Sunday, May 22, 2016
John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To celebrate the Rite of Confirmation on the Feast of the Holy Trinity makes complete and perfect sense, for the young people who will soon make confession of their Christian faith in the Holy Triune God this day were given the gift of faith when they were baptized eleven or twelve years ago in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. There will be no new, fuller, or more complete bestowal of the Holy Spirit and His gifts, for each of these young people received the fullness of the Spirit when they were baptized, as did each of you. The LORD does not dispense His Spirit is dribs and drabs, but He pours Him out fully upon those whom He chooses in Jesus Christ.
Indeed, faith itself is the creative handiwork of the Holy Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be “born again.” However, that word “again” is a rather unfortunate translation of the Greek word anōthen which truly means “from above.” Thus, what Jesus truly says to Nicodemus is, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Clearly, Nicodemus missed Jesus’ point – as do many today – and thought that it was necessary for him to be physically born again of his mother, just as many believe that they must do something, understand something, believe something, or confess something in order to receive the Holy Spirit. Therefore Jesus elaborated and emphasized the spiritual nature of His words saying, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The “birth from above” of which Jesus speaks is a spiritual birth, a birth caused and gifted by the Holy Triune God. This truth is emphasized and clarified in Jesus’ choice of being born as an analogy for justification and spiritual regeneration, for being born is a passive act, it is something that happens to you, wholly apart from your will and choice, even apart from your knowledge and faith. You do not choose to be born. Being born is something that happens to you wholly apart from your choosing.
Thus, Jesus continued teaching Nicodemus saying, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And, here, Jesus plays on the Greek word pneuma, which means wind, breath, and spirit all at once. Jesus’ point is that the Holy Spirit blows upon and causes the birth from above, justification, and the creation of faith in the hearts of those whom the LORD chooses in Jesus Christ. That is what happens in Holy Baptism. Faith is created. The Holy Spirit is given. You are adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ in communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That gift of baptismal faith is what these young people will make confession and confirmation of this day.
The Holy Trinity first revealed Himself in His first words recounting creation through His prophet Moses in Genesis chapter one: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” God the Father created through His Son, His creative Word, and God the Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the waters. The same three persons were present and working at Jesus’ baptism as the Father spoke His word, the Holy Spirit descended, and the Son was baptized and anointed in the Jordan River. So also did Jesus command His Apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” You do not chose to be a disciple, but disciples are made by the LORD through Holy Baptism, a work of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is the Name of the LORD. This is the Name that was placed upon your forehead and upon your heart when you were baptized. This is the Name and the promise that you remember and confess when you make the sign of the cross in remembrance of your baptism. This the Name that marks you and seals you as a child of God, a member of God’s family in Jesus Christ, that protects you from the assaults of the Evil One, and blesses you all your days, even through death unto life everlasting. The Name of our Holy Triune God is invoked at the beginning of the Divine Service, and you are sent out with its blessing at its end. You should remember and take comfort in that Name when you rise up in the morning and when you lie down at night.
For, the Father loved the world in this way: He “gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” And as the LORD commanded Moses to raise up the bronze serpent on a pole so that all who were bitten by poisonous serpents might look to the bronze serpent and live, so, Jesus taught, “must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” You are baptized into the Triune Name of God. God has become your Father, Christ has become your Brother, and the Holy Spirit has become your Comforter.
Therefore, you must, like Isaiah before you, confess your uncleanness in heart and word and deed. For, even the six-winged holy seraphim veil their faces and their humble parts before the thrice-holy LORD. How much more, then, must you enter His presence in humility and repentance, in faith and trust in the Son, Jesus Christ, lifted up on the tree of the cross for the sins of the world. You may do so in humble repentance and confidence, for your lips have been touched by the blood of Jesus, who drank the cup of the LORD’s wrath against your sin until it was finished upon the cross. You are clean, your guilt has been taken away. However, yours is a borrowed righteousness. Jesus’ blood cleanses you of your guilt and uncleanness. Jesus’ righteousness covers your sins. Jesus presents you to His Father radiant and holy, innocent and without blemish.
