The Prayer We Don't Want Answered
Garth Brooks thanked God for unanswered prayer. We too don't want one particular prayer answered. In the Introit we pray: "Show me, O Lord my life's end and the number of my days." We don't want God to answer that, do we?
Why? Because we don't like to think about our death. Every year dating back at least 20, we've been told the life expectancy of the average American is" We take life expectancy as divine prophesy or at least destiny. We're no different than the Rich Fool. He concluded that because his money told him he had plenty of time to live, he did. We conclude that because government tells us we have 78.74 years to live, we do.
So much don't we want to think about our mortality, we are easily sidetracked. With straight faces talking heads tell us that within 25-100 years New Orleans will be under water, San Francisco will be shaken into the sea, or a meteorite will bring an extinction event, and with somber faces we listen. And we might even alter our behavior to try to change what they say is coming in 25 or 100 years. But your own body testifies that within 25-75 years you will be dead, and you don't want to hear that let alone live accordingly.
No one likes to think about their mortality because no one can bear that mortal pain. Mortal pain is defined as "deadly or unrelenting pain." I don't mean that. I mean the pain that comes from the dark truth that you are mortal. That one day your soul will be yanked out of your body, and that the horror movies are right. The monster death is in us. Don't look in the mirror too closely. You might see tiny spiders scurrying out of your mouth, maggots squirming out your ears.
We don't want God to answer our prayer to show us the number of our days because we are no match for Death. You ought to know by now that taxes aren't certain. Plenty of people skate on that score. But death is a certainty. We each owe God a death. The Law plainly says that the soul that sins dies. Case closed. We've sinned, we'll die. We can kick and scuffle all we want refusing to go gently into that dark night, but go we will. We can fight, fight with all our might against the dying of the light but it still will.
Ideally this first happens to you when you're an adult. The first time I was scared to death, or more literally, scared by Death, was when a phone call came in 1988 in the middle of a voters meeting. My father had had a heart attack. My mother had had one 13 years earlier, but I was a kid then. I was in my 30s now. I had been a pastor for 5 years. I knew Death well now. I remember driving from Detroit to Saginaw being so scared I was nauseated. Death was no longer an abstract if' for my father. It was now a when.' It was now a matter of time. Tick, tick, tick.
Death is never a matter of if' but when' for us all, and we're no match for Death itself or the fear of it. We can shout all we want at Death, "I'm not afraid of you," and it knows better and so do we. We're no match for Death but Jesus is. In fact, Death is afraid of Jesus.
Jesus says that His flesh has life in itself. Jesus says that no one can take life from Him. He has the authority to lay His life down and to take it back up again. As true God life originates with Jesus. Therefore, His flesh is lifegiving. His blood is lifegiving. His Words are life itself. There is so much life in the Man Jesus that He who believes in Him shall never die. Do you remember where Jesus said that? In a graveyard, in front of the tomb of a man who had been stone-cold dead for 4 days, so much so that his sister assures Jesus, "He stinketh."
In the face of all this, Jesus says, "Whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." That's crazy talk or the talk of God in flesh and blood. It's one or the other. Either walk out of here believing Jesus was crazy or that He is God in flesh and blood, and if the latter than He is a match for death. But you're still not.
Death had no power over or claim on Jesus. It has both on you. Your failure to keep all of God's laws gives Death a claim to your body and soul. And since it was God's laws you broke, you have to die and die forever, an eternal death. The Devil knows this. Hebrews 2:15 says that we were slaves all of our lives because we were scared to death of Death, and Hebrews 2:14 says that's because the Devil had the power over death. Death was like a big, growling dog on a leash held by the Devil. In times of sickness, of guilt, particularly of death, the Devil lets the leash out and the dog Death is snarling in our face and we can feel it's hot breath and smell its stench, just as Martha did.
In place of our life that God's holy Law demands for our sins, Jesus the Man who is God handed over His life, laid it down, gave it up as a sacrifice to quench the wrath of God. Jesus had no sins of His own that demanded a death. Being God in the flesh, no one could take His life from Him. In our place then, He placed His life on the altar of the cross, and all the requirements the justice of God demanded, and all the tortures Satan could think of were visited upon Christ.
