Text: John 16:23-33
Date: Easter VI + 5/13/07
“Rogate!” “Ask ye.” In the historic lectionary today’s Gospel is especially devoted to prayer as we hear our Lord Jesus Christ say to his disciples “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you,” “for the Father himself loves you” (vs. 23, 27). These words are for Christians, that is, for those who have heard the call of the Gospel and, having drawn near to the Lord in His Church, have come to the repentance of their sin, received Holy Baptism and instruction in the faith and have publicly confessed the faith. Even so, like the first disciples to whom He first spoke these words, so for us, there is still so much more for us to learn, to know and to believe about our Lord and about ourselves as His new creation. Like so many of us, I became a Christian before I ever knew what was happening to me, being baptized as an infant. It was only later, actually in my teen years, that the Word of the Gospel (how shall I say it?) caught my attention as not only important but as the most important thing that alone promised to give meaning and purpose to my life, the answer to the biggest questions of life. All this is to say that there are two things that must be addressed in every sermon and in all the Church’s ministry. The first is the constant call to repentance and faith, the conversion of sinners into believers, as the prophet Isaiah says it today, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Is. 55:6). The second is then the struggle of the confession and living of that faith as we take up our cross and follow Jesus.
For most of us here the instruction we have received thus far, especially in the Small Catechism, continues as the living of the Christian faith is a constant testing, filled with trials and opportunities to put our God-given faith into action as St. James said to us today, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). “Doing the word” begins with believing it and then acting on it trusting in the promises of God we have heard. We can trust God’s promises because we have seen them already perfectly prepared and fulfilled in the words, the obedience, the sacrifice and the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ. The journey of faith before us therefore must stay focused on Jesus Christ, prayer is made to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ and all confidence and joy is ours as the threats and challenges of the world have, in reality, already been overcome in Jesus Christ. It’s all about Jesus Christ. May Jesus Christ be praised.
In the doing, the following and the living out of the faith, our Lord urges and even commands his disciples to pray. “Ask whatever you want in my name and it will be done for you.” Now, it’s been my experience that when the subject of prayer is brought up the first reaction is that most Christians feel guilty—guilty because they don’t feel they pray enough or use the right words or pray with enough intensity. But this is to think that some prayer is somehow weaker than other prayer. All of these things that play on guilt, that suggest you’re not praying enough or right are of the devil who would have you not pray at all, who would try everything in his bag of tricks to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because God knows the game, and that the devil, the world and our fallen nature still try to make us fall away and stumble, the Lord constantly, repeatedly, freely and winsomely invites, encourages, urges and even commands his people to pray, to bring your needs great and small, and your praises and thanks to him in every circumstance. As the old John Newton hymn says it, “Come, my soul, thy suit prepare, Jesus loves to answer prayer” [TLH 459:1].
Because true prayer must be to the one, true God, the Triune God in the name of Jesus, that simply means that it will be in accordance with his word and will. How often are people afraid to say something to someone because they don’t know how the other person will react. Well, in Christ we know how God reacts, what God thinks and that his attitude toward us is nothing but love, understanding, grace and mercy. In the name of Jesus faith knows what to ask for, it knows the difference between what we really need and what is, after all, of secondary importance. What we really need every day is the constant supply of the forgiveness of our sins, strength for our weakness, life and salvation, everything that tends to the strengthening and up building of God’s gift of faith. As the greatest encouragement to pray, even when you think you don’t know what to pray for, our Lord has given us the perfect prayer that asks for what we really need, the Our Father. Knowing all the devilish forces at work to sidetrack us and keep us from prayer, Martin Luther suggested, “at least pray in the morning when you arise from sleep, at table, and as you finish eating, and again in the evening when you go to bed, saying” the Lord’s Prayer.
There is no end of needs for prayer. But in those times when you simply do not know what to pray for simply make good use of the Lord’s Prayer. In its seven petitions is comprehended everything for which we ought to pray.
When we pray, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are praying that the gospel would be proclaimed by faithful pastors, heard by faithful Christians, and against all false teaching. When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we ask that the kingdom of the devil and of death might be overcome. Likewise, in the third petition, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray that everything that opposes God’s will might be thwarted and overcome. The words “Give us this day our daily bread” is actually to pray for everyone in authority, for our parents, for world leaders and for workers, farmers, truck drivers, the person at the check-out counter and all vocations that God would provide a bountiful harvest, peace and everything else we need to support this earthly life. This petition, however, also crosses over into our spiritual needs as “daily bread” includes also the “bread of heaven,” the Lord’s Supper which provides us, as of first importance, with that for which we ask in the fifth petition, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This petition teaches us that, when we pray, we admit that we are sinners in need of God’s constant supply of mercy to help us do his will and live at peace with one another. When we pray “Lead us not into temptation,” we are asking for God’s deliverance of ourselves and all who are in any distress. In the seventh petition, “But deliver us from evil,” we pray for final perseverance that God by his grace will deliver us from this vale of tears and save us eternally. So everything that might trouble or concern you and everything that serves to your good is all there in the Lord’s Prayer.
The greatest incentive to prayer is in the words of Our Lord today, “I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Jesus Christ came to reconcile us to the Father and the Father to us by means of wiping out our sin, which he took completely and fully to the cross, paid the price and now cleanses us by his sacred blood. Now sitting at the place of all power and authority with the Father, He is our Great High Priest, our intercessor, pleading our cause. But he here tells us we can approach God fearlessly because “the Father himself loves you.” Baptized into Christ the Father sees you no longer enshrouded and enslaved by sin but cleansed and raised up by faith in His Son who died for you. We symbolize this reality in worship by covering the infant, the catechumen, the coffin, the minister and his assistants with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, which is our only hope. Because “the Father himself loves you,” the little catechism begins the explanation of the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask him as dear children ask their dear father.”
Now, faith in Christ and the confession of Christ as Lord will very likely get you into trouble—not with God, of course, but with all the forces of the world, the devil and our sinful flesh that still war against God. Therefore today the Lord gives us not yet a crown, not a magic wand guaranteeing peace and prosperity, but a cross. The cross of Christ is what opened the kingdom of heaven to us in the first place, and it is the only symbol that will help you make sense of an otherwise senseless world. There are plenty of folks around today, as there have been in years past and will continue to be in years to come, that will tempt you to somehow seek the glory that is reserved for us only in heaven, for which we hope. There are no shortcuts to glory but only through the cross. So we pray in the words of the old hymn, daily, constantly until our last breath, “Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes…In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me” [LW 490]. And as we continue our journey, wherever that may be, we are called not to gloom and doom but to glory in the cross of Christ, to brag about Jesus Christ (remember, it’s all about him!).
My mother was the first one to teach me to pray. St. Paul wrote to young Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well” [2 Tim. 1:5]. On this Mother’s Day, for everything else our mothers mean to us, we thank God especially for the faith that was and is in them, that they handed on to us as of first importance. Therefore we pray that prayer of thanksgiving to God, and pray that the gift of faith remain strong, be passed on also to our children and grandchildren, and finally bring us to that great family reunion of all the Faithful in the eternal life of the new heavens and new earth in the Day of Resurrection. As you pray, hang in there for the sake of Him who hung on the cross for you. Lift up your hearts and your eyes and arise up in faith, joy and confidence for the sake of Him who is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” [1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 28 (ESV)].