What would you do for a Klondike bar?  Would you stand up during this sermon introduction and recite the books of the New Testament backwards?  Would you agree to sing a solo for verse one of our final hymn this morning?  Would you find a way to
beat me at the limbo contest at our Hawaiian Luau next week? Would you be willing to do one of these things for a Klondike bar?  That’s really a great slogan isn’t it?  You invite someone to think to themselves,“Hmm..would I do that for that treat?”  
 How important is it to me to get it.  Am I willing to risk embarrassment as I work my way through the New Testament books or to belt out that hymn verse? Am I willing to risk injury to humble pastor and beat him at the limbo?  It shows you just how valuable that treat is to you. Today, Mark’s gospel gets us thinking about what God is willing to do, and it’s not about what God is willing to do for an ice cream bar.  What is God willing to do for you?  
            
The man in our verses this morning knew exactly what he wanted Jesus to do for him.  “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’”  There is a lot said in this statement.  First of all, it shows that this man understands who Jesus was. Saying to him, “If you are willing you can heal me of leprosy,” is not the same as going to someone and saying to him, “If you are willing you can do ten jumping jacks. He was asking Jesus to do something that no one else could. Leprosy was a disease that sentenced the one who contracted it to a life of separation and hopelessness. 
There was no cure for it.  The people who had it were commanded by the law to stay away from people who were uninfected so it wouldn’t spread.  Whenever someone came near to them they were commanded to cry out in a loud voice, “Unclean, Unclean!” so everyone was aware of their situation.  No, leprosy was not something that was pretty, and it wasn’t something that any man could simply take care of.  When this man said to Jesus, hey, if you are willing you could cleanse me, he is saying loud and clear, Jesus, I know you are the Holy One and I know that you have divine power to help me.  You can do this.
           
But notice what else this man recognizes.  It is a matter of whether or not Jesus wills to do this.  He is acknowledging that Jesus could decide to do it or not, and it has nothing to do with his ability or power to accomplish it. I mean, we have read these verses once already and we will look at them some more, so we know what happens. We know the next verse says, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man, ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”  But this man didn’t know what would happen next.  We might wonder how he would have reacted, but that man definitely knew Jesus could have not healed him and it would have only been a matter of will. This man comes to Jesus and says, “I know who you are. I don’t know what your will is in this case, but if you wanted to, you could heal me.”

Does such an attitude exist in your heart toward your God?  Do we bring our problems to him humbly and eagerly and say Lord, if you are willing you can help me with this. If you are willing, you can give me my health back. If you are willing, you can give me a few good friends. If you are willing, you can help me find more work or better work.  If you are willing, you can grant success to this undertaking. If you are willing, you could give me this blessing that I have been waiting for so long for.  Lord, I know you have the ability to do any of these things for me.  It’s simply a matter of whether or not you are willing to do it.
           
Sometimes we do pretty well at that right?  We know who we are talking to in our prayers.  We know what he can do, which is everything.  We know he is going to listen.  But don’t we run into a sinful snag often in what we are willing to do in this regard? 
Sometimes we aren’t very quick to kneel down next to the leper.  We aren’t in a hurry to rush to God and drop a problem in front of him and say, Lord, if you wanted to you could take care of this.  Instead, what do we so often do?  Well we try to take care of it.  If we want to get healthy, we are going to try every medical means offered.  If we want new friends, maybe we try some new ways of social networking.  If we want a different job we start floating our name around.  If we want success we do everything we can to bring it about. None of those things are wrong. But do they ever hide something more sinful than we would want to admit.
           