Here's where you go when your guilts, your fears, your sins, the Devil, and Death chase you. Whatever they are rightly saying you deserve to suffer, see on the cross Jesus suffering it in your place. Whatever shame and humility, they threaten you with, see them on the crucified Christ. Whatever disgusting thing they say should happen to you for the disgusting things you did, said, or thought, see it happening in color there to the body of Jesus. Now what?
After an eternity of suffering, pain, shame, guilt, damnation, and judgment, what more needs to happen? If Jesus carried the sins of the world out to Calvary's cross, where do you think your sins were? If Jesus was the wrath removing sacrifice for the sins of the world, surely He was for yours too. Where are the sins that could accuse you? Where are the shameful ghosts that haunt you? Where is the Death that stalks you? They are finished because Jesus finished them. And because they are finished, neither Devil, nor Death, nor Law could hold Jesus. As God they never had a claim on Him, but He surrendered Himself to satisfy their claim against all humanity. Having done that Death, Devil, and Law had to spit Him out, and they did on Easter morning. And where the Deity of Jesus goes so goes the humanity forever joined to the Deity.
Go ahead, think of Death. Being baptized into Jesus you have already went into the grave with Him and just as He was raised by the glory of the Father to walk about in new life, so you've been raised. O Death will one day claim your mortal remains, but it will never claim you. Death will one day swallow your body, but it will spit it back out into immortality.
Go ahead, think of Death, but do so while taking the Medicine of Immortality which is the Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed on the cross, and here for you today in Bread and Wine. Your body and blood are aging, decaying, dying. Jesus Body and Blood are ageless, flourishing, and living. As your mortal body corrupts the food you put into it into sewage, so the immortal food of the Body and Blood of Jesus purifies your body for life everlasting.
And you know what this means? You can wait for Death or Jesus' Second Coming like you're waiting for your friends groom to arrive. I've done dozens of weddings. I've never seen a group of bridesmaids anything but joyful. A separation is maintained between bride and groom but there is no fear of the groom. Those bridesmaids can't wait for the two to meet, and this time for keeps.
So why do we wait for Death hearing a funeral dirge rather than the mirth of marriage? Why, since Jesus tells us we're meeting the Bridegroom, don't we hear laughter and joy, like I have at every single wedding I've ever done? When it comes to our last day or the Last Day why don't we wait for it as bridesmaids for a bridegroom? We do we wait as Dorothy and company did for the wicked witch hearing the foreboding, "O-E-O, E-O-O"?
Why don't we want answered our prayer, "Show me O Lord my life's end and the number of my day?" Because we think we're waiting to go into a wake and not a wedding reception. I've been to some very difficult wakes or visitations. Death and its fear, its tragedy, its horrible ugliness, and seeming invincibility hang in the air like a sickening perfume. It's oppressive. The Devil laughing with delight says, "Look what I can do; fear this."
But Jesus says all those in Him are waiting not for a wake but a wedding. I've been to more funerals then weddings; I've seen some happy funeral receptions, but I've never, ever seen a sad, dark, depressing wedding reception. But the real celebration doesn't begin till you enter the party. In New Orleans most rented a wedding venue. You'd line up outside, and there would be happiness and laughter, but nothing compared to inside.
Right now. You and I are outside the party. Our loved-ones passed on in Christ are inside and they sure aren't wishing they were out here. Death is the door that even Christians must pass through to get into the celebration. Not a sinner's death. Not a damned, judged, guilty death. That was Jesus' death in your place. The death you pass through is so unlike that, that Jesus says it's not death at all. It's at worst like falling asleep.
I keep saying waiting'; better to think watching'. Those who study marketing say people much prefer signs that say a repair service is done while you watch' as opposed to while you wait.' And so, we pray for the Lord to show us. Show me the bridegroom, show me the reception, show me that, wonder of wonders. this time I'm not the bridesmaid. I'm the bride. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20171126); Matthew 25: 1-13