Sunday, May 9, 2010

Easter 6 Sermon

Easter 6 – Mother’s Day, 2010 – John 16:23-30

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
What does the Christian life look like? What does a Christian do? What shapes what your life as a Christian ought to look like? There are many answers that might get tossed out there. Some would say that it is a purpose driven life. Some would say that it means living your best life now. Some might say it is a life of service and dedication. I suppose these are all good things – but you don’t need to be a Christian to have purpose, and I’ve known plenty of people who aren’t religious at all but are enjoying their life now. And a Buddhist can be quite dedicated and serve kindly. No, what defines the Christian life – what makes how a Christian goes about his day different and distinct from all the other peoples of the world? Our Lord tells us.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in My Name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. That’s the thing, that’s what separates a Christian from all the other peoples of the world. Not successes, not power, not dedication, not delight in the things of this life – but prayer and worship. This is what Christ is speaking to – asking in Christ’s name is prayer. And that, praying to God in the Name of Christ Jesus is uniquely Christian, and it is what shapes our life. Consider now the 2nd Commandment – Thou Shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Well, if we aren’t to take it is vain, if we aren’t to abuse it, then obviously we are supposed to use it rightly, rightly in prayer. Pray, praise, and give thanks, as the Catechism teaches. To be a Christian is to be one who prays – and the Christian life is shaped by prayer.

I would also suggest that we think of this in terms of worship. Jesus here is speaking to the disciples together – He says the Greek equivalent of “y’all”. Until now, y’all have asked nothing in My Name. It’s a corporate thing – not just someone going off by himself praying, but the people of God coming together for worship. And what happens here – we gather in the Name of Christ, and we pray, over and over and over. And I’m not just talking about the collects or the long prayer of the Church. When y’all in the Congregation say something here, it is in reality most likely a prayer – either asking God for something or giving thanks. Confession – that’s a prayer. Lord have mercy – that’s prayer. We hear the Word of God read, and then we pray – Thanks be to God – that’s a prayer - that’s thanksgiving. Giving praise to God works this way as well – to glorify Him, that’s part and parcel of using God’s Name as it should be used. Our hymns – these are giving praise to God as we are instructed in the Second Commandment. That’s why the Third Commandment follows the Second – Remember the Sabbath Day – because when we remember the Sabbath day we keep the second commandment and the first as well, and when we don’t remember the Sabbath day, we break the first two. The Christian life is one of prayer and worship – and our prayer and worship of God should shape and focus everything we do in our lives.

It often doesn’t. Even Jesus tells the disciples – you haven’t asked anything of Me yet. Our prayers and our worship falter quite often. None of us is surprised that there are empty spaces in the pews this morning – even though we have enough people on our rolls to have them filled. And I’m not going to just turn this into a “lambaste the folks who aren’t here” day – Luther in the Catechism instructs us to rise with prayer and go to bed with prayer. For how many of you was prayer the first thing you did this morning? We have access to God – God has promised to listen to us – do we think what a wonder and joy this is – how incredibly amazing this gift is? Often we don’t. Often we don’t appreciate this gift like we ought. That is why we are called together for worship and prayer – to be part of the congregation, to be part of the Church is to be those who are “called out” – the word in Greek for congregation is Ekklesia – called out, called to something. We are called away from the distractions of the world so that we might be in prayer and worship, that we might hear the Word, that we might grow.

This points us to a truth we must remember – our prayers in and of ourselves are poor – but they are heard because of Christ. We are instructed to pray in the Name of Jesus – that is at His command and with His authority guiding us. The very act of prayer – of ending a prayer “in Jesus’ Name” – of starting this service “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” reminds us that our relationship to God is not based upon our works, upon our merit, but upon the love that God has for us – based upon the forgiveness and mercy we have from God on account of Christ Jesus. This is something that makes Christian prayer stand out – we go before God not with arrogance in ourselves. We do not say, “See how well I have served You – now give me my due.” Rather, we ask in the Name of Christ. We are weak, but He is strong – and He is righteous and just, and He has won us forgiveness and because of this we ask. Our relationship with God isn’t based on what we have earned – but as Jesus tells us, the Father loves us. Our relationship with God flows from Him, is started by Him, and when we pray, when we are called here together to worship, we see and learn this truth again – that God loves us, that God gives us what we need, be it for this life, or be it sending His only Son to be our Savior from sin that we might be restored to relationship with God for eternal life. All of this is summed up, is brought into focus in a life of worship and prayer. And this is what shapes our lives now. Christ tells the disciples that He is going to the Father, and until He comes again to bring us to the Father with Him, we live this life of prayer.

I would note something else about prayer and worship. It isn’t of our devising – it isn’t something that “we” come up with. Prayer is something we are taught by Christ, and prayer is shaped by Christ. Or our worship – our liturgy – we don’t make it up, it’s the Word of God, bits and pieces of the Word of God set to music that we might speak God’s Word to each other. Our Epistle today touches upon this – James instructs us “But be doers of the Word, and not just hearers only.” Now, normally, if we hear this, we jump straight to loving the neighbor type of stuff – honoring your parents (especially today), caring for those who need care – doing the commands that we have heard. Indeed, that is part of it – James says pure religion is caring for those in need, but it’s more than just that. When we pray, when we worship – we are doing the Word literally. Our prayers are shaped by God’s Word, our worship is shaped by God’s Word – when we pray, when we worship – we do God’s Word. We love God – we love the neighbor – for our prayers include our neighbors as well. How many people do we pray for – we come together and we pray for the whole Church, for our rulers. We pray for people that many of us don’t know – sometimes by name if they are ill. Is that not showing love to the neighbor? And this is good for us – for we teach our tongues how they ought to be used – God opens our lips so that we might pray, praise, and give thanks – and then we learn better to bridle our tongues the rest of the week. This shapes us, this shapes us as Christians.

Because this is the thing – God has called us to come to His House, to be with Him, to hear His Word. Christ has called us to partake of His own Body and Blood. Do we recognize what a wonder this is? Do we realize how awesome and awe inspiring this is? This prayer, this worship, should be the highest thing in our lives. Often it is not. Pastor Hall from Redeemer says that we are “functionally atheists” – that we will maybe, maybe have this hour or two of time devoted to God, and then the rest of the week we just run back to the things of this life just like anyone else – that we do not keep ourselves unstained from the world, as James would say. And we fall into the thinking of the world, we become burdened with the worries and cares of this world, we think of the things of this world and we get beat down. And thus it is to us that Christ says, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Jesus knows the trials you face. Jesus knows the temptations you face in the world, the burdens and fears that come upon you. And to you He says, “I know you have not relied upon Me as you could – rely on me now. Ask of Me for strength, mercy, forgiveness, all that you need for this life and the life to come, and you will receive it. Your joy will be full, for I will be with you.” That is what this Word of God means – that God uses this gift of prayer to give us rest, uses worship to pull us out of the trials of this world – that this House here is a temporary placeholder until we enter our Heavenly Home for good. We get now a brief pause from all the hustle and bustle of life in this fallen world and are focused upon God and His love for us, pointed again to our eternal victory in Christ. We hear proof that we have forgiveness because of Christ’s death for us upon the Cross. This here, being gathered together, this is what it is to be a Christian, to be gathered with all the company of heaven in prayer delighting in God’s gifts. Take advantage of this gift often, in your own homes and together with us, that your joy may be full. Christ is Risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

1 comment:

Christopher D. Hall said...

I actually was quoting someone else when I said we are functional atheists...but I don't remember who now. Enjoyed reading the sermon, though.