You see, it’s not that we don’t think God could use his power and help us. It’s just that you and me, we have sorta gotten tired of God saying he’s not willing.  If every problem we brought before God he answered the way Jesus answered this leper, yup I’m willing, we would never stop bringing our problems to him would we?  But because there are times when God’s answer to our request is, no, I’m not willing, what have we done?  Don’t we judge which of our problems God might actually help us with?  Rather than bringing all of our cares to him, we have a feel worked out.  Ok, this is something God might actually do something about, I better pray about it. This is something that I will just have to do.  Or there are things that whenever we pray about them we tack on that phrase, in accordance with your will.  Nothing wrong with that.  It is good to pray for God’s will to be done.  But do we sometimes sneak that in there as God’s out?  That we ar  convinced that God isn’t going to do anything about this problem, that he isn’  willing, and we don’t want it to look like he blew it.  Is the reason that we don’t act more like this leper, and bring our problems to God and dump them there and say, God if you are willing to take care of these, because deep down we have doubts that there is even a chance he is going to say, yes I am willing?  
          
But why do you doubt what God is willing to do for you?  Is it because you don’t get the chance the leper did?  You don’t get to throw yourself down at Jesus feet and say, Lord if you are willing?  But dear Christian, you do get that opportunity.  And before we look at that, isn’t it amazing to think about that God has told you what he is willing to do for you?  Before you and I could say anything to God about what he wills to do or not, he revealed his will to the world.  He revealed that he was willing to provide an answer to the problem of sin.  He revealed that he was willing to send his Son to stand in front of a leprous man, more than that to touch and cleanse him.  Why?  Because his will was for people to take  notice of who this was.  His will was for you and me to see the Son of God revealed for our certainty.  His will was for his Son to show himself as the Lamb of God and then to die as that Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.  God willed that his glory and grace be revealed to all through Christ. And his will was done.
           
And now God has a more detailed will for you.  What God is willing to do is to listen to your every need.  To be the one that you can cast all your anxieties on. Yes, your big life shaping problems, but also your daily cares and  concerns.  Your daily challenges that the hardest part sometimes is simply getting up for them.  God is willing to do anything for you.  He is willing to even say no to you.  Notice the emotion Jesus shows here.  He is overwhelmed with pity for this poor man.  He knows the life that he has had to live and the shame of it.  When you come and present your problems to God, know that he cares.  He is seized by his love and compassion for you.  If you doubt it, look at what he was willing to do for you through Christ. And because of that great love he has for you, he may say to you, “I am  not willing.”  What you are asking to be resolved is serving a good purpose for you. You can’t see it now, but I do.  I know it is what’s best for you.  Trust me.  God sometimes says I am not willing, even though he knows it opens the door for us to sinfully doubt him and his power.  But see his great mercy.  He is still willing to forgive us for such doubts.  He is still willing to forgive us for struggling with our selfish doubts and fears.  He is still willing to
cleanse us again from our sins, a much more miraculous work than healing a leper.
          
What God is willing to do for you is everything.  Trust his power and his wisdom.  And as you see him carry out his will for you that centers on the forgiveness Christ won, go and tell others about what God wills for them.  The leper was supposed to offer the sacrifices and show himself to the priest, that would have been the powerful testimony Jesus wanted him to give.  Instead he talked up the miraculous healing and it made Jesus’ ministry adjust.  God is willing to cleanse sinners like you and me. He is willing to wash us of the sins that we continue to struggle with.  He is willing to rinse us and make us holy.  He has the same will for the other people in your life, those who like us have problems and sins.  We don’t need to wonder, “God are you willing to forgive me?  Are you willing to forgive this person?”  God’s answer is a resounding yes.  May God help us to go and give our testimony to the world around us of what our God was willing to do for us.  And may we continue to place all things before God and say, “Lord, whatever your will is for me, do it.  And to you be praise.”  Amen.
 
 
(This is the 5th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "If God is supposed to answer all my prayers, why does it seem like he doesn't sometimes?")
Aren’t You Listening?