And so, to preserve you and keep you in your baptismal grace until He come, today a servant of God's Word, without wings, at God's direction, will take from the this altar the fiery sacrifice of God and touch its fire to your lips once again that your guilt may be taken away and your sin atoned for. For, you partake of that which was sacrificed in your place: Jesus' Body and Blood. It is put into your mouth and it makes you clean. That which has appeased God's wrath on your behalf is joined to you. Thus you, too, can sing: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory. For, like the seraphim, like Isaiah and Nicodemus, you are holy. You have been redeemed. You call the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnate God of Moses and of Abraham, the only-begotten of His Father from whom the Spirit does proceed, Brother. You belong to God. You have been spared. You have been Named by Him. You belong to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You have been born from above through water and the Word by the intervention of Love. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
John 14:23-31; Acts 2:1-21; Genesis 11:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is a Feast of the Word – the Word of God. Of course, Pentecost is also a Feast of the Holy Spirit – you’ve already heard, and sung, and prayed about, and to, and for the sending of the Holy Spirit more this morning than all of this year to date! However, the Holy Spirit is all about the Word of God, and about the revelation of the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love Him, and We will come to Him and make Our home with Him. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My Words.”
It all began with words: “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” The problem then was that those words were man’s words and not the Word of the LORD. After the flood, the LORD had commanded His people to “multiply and fill the earth” once again. Instead, the people gathered together in one place. And, there they sought to establish themselves independent of God, to build a city and a dwelling in which to reside permanently that they might make a name for themselves. They conspired to build a tower reaching into the heavens that they might be as gods unto themselves. Therefoe, the LORD looked upon His rebellious creation and saw, once again, that every inclination of their hearts was but evil all the time, just as before the flood, and, in an act of mercy, not judgment, the LORD confused the language of the people and dispersed them over the face of the whole earth. This was an act of mercy on behalf of the LORD just as His banishment of our First Parents from the Garden and from the Tree of Life. The LORD did not will that His people should be hardened and be cut off from His presence eternally. Therefore, the LORD in His providence had already a plan to reunite and to unify His people and to restore them to paradise, to the Tree of Life, and to communion with Him once again in His holy presence through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the LORD made known His plan in many and various ways through His prophets of old – men like Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and the Prophet Joel whom St. Peter quoted in his Pentecost sermon: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” It’s all about the Word. The promised Spirit will drive people into the LORD’s Word. The Holy Spirit brings to remembrance what the LORD has promised in His Word made flesh, Jesus. The Spirit does not, and will not, bring a new word, a new revelation of the word, for the Word has gone out from the Father’s mouth, and it has not returned to Him void, but it has accomplished the purpose for which He was sent. In Jesus’ incarnation, virgin birth, obedient life, innocent suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, it is finished. And, on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, ten days after His ascension, the Father and His Son together sent forth His Spirit in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and many others that He might unify His people once again and give them one voice, one language, one Word, and one God.
On the day of His ascension, Jesus had commanded them “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, ‘You heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’.” The disciples obeyed the Word of their Lord and they remained in Jerusalem. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place,” much as the people were gathered together in one place in the plains of Shinar when they conspired against the Word of the LORD to remain there and to build a tower and to make a name for themselves. However, this time the disciples were hearkening to the Word of the LORD. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and gave them the gift of the Word. Though there were many people present from many different lands and tongues, they were all able to hear the Apostles proclaiming the Word of the LORD in their own languages. Although they spoke many different languages, the Holy Spirit united them with one spiritual language, the Word of the LORD, that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved.
By His Holy Spirit, through His Word, the LORD “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” In this way, the LORD undoes the curse of Babel. The Holy Spirit joins all who love Jesus and keep His Word into a new family in communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This new family, the body of Christ, the Church shares “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Indeed, the purpose of the tongues, which were the natural languages of men, was that all could hear and understand the same message, the Word of the LORD, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The tongues were meant to draw together and to unify, not to isolate and divide. Those who claim a special gift of spiritual revelation seek, not the unity of Christ’s body the Church, but, like those rebels on the plains of Shinar, to make a name for themselves. It is the LORD who joins together; it is man who divides and separates.
