Fifth Sunday after Easter.
When the Savior was in great tribulation and torment in the Garden, He first began to tremble and was stricken with terror at the dreadfulness of the sinner, and in that distress of the spirit He Himself prayed and also commanded His disciples to watch and pray so they would not enter into temptation. Matthew 26: 36-41.
From this it is understood that prayer is the key to the kingdom of heaven both in temporal as well as spiritual distress. Without prayer nothing happens; without knocking nothing is opened. David cried from the depths unto the heights when he was in spiritual distress, and the Savior prayed on His knees when He was in spiritual distress because of our sins. In all distress and tribulation, all saints have found the best help and refuge in prayer. But all sinners do not pray to God with the intent that they would be helped from that distress from which they first should be helped. For the impenitent thief also prayed in distress of spirit, but his prayer became blasphemy since he did not comprehend his sin but only the pain of body. If the impenitent thief would have had some kind of spiritual distress, he certainly would have repeated some other kind of prayer, but he felt no distress of soul for he was sorrowless even though death was right before his eyes. As this impenitent thief prayed even though he was sorrowless, so also some sorrowless pray to God now although they have no distress in behalf of soul. For the sorrowless do not know their sins since the enemy has covered them, so there will never come any distress because of their sins which they cover up and deny. But one awakened person cannot cover up or deny his sins, and therefore when an awakened person prays to God, he prays especially in spiritual distress. We see in the second book of Samuel, twelfth chapter what distress came to David when he wanted to cover his sin. He had committed adultery with Bathsheba secretly, and also arranged things so that Bathsheba's husband was slain in battle. His conscience did not accuse him of that deed as long as it was covered from the world. But God threatened him through the mouth of the Prophet Nathan, so that his own son had to commit adultery with David's wives in broad daylight. God said to David through the mouth of the same prophet, " For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun". 2 Samuel 12:12.
How will it go then with whores and thieves who have committed shameful deeds in darkness and secretly, when the sun begins to shine through and the whole world knows what they have done here? No doubt they think they will reach heaven with their honor. But I am afraid they will reach hell with their honor, and just from there they will go into everlasting shame. When they here cover up their sins so that no one would know how they have lived here, they can finally cry out in hell with such a loud voice that all hell will shake. "Behold, thus I have lived in the world, thus I have committed adultery, thus I have stolen, thus I have drunk liquor." Then all of the devil's angels and she devils will come to mock him and to torment his conscience. Then all meek whores will begin to dance in the lake of fire, all honest thieves will begin to chew their nails, all temporate drunkards must drink that blue flame with which they have appeased their consciences here. Finery and honor will begin to burn their consciences in hell. Honor of the world effects so much that they who here say, "One need not cry out to the world," can cry out in hell so that all of the devils angels and she devils can hear how they have lived. It would be the best advice for you, wretched man, that you would become honorless here through a true confession of sin, so that through true penitence you would receive your honor back from the King of heaven, who because of you has become honorless in the world.
Although now the valiant Apostle James has said in his missionary letter (5:16) "Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, …" the meek whores and honest thieves of the present time do not want to confess their sins to anyone, for they would rather go to hell with their honor than go to heaven honorless as whores and thieves. How then can they pray for one another or for their neighbor that he can be healed? James places the confession of sin and foreprayers for our neighbors in this order, consecutively, indicating that when a penitent sinner is beaten so much through torment of conscience he must confess his sins before the congregation or to the Christians, that through such a confession of sins the devil of honor can no longer hide his sins. When, say I, a penitent sinner has been beaten so much that he must confess his sins, then the second part of James's admonition follows: where he commands to pray for your neighbor that he would be healed from that spiritual sickness which sin brings with it. Many an awakened person suffers the torment of conscience so greatly that he has to lament, but the devil of honor will not allow him to confess his sins before great spiritual distress forces him to. Some can be in torment of conscience many times before they can confess their sins. The devil of honor is so determined to cover up sins that some do not confess their sins at all, even though they are in torment of conscience. The devil of honor also takes the devil of hatred for a companion. When the devil went into the heart of Judas Iscariot after the dipped sop, he went out in the middle of the meal before the hymn of thanks was sung. It was the devil of hatred that caused him to go out. And so it is even now, as it often happens that the devil of honor and the devil of hatred cause some to go out of that house where the Christians attack their honor. Some cause the devils of hatred and pride to suck the blood of Christians.