 

          Isn’t it frustrating when someone doesn’t listen to you?  In the course of conversation, someone might ask you a question and as you begin to give your answer, you notice that the person’s eyes are going somewhere else, perhaps to the game that is on TV.  They give no reaction to any parts of your answer, even the things you feel are very interesting or surprising.  Maybe the person is even so brazen as to pull out his phone and check his new message as you are talking.  You know that he didn’t listen when you get done with what you have to say and he asks another question that you had just explained a second ago.  That can be very frustrating, and you want to just say to that person, “Hey.  Aren’t you listening?”  It sure doesn’t seem like that.  We forgive each other for doing that far too often, and it’s a little understandable when a big play is happening, or you are waiting for a specific message, that your attention is not 100%.  But could you imagine instances where it would be ridiculous for someone to not be listening?  If you call 911 and the dispatch person misses what you said because he is checking his cell phone we would be upset.  If you are explaining to the ER doctor what happened to your hand and he starts a conversation with another doctor, you might be a little peeved.  And don’t our prayers fall into this type of category?  We pray to God about lots of things, many of which are very important and the question today is what do we do when it seems like God isn’t listening.  Is he checking other prayers that popped up on his smart phone?  Is he distracted by everything else that is going on?  We know such thoughts are foolish, but then what do we say when it seems like God isn’t answering our prayers.

          That was the situation that Paul found himself in.  In his second letter to the Corinthians, he shared a very important prayer that he had offered to God.  “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”  Paul had experienced an amazing vision that he had just shared with the Corinthians in the verses before ours.  Because of how great this vision was, he received a powerful problem, to keep him from becoming conceited.  What type of problem was this?  Well, he calls it his thorn in the flesh, something that continued to be present and painful for him.  He calls it a messenger of Satan.  We don’t know exactly what this thorn was.  Some think that it might have been some sort of problem with Paul’s eyes..  Some think it was an illness that he had picked up on his travels, such as malaria.  It could have been some sort of speech impediment, as some considered Paul less than a powerful speaker.  Whatever the thorn was, we can imagine what Paul wanted in prayer can’t we?  He tells us that he pleaded with the Lord.  He didn’t just nonchalantly ask, he begged God.  And this was not a one time thought for Paul.  He mentions three times, but you could imagine it being more than that.  Paul wanted this thorn to be gone and so he was busy and earnestly asking God for that.

          Can’t we understand what Paul’s reasoning must have been like?  I mean, this was not a selfish whiny person we are talking about.  This is the guy who suffered tons for the Gospel.  Beatings and shipwrecks and imprisonments.  He faced such things with confidence, so I am sure he wasn’t just thinking oh if only this problem was gone, things would be so cushy and easy for me.  No, more likely he had pretty good reasoning.  Lord, think how much more work I could get done for you if this thorn was removed.  How many more people could I have the strength and energy to reach with the Gospel.  It makes all the sense in the world that you would take this problem away from me God.  So why aren’t you listening?

          Our prayers might be different in some content from Paul’s, but overall, can’t you find some similarities between you and him.  When are the times that you really wonder if God is listening or not.  It’s not when you are having your wish list prayers.  You aren’t overly worried about God ignoring you if he doesn’t immediately grant you that blessing that you know you don’t need but would be sorta nice to have.  It’s not when you bring your little cares and problems to God, which is good to do.  He wants to hear all our cares and worries, but if he doesn’t supernaturally fix my brakes or help me drop the ten pounds I am working on, I don’t doubt he heard me.  No, isn’t it the really important prayers that make us stop and ask this question?  The prayers about granting my loved one some healing.  The prayers about helping to mend that fraying relationship at home.  The prayers about helping me succeed in a new school or job.  When those types of prayers seem to go unanswered, is that what makes us scratch our head and ask God if he is listening?

          And our reasons are pretty good too.  We are doing what he wanted us to do!  We know that Jesus is our friend and wants us to bring our burdens and grief to him.  We hear him say to us to cast all anxiety on him because he cares about us.  So we are doing what you wanted us to do, and besides, think about what could be Lord?  There are so many good reasons for you to grant this prayer.  Lord think about what that person could do for you if they were strong and healthy again.  Think about how much happier and thankful our home would be if this problem passed.  Think about what an unbeliever would see if you granted this prayer.  Think about how I could be a better witness for you if things go well in this new setting.  Why wouldn’t you answer this prayer?  The only reason you must not be doing it is because you aren’t listening.  And if that is the case, why bring these things to you?  Why keep praying, if I can’t count on you hearing me when I pray about the important parts of my life, what can I count on you for?  Why does it seem like you aren’t answering me when you promised you would?