Still, men like to go their own way, to chart their own course, to determine truth for themselves, and to hearken to their own word and wisdom and will. We see this today in the so-called worship wars where there is a desire to throw off the liturgical rites and ceremonies that have been handed down to us by generations of believers before us. Men refuse to submit themselves and to be constrained by a Word that is not of their own making. However, the liturgy consists of the LORD’s Word – check it for yourself and see that each portion of the liturgy has a scriptural reference from whence it was quoted or paraphrased. The LORD would unify us together in speaking with one voice with the Church of Jesus Christ of all times and of all places, with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” But, today there is a desire to speak a different word each and every Sunday, often in words that are so loosely connected to the Word of the LORD that one is not confident that they are receiving the LORD’s gifts or praising and thanking Him at all, but merely babbling self-gratifying words into the ether. In the liturgy of the Church we all sacrifice our selfish wants and desires to that which serves to unite all as one – the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD, which calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps the body of Christ.
And so, Pentecost is rightly considered the birthday of the Church, for on that day the Holy Spirit was poured out to unite all together as one in the body of Christ. The LORD had promised that day in the first Gospel He proclaimed after our First Parents fell into sin and death: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your offspring and Her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” The Woman is the Church, of which the Blessed Virgin Mary was a type, born of the Holy Spirit, and Her Seed is Jesus who, in His death upon the cross has crushed Satan’s head. The day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, Good Friday, was the day of which Joel prophesied saying, “And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.”
Yes, the day of signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth has already come, but for that “great and magnificent day” of the Lord the Church still awaits in constant vigil and faith. Today begins the Pentecost Season, known also as The Time of the Church, Ordinary Time, and the Last Days. They began with the incarnation of Jesus, and they will end at His Parousia, the “great and magnificent day” of His return when the dead will be raised and Christ’s Bride, the Church will be ushered into the glorious presence of the LORD forevermore. Through the time of our pilgrimage and vigil, the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” “In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” To this, the Church says “Amen! This is most certainly true!” And so the Spirit and the Bride together cry out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
John 15:26 – 16:4; 1 Peter 4:7-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Was the cross of Jesus a good thing, or a bad thing? Careful, now, I know that you want to say it was a bad thing. After all, how can you gaze upon the tortured, pierced, torn, and bloodied body of Jesus on the cross and not see the evil, the wickedness, and the hatred that nailed Him there? How could anyone call the cross a good thing? Well, God calls it good. Thus, perhaps you need to consider the possibility that you are not seeing things correctly. You see, you often mistake a good thing for a bad thing, and a bad thing for a good thing. In contrast to yourself, however, God simply calls a thing what it is. God calls Jesus’ crucified body on the cross a good thing, for it was the means through which you, His prodigal son, His prodigal daughter, were restored to Him, and by which Satan, your enemy and the cause of your sin-wrecked relationship with God, was defeated and lost all claim upon you. Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, and death upon the cross were a good thing – they were good for you. Therefore, do not dare to gaze upon the cross, the crucifix, and call it bad.
God calls a thing what it is, and so should you. God calls your deviant, rebellious thoughts, words, and deeds sin, and so should you. God calls your separation from Him death, and so should you. And, God calls His Son Jesus, dead upon the cross, satisfaction and redemption, paid in full for all your sins so that, through faith and trust in Him alone, He now calls you what you are in Him – holy, pure, and innocent – and, so should you.
However, you must understand that it was not for your sake that your LORD gave all for you, but it was for the sake of the His holy Name, which you had profaned, and which you continue to profane when you sin. Does this sound odd to you, that “it is not for your sake” that God acted, but “for the sake of [His] holy Name?” It is understandable if it does, for popular Christian thought is much more you-centered than it is God-centered or Christ-centered. Further, I am not at all convinced that most Christians have a clue what God’s Name is or means. Because of that, I really appreciate this comment in the Lutheran Study Bible: “God’s Name is a capsule-word for everything He is and has revealed about Himself. Its essential characteristic is ‘holiness,’ i.e., transcendence above all limited human concepts, definitions, and comprehension.”
This is why I preached to you last week about Jesus’ Name, and what it means to ask anything of the Father in Jesus’ Name, in the assurance that He will give it to you. The Name of Jesus, the Name of God, is so very much more than a proper noun, a title, or a designation. God’s Name is holy. It is everything that holiness is and must be, and the only holy thing through which other persons and things may be made to be holy. And so, no, it is not for your sake that the LORD acted, but it was for the sake of His holy Name. However, you were once a part of the LORD’s holy Name, and it is His will and love for you that you be restored to His holy Name once again. This, Jesus has done for you in the good thing of His suffering, crucifixion, and death. And, the LORD raised Him up again on the third day, that in Jesus, His Name, He might raise you up and restore you to a right relationship with Him once again.
