Fifth Sunday after Easter. Sermon A.
"When one prayeth. and afterwards curseth, how can the Lord hear his prayer?" Sirach 34:29 (Finnish Bible)
In this place Sirach writes of those who sometimes pray and sometimes curse; and Sirach thinks that how could God hear them. It seems as though Sirach is doubting that God can hear their prayer. He also speaks of those who sometimes fast because of sin, and then again commit sin, as at this time of the world there are some who sometimes are penitent and again at times commit adultery or steal. And Sirach finally says, "Who hears their prayer?" And we must also ask, "Who hears their prayer?" The sorrowless think that this place in the Scriptures does not pertain to them, who never pray nor ever are penitent, but to them who come from prayer to curse the sorrowless and after being penitent commit sin, when through barking they encourage the sorrowless to anger. And it is true that the awakened bring cursings from the Scriptures and set the curse of the law before their eyes, that the sorrowless would come to know that they are cursed. But if the conscience would awaken, the sorrowless certainly would understand better to whom this place of the Scriptures pertains, which is found written in Sirach 34:29, where he says, "When one prayeth and again curseth, how can the Lord hear his prayer?"
It is true that vulgar sorrowless do not pray to that God which is in heaven, whom they do not know, but nevertheless the Pharisees pray and also curse when they stop praying, and against them Sirach has written. Likewise the grace thieves of this time also pray and curse by turns, and against them Sirach has written. But the enemy has persuaded some sorrowless that all awakened are Pharisees and all Christians are grace thieves, and then all vulgar sorrowless now say, "We do not want to become hypocrites as these awakened; we do not say we are better than we are."
And there now is the boast of the slaves of sin, that they are not hypocrites, they do not want to become better than they are. When the vulgar sorrowless want to go boldly to hell, then it doesn't help to force this place from the Scriptures on them, but the Pharisees, who pray and also curse as is fitting, and the grace thieves, who sometimes get up at night to pray, although they hate the Christians and sometimes let out cursings when the old adam rises, they nevertheless can own these aforementioned words of Sirach, "If a person prayeth and afterwards curseth, how can the Lord hear his prayer?" If a person fasts because of his sins, and again commits sin, who hears his prayers? The sorrowless people sat down to eat and rose up to play, but the Pharisees keep, their prayers and again begin to curse. They fast and again commit sin. Who hears their prayers? That god who is in the lower heaven, namely the god of this world, but surely that God who lives on high does not hear the prayer of the thief. If one whore also prays to God that no child would result from her whoredom, what God is it who hears the prayer of the shameless whore? No other than the devil himself, who teaches his children to pray that some harm would come to them with whom he has become angry. When the devil of anger gets into a person's heart, then a person gets the desire for revenge. And when he himself is not able to take revenge, he prays to God that some harm would come to his enemy. But we hear from the doings of the disciples that such a prayer the devil has, but it is not acceptable to God. When the disciples were still in natural blindness they also received the desire for revenge. They went to one village to buy food, but when they could not get food in exchange for their money, they said to the Saviour, "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did? But Jesus turned and rebuked them and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." (Luke 9: 54-55) From that we can see that the disciples did not yet understand anything of that true Christianity when they wished evil to their neighbor because of this desire for revenge. But surely even now many grace thieves pray to God that God would avenge those who do evil to them. But a Christian, does not pray so that evil would befall them who hate him, but he sprays that tribulation of conscience would come in the time of grace to all enemies of the cross of Jesus, so that they would not have to suffer the tribulation of conscience in eternity.
We hear in many places in the Scriptures that not all kinds of prayers are the right prayers, although the sorrowless say, "Surely God hears our prayers; God will not reject our prayers." For sure God would hear their prayers, if they would ask of Him such things which would be fitting and good for them. But when, in their blindness, they pray for the impossible, how can God hear their prayers? So, for example, one blind wretch prays thus, "May God protect me from becoming as crazy as these awakened ones are." Where now is the god who hears such a prayer? Is not that god in hell? Some blind wretches pray thus, "If only God would do so well, that all these awakened would begin to drink and fight." Is not such a prayer very acceptable to the devil? And for sure many an enemy of the truth has thought so, that he would even give a large amount to the church and to the poor, if I or other awakened ones would become drunkards or thieves. But we hope that God does not hear such prayers which the devil's angels pray. Surely all, everyone prays, but with what intention do they pray, when the heart is fastened to the world and full of seeds of the devil? The devil surely hears their prayers, who cry out in his name and take the name of God in vain. When a drunkard becomes godly and penitent from drinking, then even he prays to his god and blesses that gift of god which makes him joyous. But what god is it who hears the drinker's prayer? It must be that god who lives in hell, but that God who lives on high is horrified with such prayers. A person who is disabled in behalf of body, also prays to God, and it is said that the poor pray to God often but the rich never. But I think that the poor pray to that god often who is in the colon, as long as he worries only about his belly. If the rich do not pray to God, then on the contrary the prayer of the poor is acceptable to the devil as long as the poor serve him, for both the rich ones' prayers as well as the poor ones' prayers are acceptable to the devil as long as they pray according to his mind. For a poor whore and a rich whore are both devil's whores, as long as they serve him. A poor drunkard and a rich drunkard are both slaves of the devil, and there is no other difference between them than only that one is rich, receives more honor from the world and can, who knows, better cover up his iniquity from before the eyes of the world, for a poor whore and a poor drunkard are despised by all.
