Monday, May 14, 2012

Sermon for 5/13/12--Sixth Sunday of Easter

Once again, next Sunday I will be on vacation. When I receive the sermon from Pastor Fish and his permission to post it, I will do so.



Ask in My Name 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Some Christians teach and believe that if you ask for anything in the name of Jesus, no matter what it is, if you just pray hard enough, then you will get it no matter what. Robert Schuller taught it. So did Norman Vincent Peale in The Power of Positive Thinking. The most recent version of this whole idea is the so-called “prosperity gospel” preached by men such as Joel Osteen. You ask God for it, and He’ll make sure you get it. God will do whatever you ask, if you only ask with the right words. So how is the Christian to understand prayer? Why does God want you to pray? What is the benefit you receive from such prayer? 

Prayer is a conversation that God starts. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “Whatever you ask in My name.” When you pray in Jesus’ name, you pray as one of God’s children. Furthermore, when you pray, you are never alone in your prayers. Do you remember when Jesus gave the disciples what we call the Lord’s Prayer? The disciples went to Jesus because they see others praying, and they rightly wanted to learn how to pray. Now Jesus could have said to them: go off on to a mountain by yourself and pour your heart out. Tell God everything you want! And if you’re sincere enough, or persistent enough, then maybe God will hear you. That’s how many think of prayer. 

But Jesus didn’t do that. What he said was, “When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father who are in heaven.’” Jesus gave them the very words to pray, so that by praying in His name and with His words, they would learn how to pray and what to pray for; and God would shape their hearts and minds to His will. When you ask someone for something, you are saying that you need something they have. By praying, you are confessing to God that you can’t do it alone, you need Him for all things. Remember: in the Lord’s Prayer you pray for all things. By praying, you are confessing that you need God; and that is something only God Himself can teach you. 

 But the fact of the matter is, for most Christians, prayer is one of those things that becomes optional. How often do you pray? Do you pray before and after meals? Do you pray when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed? Do you pray at all during the day? For many, the answer is no. Christians are like the two year old that insists, I have to do it myself! That’s what you’re saying to God when you refuse to pray. You are telling God that you don’t need Him, that you are in this alone, be it good or bad. The devil continues to seek to drag you away from Christ and His work for you. Satan wants you to believe that prayer is a useless waste of time. Satan wants you to believe that real Christians don’t pray; they work. This is kind of like saying, “I don’t have time for God’s Word; I have more important things to do.” Martin Luther once said that he had so much to get done during the day that he had to pray for two or three hours. For Luther, prayer didn’t mean presenting God with a laundry list of things He should do for His children. Prayer meant conversation with God, where God speaks in His Word, and you in faith and trust respond to that Word of God in prayer. But Satan wants you to believe that in prayer, you’re on your own; so either you don’t pray, or you turn God into a divine Butler who is meant to respond to your every whim. But God will have no part of this false piety and prayer. 

The foundation of Christian prayer is that you are not alone. You are never alone. Perhaps you’ve noticed this thread running through the readings this Eastertide. It’s very deliberate on our Lord’s part. He died for your sins and rose again from the dead for you. This Thursday the Church commemorates His ascension into heaven, but this is not a time for mourning for the Christian. The Lord does not leave you alone. He sends the Holy Spirit to you, who preaches to you, baptizes you, forgives your sins and gives you the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are made bold to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Notice that first and important word: Our. When you pray in Christ’s name, you are never alone. There is no such thing as private prayer, as if you are having a super secret conversation with God. All of the hosts of heaven pray with you. The whole Church prays with you. Your voice is added to the voices of all time and throughout the world. Struggling with temptation? You’re not alone. All of heaven watches out for you and prays for you. Do you long for forgiveness? The angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. Need the comfort of God’s Word? There is no greater rejoicing than over the sinner who recognizes His need for God’s mighty hand. 

Never doubt that our Heavenly Father hears your prayers. Think of those words you learned in Catechism class: God would by these words tenderly invite us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that we may with all boldness and confidence ask him as dear children ask their dear father. So have no fear, my brothers and sisters in Christ! The Father of Jesus your Father, and He will hear you. He put His name on your in Holy Baptism. You are His child. Ask in the name of Jesus; for He has promised to hear and answer your prayers. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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