6th Sunday of Easter – May 5th, 2013 – John 16:23-33
Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
Christ Jesus has promised us the comfort that comes from the Presence of the Holy Spirit, has promised that the Helper will be our bulwark in the days of our lives that we lead until He returns. He gives to us another gift in our reading today. Listen. 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. Now, we can hear these words of our Lord Jesus Christ – and our eyes can light up, like kids on Christmas day seeing the presents under the tree. Anything? Really? Well, I want this and I want that. . . and remember God, you promised! All too often we can hear this verse and believe that we have found the ultimate promise, the great cracker jack prize of religion. We can hear this verse, and we start acting like little kids, and not the trusting little child who is the example of faith – but the whining complaining kid you see yelling at their parents at the store, starting to throw a tantrum. Behold the sinful nature at work. God offers us a great gift – and too often our first thought can be “ooOOoo – I can get more stuff. I can have a better and easier life here.”
What we can forget, dear friends, what we need to remember when we look at our Lord’s Words here is that prayer is a gift to us – but prayer is not the ability to control God. This verse isn’t about you having the ability to tell God what God needs to do. This verse isn’t about you having the power to let God know what you want and when you want it. This verse isn’t even about God making all your finances and health and earthly power run smoothly and strongly. If that were the case, why would Jesus say at the end of the Gospel lesson – “In the world you will have tribulation”? If prayer makes God do things my way, I’m not having any tribulation! No, prayer isn’t us giving orders to God. Listen again to what Jesus says. 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. We hear this, and our ear can key in on the words “whatever you ask” – and we think those are the most important words here. They aren’t. The most important words are “in My Name”.
Prayer is not a promise that you get to control God. Prayer doesn’t mean you get to be the boss. Prayer is in the Name of Christ. So what does that mean? It means that we have received a wonderful gift from Christ – and this gift is that when we approach God in prayer, we approach God in the Name of Christ Jesus. We approach God as those forgiven by Christ, those bearing His Name – we are the ones who are blessed – blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. That applies to you. Christ is promising that by virtue of your Baptism, by virtue of the fact that that God claimed you and placed His Name upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism, you will always have access to God, and you will know that God will always hear the prayers you offer in the Name of Christ – that they will not be ignored, that you will not have to wonder if God likes you enough to listen – but rather you know that on account of Christ Jesus you are no longer separated from God because of your sin. Rather – you are forgiven – approach and pray in confidence – come here and enter His gates, not with terror but with thanksgiving.
Okay Pastor, that’s all nice and good – so we pray in Jesus’ Name. It says whatever you ask – doesn’t that mean whatever? Whatever you ask in My Name – whatever you ask with My authority, with My promises that I have given to you. It’s not just “whatever you ask” – it’s whatever you ask in Christ’s Name. That is a key thing to remember. Prayer isn’t about our power, prayer isn’t about the strength of our faith. The prayer of a righteous man doesn’t availeth much because that man is cool and can tell God what to do – it availeth much because he is righteous – that is, he has been justified by Christ, he looks to Christ for salvation, he looks to Christ for forgiveness – and as a humble, forgiven servant, the righteous man prays in God’s Name – with Christ’s authority – for what Christ has promised him. You see, prayer always is to relate to God’s Word. When we pray in God’s Name, our prayer must be God’s Word. To do something “in someone’s name” is to claim that you have that person’s permission, that person’s command. I, Eric Brown, couldn’t just decide to go and sign your name to a new house mortgage – I don’t have that authority, in that respect I can’t act in your name. Now, if you make someone your power of attorney – they can – they can act in your name because you have given them instruction to act in your name. You speak, and then they can act. Same thing here. Christ speaks His Word and gives us authority to act according to His Will. It doesn’t mean we can do whatever WE want – but rather we can take what we have heard from Christ and use it.