In today's gospel the Saviour counsels His disciples to pray in His name. And we hope that the disciples' prayer to the Lord is acceptable, when they pray to the Father in Jesus' name. The disciples have not been able to pray in the right way before they begin to pray to the Father in Jesus' name, that is, through the Saviour, who has with His precious blood purchased them free from under the power of sin, death and the devil. Just then, when the penitent sinners begin to feel that they are freed from the power of the devil through that precious reconciliation which has happened in Jesus Christ, do they begin to pray in Jesus' name, and everything which they then ask for is given to them. Therefore, bow your knees and hearts, you sorrowful and oppressed by the world, those weighed down under the burden of sin, those who cry out in tribulation of conscience, those who are in the devil's temptations, and those who sigh from the depths of hell, those who crawl to the foot of the cross, praying in Jesus' name, that He would give you and all the weary journeymen strength to war and conquer the temptations of the devil! Hear, You great, powerful, blood-sprinkled and thorn-crowned King, the sighs of the penitent and graced souls. Our Father, which art in the Heavens, etc.
The Gospel: John 16: 23.
With the guidance of our holy gospel, we must through God's grace consider, First: How and in whose name the children of the world pray? Second: How and in whose name the disciples of Jesus pray?
Oh that the great Crossbearer, who has taught the disciples to pray in His name, would give all of us understanding, how we should pray rightly, so that we would not pray wrongly through His name, and that we would pray to Him from the heart and not only with the tongue and lips: this we pray. Hear us, oh merciful Lord God.
First: How the children of the world pray is shown to us in many places in the Scriptures, but especially in that gospel which is for the eleventh Sunday after Trinity, where the Saviour reminds how the Pharisee prays. He thanks God that he is not such a great sinner as other people, he is not a robber, he is not unjust, he is not an adulterer. And how could the Pharisee have stolen, when he is no thief: The Pharisees of this time pray to God with the same intention, although with little different words. Namely, they confess with their mouths that they are great sinners, but when the question comes of how and in what way they committed these sins, they take back the words and say, "I have not stolen, thanks to God. I have not committed adultery, thanks to God." Here you hear, you good Pharisee, what beautiful words the enemy puts in your mouth, and what beautiful prayers come from your heart. You again thank God for that, that He has protected you from adultery, stealing and iniquity, and especially you thank that you are not so poor as this penitent publican. But that is still worse, that you must go out of the church when the sighs of the publican begin to burn your conscience and spoil your Christianity. You finally begin to pray to the god of the world, that he would protect you from becoming so crazy that you, too, would begin to sigh so heavily as this publican. And when you come out of the church, anoint your throat with flowing devil's dung, so that you would not catch the publican's epilepsy. Such prayers are without a doubt beautiful, but what they effect for the Pharisee's repentance is unknown. When a meek whore prays to her god that no one would overtake her while under the whorebuck, then she thinks that God hears her prayer. And surely the god of the world hears such prayers, for he gives the whore boldness to cover up her sin and to show her pass to the awakened; there is namely a receipt to show that she has received all her sins forgiven by the devil and is innocent. An honest thief also prays to his god, that his stealing would prosper, that no one would overtake him red-handed. The thief has no fear that God sees his deeds, for in his mind God who is so old is blind. Neither has the thief fear that the devil will take back from him through drunkenness all that he has brought in by stealing. But of that the thief has the greatest fear, that people would see him, through which he would become honorless. Surely the prayer of the thief is beautiful to hear when he says, "I have not stolen, thanks to God." But how beautiful will the prayer of the thief be in hell, when the theft begins to burn his conscience; that is still unknown. One honorable whiskey merchant also prays with great devotion that God would bless his business, that his stock would move well, and that much whiskey would be bought. But sometimes he curses when his stock does not move anymore. Such prayers surely come from the heart, but what they effect for the whiskey merchant's repentance is unknown. But the prayer of one poor drunkard is more beautiful than all other prayers. For other children of the world pray only with their thoughts and hearts what their inward desire is, but one poor drunkard prays also with his tongue and lips when he falls on his knees before the whiskey merchant and laments of what a sad distress he is in. He also becomes penitent from whiskey, and then he weeps like a quiet child, but where those tears belong, that is also unknown. It is difficult to recount all the prayers of the children of the world. That we know for sure, that the devil of greed teaches some to pray that worldly goods would always be increased. The devil of envy teaches some to pray that harm would come to his neighbor. The devil of honor teaches some to pray that they would succeed in becoming lords. But hardly anyone is so zealous in praying as one whorebuck, who falls on his knees before the whore and sighs from love. What one Pharisee prays and thanks, that he is better than other people, that is nothing along