Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Series A

Yes, this is largely based on previous sermons for Rogate Sunday. I've got at least one, possibly two, funerals in the next few days, so time is at a premium. God's word is still God's word, though, and that's what's important.

Sermon on John 14:1-14
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 22, 2011 (The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Series A)

“Whatever you ask in My name I will do,” says Jesus toward the end of today’s Gospel lesson. So, why didn’t I get that new bike when I was a kid? Why did grandma still die, even though I prayed that she would live? I’m sure many of you could name off all sorts of examples that you asked the Father for over the years, which you didn’t get. Of course, there are those preachers, some of whom have television shows, which will tell you that you didn’t pray with enough faith, or you doubted, or you didn’t make your request specific enough. These advocates of the “name it and claim it” theology would make the person praying feel guilty every time God doesn’t do what he wants. These advocates of having “your best life now” would make the person doubt his Christianity every time something bad happens in life. They also, in a sense, would make God our slave.

Jesus is not promising that whatever we may happen to want, God’s gotta give us if we pray the right way. Every so often you hear the slogan, “Prayer is powerful.” Well, folks, it’s not true. Prayer isn’t powerful; prayer is just us talking to God, and our talking, our words, don’t have any power at all. God is the one who is powerful. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in accord with God’s will. To pray in the name of our adopted Brother is to pray to Him who has become our true Father, who gives His blessings to us because we are His true children. Children don’t get everything they want. Sometimes what they want isn’t good for them. To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray that the Father would give us what we need, not necessarily what we want. In other words, to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray that God’s will be done, not necessarily our own. It is to pray, first and foremost, for those things God has already promised to give us, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven and are heard by Him, for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way, and has promised to hear us. Anything we might pray for that God hasn’t promised, is subject to His will, and should be prayed with the understanding that His will comes before our own in such matters. He is, after all, our true Father, and He knows better than we do what’s good for us.

Of course, that’s not the way we like to look at God. We want what we want, when we want it. If we don’t get it, we are tempted to be upset or angry with Him, and may even try to get whatever it is on our own without Him. When that happens, the result goes against the Fourth through Tenth Commandments, as if breaking the first three by our selfish attitude weren’t bad enough. We want Him to serve us in an inferior role, as a servant serves his master, rather than serving us in a superior role, as parents serve and provide for their children. In order for us to pray rightly, therefore, He needs to put us to death and raise us up again so that we can be those who recognize their true Father for who He is. We need Him to come to us, to speak His Word to us, thereby killing us and raising us up to newness of life. That’s the only way that we will ever be able to talk to Him rightly, if He opens our mouths and puts in there His Word in place of our own selfish and impotent words. That’s the only way prayer is powerful, is if what is prayed is His all-powerful Word which was first spoken to us.

Like the other Gospel lessons during this part of the Easter season, Jesus spoke these words in the upper room on the first Maundy Thursday. He spoke them as He was preparing His disciples to witness His upcoming passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. He was promising them that the Father would still be with them, even during the worst moments of Good Friday, and that Jesus Himself would still be with them, even though He would be hidden from their physical eyes on Ascension Day. He was promising them that the Holy Spirit would come through Word and Sacrament in response to their prayers for comfort and courage, and most of all their prayers that He would continue to be with them.

The ultimate prayer, the most important, most basic thing that we can pray for, is that we can be with our Creator and He with us. This is the most basic need of every human being, even though it’s also a need that fallen human beings cannot and will not recognize rightly. That’s why even the mass of humanity that is in rebellion against the true God needs to find some sort of a god to worship, some sort of a religion to follow, no matter how false or even kooky it is. But this most basic prayer, that God would be with us and be merciful and gracious towards us, He has fulfilled in sending His Son. He fulfilled it by sending His Son to die on the cross. He fulfilled it in raising Him from the grave, and by sending His Holy Spirit through the Word and His body and blood to sustain and guide us. Our prayer that God would be with us is fulfilled in the most real and concrete way when we receive His Son’s body and blood in our physical mouths in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. And that prayer will be fulfilled for all time when we are taken to be with Him in heaven, to sit at the heavenly marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. He is the way, the truth, and the life. The reason He is the only way, is because He did it all for us, which is something no false god ever even tries to claim; all the rest want us to do something to get right with them. Since sin is what would separate us from God, prayers to be with Him are really prayers for the forgiveness of sins, which carries with it nothing less than life and salvation, “For where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” That’s what you receive in the Gospel Word and the Sacrament of the Altar here today. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. God is fulfilling your prayers here today, and thereby giving you a foretaste of eternity. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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