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The Wait of Answered Prayer

Year A, 1st Sunday After Christmas  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Morning Wanderings

I arrived at the church office earlier than normal on Friday. I had taken Abigail to the airport for a 7:15 AM flight. A warm spell brought the temperature to a balmy 16. The below 0 temperatures at the beginning of the week had a way of adjusting my body temperature. The sun was peaking behind the clouds every so often. I plugged in my computer and powered it up.
I enjoy reading articles online about current events. I like to stay current with pop culture even though its craziness saddens me. I also look for illustrations to use in my sermons. A book review caught my attention. It was on Daniel Ellsberg latest offering, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Ellsberg you may recall was the Eric Snowden of his day. He released the Pentagon Papers. Those papers proved that America had initiated the war in Vietnam to prevent a communist take over of business interests. The government leaders also want to stem the Red Tide that was taking over Asia.
Ellsberg latest book is about the “genocidal nature of US nuclear planning during the Cold War.” He helped formulate policy during the 1950s and 1960s so he is quite knowledgeable about the subject. Ellsberg claims that the military had developed a plan to simultaneous attack both the USSR and China thereby generating over 600 million civilian deaths. The planners lumped both countries in the planning.
He helped formulate policy during the 1950s and 1960s of he was quite knowledgeable about the subject. Ellsberg claims that the military had developed a plan to simultaneous attack both the USSR and China thereby generating over 600 million civilian deaths. The planners lumped both the USSR and China in the planning.
The book review also reminded me that the US has never pledged to a “no first strike policy” for nuclear weapons. In spite of the dangers of an all out nuclear attack, both President Obama and Trump have approved a budget of over 1 Trillion dollars over the next 30 years to modernize the arsenal.
After reading that article I was rather depressed. How does a person pray in the face of that reality. It would be easy to glibly say, “Pray that we never have to use those weapons,” or “Pray that the war would end quickly after only a small exchange of a few hydrogen bombs.” Those are the easy answers and the second one is less than satisfying. But the threat of nuclear war is not resolved by superficial cliches or politician’s promises. The heated exchanges between the US and North Korea cannot continue without some resolve and a peaceful resolution does not appear to be an option. The thought of 600 nuclear holocausts is frightening.
Just this week South Korea seized a ship that was used for the transfer of oil to a North Korean ship in violation of the UN sanctions. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un immediately declared it an act of war against the people of North Korea. Nearly every month something happens between the two Koreas or North Korea and the US to keep the flames of hostility between the countries hotly burning.
All this was swirling in my mind when I opened my Bible study software and saw the story of Simeon and Anna. I had been thinking about today’s Scripture passage during the drive from the airport. I was searching for a new angle. I had preached on Simeon and Anna a few times. They were faithful sentinels waiting for the coming Messiah. The term “salvation” of Israel was a messianic reference in ancient Judaism. Israel could not be saved or consoled until Messiah came and vanquished her enemies.

Simeon and Anna

I am in awe of Simeon and Anna. In this particular story Joseph and Mary seem to fade into the background. On that particular morning all that I could think of was their time of waiting before their prayers were answered. What a contrast to my life. I so easily give up after a few days. Seldom do I repeat a prayer request more than a few times. Even those that effect me let alone praying for our President, Governor and other elected officials. I stopped praying for the US to reduce its nuclear arsenal the second year of President Reagan’s term of office. I have nearly forgotten about the victims of Harvey and Irma or the suffering of pastors in North Korea.
Have you ever wondered how those two saints of the faith came to the Temple each day and offered their prayers again and again with such dedication and commitment.
The Wait Required for Answered Prayer