          But note what God showed to Paul.  He gave him an explanation why he wasn’t answering that prayer to remove the thorn in his flesh.  “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God showed Paul what he was accomplishing in him through this suffering.  First, he promised him that his grace was enough for him.  He had all that he needed with the mercy God had showed him.  And on top of that, God’s strength was being made clearer through Paul’s weakness.  Go back to the seeming good reasons Paul gave to take the thorn away.  This would move the Gospel forward Lord.  Instead God says, when you are weak and suffering, when you are persecuted and insulted, that is when the power is clearly seen in my truth in you.  That is when the power is clearly Christ’s and not Paul’s.  The Lord was really answering Paul’s prayer for him.  What Paul thought was the best way to answer that prayer yes was not what God considered the right answer, but God still answered it.

          God gives you this example of Paul this morning because through it he shows us this is true for us too.  He might not make it clear to us the exact same way he did with Paul.  He doesn’t audibly speak to us in answer to our prayers, but he does tell you and me the same thing he tells Paul here.  Sometimes his power is clearer and most visible when we are weak.  When we are holding on in the midst of a problem and are really to fall, his powerful hand that holds us up and continues to help us bear whatever we might be praying about shows his strength. 

          But even more than that he shows us that while we might want to be asking him, “Aren’t you listening?” in reality, we should be asking ourselves that question.  Aren’t we listening to what we say when we pray?  Aren’t we listening to ourselves say, “Not our will be your will be done,” even if that means suffering or heartache?  Did the Father answer Christ’s prayer with a yes in Gethsemane?  He did, because Jesus prayer was do this if it is your will.  And since it was God’s will to save the world, Jesus got exactly what he prayer for.  Part of the problem with our prayers is we only hear what we are saying and not what the Spirit says.  God promises to send his Spirit to intercede for us.  So the prayer we offer might be the last thing in the world we would want since it conflicts with God’s will and so the Spirit speaks up for us. 

          And so dear Christians, silence your earthly minded thoughts for a moment with me this morning and hear what we really are praying by the work of the Spirit.  Lord, show me that your grace is enough for me.  That even if I must face the worst problems imaginable and the biggest heartaches, your forgiveness and mercy in Christ is more than enough to pick me up.  Lord, I want you to do what is good and pleasing in your sight, not in mine.  That is my greatest desire and I plead for you to carry that out, even if I don’t understand it all the time.  Lord, help me to accept your will as what I really want when I come to your throne of mercy.  When we pray in such a way, we know God will always answer our prayers with a resounding yes, because we are asking him to do the very thing he most wants to do, the very best things for us.

          This certainly calls for faith, and there is a reason why we recognize that prayer is a fruit of faith and something that flows out of seeing God’s abundant goodness to us.  Don’t think Paul didn’t have days where he thought, “Lord are you sure it wouldn’t be best this way, with this thorn gone.”  You and I will still have days where we wonder if we really received a yes answer to our prayer, because it sure seems to be a no.  This is why we must always continue to couple our prayers with God’s Word.  Because prayer without the word is just a one sided conversation.  We need to hear God’s answers for us.  We need to see his promises to give us everything we ask for in Christ’s name.  We need to see the amazing child and Father relationship we have with God because of Christ, and that is why we can be confident that our perfect, holy, wise, and all powerful God is not going to fail to give us what is best in his sight.

          We don’t need to worry about God not listening to our prayers.  He promises to hear and answer all of them.  If you find yourself feeling as if he hasn’t been answering, stop and listen to what it is that we are praying.  Each of us has different specifics in our prayers, but we have the same over riding desire.  That God’s will be done.  That we ask all things in the name of Christ Jesus and receive resounding yes’s to the prayers that the Spirit offers on our behalf.  Listen to what you are really praying and turn to the word where God answers your prayers and see how he responds to us.  I have listened to your prayers and here is my answer.  Yes.  Amen.