Despite what your eyes see, this is a good thing. You must learn to see with your ears. Indeed, faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Name and the Word of God made flesh. No one could know this simply by gazing upon Jesus with his eyes. To the eyes of men, Jesus looked to be the son of a carpenter from backwater Nazareth, a young rabbi with a somewhat radical interpretation of scripture, a zealot seeking to gather a following presumably to begin an overthrow of their Roman occupiers, etc. Yet, there were a few who could see the Truth with their ears and, thus, with the eyes of faith, most notably John the Baptist who pointed to Jesus proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John judged not by what his eyes saw, but by what his ears saw. He called Jesus what He was, the Paschal Lamb of God for the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter had a similar experience when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And, also the centurion stationed at the cross as Jesus died who confessed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” And also, St. Thomas on the Sunday following Easter who confessed of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
It is a good thing that Jesus died for you, even as it is a good thing that He was raised for you, and it is also a good thing that Jesus has ascended back to His Father for you. Do not overlook or neglect the importance of Jesus’ ascension. Jesus’ ascension back into the holy presence of God is also your ascension, reconciliation, and restoration to God. It was your flesh and blood that Jesus took up when He was conceived of the Virgin Mary, was obedient under the Law of God, suffered and died for your sins, guilt, and transgressions, was raised from death on the third day, and, lastly, ascended back to His Father in heaven, guaranteeing a place for you there through baptism and faith in Him. A human Man now sits in the presence and glory of God, and that Man is Jesus, and through your baptism into Him and faith, that Man is you. You must see with your ears by hearkening to this Word of the LORD, and you must call a thing, not as it appears, but what it truly is. In Christ, you have an audience with the King of Creation, the LORD and Holy Triune God. You have the same audience as His eternal Son, Jesus – full access, the King’s ear, and His promise to bless you and keep you in and through all things.
Jesus has said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. You must not be deceived by mere appearances. The mighty works of the LORD are often accomplished through the humblest and most unassuming means. Moses was but a stuttering shepherd. David was young, inexperienced, and mild. Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, a tax collector, and women, among the least in their community. Your pastor is but a sinful man like you vacillating between pride and humility, anger and gentleness, condemnation and forgiveness, hardness and compassion. And the most powerful works of the LORD are accomplished through the Word spoken, water applied, bread and wine given. Through these means sins are forgiven, faith is created, nourished, and strengthened, and disciples are equipped for service to the neighbor and for battle against Satan and his demonic forces. Though you are nothing to look at, you are God’s children and Jesus’ body, the Church, militant in warfare against Satan for the life of the world. Do not be deceived by the humble, weak, and even sinful appearance, but call a thing what it is, what God in His Word says it is: You are the Church, the called and chosen of the LORD in Jesus Christ, holy, pure, and righteous as Jesus Himself before God and man.
But, the world doesn’t see you for what you are. Men do not consider you holy, pure, and righteous, but evil, hypocrites, bigots, and worse. You must not be surprised at this. The world and men do not keep the Word of the LORD or have any care for it. Therefore, they call evil good, and good evil. But, you must simply call a thing what it is. Let your yes by yes, and let your no be no. And, because you are God’s yes, you must be yes to your brother and sister in Christ, you must be yes to your neighbor, and you must be yes to the world. That is to say, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” This does not mean that you bless what God has condemned, but that you bear with and show love to all, even to those who hate God and who hate you and consider you to be evil. You must discern between right and wrong, good and evil, yes and no according to the light of God’s Word and the counsel of the Holy Spirit, but it is not your place to judge and condemn. You must be merciful, as your LORD and God has been merciful to you. You must love with His love, bear with one another with His patience and longsuffering, and forgive with His forgiveness, “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Did I just in happenstance describe mothers? Yes, surely mothers are an example of this kind of love and patience and longsuffering. Even when motherhood is wrought in pain and tribulation, even when their children disobey and disrespect them, even when husbands withdraw and seem unsupportive or disconnected, mothers see and feel and believe and cherish an unseen truth – Motherhood is a sacred and holy vocation. Children are a gift and blessing of God. The love of a mother may be the most like the love of God. May the Holy Spirit give us all eyes to see what mothers see and new hearts and new spirits to love selflessly in humility and longsuffering all of God’s children as well as those He would have yet to be His children.
