Sunday, May 5, 2013

Easter 6, Series C

Sermon on John 16:23-33
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
May 5, 2013 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

Prayer is something that I suspect we as Christians all too often forget about.  When we experience troubles in life, do we always take time to pray about them?  Or do we spend that time worrying and fretting and hoping that maybe we ourselves will be able to figure out a way out of our problem.  When things aren’t going well for us or our friends and neighbors, it sometimes can seem like a waste of time to pray to God concerning the problem, time which can be better spent trying to help out or find a way to fix things.

But on the other hand, I suspect that we are still more likely to pray when things are going badly for us than when things are going well.  Many people will eventually start at least trying to talk to God when things get bad enough.  But even the most upright Christian often forgets to talk to God if things are going well for him.  He forgets to thank God for the blessings he has received from Him, and only remembers to talk to Him if things are going badly.

But praying to God is something that He commands us to do.  The Second Commandment tells us not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain.  Luther explains this commandment this way: “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”  Note that we are commanded to call upon God’s name in trouble, to pray, to praise, and to give thanks.  If we don’t call on God’s name in prayer, both for help in trouble and in thanksgiving for our blessings, we are committing a serious sin.  We are committing a sin against the same commandment, believe it or not, as when people misuse God’s name by swearing or cursing or by using it in certain pagan rituals.  God has given us a great blessing by allowing us to come to Him in prayer.  Not to make use of that blessing is to reject it and thus to reject God.  To pray frequently is not just good advice.  It is simply God’s will for us that we do this.

But like all of the other provisions in God’s Law, there are other and better reasons to do it than simply the ominous threat that God’s gonna get us if we don’t.  That threat is really only supposed to be used on the most hard-hearted and stubborn unrepentant individuals, though it can also be useful to us too during those times when our old sinful natures are tempting us to be downright lazy.  For a Christian, prayer, like worship, like reading God’s Word, like taking Holy Communion, is something we do frequently because we get to, not because we have to; because we regard it as a great privilege, not because we’ll get into trouble if we don’t; because we really can talk directly to the creator of everything, not because He’ll punish us if we don’t.  This great privilege is what Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

Now, this is a privilege that we would not have if Jesus had stayed with His disciples and not gone on through the cross and resurrection to the ascension.  If Christ had not died and rose again for our justification, we would have no access to God.  We would still be dead in trespasses and sins, and anything we might say to God would be just as offensive to Him as our old, corrupt, hostile-to-God sinful selves were before we were converted.  It is only because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on our behalf, His covering us with the white robe of His righteousness, and His pleading with the Father on our behalf that we are able to pray to God.  If it weren’t for these things our prayers simply wouldn’t be heard.  If it weren’t for Christ’s blood which cleanses us from all sin, the only response we would get for our prayers would be His wrath.  But fortunately Christ did die for us and rise again and ascend into heaven to plead for us at the Father’s right hand.  And so we can pray to Him in our trials, our fears, and our needs.  We can appreciate and thank Him for the many blessings we receive, both the blessings of this life and, more importantly, the blessings of this next life which we receive even now in His Word and His body and blood.  The fact that Jesus promises that His Father will hear our prayer is another piece of comfort that shows us the love He has for us that caused Him to give up His Son, and His Son to give up His life, for our salvation.

And God does hear our prayers.  That’s another thing to keep in mind here.  Jesus promises that what we ask in His name, the Father will give to us.  This doesn’t mean that anything we ask for we will automatically get.  It means that the Father will provide what is best for us and, just as a parent likes to have his children ask for the things that he is going to give them anyway, so also the Father wants us to bring to Him what is on our hearts and minds.  Doing so is a confession of faith that He is the one who can and does give us every blessing of body and soul.  When we pray in Jesus’ name we aren’t praying based on our own thoughts about what is best for us.  We are praying based on God’s promises.  That’s why when we pray for things that God hasn’t specifically promised, we usually say, “But Thy will be done.”  When we pray for things that He has not promised to us, no matter how good and necessary those things seem to us at the time, we need to realize that He knows what’s best for us.  And if we are basing our faith on whether or not God does what we want Him to do, we have a false faith, because it means we are in charge.  In other words, to pray in Jesus’ name means that what we pray for is conformed to God’s will and not the other way around.  That’s why Jesus can promise that whatever we ask in His name, the Father will give to us.  As we continue to grow up in the faith and be nourished by God’s Word, our prayers will indeed be more and more reflections of God’s promises rather than our own ideas about what’s good and right.  They will become more and more confessions of God’s Word and less expressions of our own personal notions and ideas.

And the ultimate prayer is of course that we can be with God and He with us.  This is the most basic desire of every human being.  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 false religion to follow.  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 prayers that God would be with us are 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.  God is fulfilling our prayers here today.  Let us thank and praise Him, for He is gracious to us.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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