How are you at holiday good-byes? The holiday season is great for reunions and comings-home, but how are you when it’s time for the farewells and the goings-away, whether those goings-away are across town or across the country? But it often isn’t just the sad departures, is it? You may be the one doing the traveling, or you may be the one sending the travelers off, but often times those farewells and hugs and long good-byes are accompanied by the prayer, whether spoken out loud or deep down in your worry-filled heart, “Lord, please let them get home safely. There are so many detours out there and so many dangers out there and so many accidents waiting to happen out there, all of which make me nervous and scared and tense until I get that text message or that phone call that says they’re home safe.”
It is a great thing to entrust your loved ones into the care of their heavenly Father as they go on their way to their own home or to their friend’s home or to their day-care home or to their school home or to their military base home or to their temporary-while-they-get settled home. It is also a great thing to entrust to the care of their heavenly Father all of those who are our loved ones by faith in the one who loved us so much that he left his home to give his life for us – those loved ones who as a result of their faith in him are on their way to join him in their real home in heaven. Listen again to how the apostle Paul talks about this kind of prayer for others on their journey home in the opening paragraph of our lesson: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” That expression “carry it on to completion” has the picture of crossing the finish line at the end of our lives – of getting home to heaven. We can be confident that our Lord God who began the “good work” of giving our fellow believers faith in his Son, Jesus, will keep that good work going in them until the day Jesus returns from his home to take us to our home with him in heaven above.
Have you thought about that very much lately? Maybe we do or don’t think about this as much as we should, but one of the great ways we can have happiness and joy in life is caring about the lives of others, even people we may not know that well, asking about them, “Lord, please let get them home safely.” That person sitting three pews from you right now, that family sitting in the place they almost always sit, that shut-in member who would give anything to be able to be sitting anywhere in this building this morning, if they could – all of them are people we can take time to think about and to pray for as they make their way back home, because all of them are people who are going through the same things I am going through, and who therefore need the same thing I need to get through it – the thing St. Paul mentions in verse 7, when he says that even though he was in chains for telling people about Jesus, which he was at this time, “all of you share in God’s grace with me.”
Isn’t that a great reason to pray that God will get our fellow believers home safely? Isn’t that a great reason to pray that God will make more fellow believers so there can be more fellow believers that God will get home safely? They all share in God’s grace with us. They are just like us, because they need that love from God that is not deserved, and they are just like us because they have that love from God that is not deserved. There is no doubt that sometimes our own sinfulness leads us to act like we don’t care whether other fellow believers join us in heaven or not, and there is no doubt that sometimes the sinfulness of fellow believers toward us makes our own journey to heaven more difficult. That is why is such a sad thing to see when God’s people post things they should not post about one another or join in conversations about others that they should not join in or behave in a way that tempts people to have conversations with others that they should have with the one who is misbehaving. In those ways and so many others we show that we have a deep need to have God share his grace with us. In those ways and so many others we show that we have a deep need to remember that we really don’t even deserve to have anyone pray for us that God would get us home to heaven safely, because in those ways and so many others we show that we shouldn’t have a heavenly home to be on our way to.
But what you and I have such a deep need for is what God in his great love has seen fit to give us. That’s the entire reason we sharers in God’s grace will — as many of us will do this morning — share together the grace of the Holy Sacrament. If it is helpful for you to do, perhaps as you are singing the communion hymn and preparing for the reception of the sacrament, think about the people coming forward, whether you know them or not. As they come forward, let them come forward confident that you are saying, “Lord, please get them home safely. Help them know that whatever they have done wrong – maybe even something they have done wrong against me – is buried by your grace and covered by the body and blood they are miraculously receiving with the bread and wine. And, Lord, help me be part of getting them home safely by not causing detours or dangers or accidents for them in their walk through life. Lord, help me be a sharer of God’s grace with them, just as I can be confident that they are praying the very same thing for me.”
In the last paragraph of our lesson the apostle Paul tells us in a very specific way what we can pray for, as we pray that God will take them safely home – beginning at verse 9: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
The way that God gets people safely home is not really through our prayers themselves, but through the things we are praying that God will do for them, as they, for example receive the Lord’s Supper, and as they hear his Word. That is how God’s people “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight and can discern what is best,” the things the apostle Paul mentions here. Knowledge is knowing the facts of God’s Word. Insight is understanding what the facts of God’s Word mean for my life. Discernment is using that knowledge and wisdom to make good decisions by not following false teachings or empty temptations and by instead doing whatever we can to show that through the work of Jesus Christ we know we are on our way to our home in heaven. That kind of discernment – that kind of way of life — is what lets us be “pure and blameless,” which is also what Paul encourages us to pray for for others. Pure means to have something be examined by a bright light to show that is has no flaws. Blameless means to live in a way that is consistent with what we believe and with what God tells us, so that no one can get confused about the love of God by looking at us.
Those are humbling things, though, aren’t they? As we pray that God will keep others pure and blameless on their way home, we know very well that if someone shined the light on the dark parts of our life, it would not be a pretty picture, and we know very well, as well, that if someone kept a video recording of our life, there would be an awful lot of inconsistencies between what we say we believe and how we actually conduct ourselves. But the thing is that that is exactly the case for everyone else, too. That’s why we need to be sharers in God’s grace, because it is impossible for us to behave in a way that shows we deserve what is truly and totally undeserved. And that’s also why it’s all the more remarkable that in his grace God also allows us to know about ourselves the same thing that we pray others will always know about themselves – that we – and they – are, as Paul says here, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”
What that is talking about is the main and central truth of the Bible that the fruit – or the result – of what the righteous, holy Jesus Christ has done for us is to give to us the same righteousness and holiness before God that he has as the Son of God. Jesus Christ has given us the reason not only to pray for others to be able to get home safely to heaven, but he himself is the guarantee that they will get home safely to heaven – meaning that our prayer for others on their way to heaven is that their whole life long they keep believing what Jesus says they are – pure and blameless – and that they be enabled to do that by continuing to hear the message of God’s Word which tells them why they need Jesus and that they have Jesus. For that is how our great and gracious Lord God keeps his promise to bring to completion the good work he has begun in them. That is how God gets his people across the finish line. That is how God gets his people home.
“So, Lord, in your grace and according to your promise (pointing to the congregation), please let them get home safely – and me, too.” Amen.