Christian prayer is always in accordance with the Word of God. Your prayers in the Name of Christ Jesus are in fact simply to echo the Word of God that you have heard. Any prayer that runs contrary to the Word of God is not in the Name of Jesus. Not really. As a silly example – would, “O Lord, help me rob this bank, O Lord, help me mug this little old lady” be a good prayer? No, of course not – and God’s not going to bless that. We don’t shape God by our prayer, we don’t force God to do what we want with our prayer. Rather this – we let God and His Word shape our prayer – we let Christ teach us how to pray and what to pray for – that we learn to live in agreement with, to live under God’s Word. This is why James instructs us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Do it. The Word of God has an impact upon you, it shapes you. Go forth and do it, be whom You’ve been made to be. Our prayer is shaped by the Word of God, and we pray for the things that God has promised – and everything else we leave in His hands, trusting in His love. As an example. Are you sick or suffering – I can’t point to a verse in Scripture that says that God will get rid of your illness. I can pray, If it be Thy Will, heavenly Father, restore this person – I can take that to God but I leave that outcome in God’s hands. However, I can pray that God give you patience, that God comfort you with His Word of forgiveness, that God give you endurance and peace in the midst of your struggles. Why? Because that is what He has promised – those are fruits of the Spirit that are ours now. We hear what God has promised us – and that is what we know that we can ask of God and know that we will get. You don’t have to wonder if God will see you through trials – He has promised to. You don’t have to wonder if God will give you strength to fight down temptation – He has promised to. You don’t have to wonder if God will work all things unto your good – He has promised to. And so these are what we pray for, so that we might see these promises of God made real in our lives, that we might remember God’s Word and be strengthened, be encouraged, that we might endure.
For you see – prayer is a gift God gives you not so that you can try to make the earth into your playground, not to try and make it into some self-centered so called heaven on earth – but rather a gift to help you live out your days on earth until you reach the life of the world to come. Hear again Jesus – 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. That is the purpose of prayer – that is the reason Christ has given us this gift. That we might have peace, that we might be confident that Christ Jesus has overcome the world. It’s been interesting going through Revelation on Wednesday morning – so many people want to read that book so they can figure out when the bad Tribulation will come – no, Jesus has told us it’s already here and it’ll keep on coming. But take heart, Jesus has won the Victory for you with His death and resurrection.
You see, the reality that shapes our lives as Christians isn’t that God is super strong and powerful. He is, but unless He is strong and powerful for us, what good is that? The reality that shapes our lives isn’t that God can give us neat stuff. He can, but we aren’t a bunch of pagans trying to pester some deity into giving us more goodies, we aren’t out telling God how to do His job. Rather this – the Cross of Christ Jesus is the reality that shapes our life. We behold Christ Crucified, and we know that He has conquered over sin – our sin – even that sin that now clings to us and makes us want selfish and stupid things – we behold the Cross and see that Christ has conquered that sin – that it is done away with and destroyed, that we are forgiven. We see the Cross, it is held before our eyes in the midst of whatever trial, whatever tragedy, whatever suffering we see in this world, and we know that we’ll see all these things in the world for we know that the world is broken by sin – but we see the Cross, and we know that this world full of sin has been overcome by Christ – that in Christ we have the victory over sin, death, over the world that tries to bog us down. And to pray in Christ’s Name is nothing other than to pray to know the Cross, to understand it better. To pray in Christ’s Name is nothing less than praying to be kept in God’s Word, to hear again and receive again the forgiveness we need, to have our faith strengthened, to be led away from temptation and delivered from evil, to have help in beating down our unbelief – or in other words, to pray in Christ’s Name is nothing less than praying that God would give to us all that Christ won for us upon the Cross – all that He gives to us in His Blessed Word, all that He gives to us in the waters of Holy Baptism, all that He gives to us in His Supper – forgiveness of our sin, life even in the midst of tribulation, and salvation forever. Prayer in Christ’s Name is always simply that we would better know, better understand, better live out what Christ has done for us.
Until now you have asked nothing in My Name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Christ has claimed you, placed His name upon you – has said to you that all that He has won and accomplished by going to the Cross and dying and rising again is yours. Does the world get you down – pray, speak forth back to God His own Word, His own promises – and know that by the power of God’s Word He will create in you a clean heart, He will renew a right spirit within you, He will never cast you away for you come in the Name of His Son – and indeed, he will restore unto You the Joy of His Salvation – for it is Christ’s desire that your joy in His Salvation always be full. Christ is Risen – (HIRI) Amen.