Sometiems a Prayer is all that is needed.
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the final portion of our Gospel reading where Jesus answers the disciples' question: why could we not cast it out? And he said to them: this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.
Yesterday, we marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I bet all of us who were alive at that time knew where we were, what we were doing. We may even remember a large part of that day. Just like maybe if we were alive during the assassination of President Kenedy, we knew what we were doing when we heard that news. Or if you are old enough to remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor, what you were doing on that day.
I imagine that maybe here at Immanuel, as in the congregation I was serving at the time, that the Sunday following that event, or maybe that weekend, that the sanctuary was probably by and large, quite full. I had seen members I hadn't seen since Christmas and didn't expect to see you until Christmas. People who I rarely ever saw at a Sunday morning service. Something had changed. Suddenly, everybody felt the need, or understood their vulnerability, but they needed God. They sought God's word. They sought God in prayer. Sadly to say, as I looked out at that vast crowd, I said to myself, "Oh, Lord, that this would be every time that Your people gather. But sadly, I know it will not be the case."
And sure enough, after the second week, then everybody went back to life as normal. I guess they forgot that they were vulnerable, forgot that they needed God in their life, needed to seek Him in prayer. Everybody was back to situation: normal. Relying on their good old strength of their own being.
In our text, Jesus has been up on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John. Last week, if you were here, we heard from Mark that Jesus went north, and He was looking for a place to hide. No such thing. Well, He gets up to the Mount of Transfiguration, He has some rest. But now He comes back with Peter, James and John, and guess who was left? The others. You know, the ones whose name we hardly ever hear. And there's a commotion. And as the commotion is going on, they see Jesus coming in, the people run to Him. And Jesus said what are you arguing about? And someone says "I brought my son to you because he has a demon, and I wanted you to heal him, but your disciples were unable to.
And so Jesus asked about the situation. And we can get a sense that Jesus is getting just a little testy in His responses now. Because we'll see, we're growing closer and closer to the cross. And yet, people are still - all they want is somebody to heal, drive out demons, do miracles. By and large, they haven't gotten the message of the Kingdom of God.
And the father's response to Jesus was well, if you can do anything, have pity on us. And Jesus responds: if I can do anything! Anything's possible for those who believe. And the father immediately responds: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
Now, maybe you've found yourself saying those exact same words in some situations in your life, where your faith is tested, your belief in God and His promises in Jesus are tested, and you say, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
Now, think back to Jesus' answer, He takes care of the son, dries out the demon, the people think that the boy is dead, He takes him by the hand, and he stands up and arose, we're told. Just like Jesus took the hand of Jairus' daughter.
And the disciples, when they get in the house ask how come we could not drive out the demon? And Jesus answers, this type can only be driven out by prayer. This type can only be driven out by prayer.
Look back over the text. Was there a prayer said anywhere in that text? I'll answer for you. Yes, there was. Maybe we didn't see it. Maybe it came where we didn't expect it, but the father: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. The father prayed. And because of that prayer, Jesus drove out the demon.
But beyond that, what were the disciples doing? They're probably relying upon their own strength and ability to cast out that demon. I mean, elsewhere in the Gospels, we see Jesus sends them out and they heal people of their diseases. They drive out some demons. But I bet not a one of them thought of praying that God would enable them to cast out that demon. They probably just thought I can do it on my own. I can do it on my own. And how often are you and I guilty of the same thing?
There's a decision that needs to be made. Do we seek God's guidance in prayer? Or do we simply decide on our own? Or if we go to the Lord in prayer, we've already made up in our mind how it's going to go? So we're just going through the motions of prayer. Or maybe we're just too busy to pray. Maybe we're so focused on what needs to be done that we don't take time to pray. Maybe those disciples were so focused on casting out that demon, that prayer never entered their mind.
But God assures us that He always hears our prayer, and He will always answer. Our problem is that our sinfulness sometimes wants to tell us: no, He doesn't hear. How can He possibly hear my prayer when He is listening to everybody else's prayer and a whole world of prayer? We may think it's like 12 people at the drive-up at the same time, yelling their order. How can the person on the other side get the order straight? I sometimes wonder when they got two drive-ups if they get things straight. And sometimes, they don't. But God gets it straight.