Do not be deceived. Things are not as they appear. Open your ears to the Word of the LORD and see in the way that He sees. Do not be surprised at the fiery trial you often encounter in your lives these days in this world that is not your home, but rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the Name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. The Helper has come and is with you. The Holy Spirit bears witness in Word and Sacrament and in your own hearts to Jesus Christ to keep you from falling away. Next, we will celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Through the Spirit of God poured out in Christ Jesus you are His people and you will dwell with Him forever as His people, with the LORD as your God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
That you pray is not a suggestion, but it is a commandment. While there is a sense in which you are invited to pray, it is in the same sense in which you are invited to drive at the posted speed limit. To put it quite bluntly, to pray is to keep and to obey the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” For, when you pray, you “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
Now, to be sure, your heavenly Father has attached some pretty spectacular promises to your prayer. In fact, your Lord Jesus promises you, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” And this is key: Your heavenly Father will not give you what you ask because you pray, because of the words of your prayer, because of the eloquence of how you pray, because of your great sincerity in prayer, or even because of your faith, but He will give you those things that you ask in Jesus’ Name. Do not think that this means that you should simply end your prayer with the words “In the Name of Jesus.” That is indeed a salutary thing to do, but those words are a confession of your faith. They are worship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not magical incantation that will cause God to give you what you want, as if He were some divine vending machine in the sky. No! Perish the thought!
But, the command to ask in Jesus’ Name means to ask for those things that Jesus has revealed in His life and ministry, in His suffering, death, and resurrection, in His Word, which is the Word of God. In other words, you are not to ask for Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets, but you are to ask for those things that God has already promised to give you: faith, the Holy Spirit, humility, patience, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." As your earthly fathers, who are corrupted by sin and evil, desire to give you things that are good for you, how much more will Your heavenly Father give you, not harmful and evil things, but the things that He knows are truly good for you His dear and beloved child? Moreover, He already gives you these things. So, why does He command you to pray? Your heavenly Father commands you to pray because He loves for you to call upon Him, to put your fear, your love, and your trust in Him, to keep the First Commandment, and because this is all extremely good, absolving, and life-giving to you. Your heavenly Father wants you to pray to Him, to ask Him in Jesus’ Name, because He is love and because He loves you.
Still, there is a great deal more in Jesus’ command to ask in His Name. To ask in Jesus’ Name is not merely to mutter the words “In Jesus’ Name,” nor is it merely to ask for those things that are in Jesus’ Name, that is, those things that are in accord with the holy will and Word of God. But, to ask in Jesus’ Name is, quite literally, to ask in Jesus, to ask as Jesus, as one who has been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, as a member of Jesus’ body, the Church. Quite obviously, if you ask in Jesus, as Jesus, you cannot possibly ask for something that is not in accord with the holy will and Word of God. Moreover, your heavenly Father has promised to hear and to answer your prayer, even to give you precisely what you ask for. In this case, the tired saying that God always answers prayer with either “Yes,” “No,” or “Later,” is nonsense. Jesus says quite plainly and literally and truthfully, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” So, if you ask and you do not receive, it is not that God did not hear your prayer, or that He doesn’t wish to give you what you ask at this time, or that you didn’t ask rightly, believe that He would answer, or anything else, but all that it means is that you did not truly ask in Jesus’ Name.
Now, I understand that this may come as a surprise to many of you. After all, you’ve heard countless preachers and teachers, you’ve read devotions and have attended Bible classes in which you have been taught that you’re simply supposed to ask God for whatever you want, that if only you “name it,” and truly believe, that you can “claim it” and it will be so. And, if you don’t get what you want, you have probably felt that you didn’t ask rightly, that you didn’t believe strongly enough, that God said “No,” or, maybe, just maybe, you even began to doubt if God was truly there at all. I say to you, that teaching is from the devil who desires only to lead you away from fear, love, and trust in God and into fear, love, and trust in yourself, and who seeks to rob you of comfort and peace. Your Lord Jesus suffered and died to release you from this bondage. Your Lord Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven to intercede and to advocate for you there. As St. James writes, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” This is most certainly true, for that “righteous man” is Jesus, not you. Any doctrine of prayer that shifts your focus from Jesus to yourself, or to your works, or to your faith, or to your words, or to anything else, is from the devil who seeks only to deceive you, and to destroy you, and to rob you of Christ’s peace.
