Sermon for Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, AD 2021

John 16:23-30

In our gospel lesson, our Lord Jesus Christ gives us very clear and precious promises concerning prayer. While the Gospel of St. John does not contain the Lord’s Prayer, as do Matthew and Luke, Jesus speaks in detail about the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer after His own resurrection and ascension. Think of these words of Jesus along with the Lord’s Prayer, that prayer He gave to us, the perfect prayer which asks for all things that we will need from God.
           
In the Small Catechism explanation of Our Father who art in heaven, Luther explains that we come to God in prayer as dear children ask their dear Father, asking Him confidently and boldly for our needs. Yet it seems often that Christians do not pray, do not ask their Father confidently and boldly for their needs. Are you afraid to come to God? Do you think you bother him with your requests? Or maybe you think you are not worthy to be heard?
           
Many Lutherans tend to understand well that praying to the saints is not necessary, even idolatrous. Usually if you ask what the major problem with the Roman Catholic church is, this will be in the top few answers. And this is true, our Lutheran confessions strongly condemn prayer to the saints. Partially this is because of the tendency to idolatry, that the saint being prayed to becomes one who people fear, love, and trust in more than God. Yet this is not the only reason the first Lutherans condemned this practice.  
           
Even if people do not put saints on the same level as God, if they are looking to pray to them merely to ask them to pray to God for them, then why go to saints and not to God? There is a problem with how they view prayer. If prayer to God is like coming to your boss for a raise, and you don’t know if you will get it, then prayer to the saints and Mary could make sense. Influence your boss’s mother and friends to talk to him for you. Pull all the strings you can to get him on your side. When this is your view of prayer, these things come naturally.
           
This view is not only reserved to those Roman Catholics who pray to saints. When you view God as a grumpy boss or one who tends not to answer you turn to other means to get God to hear you. You may turn to the law and think that if you just straighten up and fly right, you can earn God’s pleasure enough to hear you. If you earn his love and favor, he will give you what you need. This is even worse than prayer to the saints, for it rests all hope and faith in yourself, not even in other holy people. Most of all, it is unbelief in a true Father who cares for you.
           
For what qualifies a person for his worldly father’s love, or given the day, a mother’s love? As we heard Jesus say a few weeks ago, the woman who labors forgets all her pain when the baby is born into the world. What has that baby done to earn her love? It exists. It is hers. Even more, it was brought into the world by her own pain and travail. Now many earthly mothers and fathers may fall short. Some never show love, some demand that their love be earned. Yet the example God gives is of a Father who loves His child because he is His child. It’s the example of the Father and the Son, the relationship which we are brought into in our baptism.
           
Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you, and, Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full. What we have when asking in Christ’s name is a propitiator, one who makes us worthy to be heard. For we in our sin are not worthy to be heard by God. In fact we could not even come to Him groveling for the least thing if it were not for Christ. Yet in Christ, God has ordered us to ask him and promised to hear us. We know that He wants us to call on Him, because He has told us in His word. Therefore faith is to call on Him in every time of need. We also know that Jesus has paid for all our sins, that we are innocent before God by trusting in Christ. These great and precious promises are only in Christ. Only through Christ’s name, not through the saints or Mary, not through our own merit, can we pray for the Father only promises to answer through Him.
           
This is why you should approach God boldly and confidently in prayer, for the boldness and confidence you have in what Christ has done for you, not in yourself. Even more, the Father wants to answer your prayers. You know this because the Father sent the Son to die on the cross for you, and to rise from the dead for you. As Jesus also says, “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.” How incredible is the love of God in this! It is not even that Jesus just prays for us, but the Father also loves us Himself! Jesus didn’t pay for our sins on the cross to thwart God, but to fufill His Father’s will. To make us clean, to answer our prayers, this is what the Father wished to do the entire time. This is why the Father sent the Son into the world, and why the Son has ascended back to the Father, for your good. To answer your prayer.
           
Therefore do not doubt God’s promise and pledge in prayer. Whoever doubts God asks in vain, because he makes God into a liar who can neither do anything or keep his word. As you pray, continually also pray to strengthen your faith to believe in what He has promised. As the tax collector said, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” Present to God your prayers regularly, in a brief and heartfelt way. It does not have to be long or beautiful sounding. God has promised to hear and answer your sighs and longings, troubles, anxieties, and daily sorrows. The Holy Spirit will perfect your prayers. Christ prays for you. The Father desires to hear them.
           
Trust what the Lord says in Psalm 50: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” It is God’s glory to answer prayer. Our faith in God is shown in the asking, for we have nothing to give him as our Maker. For he also says in Psalm 50: “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you for the world and its fullness are mine.
           
God needs nothing from us but to hear our faithful prayers to Him. In your baptism, He has given you His Holy Spirit to do so, and in Christ’s name, on account of His death and resurrection, we can trust in the strongest promise that you will be heard. For our Lord Jesus Christ, our brother has ascended on high, rules over heaven and earth, and desires to give us all good things. Amen.

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