And Luther tells us that we, as dear children of God, should go to God in prayer as we would make request to our earthly fathers. Now, maybe things were a little different in Luther's day. Some households don't have fathers. So, the head of the household. But, like, in my home growing up, I'd ask my dad something, and his answer was more often than not: go ask your mother. Go ask your mother. Mother would sometimes throw it back at him: go ask your father. And then we'd go to him, and he'd say what did your mother say? She said go ask your father. That usually meant that they had to think about it awhile.
But how do our parents answer our requests? Sometimes they give us a very clear yes, sometimes they give us a very clear and disappointing no. Although sometimes, a no maybe is really what's looked for because it gives us an out for something we really don't want to do. And sometimes, it's those dreadful "we'll see." We'll see. We heard a lot of "we'll sees."
Imagine going to the drive-thru, at whatever your favorite restaurant is. And you place your order, and the individual on the other side of the headset says to you, "Well, we'll see. Let me check."
Maybe that actually does happen sometimes. Maybe I've just been fortunate enough that somebody else asked for something that they ran out of, and then they can just tell me, "Sorry, we're out of those." Okay.
But we want answers in our time, in our way. Not Thy will be done, but my will be done. And we expect that God will answer us right away.
I don't know of any of you that may do a prayer journal, where you record what you're praying for. And when you're praying for it, or who you're praying for. There's a gentleman, I was told of, he had a prayer journal, and he'd write in there the date, who or what circumstance, he was praying about. And then in the next column, he would write the date when he felt God had answered it. Either a yes or no. And he was sharing this with one of his friends who knew that he kept a prayer journal, and they were thinking about doing the same. And so, he was showing it and the person was looking through it, and they said "hey, what's going on here? I see that this ink and the date and the request are different from the date of the response."
And the man said "Well, look at the dates. And there was 30 years' time between the date it was entered and it was recorded answered. And the friend said "did you really pray for this for 30 years?" And he said, "yes, it was 30 years before I felt that God had clearly answered that prayer."
Now, I certainly can't imagine standing, sitting in my car at the drive-thru for what's the longest? I certainly wouldn't want to stay there a half hour. Let alone an hour. Or a year. But isn't that sometimes how we expect God is going to be? "Pull up to the next window, and I'll have your answer."
And so, maybe people aren't as interested in praying, or feel the need to pray. The question was asked of our young people, or one of them asked does He care about the little things?
There's a member in a former congregation, her name was Grace. She was sort of cantankerous. Sharp-tongued. Once in a while, I'd go see her. And one time on a visit, she said, "Pastor, they all think I'm nuts." And I said "Oh, they do? Well, why might that be?" "Well. I put my keys down and I forget where my keys are. I can't find my keys. I look all over the place and I pray: Lord! Help me find my keys. And there they are!" Or some such occurrence. "And I think I'm nuts. Because why would God care where Grace's keys are, and why would He bother to help her find them?"
God does take care of the little things. In fact, He reminds us that He's taken care of the greatest thing: our salvation. And then all those other things, just they all sort of fall in the proper place. They all fall in the proper place.
This morning, before service out at St. John, three rescue trucks went by with their sirens wailing. Immediately, we tend to want to know where are they going and what's the problem?
I had a seminary professor that said, every time you hear a siren, you should say a prayer. Because someone is either near-death, dying or has died. There's a family grieving or wondering what's happening. There are rescue workers going into maybe dangers way. There's certainly ample cause to pause and pray. Ever since he said that, every time I hear a siren or go past an accident, there's a prayer that goes up.
These cannot be cast out unless with prayer. Jesus is gently reminding us that prayer is important. Why do we not take the time to pray? I mean, we've got plenty of time, don't we? I imagine this afternoon, depending upon how the Packers play, there may be a number of prayers that go up. Unless you're a New Orleans fan. Well then, there may be prayers going up, also.
