Easter 6 – May 13th, 2012 – John 16:23-30
Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
We have in these past few weeks heard that our Lord would send us the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to be with us during our days here on earth, to be our aid and companion until our Lord’s Return. We have heard how the Spirit will take the Word of God and make us to understand it, how He will use Law and Gospel in our lives, how He will make us to stand in the face of Satan and His temptations. Today we get one more tool, one more blessing from our Lord. Today our Lord speaks to the gift of prayer – so today we will ponder for a bit this gift of prayer.
Now, before we look at our Gospel lesson in detail, I want to make one thing abundantly clear. This text, even though it doesn’t mention the Holy Ghost directly, still is about the working of the Holy Spirit within us. Why do I say this? Consider Romans 8:26, which reads: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” When we talk about prayer, again, this isn’t just a matter of what we do, our own efforts, but God Himself works in us and through us in His gift of prayer. And when we do not pray as we ought, when we are at a loss for words, the Holy Spirit, who is all about speaking the Word of God, prays for us. This also ties into one of my favorite Luther quotes – Luther says that often the best prayer of a Christian is just that deep sigh, because God knows precisely what it means. Prayer is not meant to be a burden, a hoop you jump through, an artistic endeavor whereby you impress your neighbor with your long and flowing prayer with plenty of flare. Prayer is for your aid and comfort. Let’s look at our Gospel text.
“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Now, this is something very important to think about. While they were disciples, if the Apostles had wanted something, they asked Jesus, who was standing right next to them. Jesus was the one who did all the stuff. But what of when Christ has ascended? Are the Apostles, are we cut off from the Father? Hardly – whatever we ask of the Father in Christ’s Name, He will give it. Now, let’s make sure we understand this text – and to do so we must understand the phrase “in My Name.” As Christians we are to pray in the Name of Christ – this is why so many of our prayers will end “in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord” or “in the name of Jesus we pray”. However, praying in the Name of Jesus doesn’t just mean slapping a phrase at the end of a prayer. Praying in the Name of Jesus means that we pray at His command and with His authority. It means that when we pray, we are acting in His Name. Consider – all the old movies where the hero is chasing the villain, and the hero yells out, “Stop in the Name of the Law.” The thrust of that phrase is to show that it’s not just the hero who is trying to stop the villain – the hero is acting with the weight of the Law behind him – that he is acting as an agent of the state. With the gift of prayer, Christ has made you His own agent; you pray in Christ’s Name – Christ has given to you the blessing, the gift to pray with His own authority.
This is why Luther brings up prayer in the explanation to the 2nd commandment. What is the 2nd Commandment? You shall not take the Name of the Lord our God in vain. What does this mean? 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. The fact that we are given the gift of prayer means that we may go before God and call upon Him in every trouble, that we may offer our concerns up and lay them before Him, that we may praise and give thanks to God in the midst of all things, even the trials of life. However, as you might have guessed, this can be abused. “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.” Ah, so often people will take this verse and run with it, run with it away from God. We will hear the phrase “whatever you ask” and think that it’s carte blanche to just start bossing God around – you said whatever I asked God, well I’m praying for more wealth, pony it up! I’m praying for healing, I’m even shaking my hand on this person’s forehead and smacking them, You had better heal them quickly or you’re being a bad, naughty god!” This idea, this idea that we can use prayer to force God, to bind Him to our will – that’s what Luther was referring to with the phrase “satanic arts” or “witchcraft” as the older translation said. The idea that we become the master of God and use magic words to bind Him to our will… that’s not good. That’s basically the old fashioned definition of witchcraft.
No, this isn’t about us binding God to our wills, but rather, with prayer Christ binds us to the Father and His good will for us. Again, it is whatever we ask in Christ’s name. If the police officer turns on the flashing lights and says, “Stop in the name of the Law” – we are bound by Law to stop. What if the cop walks up, knocks on your door and says, “You will bake me a cake in the name of the Law”? That’s a total abuse, there’s nothing in the Law that would let a cop force you to bake a cake. And you may, as a good citizen, want to ignore that cake demanding cop and report him. Likewise, we pray in the Name of Jesus, we pray for the things which He has commanded us to pray, the things that He has promised us. This is why we often will introduce the Lord’s prayer as the prayer our Lord has taught us to pray – that we are rightfully praying in His name.
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” And here Christ Jesus makes a wonderful point. According to our sinful flesh, we want, we crave stupid things. Consider this week – how many times have you craved or desired things that were bad or harmful for you? How often have you wanted things that didn’t really fulfill you, didn’t really satisfy you? According to our sinful flesh, we act outside of and contrary to God’s will, we want things that are foolish. But you, dear friends, have been given the gift of faith, you have been made to know Christ Jesus and His salvation by the Word and Spirit, and you have been Baptized into His name, brought into His kingdom, and you now know the gifts that He gives you. He has given you forgiveness. He has given you life and life in full so that you might show love to your neighbor. He has given you courage and strength so that you might endure in the face of trials. He has given you the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are the things He has promised you, these are the things He has won for us by His death and resurrection, these are the things that give us true joy in the midst of our lives here on earth. Ask for these things in His Name, so that your joy may be full.
You see, prayer isn’t a creative act on our part. We don’t have to come up with new things, new petitions, new spiffy things. People will sometimes despise the simple repeated prayers, and when they do that they just show they don’t understand what prayer is. Prayer is simply speaking back to God the Word which He has spoken to us. Prayer is going before God and saying, “This is what You Yourself have given me in Your Son, Heavenly Father. I am sore oppressed in this world, and the foe would blind me to Your love – be with me, give me Your Spirit that I might see these promises again.” That’s why the Holy Spirit is involved with prayer – it’s tied to the Word of God, and wherever the Word of God is involved, the Holy Spirit will be there. Our prayers are shaped by the Word of God. It’s just like breathing – you breath in, you breath out, inhale and exhale. As a Christian you receive the Word of God, you hear it, you receive the Supper, it comes into you – and then it will flow out of you in prayer. That’s why we say Amen at the end of prayers – Amen means “truth”. We know it’s truth because we speak back to God His own Word which we know is true.
Our Gospel concludes with a few more words to bring this all into focus. “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and 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. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” We too, this day are children of God. We are loved by the Father – and indeed, part of the love He has shown us are our mothers, are the other kind women He has given into our life to care for us – we are loved by the Father, and the Father will hear our prayers that we raise before Him in Christ’s Name. We have been made to know Christ, to know His forgiveness and love and strength – and God has promised that He will give these things to us through His Word. And so that we might never forget this, so that we might not ever be overwhelmed, Christ Jesus has given us the gift of prayer. Go, pray to the Father, remember that He loves you and delights when you pray. Remember the promises that God has made to you, and delight in His love. God does not abandon you, but He has promised you truly good things, not the desires of your flesh, but the things that bring true joy and peace and eternal life. All thanks be to God that we who have been baptized into the name of God have a gracious God who calls us unto Him in the gift of prayer. Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia +