Baccalaureate Sermon, 2017

Baccalaureate, 2017
John 16:23-33 / Matthew 6:9-13
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

In the fictional world of Harry Potter, what are the three Unforgivable Curses?

The Killing Curse—Avada Kedavra.

The Cruciatus Curse—Crucio.

And the Imperious Curse—Imperio.

Do you know the origins of their names? Do you know why the spell for the Killing Curse is Avada Kedavra?

You’ve heard the same phrase before as abracadabra. It’s Aramaic and means “Let the thing be destroyed.” The “thing” was usually a disease and the phrase a cure, but J.K. Rowling turned it into a curse.

Crucio comes from what? Latin. Crucio means “I torture.” We see this especially in the word crucify.

And Imperio—whence comes Imperio?

We’ll come back to that one.

When I was in high school, I hated being told what to do.

I also hated hearing conversations that began, “When I was in high school…”

As I have, just now, committed the second, please forgive me, and let’s talk about the first.

Who likes being told what to do?

How many of you graduates, for the last almost-two-decades, woke up every morning looking forward to being told what to do?

And everybody else—don’t you just love being told what to do? One of the perks of being a pastor is being able to tell people to stand and sit. It’s marvelous.

How many of you would trade being told what to do all the time for telling people what to do all the time?

Is there a day that goes by that wouldn’t be improved by somebody else doing exactly what you told them to do?

Everybody thinks the same thing: “The world would be better if…you did what I say.” Husbands think that about their wives. Wives think that about their husbands. Friends, neighbors, teachers, parents, everybody.

So, who can you boss around? Who can you command?

It seems to follow a hierarchy.

Parents tell children what to do.

Teachers tell students.

Coaches tell players.

We tell each other what to do.

But where is God in that divide?

Can you command God to do anything?

Wouldn’t that be great? An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God—who does what you say.

That’d be nice.

But is that how it is?

Can you command God to do anything?

Actually, you can. If you prayed the Lord’s Prayer a few minutes ago, you just did. Several times.

But first, one of the graduates, tell me—what is an imperative?

Verbs have person, number, tense, mood, and voice.

Mood can be several things: indicative, subjunctive, interrogative, imperative…

What’s an imperative? It’s a command.

The Imperious Curse gets its name from a Latin word meaning command. In English, we use the same word to talk about the imperative mood in verbs.

Here’s the difference:

If I say: Stand… You stand.

If I say: Sit… You sit.

That’s one of the reasons I became a pastor.

It’s different from asking: Will you please sit down?

It’s different from describing: They sat down. They are sitting. They sit.

And here’s why we’re talking about this:

Every petition of the Lord’s Prayer contains an imperative.

We are literally telling God what to do in every verse.

And normally, when Man tries to tell God to do something, it doesn’t go well.

When He teaches the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus commands us to pray this way. He uses an imperative in teaching us how to pray. He says, “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9).

Here we are wanting to tell people what to do, and Jesus Himself, God in the flesh, teaches us to pray in such a way as to give commands to God.

Rightly understood, this is one of the most comforting things in all of Scripture. It’s hands down the best prayer that can be prayed. So, let’s look:

“Our Father [who art] in heaven…”

This is the introduction. God is in heaven. We’re not. Things are perfect where He is. And here, they’re not. Jesus teaches us to acknowledge this difference. We are poor, miserable, sinners in need of salvation.

We need what God has.

“Hallowed be Thy name…”

The First Petition. God’s name is holy. In this petition, we tell God to make His name holy among us—because it’s not.

When Jesus returns, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus is Lord and Christ.

He already is, of course. But we pray that God make it happen amongst us.

“Thy kingdom come…”

The Second Petition. The kingdom of God is best thought of—not as one place—but as wherever God reigns according to His Word.

When we pray this petition, we’re telling God to reign here as He already reigns in heaven.

“Thy will be done…”

The Third Petition. God’s will is done without our prayer, but we pray that it be done among us also.

The will of God is a certain thing—the defeat of satan and the salvation of the world. In Christ, this is accomplished.

We understand the next words of the Lord’s Prayer as applying to each of the first three petitions: “on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s name is already holy in heaven. His kingdom already reigns perfectly in heaven. His will is already perfectly and completely done in heaven. We pray that God would make it so on earth as it already is in heaven.

We’re telling Him to do this.

And then:

“Give us this day our daily bread…”

It’s not a question. It’s a command. Jesus teaches us to tell God to give us today what is coming to us eventually.

Again and again, Scripture shows us that God provides for the needs of all Creation.

“He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry” (Psalm 147:9). And you are more than the beasts and ravens.

“Do not be anxious…” Jesus says, “…[about] what you will eat…Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:25-26). And you are more valuable than they.

God gives daily bread to everyone—even to all evil people. But we pray that God would do this and so cause us to realize it, that we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

The Fifth Petition. This one’s my favorite.

All sin is forgiven. God holds nothing against you.

The only sin that will damn a person is unbelief.

St. Paul says it this way: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:18).

But we don’t understand this in a universalist sense.

St. Paul also says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).

So, when we pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we need to remember: God earned forgiveness for the world in handing over His Son to Cross and death.

And God gives forgiveness to all who believe, and that belief, that faith, is also the work and gift of God (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10; John 6:29).

As such, you can’t withhold forgiveness from anyone.

Christians cannot refuse to forgive. Christians do not wait for someone to repent to forgive them. Because God didn’t wait for you to be good to forgive you. He forgave you for Christ’s sake.

This is what’s meant in Matthew chapter six, after the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

So, we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Then, we conclude, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Those should be taken together.

This is what’s called “dialectic negation.” It’s when you deny something that’s true to emphasize a more important point.

It could be translated this way: “And lead us not only into temptation, but also, more importantly, deliver us from evil.”

While God tempts no one, He does lead us into temptation.

We need to remember that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness in order to be tempted by the devil. The devil tempted Jesus. But God led Him into it. Drove Him into it. Forced Him into it.

This is so strange to us today, because we’ve lost our minds.

We equate an easy life with a faithful one.

Jesus was faithful. His life wasn’t easy.

The Apostles, after the resurrection, were faithful unto death. All but one died as martyrs.

God gives us crosses to bear. He tests our faith. To strengthen us. To confirm our faith.

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

And St. Peter, one of the ones to whom Jesus was speaking, says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed…Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 19).

So be ready.

You’re going to be tested. God will test your faith.

You’re going to be tempted. The devil will tempt you to sin.

That’s going to happen.

So, when we pray these petitions, understand that God will lead you into temptation—He will allow you to be tempted while He is testing your faith.

But more importantly, as He does that, He also delivers you from evil.

He guards and keeps us such that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh may not deceive us or lead us into despair and shame. In fact, our Father in heaven will rescue us from every evil of body and soul and, when our last our comes, give us a blessed end.

That’s how Jesus commands us to pray.

That’s how Jesus teaches us to command God to save us.

We’ve got Him by His Word. And He will listen.

Now, I’ve said all of that, so I could say this.

Jesus says, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home…I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33).

I don’t know where you’re going.

I don’t know what you plan to do.

I know things will change.

And I know things will stay the same.

Whatever it is—pray the prayer that Jesus teaches.

And believe it.

He is faithful to His Word and promise.

And our Father hears His children and saves them.

I have said these things to you that you may have peace.

In the world, you will have tribulation.

But take heart, Christ the Lord has overcome the world.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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