Watch & Pray
April 17, 2016
Almighty God, you show those in error the light of your truth so that they may return to the way of righteousness. Grant faithfulness to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's church that they may avoid whatever is contrary to their confession and follow all such things as are pleasing to you.
This morning let us delve more deeply into today's Collect because it has so much to say to us. In it we pray God to "show those in error the light of his truth." But who exactly are we talking about ?
The obvious answer is the entire unbelieving world. Because contrary to human dogma people are not "basically good." The verdict of Scripture is quite the opposite. That people, like so many crack-babies, are born into the addiction of their parents. Born addicted to sin, devoted to rebellion, and at enmity with their Creator. And though we may come into this world in perfect bodily health, spiritually speaking we enter it horribly deformed. Every inclination of the heart of man is only evil all the time. (Gen. 6:5) We have no natural fear, love or trust in God; but on the contrary are born rebels; and the only god we truly serve is our own bellies. That is the spiritual condition of every person born into the world.
But it is for this very reason that God gave his one and only Son to be our Savior. Jesus did not come into the world to fix it, but to save it. He who is Perfect God, became Perfect Man … who by his life, death and death-defying resurrection saved and redeemed humanity form its fatal flaw. He is the True Light that enlightens every man that comes into the world.
For this very reason God also provided holy baptism so that by means of it we might gain access into this grace in which we now stand. So that we might be born a second time. Born anew. Born from above. With God as our Father and Jesus as our Brother.
For this reason, because of the ongoing sins of the flesh he also gives holy absolution, so that those who confess their sins will find peace, and learn that God is Faithful and Just, forgives our sins, and continually cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
For this reason he also provides holy worship, holy communion and holy prayer so that even the dust might praise him. So that men who are made of dust, and will return to dust, can share the immortal life that God grants us in Christ.
Who else do we mean when we pray for those "in error." We also here pray for those who have given up their first love and have returned to the broad and easy road. It happens. But we also know that Jesus relentlessly searches for his lost sheep. He often recovers them by allowing all manner of trouble to plague their lives until that they exhaust every earthly prop, and can find not peace or rest, and there is only one way left to look.
And so when we think of our fallen angels, we should not grieve as those who have no hope. But instead rely on the staying power of baptism. and on this promise: that he who began a good work in all whom he has called, will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is faithful. He will do it.
Who else do we pray for when we speak of those "in error"? We also mean those who are weak in faith. Tempted and torn each hour, assaulted by the devil and filled with sin, anxiety, conflict and doubt. That is to say, we pray for ourselves! That we might gain strength, remain faithful, love the beauty of holiness, and overcome all temptation to believe, or act contrary to our confession of faith.
And so we pray today that God would grant faithfulness to all of the above. To the blind world, that it might come to faith by the light of the glorious gospel. For those who have fallen by the way that they might be restored. And for ourselves. Especially that we should not engage in self-righteousness with regard to other people. Because remember it is the sinful tax collector who went down to his house justified, and not the self-righteous Pharisee. You are no better than the person you disparage: the blind heathen, the fallen angel or any other person. To think any other way is to elevate oneself above Christ who justifies the ungodly by his cross.
But when we pray such prayers we should understand that we are not praying alone. No Christian ever does! First because the Holy Spirit translates our stumbling hopes into prayers that are perfect and acceptable to God. Secondly because Jesus who is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father is always interceding for us. And lastly because as often as we pray, the whole church of heaven and earth joins the chorus as well. This is what we mean by "the communion of saints."
How does this prayer get answered? How do people "return to the way of righteousness, remain faithful to the church's confession, and act in accordance with it?" This is the 'business' the church conducts every Sunday, as she prays God to deliver her from evil, give her the Holy Spirit, and grant her every good and perfect gift from above.
Now we all know that "what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico", but what happens here does not. Instead the grace here given goes out to the world as a "noble army of men and boys, matron and maid" (TLH #452) take to heart what St. Peter says in today's epistle lesson, "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul; and to keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against your as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
This, then, is who we pray for today. The blind world, the fallen, and for ourselves lest we too should fall. It is a prayer that is asked and answered in this holy house today. Glory be to Jesus Christ.