But when the conscience awakens and sins begin to burn the conscience of the sinners so much that the devil of honor is no longer able to cover sins, then a sinner must confess his sins, not only to those against whom he has transgressed but he must confess those sins also which no one has known about. When a penitent sinner, through his confession of sins, has become honorless before the world, he can receive his honor back from the Savior, if he flees with a humble and broken heart to the foot of the cross and begs for grace. When a penitent sinner suffers that spiritual sickness in torment of conscience, James commands the Christians to pray for his soul that he would be healed. For the prayer of the righteous availeth much when it is true. Although the children of the world are astonished when they see some person in torment of conscience and think that he is possessed of the devil's spirit, some offer liquor and some force grace upon them, some mock and some curse. So according to James's advice we want to encourage those who are in torment of conscience to follow the example of the Savior. When he was in great pain and in tribulation He fell on His knees and prayed, "Abba, Dear Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me!" He also commanded the disciples to watch and pray with Him although the sleep of sin was so heavy upon them that they were not able to watch. Nevertheless I hope that those few souls who are watching would pray for those who suffer that spiritual sickness in torment of conscience that they would be healed; not with liquor but through that sweet wine of which the disciples of Jesus were drunken on the first Pentecost day when the world's crowd said, "These men are full of new wine." Therefore confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed, for the prayer of the righteous availeth much when it is true, that the crucified Lord Jesus hears those prayers of the righteous who are justified through His blood, who pray through His name. Also the prayer of them who are great sinners is acceptable to Him when they come from a humble and broken heart. So cry out all you sorrowful and down-pressed, thoroughly beaten, wounded and troubled in spirit, that the great Crossbearer would help the weary journeymen that they would reach the hill of Golgotha with the cross. Hear the prayer of all the sorrowful and distressed ones. Our Father who art in the heavens etc.
The Gospel John 16:23
In today's gospel the Savior teaches His disciples to pray the Father in His name, for which reason this Sunday is called prayer Sunday. We must, therefore, according to our holy gospel and through God's grace, speak about prayer. First Consideration: What do the children of the world pray? Second consideration: What do the children of God pray?
The children of the world and especially grace thieves also pray to God: but what do they pray? We hear from the Savior's mouth what the Pharisee prayed when he came into the temple to pray. "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, ectortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." So the Pharisee prayed. And although the Pharisees of the present time do not pray with these words, their thoughts, nevertheless, are the same kind. Namely when some Christian asks them: Are you a whore? They answer, "I am not, thanks to God!" If asked: Have you stolen? They answer, "I am no thief, thanks to God." If asked: Are you a drinker? "I am no drinker, thanks to God." So they thank God that they are not like other men; whores, thieves, and drinkers. They do not realize that they are reciting the Pharisee's prayer. Often a sorrowless person leaves out the Pharisee's prayer from his mouth when, namely, he is accused of sin: like adultery, stealing, or other such. Then he says, "Thanks to God I have not committed such sinful deeds. God has protected me from both adultery and theft." But the sorrowless one does not realize that he is reciting the Pharisee's prayer when he thanks God that God has protected him from both adultery and theft. Through natural meekness the devil has taken away the memory so that they do nor remember at all how and when adultery and theft would have happened. Some confess that through thoughts it has happened but not with deeds, although hardly no one is free from these sins. As the life is now in the world, all are certainly both whores and thieves and those sins have happened not only with thoughts but with pure devilish work. Perhaps in the sorrowless condition the devil has covered up all the shameful deeds that a sinner should not remember nor regret before in eternity. When now the sorrowless children of the world unknowingly recite the prayer of the Pharisee with which they beautify their ungodly life before the world, then it can be surmised what kind of prayers they recite in solitude. For that is not a person's prayer which he recites in church or among people, but that is a a person's true prayer which he recites in solitude: namely the desire of the heart or what