Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sermon: Rogate (Easter 6)

9 May 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 16:23-33 (Num 21:4-9, 1 Tim 2:1-6)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

When someone is ill, it is customary for the pastor to come to him, pray over him, and anoint him with oil – as St. James instructs us in the fifth chapter of his epistle. This prayer and anointing bear a promise – of restoration and forgiveness of sins. For, as James says: “The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power.”

Christian prayer is effective not because of the righteousness of the Christian himself, nor due to the righteousness of the pastor bearing the oil and offering the prayer. Rather, the “righteous person” who prays for us is our blessed Lord Himself, who intercedes with His Father on our behalf.

Indeed, we often explicitly pray “in the name of Jesus.” For we creatures living under authority know the power of name-dropping, and we have been authorized to make use of the name that is above every name as an invocation before God. For, as St. Paul teaches us, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Prayer is a gift from God, and t the same time, is access to God. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray to “our Father who art in heaven.” And He teaches us to “ask in My name” and in that kind of prayer, the Lord hears us and Jesus plainly tells us: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

To pray in the name of Jesus is so much more than just name-dropping, and it certainly isn’t a mere formula that we attach onto the end of our prayers like a magic spell. We can pray in the name of Jesus because we have been baptized in the name of Jesus and we have believed that he came from God. We have been marked with the cross of Christ, redeemed by His Word, liberated by His Gospel, and ransomed by His crucified body and blood.

And nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Even when we sin, we can call upon the Lord’s name in confession, in repentance, and in forgiveness. And even “when the people spoke against God and against Moses,” grumbling in their impatience and expressing a shocking lack of faith in the Lord’s servant who was chosen to lead them from bondage to freedom, the Lord chastened the people with the fiery serpents. But the people repented, and they asked Moses to intercede for them: “Pray to the Lord, that He might take away the serpents from us.” The Lord instructed Moses to give the people a visible element, a preview of Christ crucified, a serpent raised high on a pole.

Moses also prayed for the people, but more importantly, Christ prayed for the people. For we know that even before He was incarnate, God the Son was with His people, He was the “Righteous Person” praying to His Father on behalf of His people – even in the Old Testament.

And in the New Testament, St. Paul in his First Epistle to Timothy urges us to make intercessions “for all people” – especially for “kings and all who are in high positions.” Interestingly, the holy apostle links these intercessions to salvation itself, for this prayer “is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Our prayers are pleasing to God. And we pray for the leaders of the world, for those who defend and protect the peace, for mothers whose calling is higher than that of any king or president, for fathers who mirror (even though imperfectly) the Fatherhood of God. We pray for the sick, the suffering, and the persecuted. We pray for the Church throughout the world and for all pastors, teachers, and congregations. We pray for our families, friends, parish, and community. We pray for daily bread, for forgiveness, for the ability to forgive others, and for deliverance from the evil one.

We pray to our Father who art in heaven, we pray to our Redeemer God the Son, and we pray to the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit. We pray in season and out of season, when times are good and when times are tough. We offer prayers of thanksgiving, and we plead for things we need and desire.

And as Christians, we pray without ceasing, and we pray ever in Jesus’ name.

“For there is one God,” proclaims St. Paul, “and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”

Think of what this means for us, dear brothers and sisters! We can pray, we can approach the most holy throne of God, we have access to the Father through the Son by way of the Holy Spirit. We are not just tolerated by the Father (whom we have indeed offended by our sins). No, we are actually loved by our Father, “because” as our Blessed Lord testifies: “you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.”

We have been welcomed into the Holy of Holies. We have been invited to ask for anything, and have been given the Name of Jesus as a gift, as a kind of password of access to the Creator and His love, to His forgiveness, and to eternal life in unity and communion with God and one another.

This is not to say that we should abuse this glorious gift to seek after sinful, selfish desires. For our Lord teaches us that material things only rust and get eaten by moths and are stolen. The lure of the world’s riches are but a flash in the pan. No indeed! Our Lord invites us to go much deeper and be bolder in our prayers than to ask for trinkets and mere worldly symbols. For we are invited – even commanded – to “ask… that your joy may be full.”

For we still live in a fallen world. We still struggle with sin, temptation, disappointment, disease, betrayal, hurt, pain, and even death. We still live in a time and space where we do need to ask for the Lord Jesus to intercede for us. We have not yet reached the consummation of the promise of eternity and everlasting life. And yet, in spite of it all, our joy can be full. We can ask with boldness and confidence, in faith and with joy. For we have the promise of God’s Word, and that promise has been sealed with the Holy Spirit and delivered by way of blood and water. The promise is marked with the cross and has been attested to by the empty tomb. Your sins are atoned for. Death has been defeated. In the name of Jesus, you have been invited to live forever.

Pray, dear brothers and sisters! Pray not because you have been ordered to as a duty, but because you have been invited to as a privilege! And do not be afraid to pray when times are at their darkest. For our Lord Jesus Himself, He who prayed as sweat and blood dripped from His brow at Gethsemane, tells us: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

This name that is above every name, the name of God in the flesh, the name into which we have been baptized, the name of Him who has overcome the world, the name of Him who has crushed the head of the serpent, the name placed above the cross, and the name of Him who has burst the bonds of the tomb – is the very name in which we pray. He is the “Righteous Person” whose prayers are effective. And He prays for us, now and forever. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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