Grace and peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to begin tonight by telling you the story of two pastors named Pastor Phil and Pastor Tom. Pastor Phil worked as a hospital chaplain, and Pastor Tom was the associate minister at the church where Pastor Phil attended.
Pastor Tom’s wife Shirley was very sick. The prognosis for Shirley didn’t look very good at all. So Pastor Tom and Shirley pursued every medical course imaginable as a way to bring healing.
Around the same time, Pastor Phil’s wife Kate also had become very ill. Kate was a bit different from Shirley though in that she didn’t seek to pursue traditional medical healing. Kate believed instead that the power of prayer would lead to her survival. In other words, Kate believed that if she trusted in God enough then she would be healed of her ailment. As the months passed, Kate grew well against all odds, whereas Shirley would pass away.
Soon after Shirley’s death, Kate was talking to a grieving Pastor Tom. Pastor Tom had taken Shirley’s loss especially hard because she was his one constant support throughout years of the ministry. Kate is hoping to be helpful when she informs Pastor Tom that the reason she lived and Shirley died was because Shirley had relied on traditional medicine, instead of the power of prayer. Kate’s statement outraged Pastor Tom because Tom and Shirley had prayed, they had visited doctors, they were devout in their faith, and yet in the end no healing had come Shirley’s way. All Pastor Tom got to hear afterward is that his lonely nights were taking place because his faith wasn’t strong enough. Bad feelings existed between Pastor Phil’s and Pastor Tom’s family from that day forward over the power of prayer.
So we ask on this evening “Why did God heal Kate but not Shirley?” The simple answer to this question is that God willed to bring Shirley into his presence, before Kate’s work on Earth was done.
The story of Kate and Shirley though points how we often misunderstand healing as Christian people. Kate was healed this much was true; Kate also died a very painful death nearly a decade after Shirley. Kate’s belief in faith healing only worked for so long. For whether one believes in faith healing or not, everyone must admit that faith healing is merely a temporary solution. The true healing work of God takes place within Resurrection where the body is born again free of the decays that corrupt it within this world.
For when Jesus engages in healing miracles through the Bible. The overall point of these miracles was not to verify the faith of the individual recipients, who often came more diverse variety of faith backgrounds than Lutherans and snake-handlers. The point of healing miracles was the point toward God’s ability to restore life when it was thought to be impossible. The context of any healing miracles within the Bible’s pages is to point towards Christ’s Resurrection.
God’s pouring out of physical healing is a rare occurrence even throughout the Christian scriptures. For example in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians, The Apostle Paul pleads to take away a physical ailment (often assumed to be epilepsy) on three separate occasions to the Lord. Paul kept hearing a “no” from God in response. The Apostle Paul eventually comes to terms with God’s response by citing one of the most important lines in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 saying
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
For Paul’s point is that God’s plan for our lives doesn’t consist of serving as our personal genie. God’s will can only be made known at the moment of our salvation. It is in our own unique struggles and hardships that the need for God’s grace is made known.
We can be comfortable with prayer and advocate for prayer while acknowledging that it does have limits. In 1 Timothy 5, Timothy had been suffering from common medical ailment of an upset stomach. Paul’s advice to Timothy is not to rely on faith healing/prayer, but rather to use the traditional medicine of wine.
For nowhere in the scriptures does God give a promise of healing if you have a certain amount of faith. The one great spiritual truth is everyone dies. The twelve disciples all often died in brutal fashion, the Apostle Paul died, and Kate even died after thinking that she possessed the ability to overcome death.
So the question comes then “Why do we pray?” We don’t get the answer to this question.
As we reflect, we remember that throughout the New Testament, Jesus warns against certain types of prayer. Jesus warns against making massive public displays of your prayer-Matthew 6:5. Jesus warns against babbling on like Pagans, who think God will hear them because of their many words- Matthew 6:7. Jesus condemned the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18 for using his prayer as means to demean the sinfulness of others.
