Saturday, May 16, 2009

Easter 6 sermon

. . . posted today because after a morning pre-marriage session, I'll be headed down to Norman to meet up with my 2 of my best buds from college and don't know when I will get back in -- not too late, but I may want to sleep in tomorrow.

Easter 6 – May 17th, 2009 – John 16:23-33

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
Today in our Gospel, our Lord instructs us about prayer – what prayer is, what prayer is useful for. And this is a text that can get a lot of people in trouble, it’s a text that the televangelists and the prosperity Gospel people take and run with. After all, our Lord says, Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Oh, well, look at that! Ask and we will receive! Full Joy! Why, it’s better than Santa at Christmas! We hear these words of our Lord, and suddenly there’s that part of us in our mind that starts looking at prayer like a giant gift certificate, like a blank check where we can just go and get whatever we want, where we can get whatever joys we seek.

What brings you joy? Honestly, what brings you joy? When we hear our Lord say, Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full, what sort of things, what sort of joys do you think of? Now, if your pastor were to ask you that, you’d probably put on the brave face and think of all the good, kind things that a person can want. Ah yes, family brings me joy. Ah yes, just lovely weather, that brings me joy. We become the equivalent of the beauty pageant gal who says, “I just want world peace.” Sure, those are all good things – but don’t think in terms of sounding good and nice – what are the things that bring you joy? There are plenty of things in this life that do bring us joy – I enjoy good food, or baseball. Family is a joy. But on this earth – they aren’t simply joys, are they often twisted into things that are painful. Your family ever get you down? Ever enjoy your food a bit too much, a bit too often? And I’m a Cubs fan, don’t even get me started on baseball. But even beyond that – let’s be really, really honest. Are there things in this life that bring you joy that are wrong? Seeing someone whose been mean to you get their comeuppance? Turning the tables on someone who is mean. The annoying person at work gets fired so you don’t have to deal with them anymore? And that’s just in that “crush your enemies” category, what about things like sexual desires, or coveting – all sorts of wicked little joys that we sinful boys and girls like to play around with. This isn’t me wagging a holier-than-thou finger at you – same stuff applies to me, too. Rather, think about what comes along with being a sinful human being. There are things that we think are joyful that really aren’t – there are perverse things which we delight in.

This should come as no surprise, but this is not the joy that Christ our Lord is talking about. But it needs to be said. Too often, when we think of joy, we jump automatically to earthly pleasures and delights – even if we try to clean up those delights. And in so doing, we set our sights too low, and in so doing we miss out on true joy. We miss the point of joy that cannot be taken away. Consider our Old Testament lesson as an example of how sinful folk miss the point. And the people spoke against God and against Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” What are the people of Israel focused on? Their wants and desires – they think with their bellies, with their passions, with their desires. No food? God gives you manna and quail. . . oh, right, well, we hate this worthless food that God has given us. We wish we were back in Egypt. Where you were slaves? Where you were beaten? Where your sons were slaughtered at birth and your daughters vilely abused? That Egypt? The people of Israel are simply focused on earthly pleasures – and their focus even has skewed them on earthly things. Do you really think it is worth it – being a slave, beaten and slaughtered – just to get a little more variation in your diet? Do you really think abandoning the promised land is worth it? They became so focused on their wants, their desires, what they thought would bring them joy, that they completely disregarded God. And we see that God doesn’t take too kindly to this – the fiery serpents come, chomp on them for a bit – and then the people realize that they have done wrong – they ask for mercy, and God gives mercy. But the people of Israel made things awfully hard on themselves because they focused and acted on what they wanted.

When we read our Gospel text, whenever we hear things along the lines of ask and ye shall receive, we need to pause and remember that this is not God giving us carte blanche to do what we want – this isn’t God saying, “Whatever makes you happy.” This promise isn’t just about making your life the best that it can be where you are the envy of everyone. Jesus is honest saying that this life won’t be all sunshine and daisies – at the end of this text He says again, “In the World you will have tribulation.” This promise that what we ask for will be received, this gift of prayer, it’s not a way to just satisfy the belly. No, God is giving us this promise to point us to, to bring us to a joy that is beyond the broken joys and the greed laced desires of this life. We so often shoot right by the key point – and it’s something that we even close our prayers with here and we miss it. Listen again. “Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Until now. . . what? We have not asked in Christ’s Name. So what does that mean pastor, we just add on “in Jesus’ Name” at the end of the prayer and they become the magic words that mean that God will give us whatever? Nope. Rather this – what does it mean to ask in Christ’s Name? To ask in Christ’s Name means to ask at His command and with His authority. It ties prayer to Baptism. It is at Baptism, it is at the font where you are brought into Christ’s Name, where you are made part of His family – where you are given the gifts of life and salvation and forgiveness – these things are all yours – these are the things that are yours in the Name of Christ Jesus – and when they are obscured, when the world beats down upon you and tries to convince you that salvation isn’t real, that Christianity is a pipe dream, when guilt burdens you - ask and you will receive. Ask in Christ’s Name – ask as one of the Baptized for the things that God gives the Baptized, and you will receive.

That phrase “in the Name” describes really what is going on. “In the Name” denotes authority. The classic example of this is the policeman saying, “Stop, in the Name of the Law.” You are to stop because someone who has been given the authority of exercising the Law uses that authority. But if you misuse that authority – it’s not any good. A cop can’t walk into the donut shop and say, “Give me 5 bear claws for free in the Name of the Law!” It’s outside this authority to do that. Likewise, when Jesus instructs us to pray in His Name, it’s not a command or promise that we get whatever – but rather, we have been given the command and authority to ask for what we have been promised, to know that we will have it. God beholds us in Christ, and gives us all the blessings of Christ – and He will give them anew and again whenever we call for them.

This is why our Lord concludes this section saying, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Do you see what our Lord is saying? Jesus knows that the world is full of suffering and pain – take refuge in Him, like in the promises of your baptism – and then you will have peace, you will have joy that even the lousy things of this life cannot take away. This is all about being whom God made you to be when He washed you in the waters of Baptism. Christian joy flows from knowing God’s love in Christ Jesus, from being in Christ and knowing that He has overcome the world, that eternal life and salvation are ours.

But this joy is not just a spiritual one – it also applies to the physical – not in the sense that because we are Christians God will give us whatever we want – but because we are Christians, because we are baptized – we see that the Father is well pleased for with the Son – and so we know that He is well pleased with us as well – we know and trust that He will care for us, that He will provide for us what is good. We are free to pray – and we will pray for many things. The blessings of baptism, the fruits of the Spirit, we pray knowing that these are ours. Blessings in the physical world, be it success, be it safety, be it healing, we are free to pray for these as well, knowing that if the Father desires us to have these things they will be for our good, or if He sends us something else, that too is for our good. This is what it means to pray in the Name of Jesus – listen for that today in the prayer of the Church, in the Lord’s Prayer, in the prayer after communion. When God focuses us upon Christ, when His Word beats down our sinful wandering desires and His forgiveness returns us to Him – we have joy, we have confidence, we have peace. Because we are forgiven, because we are united to Christ, because we are in His Name by the gift of Baptism, we have constant access to peace, to joy which surpasses any earthly pleasure. God keep us in Christ, so that this joy may be ours in full. Amen.

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