a person's desire or will is, that is a person's prayer. We hear from the Savior's own reminiscing that the Pharisee's prayer is much more beautiful than the publican's sigh. And I have seen some Pharisees who are in that dead faith and who have so much love for the Savior that they intend to take Him around the neck and give Him a kiss. They have such beautiful prayers and they pray with such great humility and fervency that if the publican would have such nice prayers there certainly would come a big hole in the church roof and even would have come a big hole in heaven. Although now some Pharisees have such beautiful prayers, they nevertheless hate Jesus and His disciples and are ready to suck the blood of the Christians as soon as they are reproached for sin. And when they have made sausages of the Christians' blood they can go to church again to pray and to thank God that they have hated the Christians and have beaten them bloody and that through this shedding of blood they have received peace of conscience. The seeds of the serpent do not stop squirming at the root of the heart nor do the enemies of Jesus' cross receive peace of conscience until they can lap Christians' blood. And when they have lapped Christians' blood they come to church to thank God for that good work and also to strengthen their faith in the Lord's Supper and also to pray to God that He would protect them and their children from becoming so insane that they would begin to make true penitence and repentance. A drinker always prays to God that there would always be sufficient for him to drink, that liquor would never be lacking. If the law takes hold of him for drinking, he prays to God that he would not be fined; and when no other advice helps he takes an oath to hell that he would go free of paying a fine. A liquor merchant thanks God who has blessed his business that his liquor has gained even the last quarter from a poor wretched drunkard. Although the drunkard's wife and children weep at home in hunger those tears do not bother the liquor merchant's conscience; but if liquor runs out that bothers his conscience so greatly that he must make a trip to town to get more liquor. If he is fined for selling liquor he swears his soul to hell from the liquor fine and also threatens vengeance to his accusers; and upon that work he thanks God who has protected him from harm. A whore prays to God that she would not be overtaken in the act of adultery and that children would not result from her adultery. But if the whorebuck is taken to court by the whore, the whorebuck puts his soul as ransom with the devil and vows that he is innocent, so that he does not need to pay for the child's food. If someone becomes angry with his neighbor he prays to God that some misfortune would come to his neighbor in behalf of body or spirit or to his animals. Behold, such are the prayers of the sorrowless. If a hole does not come into heaven from their prayers surely a hole will come into the bottomless pit even if the gate to the bottomless pit were closed. Then, however, the doorkeeper of the bottomless pit would have to open the gate to hell when the meek whores, honest thieves, temperate drunkards, and honorable liquor merchants knock upon it with such fervent prayers that hell's gate would break into a thousand pieces if the doorkeeper of hell would not draw aside the iron boom of hell and open the door to these wretches who come, many thousand in one bunch and knock with such fervent prayers and also call many thousand devils to their aid. When whiskey rises to the head then they cry out, "Satan!" and "Devil!" who is their God whom they serve night and day. But surely these servants of the devil come into the church to recite the Pharisee's prayer, namely, "I thank you God that I am not as bad as other men are: unjust, thieves, adulterers or like that publican who sighs there." They also go to the Lord's Supper and give Judas's kiss to the Savior and weep serpent's tears there and make promises of repentance and faithfulness. But when they come out of the church the drinkers go to drink liquor, the liquor merchants go to pour out the flowing devil's dung into glasses, the fighters go to curse and fight, thieves go to steal and whores go to commit adultery behind the church. That they do from year to year until death comes and squeezes their hearts. Then they call the minister to them and ask him to give them the Sacrament. Then they think they are ready to step into the kingdom of heaven after an idle and ungodly life. Just in this way they have lived even in this congregation and in that way the sorrowless intend to go on living. They have no intention of making penitence and repentance, they only mock and become angry if someone says to them that this kind of life will surely bring one to perdition if a change and repentance do not come. Woe, what a terrible fright when the devil has received such power that he drives them like a herd of swine into the channel at Gadarenes near the sea of Gennesaret to drown.