But we live in a world where we have so many things that are supposed to release our time to us to do more meaningful things. Like pray, read God's word. But all they do is allow us more time for more busyness. I mean, we're coming into slow-cooker, crock pot season. I just love it. You know, you put whatever you want, you dump it into the crock pot. You set the temperature, you set the time. I've got one where I can set the time. You know, eight hours, okay, I don't have to think about it. I don't have to do anything. I can do something else. Once in a while I go in and check, and have to peek the lid, you know? But it frees me up for eight hours to do something else. Which I'll confess, sometimes is productive work, but sometimes it's just busyness. And do I ever think "oh, I could use this time to pray!" Certainly not, I'll confess.
Someone wrote a book entitled "Too Busy Not to Pray." In fact, Luther, he would begin his day understanding had an awful lot to do, and his prayer was: Lord, get me out of the way so You can get something accomplished this day. But Luther understood that apart from God and His guidance and His direction and His strength and His help , made known through prayer, he would be lost. He couldn't rely on his own strength, his own ability. He needed to ask God.
There's a young man. He thought that he would change the brakes on his car, because they were needing to be changed; they were making those squeaky noises. And this was back in the day when you could do just about anything you wanted to on your vehicle: change the oil, cuz you could find the drain plug, the filter and the fill cap. You could change the battery. You could change the brakes. No problem.
So he gets the stuff, and he figures well, this shouldn't take long. It should take about a half hour for each break. So, the first one, he gets the tire off. He wants to take the drum off, but hey, he didn't think of it being rusted, tight. So he goes and gets a hammer. And he bangs on it. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. All this noise. Doesn't really get loose. Bangs some more, still doesn't get loose. Goes, gets some penetrating oil and puts that on there, bangs some more, finally gets it off, but that half hour's already been long gone. Then he thinks, it shouldn't be any problem getting these old pads off. But they wouldn't loosen. They wouldn't loosen. He's like why won't they loosen? Why won't they come loose?
You know that emergency brake? I think it must be a holdover in vehicles from like when they first came out. Cuz most of us don't use the emergency brake, and if we do, it's after somebody tells us "Don't pull that!" And it freezes up on us, locks up, and we can't drive. Well that's the emergency brake froze up and wouldn't let the rest go.
So by now, it's lik four hours. The father's been looking out the window every now and then. Finally, the father comes on says, how's it going? Ahh it's terrible. I just can't get these to come apart. He says, go get a wire cutter. snip this. Everything releases because he had snipped the emergency brake.
So, then the next wheel took a half hour because Dad was watching. He said don't bang on it, just go get the bernzomatic. Put a little heat on it. That'll expand it, and it'll pop right off. You see, the father had experience in changing brakes that the young man didn't. And the young man says, boy, that went a whole lot easier. And the father said, all you really had to do was ask. All you really had to do was ask.
And God says to us: all you really have to do is ask. This can't be done apart from prayer.
A simple conversation with God. That's how the catechism defines prayer. "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." is a prayer.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. Forgive me" is a prayer.
"My, what a beautiful day we had yesterday. Thank you, God" is a prayer.
And our prayers, oh, they should be much more than just requests for something. We like to be praised, don't we? We like to be patted on our back. Oh, that was a good job! You really did a great job on building that! Mothers like to hear "Boy, that was a great meal, Mom." They even like "How about we clean up the table and the dishes!" They really like that.
God likes to be praised, too. He likes to be thanked. And He likes it when we admit that we're wrong and we need Him. We call it the ACTS of prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.
And always: Thy will be done. Even Jesus prayed Thy will be done when the human side of Him probably, if we want to admit it, was saying "Really, Dad, My will be done. Take this cup away from Me." But God's will was done, and that meant a cross. It meant death. But the Father's will was that through that suffering of His Son, through that death, there would be forgiveness and atonement for every sinner that has ever been and ever will be. And that also, for those who would be there would be a glorious resurrection one day.
Lord, help us to pray. Lord, teach us to pray, the disciples asked. But as You teach us, let those words not be empty and meaningless, but may they be thoughtful.
And may Thy will be done. In our lives, in our world. And may the world in which we live find itself not so secure that need not God in prayer. We are always vulnerable. We are always weak. We are always in need of God's constant care and protection. And again, He's only a prayer away. Amen. Now may the peace of God, which surpasses our understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in faith in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.