Talking to God. Yeah, right. That sounds good coming from a pastor. That sounds so easy for a pastor to talk about when I can't see God or touch God and by all indications, I'm not even sure God is there.
And you're right, coming from a pastor, whose job it is to be spiritual, it maybe a little hard to swallow especially with what you're facing. And there are plenty of places in the Bible that prayer is a lot easier to talk about than the one we'll look at today.
Click here for the link for today's scripture passage: Mark11:12-25
Let me start with William Barclay who I read from a couple of weeks ago. Barclay speculates that, “Maybe our trouble [with prayer] is that what we want from God is our answer, and we do not recognize his answer when it comes.”
We have tried to make out prayer to be something so easy. The church through the last few centuries has tried to make out talking to God to be nothing more than talking to your BFF. Yet we know from experience and from the Bible itself, talking, and having a conversation with God are different things. Prayer is conversation and sometimes, even in conversation, we don't hear correctly.
On the surface, this story may not look like it has much to do with prayer at all. It has this odd scene of Jesus cursing a fig tree and the clearing of the temple. And yet, the consist theme surrounding these verses is prayer – communication with God.
We're walking in the footsteps of history now. Just a few weeks from Easter Sunday, we're in the middle of the story, retelling how Jesus came to Jerusalem. I get the feel, reading the words, the disciples are little bit on edge. They knew the leaders of the Jews weren't happy with Jesus. The situation is escalating.
Jesus gets hungry for a snack. He goes to the figtree. Even out of season, the pre-fruits of the fig tree should be showing that the tree is going to provide something. Jesus finds nothing, and he prays, in fact, his prayer is a curse. It may seem odd and out of place to us, but WAS part of being the Messiah: Jesus did in fact come to pass judgement and he did so in the same way as the prophets of Old (Is 20:1-6; Jer 13:1-11, Ezek 4:1-15).
It wasn't rash. It wasn't cause Jesus was being petty. It doesn't mean we curse the drive-thru when the fries aren't ready. There is a bigger picture, Mark seems to say. Step back.
And so in the middle of this figgy story, comes the casting out of moneylenders and cleaning up the riff-raff out of the temple. Jesus could have said a lot of things about this incident. A lot of verses could have been pointed to but he called out one in particular...Isa 56:7 NKJV Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations."
Jesus, now done with living out his parables and done with turning heads, turns to his disciples and to us. He says, in essence, prayer is marked by two things.
- Faith in God (v.22)
- Forgiveness of Others (v.25)
When we talked two weeks ago, the sermon was on the mark of Faith, and how we need to plant whatever faith we have, no matter the size. Jesus gets back to that here: our prayer is dependent on faith.
But then Jesus adds this piece of forgiveness and our focus clears a bit. He wasn't very forgiving of that poor little tree nor was he calm and collected in the temple. None of that demonstrated forgiveness...well, yes, yes it did.
You see, over and over again God has forgiven Israel. And it is clear God is not going to stop forgiving so throw that idea out. Jerusalem in the first century was at a cross roads of civilization and people were coming from miles to the temple, people who were coming to know the one true God.
Yet the leaders were content in living by law. They had more faith in practices than in prayer. And Jesus steps in, taking on the full responsbility of the Messiah, as a prophet, priest and king. Jesus steps out and steps up, fulfilling the prophecies that speak of a place for all people. This is to be the way of the Cross. This is to be the way of the Church.
God is not interested in just forgiving one people BUT all people. And all people who are wanting to walk God's way must walk the way of forgiveness.
Prayer. The marks of it come from sowing the seed of faith and forgiving others. Along the way to the cross, Jesus is going to come back to this very same thing: forgiving others. This was not the last part of Jesus story.
Eva Kor, is a Holocaust Survivor and was a human experiment under Dr. Mengel while in Aushwitz. And she has done this radical step – forgiving the Nazis. She said, “Some people are afraid to give up their pain, to give up their anger. But pain and anger create revenge. Forgiveness is an act of self healing and self improvement (1).” People who hurt leave scars on people. People who forgive leave marks on the world.
I cannot tell you who to forgive. I can tell you need to start. You probably already know the negative issues related to grudges anyway, we leave a trail of that. But God seeks us to be like him, to be people, yes, of justice but more importantly, to be people of forgiveness. In a sense, it is your first intercessory prayer.
Ken is the Associate Pastor at Cumming First United Methodist and lead preacher for the NEW 9:51 Worship service meeting each Sunday morning.