard many times. He said, 'I believe in the power of prayer.' The more I thought about what he said, the more I disagreed with him. There is no power in prayer. Prayer is an admission of powerlessness. The power resides in the person to whom we pray. Prayer is more than words; it is getting off our knees knowing that we have tapped into the resources of a God of power and grace.”
I continue to stress, prayer is not effective because of how well we pray, the words we use, our wisdom; prayer is effective because God is powerful and grace-full. In that book I just quoted from, the next little saying is this: “You can't simply go to lectures on prayer or read books about it. You have to do it!” Likewise, you can’t just listen to me preach about prayer, you need to do it! That's where the Peanuts cartoon on the bulletin comes in. We can study all kinds of things, but if our studies of theology...or prayers are just studies they don't change lives. This series is not designed to take our minds off our bowling scores....well...I needed it last Sunday. How many times did I say “I hate bowling”? But we did have fun. But this study of prayer is not to be simply a distraction. Our series on prayer is designed to spur us into action, to encourage a renewal in our individual and group prayer lives. And as we study and learn and put into practice the art of prayer, then God can change things. It is not enough to know about prayer, we need to spend time in prayer with our father, with the creator, with our Savior.
We need to remember, God is not a genie granting wishes; God does not change princesses into frogs or frogs into princesses. God is our loving creator and God does change things through our prayers. Sometimes miraculously; sometimes by changing us, sometimes using human means or human beings to do His work. And when God answers it may be that we don't recognize God's providence, God's answers to our prayers in the here and now. But our job is to go to God and trust God. God will forgive us all our trespasses and will work all things together for our good as we love him and follow his call in our lives.
Prayer is a bit of a mystery, there are books and lectures and sermons galore on the subject. And we can all learn more. But the most important thing is to just do it. Spend time in prayer. Amen
Hymn: My Faith Looks Up to Thee 383 PH