The Second Consideration: How do the disciples of Jesus pray? Since the Pharisees pray to God with such beautiful prayers as we have heard that they thank God that they are not as bad as other men are; namely, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican, so the present day Pharisees also thank God that He has protected them from adultery, stealing, murder, and other cruel sins. They think, say I, that the disciples of Jesus have even nicer prayers than the Pharisees but what do they say now when we confess that the disciples of Jesus have prayers of very little value. One true disciple of Jesus who goes to the school of the Holy Ghost is no better than the publican in the time of penitence who didn't have half the amount of prayer than the Pharisee had. The publican was not able to pray much of anything, but only sighed, "God have mercy on me a sinner!" "That is remarkable, however," says the Pharisee who stands and prays so nobly and seriously, "Don't the children of God have better prayers than these words, 'God have mercy on me a sinner!'?" Not at all. A penitent soul does not have any better prayer than what you hear here. For the Savior did not have nicer prayers when He was in that great spiritual war. He had no more prayer than only three words; Abba, dear Father, if it is possible that this cup pass from me. And the Savior did not pray among people more than only three times. But what he sighed in solitude, that we do not know. And what a penitent soul sighs in solitude, that we do not know. But Paul says, the spirit prays in our behalf with unutterable sighs. A penitent soul has no true distress as long as he has beautiful prayers. But when all faith must come to an end, all power of prayer must come to an end so that a penitent soul becomes void of all spiritual gifts, just then is spiritual poverty at hand. But the Pharisees have not only meekness, but also much faith and love that they can take the Savior around the neck and give Him a kiss, and such beautiful prayers so that with their prayers they can make a hole in heaven. The Pharisees overlook the publicans who do not have beautiful prayers but only sigh and say, "What Christian is that who is not able to pray? That is no Christian who cannot pray." But we can also ask of the Pharisee, "What kind of a Christian is that who has beautiful prayers and terrible cursings and both come out of the same mouth?" What kind of a Christian is that who is so loving to the Savior that He would take Him around the neck and give Him a kiss but all the same is so angry with the brothers of the Savior that he would punch them in the ear and beat them until bloody. Such Christians are now found in every place who weep in church and laugh behind the church, bless in church and curse behind the church, are meek in church and commit adultery behind the church, drink of the Lord's cup in church and of the devil's cup behind the church, are loving toward the Savior in church and fight behind the church. Such are those Christians who have beautiful prayers and lengthy blessings and profuse tears, but penitent souls do not have these. He who is traveling on the road of Christianity sometimes becomes so poor and empty of all spiritual gifts that he has no faith, no love, no prayers, no tears; but only sin, doubt, temptations, oppression of the heart, and on top of all the hatred of the world. And all this adversity on the way of life forces him to sigh like the publican, "God have mercy on me, a sinner!"
Nevertheless we hope that the publican's sighs are heard farther than the Pharisee's beautiful prayers. We hope that as there has come a big hole in the conscience of the penitent sinner through which he has fallen from the meekness of the world into the bottomless pit of sin, his sighs must also make a hole in the ceiling of heaven when he sighs so heavily that all hell shakes and cries out with such a loud voice that the voice is heard from the depths of hell unto heaven. And then when he is drawn up from the bottomless pit of sin through the wounds of the Savior he must pray to the Father in the Son's name and all that he asks for from the Father in the name of that crucified Savior he will receive. Although the publican's sighs are not as beautiful as the Pharisee's prayer, however the Savior has said that the publican went to his house more justified than the Pharisee, from which can be well surmised that the publican's sigh was heard in heaven and all that penitent and graced souls ask for in Jesus' name they will receive, for they ask for that which Jesus knows they need. The Pharisees of this time pray that God would protect them and their children from becoming so insane that they would begin to sigh like these publicans sigh. The Pharisees pray that they could always live in sorrowlessness and dead faith. However, the sighs of the penitent and graced ones are heard in heaven. They pray also for those who trouble them, that these enemies of the cross of Jesus would receive such a prick in the heart and a big hole in the conscience that it would begin to smart and bleed, that they would become so sore that they would have to smite their breast and sigh like the publican, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." And we believe that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ hears the sighs of the penitent and distressed ones when they pray to the Father in Jesus' name that Satan's kingdom would fall to the ground. And the joy of the sorrowful disciples will become perfect, when they can see the crucified King ascend into heaven and there pray to His Father in our behalf. Amen.