side of that which one poor drunkard prays and thanks the whiskey merchant and one whorebuck, his whore. But all these beautiful prayers certainly come for honor to the devil. I have seen some grace thieves praying with a humble and pitiful voice and especially when people were present, as the Pharisees' custom is, who in their self-deception keep such beautiful prayers, that one publican in spiritual poverty, who has prayers of no account, could begin to think, "If I, too, could pray so beautifully, surely soon there would come an opening into heaven." But what do these beautiful prayers effect, which one hypocritical Pharisee repeats, when after praying he goes into the saloon and there repeats a different kind of blessing for the honor of the devil? Certainly the devil allows a person to be godly and pray, even if he would read the whole prayer book through, just so he can rule the heart. But if the heart is touched, then the enemy becomes angry and says, "Have you come to trouble me before the time! What are you digging for in the heart? Are you the Son of God and a forgiver of sins when you ask me about sin? I am not duty bound to confess my sins to such a disturber of the people, who goes from village to village and cries out to the world." Behold, thus the devil speaks when his den is disturbed. And then all the beautiful prayers cease and curses come in place. Is this not the unfortunate state of mind which is depicted in the Bible when Sirach says, "When one prayeth and afterwards curseth, how can God hear his prayer?" And James says, "Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing."
Second: How and in whose name do the disciples of Jesus pray? The first united prayer of the disciples is written in the Acts of the Apostles, 4th chapter, 24th verse When the world had started to hate them for Jesus' name sake, to them came such a fervency and great power of prayer, so that the place where they were gathered was shaken because of the great power of God. But the disciples of Jesus have not at all times had such great fervency and such great power of prayer. For sometimes the outward persecution ceases when the disciples themselves give the world peace; then the world surely does not hate them. Often one awakened person can feel that all fervency ceases, faith ceases, love ceases, power of prayer ceases, spiritual sorrow ceases. Then a great spiritual poverty and spiritual darkness comes upon him so that he must doubt of himself that, am I possibly on the right road. However the Holy Spirit leads him through spiritual poverty, that he must feel that high movements are not the foundation of salvation, but only the merits of the Saviour. When, therefore, the disciples of Jesus are in spiritual poverty, then they feel that the prayers come from a cold heart, that their prayers are not of much account. Nevertheless we have that hope that God hears those poor prayers, although they are unworthy nor do they merit us anything. If a Christian always had good and beautiful prayers, he would soon become too rich and begin to pray as the two sons of Zebedee, that they would get to sit one on the right and one on the left side of Him in His kingdom. Who knows if they can drink of that cup of which Jesus has drunk, although they want to become the best Christians. But the sorrowless need not think that the sons of Zebedee are or will remain in hell, although such terrible Christians, whom the enemy has taken to the pinnacle of the temple, who strain at gnats and swallow camels, who cast the Christians into the kettle and stand on the lid themselves, such terrible Christians think that the sons of Zebedee are in hell because of that foolish request and because of that ignorant prayer, which the Saviour did not hear. But they were then still blind, and they must be an example to all grace thieves, of how ignorant an unawakened one is at praying, when he has not received the Holy Spirit. He then prays as a foolish child and asks for such immpossible things, which are not suitable to receive. The sons of Zebedee wanted to become chief lords in the kingdom of the Messiah. Just that is the goal of the sorrowless always, to become lords, rich and honorable. And when the peasant does not have a trade, that he would thereby become a lord, then he puts on lordly clothes and imagines himself to be a lord when he goes about in broadcloth and silk. O, you Baal! You are a great god and there is no deceit in you.
Our hope is that the true disciples of Jesus would begin from now on to pray to the Father in Jesus' name that all knees must bow themselves in Jesus' name, those which are in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth, and all tongues must confess that Jesus is Christ for the glory of the Father. The disciples of Jesus have tribulation in the world, but be of good refuge, Jesus has overcome the world. And because of this tribulation they must bow their knees in Jesus' name and cry out with a loud voice, that the great Crossbearer, who with great travail and tribulation has given birth to their souls of that incorruptible seed, which He has sown in these last days into coarse ground, and on rock and among thorns, and in the good ground, would help the sorrowful and penitent ones from all natural and spiritual distress, when they pray through Jesus' name and with the spirit of the elect children cry out, "Abba, dear Father." We believe that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ hears the prayers of the penitent, for His Son has said, "I pray not for the world, but for those whom Thou has given Me."
And believe now, you sorrowful disciples, that Jesus prays in your behalf and prepares a dwelling for you in the Father's house, and you will soon reach there to pray and thank forever. Amen, and Hallelujah! and Hosanna! and blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.