So when Jesus condemns prayer throughout the scripture. Jesus is saying that one has a misunderstanding of prayer if they make it about themselves. We misunderstand prayer if it’s about how much you can do for God. Prayer is not a saving work.
Within Confirmation, we’ve talked about the question of praying at school lunchrooms. Bowing your head for a moment of silent reflection and gratitude would be an appropriate use of prayer. Standing on the table and praying to smite the heathens in your math class would be an inappropriate use of prayer.
As we reflect on prayer tonight, we remember that Jesus openly speaks of the power of prayer throughout the New Testament.
“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer”-Matthew 21:22
Jesus isn’t promising you a million dollars or that you will never get sick as long as you pray within this verse. What Jesus is promising instead is that those who call on his name shall receive the Kingdom of Heaven.
For our prayers are answered when we turn from our sinful ways of trusting in ourselves and seeking to run the world in our image and instead place the focus on seeing God’s Kingdom built instead.
With these things in mind, Jesus tonight gives us an example of how to pray in his Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer is a terrific prayer for a couple reasons. Number one, It’s simple, it says all that we need to say in any prayer. The Lord’s Prayer serves as our prayer when we don’t even know the words that we should pray. Number two and most important is the Lord’s Prayer teaches us a proper understanding of prayer by placing the focus on God’s work rather than our rewards.
For the power of prayer in the scriptures is revealed perhaps best through the story of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s story like the story of many people is a story of hard times. Decades before Nehemiah’s birth his homeland of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians. Nehemiah’s ancestors were forced into exile and scattered from their friends and the family for decades. Eventually though the Babylonians fall at the hands of the Persians. Persian rule would begin to allow the Jewish people to return home. The Jews were returning home to a land that was in shambles. The Jews were returned home to a land that gates burned down, and the walls had been broken down as a result of war. Nehemiah upon hearing this news is devastated. Nehemiah began to weep for his people. In a final act of desperation, Nehemiah turns to prayer calling out for help.
God soon answered Nehemiah's prayer but not in the way he expected. The Persian King Artaxerxes decided to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem as its governor upon hearing of Nehemiah’s sadness.
Nehemiah’s move was not going to be easy. Nehemiah was enjoying a good life as cupbearer to the Persian king. Nehemiah was walking into a situation like the new football coach whose team hasn’t won a game in three years. Nehemiah upon entering Jerusalem faced opposition from his people. Nehemiah saw people tired of being beaten down by years of losing, who didn’t think anyone could rebuild the wall. The People of Judah didn’t believe that God was watching out for them after years of suffering. Soon with God’s help, Nehemiah completed the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding the broken wall within 52 days. Nehemiah’s story points to how God answers Prayers, even if we can’t necessarily envision how he answers them.
The essential point that Luther makes about prayer in the Small Catechism and the central belief of the Lutheran faith is God’s will cannot be stopped, even in the seemingly most impossible of circumstances.
For when we call on the Lord in prayer, his answer may not always be clear. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says as Christian people that “We live by faith and not be sight”. These words serve as an excellent description of our prayer life. The answers to prayer might not always come to us in dramatic or visual ways, yet God promises to hear our prayer. For in the words of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”.
So to “Live by faith” means the proof of God’s work in the world isn’t always to be obvious. To “Live by faith”, we take hope that God’s ways can only be made known through his Gospel. The Gospel promises assure us of the words of Romans 8:28 “God works all things for good of those who love him”. What we remember tonight is that the ultimate sign of God’s grace takes place not in extending our stay in this world, rather God’s grace will be revealed in the world that is to come. Inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven is how God ultimately answers our prayers. Amen.
 The following tale is based on a true story involving pastors and people that I know. I used different names to protect animosity.
 1 Timothy 5:23
 The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14.
 The following is a historical overview of the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is the last written book of the Old Testament composed about 400 years before the Birth of Christ.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.