Their Focus

I believe the overpowering motivation for their acts of religious piety can be found in the one word that I have already mentioned—the “salvation” of Israel. They were so overwhelmed with that one promise that they could think of nothing else.
Someone might say, “What a minute pastor, we celebrated the birth of Jesus and his second coming during advent, why are you bringing this up again?” I am focusing on this because unless the return of Jesus consumes us we will not have the proper motivation to continue another year. Every day we should be ready to look up and see our Lord return as he left the disciples on the mountain top outside of Jerusalem.
I think we need to re capture this expectation and assurance of Christ’s return as a driving force in our lives. After Jesus ascended into heaven for the last time, the ancient church would greet one another with the word, “Maranatha.” The word only appears once in the NT.
I think we need to re capture this expectation and assurance of Christ’s return as a driving force in our lives. After Jesus ascended into heaven for the last time, the ancient church would greet one another with the word, “Maranatha.” The word only appears once in the NT.
1 Corinthians 16:22 NIV84
If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!
1 Corinthians 16:22 NIV84
If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!
The single Greek word is a fusion of two Hebrew words, “Come” and “Lord.” The expression is in the imperative form and is therefore a command. The coming of the Lord was the one driving thought of the NT church just as it had been the one thought that drove Simeon and Anna to push their tired bones each day up to the Temple and offer their prayers.
The Psalms would have been their prayer book of choice. It mentions nearly every petition that a faithful disciple would want to lift to God although not in the linear style that we would prefer. Even within one particular psalm the composers can jump from subject to another and then after a few lines return to the original subject. But the Psalms were always the prayer book of the Jewish people for they contain all the elements for authentic praying. There is praise, confession, lament, a review of God’s redemptive work, warnings against idolatry and corruption. The psalms even contain God concern for the poor, the widow, the homeless and the hungry. And sprinkled throughout the Psalms are references to the coming Messiah. Simeon and Ann would have used these prayers.
The single Greek word is a fusion of two Hebrew words, “Come” and “Lord.” The expression is in the imperative form and is therefore a command. The coming of the Lord was the one driving thought of the NT church just as it had been the one thought that drove Simeon and Anna to push their tired bones each day up to the Temple and offer their prayers.

Their Persistence

We do not know how many prayers they offered? The Psalms would have been their prayer book of choice. It is rather complete although not in the linear style that we would prefer. Even within one particular psalm the composers can jump to another subject and then after a few lines return to the original. But the book of psalms contain all the elements for sound praying. There is praise, confession, lament, a review of God’s redemptive work, warnings against idolatry and corruption. The psalms even contain God concern for the poor, the widow, the homeless and the hungry. Simeon and Ann would have used these prayers. They may have also prayed for their family and friends, if any of them were still alive.
We do not know how long they had been going through this ordeal. How many years had they gone to the Temple to wait for a sign the Israel’s consolation had come? Ironically, after Simeon beheld the child he was ready to die. What does that tell you about unanswered? Think of how many years these two saints stood in the Temple wondering when God was going to grant their requests. Their example places a heavy hand of conviction on my heart.

Their Persistence

Another lesson that I glean from Simeon and Anna is their persistence.
We do not know how long they had been going through this ordeal. How many years had they gone to the Temple to wait for a sign of Israel’s salvation? Ironically, after Simeon beheld the child he was ready to die. What does that tell you about unanswered? Think of how many years these two saints stood in the Temple wondering when God was going to grant their requests. Their example places a heavy hand of conviction on my heart.
One of the most common topics of discussion in the Church today is the question of unanswered prayer. Phillip Yancy in his book entitled Prayer writes:
We do not know how long they had been going through this ordeal. How many years had they gone to the Temple to wait for a sign the Israel’s consolation had come? Ironically, after Simeon beheld the child he was ready to die. What does that tell you about unanswered? Think of how many years these two saints stood in the Temple wondering when God was going to grant their requests. Their example places a heavy hand of conviction on my heart.
We do not know how many prayers they offered?
…unanswered prayer forms a barrier that blocks any desire to keep company with God. What kind of companion who has the power to save a life or heal a disease would sit on the sidelines despite urgent pleas for help.” (p.216)
More often than not God appears to stand watching from a distance.
Yancy says that he has a drawer full of letters written by people who walked through catastrophic circumstances, prayed diligently but God chose not to intervene and they suffered horrible consequences. They have given up on God. They do not think that he is trustworthy.
Someone might say that God always answers prayer. He either says yes, no or maybe. To that person I say, what was God ‘s answer to a teenage girl who prayed for her brother to stop raping her and the when their mother found them, she slapped the girl and called her a whore.
We do not know how many unanswered prayers Simeon and Anna had but we know that they waited a very long time but in spite of the wait, they persisted. They kept returning to the Temple day after day. Maybe they had the same glimpse that Paul had about prayer and spiritual gifts.
1 cor 13
1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV84
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
I know that I am not called to end the arms race, to feed all the hungry mouths Lakes area, or provide jobs for every unemployed person in the Lakes community. But I know that I am called to open my eyes and see the dangers that nuclear war presents and to prayer that it never happens. I cannot hide in my comfortable home while young women are forced into the sex industry and remain silent about it before God. Nor can cover my ears to the cries of women who are being physically and sexually abused. My prayer life and my actions must go beyond my own physical aliments to include the social ills of a fallen society. But even as I prayer I know that all of these ills will continue until our Lord returns. So...
Maranatha!!!
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