That is the complete opposite purpose for which Jesus commands you to pray. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace,” says Jesus. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice how Jesus doesn’t sidestep tribulation. He doesn’t say that you might have tribulation, but Jesus actually promises you that you will have tribulation. Therefore, do not be surprised when things don’t go your way, when the world mocks and ridicules your faith, when everything you believe and hold precious and true seems to be at odds with the world and the culture around you, when you don’t fit in, when your faith and church appear to be irrelevant to the world, when no human wisdom seems to avail, when you don’t know how you’re going to make it much longer, when… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Your Lord Jesus told you beforehand that this would happen so that when it does you might remember and take comfort in His Words, “I have overcome the world.” It is Satan that wants you to worry and to be anxious, to fret and to despair. He will use these fears and dark emotions against you either to separate you from God and His Church through hopelessness and despair because you believe that you have failed, that it is your fault, or he will harden your heart against God and fill you full of pride and self-righteousness that you rail against God, claiming that He is loveless, merciless, a pitiless and harsh judge and master, or doesn’t exist at all.
Yes, you need to pray. You need to ask Him in Jesus’ Name. His command is good for you just as the First Commandment is good for you. He is God and you are not. To remember this, to believe this, to confess this, and to return to this, is good for you. God doesn’t need your prayers, but He loves it when you pray to Him and ask Him for good things, just as a child asks his loving father, trusting that he wants only good for his dear child. When you turn to Him in repentance, when you cry to Him for help and for strength and for the Holy Spirit and for faith, when you lift up your eyes to Him as the object of your faith, life, and salvation, you will be comforted, you will be healed, you will be forgiven, even though you are a victim of that serpent Satan’s poisonous and deadly bite. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
And, “Be doers of the word, and not hears only, deceiving yourselves.” You see, Satan and your own wicked flesh wish to separate these two things. Some will claim that all they need is to hear the Word of God and that, despite their works, despite the fruit they do not bear, they may be confident in their salvation. While, others will claim that works are most important, even all that is necessary, and justify their laxity in hearing the Word of the Lord and receiving His Blessed Sacraments. This, too, is of the lies and deceptions of your enemy, the devil. Thus, St. James rightly connects the two, faith and works, and show them to be two sides of the same coin. It is most certainly true that you are saved by grace through faith alone apart from works, but it is also true that true and living faith is never alone but is always fruitful. And, this too is a reason for your Lord’s command to pray and to ask. You are to ask for those things that are in Jesus that you might bear the fruits of Jesus for others, that they may have His peace also and that God the Father may be glorified.
And, take note of the emphasis here on hearing as opposed to speaking. This may seem odd as you likely consider prayer to be more about speaking than listening. What you need to learn here is that true and God-pleasing prayer originates in hearing, not speaking, that is, in hearing God’s Word. And, this takes us right back to where we began: When you pray, you must pray in Jesus’ Name. That is, you must pray in Jesus and ask for those things that are in Jesus and not for those things that are not in Jesus. How do you know what those things are? You hear, mark, read, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. The Word must be your sustenance, the very food for your soul. Therefore, regular hearing of the Word in this fellowship is central and crucial, along with regular reception of the Word made flesh, the Word made visible and tangible and edible, the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for life both now and forevermore. This too is a necessary fruit, a doing, which corresponds to and flows out of your hearing.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved children of our heavenly Father, your Father and God commands you to pray that you might return to Him in repentance and receive from Him all that He desires to give to you in His Son, your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He would have you fear, love, and trust in Him above all else and, thus, it is the greatest good for you to pray, to ask Him in Jesus’ Name, and to receive from Him the things that give you life. And, when you have received, then you have also to give, for “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,” that is, to is to humbly serve others as you have been served, “and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” This gift and promise of His Word He has left with you, and His Holy Spirit as counselor, comforter, helper, and guide, until He comes, that you may persevere.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.