Today’s readings are about the relationship between faith and prayer and how God relates to each of us solely dependent on the how we relate to Him. One of the reasons that prayers are sometimes not answered has to do with whether we are in relationship with God, or whether we are in a deeper, spiritual, and committed fellowship with him.
A week ago here at Saint Nicholas, we had a guest pianist who came from Boston to try out our keyboard. I had asked Anne to do this because we were intending to have her play a piano recital for us next summer. Anne is a Masters student and piano instructor at the Boston Conservatory and a very talented pianist. Unfortunately, our little keyboard was found to be somewhat deficient for the kind of classical music she wanted to perform for us. So while we were downstairs we all sat with our coffee in hand and lamented that we didn’t have a real piano on which she could perform. So I told her that she should arrange to come anyway and that we would just pray for a piano fully expecting that God would supply one by then. In the instant I said this, Becky Littler and Jan Siebold both knew of pianos that might be available – one an upright and one a spinet. But what we really needed was a baby grand piano that would be the right tone like an upright but not block the front of the church like a spinet. So we prayed to God to help find a piano that would fit our needs. Cheap would of course very good but free would be even better.
I didn’t think much more about this on Monday but then on Tuesday I had the compulsion to type into Google ‘free piano for a good home’ which returned a website of hundreds of people with hundreds of pianos free to a good home. The problem was that almost all of them were in NY City, Long Island and Connecticut – but – there was one in Depew, NY not far from here. It was the right type and the right color and the right price – free. So Don and Jim and I went to go see it. The person who owned it had moved to a smaller place leaving the piano behind and offered it to us free of charge. All we needed to do was to arrange to move it. And to make a short story even shorter . . . here it is – needing some tuning but a remarkable instrument built in the thirties in Germany. I let our friend Anne know about this right away in Boston and we all believe it is a miracle because it happened so fast.
Why do you suppose this happened? It happened because we had enough faith to believe that God can do anything, and if it was his will, then nothing could stop him from supplying our need. But the other part of the equation was that I truly expected him to provide it and because of this expectation – here it is.
Now we might not all to think that prayer works this way, but the Bible tells us that the best way to get God’s attention is to be righteous in the sight of God and . . . to live in joyful expectation. Why? Because like any good parent, God wants to fulfill our needs – not just the important stuff like food and clothing or a job – but even extra things, like a church in which to pray or a piano on which to play music to God’s glory. The Psalmist says that prayers of the righteous avail much, whereas the prayers of others may not be heard.
Today we read in the Psalm . . .
Put your trust in the LORD and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
Take delight in the LORD, *
and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.
Be still before the LORD *
and wait patiently for him.
So how do we become righteous in the sight of God? We become righteous by living the gospel and by confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We become righteous when we care for the less fortunate and become willing workers in God’s Kingdom. We become righteous when we develop a personal relationship with God by reading and believing in His Word. And we become righteous as a community of believers when we become one mind and one spirit with one another, joyfully expecting God to act on our behalf for whatever we ask.
Those of you who are new to Saint Nicholas may not know this, but before this building became available, the original St. Nicholas church members came here and walked around this building claiming it for Jesus to be used in the building of his kingdom (and not just this particular building – but the whole property. After some months, this building became available for lease and we have been here ever since. This week we had the opportunity to meet the real estate agent who has been trying to sell this property for the past 4 ½ years. Jim Siebold commended him on doing such a fine job. But now it seems the property will be sold . . . to another church. But the good news is that they don’t want this building – they will use the gym and the school and that we are welcome to stay and worship here. Another prayer prayed long ago . . . and another answer from a God who truly does care for us and who obviously wants us to continue here in this place . . . all because the leadership here continues to cultivate a growing relationship and dependence on God to fulfill our needs.
The easiest way to think about this is comparing it to your own relationships. When your son or daughter is in trouble, you know you will do anything to help them as quickly as possible whereas if the stranger down the street is in trouble and you hear about it from someone else, you may or may not get involved because, though you may be acquainted with him, you have no relationship with him. Your help is not as warranted, and you think, well . . . his own family is better able to care for him than I.
I think I may have told you once that there is a myth held among the mafia that the prayers of a righteous woman married to a mafia member will give them a ‘get out of hell free card’ no matter what they do. How do I know this? I once knew the wife of a mafia member who believed that as long as his wife remained pure and that ‘he showed his face to God’ every week at church that God would accept him into heaven because of the prayers of his righteous wife. Whenever you hear or read stories about the mafia, you may recall that they are almost always married to a faithful, believing woman who has no knowledge of the family business. This is part of the shroud of evil that they delude themselves with. As it happens, this woman I knew was looking to get a divorce which would totally disrupt her husband’s plan of salvation. It was better if she be killed for the cause than divorced for obvious reasons. And so she was on the run.
Again in the Psalm appointed we read today . . .
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
For evildoers shall be cut off, *
but those who wait upon the LORD shall possess the land.
The apostle James tells us that ‘the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
As a minister here at St. Nicholas it has been an honor and a privilege for me to proclaim to you the Good News of Jesus Christ. I have tried my best to show you what it’s like to live a life in grace. But, as your priest, it is my added responsibility to teach you how to live a life in grace . . . and it begins each day with faith and ends each day in prayer. We are to pray for each other unceasing and for our congregation so that God’s will for us will be revealed. Our guest visitor confirmed to us that God is still performing miracles when they are needed and He is performing them here in our own lives if only we will expect them and accept them for what they are.
As long as the Good News is being preached and people are coming to Jesus then all is well. It is when the Gospel is not being preached and no one is coming to know Jesus that we are warned that that church will fail . . . and churches are failing today . . . by the thousands.
So which churches are growing . . . current statistics show that it is only the churches that are evangelical, who preach the Good News in their pulpits and who spread the Good News to their neighbors that grow.
Our job, in this place and at this time in history is to stand firm and continue to do as our church has been doing for the past millennia holding fast to the faith once delivered by the saints. If we continue to do this . . . if we continue to do what is righteous in the sight of God and continue to pray and to spread the Good News as it has been revealed to us, we will grow and there will be no stopping us. But we need to have faith and we need to pray for this congregation each and every day . . . and if we do all this, God will bless us . . . and he already has.