Easter 5 2009 Thursday

Rogate, modified from 2007
John 16:23-33

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

We can reduce the fads of pop-Christianity into two camps: those that want to make people behave and those that promise prosperity. That distinction might be a bit artificial since the point of making people behave is usually prosperity. Anyway, 40 days of Purpose is an example of a recent. It was mostly concerned with behavior. So were Promise Keepers and the WWJD bracelets. Before those things, in the prosperity camp, there was Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking and the Crystal Cathedral is still with us. Perhaps the crassest gimmick for prosperity ever tried was a book entitled The Prayer of Jabez. It claimed that if you prayed this obscure passage in the Old Testament, every  day and night, you would be prosperous. Lots of people did. Jesus never did. Isn’t that amazing? Imagine advocating that the way to trick God into being nice to you was to pray something Jesus never prayed. Maybe that is why He was crucified.

In fairness, most of these fads hold a sliver of truth.  Moral behavior does make for a much more satisfying life. It often brings a kind of prosperity. It is hard, for instance, to be prosperous in prison. Divorce is expensive. But so too can successful criminal lifestyles bring prosperity. Fidel Castro lives in Luxury. So did Saddam Hussein. Prosperity doesn’t prove morality. Having a purpose in life, defined by the Name of God given in Baptism, keeping your promises, and behaving like Jesus, are all good and healthy things. It is also true that believing God is good and that He wants to bless you, coupled with regular, morning and evening prayer, is a very good thing. God does want to bless you.

The problem with all of these fads is that they stand apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are gimmicks, fads. \They are all befuddled by Our Lord’s prophecy: “In the world you will have tribulation.”

The model for Christian prayer is the garden of Gethsemane. Our Lord asked the cup be removed, but it was not. Even as the Father would forsake the Son on the cross in order to be with us, so also He denied the Son’s request in the garden in order to grant our requests. The Father’s will is that all men turned and be saved, that all the world be reconciled to Himself, that all creation be sanctified and returned to Him. The Father loves the Son in the Son’s laying down of His life to fulfill His will and in His taking it up again. But what was finished on the cross has not yet been completed in time. Not all the elect are baptized – yet. Jesus Christ is the victor over the world. He has defeated the last enemy. He is alive out of the grave to bring us to His Father’s side. Yet the tribulation continues while God delays the last judgment, the angels restrain the destructive winds, in order to get all His children to safety.

That is not to say that it is wrong to pray for prosperity. You have been baptized into Christ. The fullest and most personal, revealed Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been placed upon you. You are clean and acceptable to God. You are forgiven. He makes Himself available to you through that Name in prayer. You always pray as a child to his Father. Perhaps you come at times on bended knee, afraid of His wrath for your sins, or you address Him as “Almighty Creator” or even “Judge of the world.”  But you come only because you have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb and made clean, because you know that He loves the Son and in the Son He loves you and has bestowed His Spirit upon you. Solomon was no fool when he asked for wisdom, as though he just stumbled upon that idea. It took wisdom to ask for wisdom. So also you come to the Father in the Spirit through Son knowing what His promise is. It takes faith to ask for faith, forgiveness to ask for forgiveness. No one confesses his sins to God without expecting the gracious, living Lord to remove them. Baptism might have been a surprise, even as the Resurrection was, to a degree, but the absolution is never a surprise, because it is always and only faith that asks for it.  Meditate sometime on the general confession we say at the beginning of the Service. It is not the confession of a trembling, scared person. It is a confident request, that expects grace. Even without the absolution, not that we would ever have it without the absolution, but even without it, it is comforting.

Your prayers and your life in Christ are defined by the Name of God which He has given you: Father. You pray with the boldness and confidence of dear children asking their dear father. What do children ask their fathers for? Food? A Home? Safety? Maybe. Occasionally. But not mostly. Mostly children ask their fathers for frivolous things. For toys, for sweets, for attention. When children do ask for the needs for someone else, or for necessities of daily life, it is when something is terribly wrong and they are broken-hearted. Children will almost always ask their fathers to give the beggar at the bus stop some money, to heal the bird with the broken wing. But if things are going well, they don’t ask for a house or for the father to be nice to their mother.

Here is the point: praying for yourself and for prosperity is not wrong. It is natural. And it does not annoy your Father in heaven. Much of what you ask is frivolous. What else would you expect of children? He knows what you actually need. He provides it even when you don’t ask. But do not underestimate the power of intercessory prayer. The earthly father at the bus stop may have hardened his heart. He has seen too many beggars drinking from brown paper bags. He fears the beggar will abuse any money he is given. But when the child asks, the father is moved and fulfills the child’s request. This is not a perfect analogy. Our Father in heaven is not cynical or selfish, to be sure. But your prayers are effectual. They make a difference in the world. God acts because of them. Do not make light of it. God does more than change your heart through prayer. He also acts because of your prayer.

Thus He has called you to pray. By your prayers creation is spared, chaos is fought back, pollution is removed, the world is cleansed. Do not worry about making your prayers orthodox or asking for the right things. Just pray for what you want. You want to be thinner. You want the zit to go away before the date tonight. You want some ice cream or just want to not be bored. And in the same breath, you want a cure for cancer, an end to aids in Africa, peace in the Middle East. Fine. The world is polluted.  Your heart is broken. Do not harden it. Open it to God. Make your petitions in the Name of Jesus, in boldness and confidence, without fear.

On this side of glory you always you pray from the garden of Gethsemane, never from heaven. Jesus has overcome the world. But you still abide in it. Rejoice and thank God for those times when He gives you the joys of this creation – like dinner with friends and feet washed by Jesus. But also submit to His goodness and will. You are but children. You do not know best. You are not in control. You wait for His goodness to be revealed, trusting that He will bring you to Himself in heaven, that He forsook the Son to never, never forsake you. The tomb is empty. You are joined to Him in the holy eating and drinking of His Body and Blood. You will also rise from the dead. This is the peace He bestows with His Holy Spirit. It passes all understanding. You need it now because you have not yet arrived. The Day will come when you will ask Him for nothing. Now, you ask Him for everything. That is what beggars and children do.

That is the Christian view of and desire for prosperity. We’ll take it when and where it comes, where God gives it, and we will not be ashamed to ask for it. But neither will we seek to manipulate Him into it. We will suffer and wait for His goodness to be revealed. His will is good and His will will be done.

Now to the other pop-Christianity fad: better behavior. We’ll take that too. St. James exhorts us to be doers of the word and not hearers only. But that behavior comes not by gimmicks and slogans or a resolute setting of human will, but also in prayer. That is how God’s Word is done, how you do God’s Word: you pray. God’s Word is first heard. It enters into you. Then it comes out again. God’s Word on your lips makes you a doer of God’s Word. He speaks and then you speak His Word back to Him.

That is not to make light of the moral law and of the things that something like Promise Keepers wants to uphold. We are for that too, in a sense. But that is more of a passive thing, not breaking God’s Law, not cheating on your wife, not stealing and lying and such. Those things are dangerous to faith. But God’s Word is done to us when we are convicted of our sins and then forgiven our trespasses, when the righteousness of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to be our own and we are welcomed by name into God’s gracious presence. As those who hear God’s Word first, we then do God’s Word in prayer and praise and thanksgiving.

Thus was God the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, never alone. The Father is ever with Him in the Spirit. So also you are never alone. You stand with baptized feet and hands before the Father in the Spirit through the Son, and as you stand, you pray, and your Father in heaven is pleased. So that whatever you ask Him He gives. Your joy will be full.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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