Easter 5 2018

Easter 5 Rogate
May 6, 2018 A+D
St. John 16:23-33

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

Luther’s famous last words were: “We are all beggars.”[1] Christianity begins, continues, and ends with us as beggars before God.[2] This is the foundation of prayer and also the essence of faith: we are beggars to whom God bestows riches for Christ’s sake. We have nothing to give God, while we need for God to give us all things. Apart from Christ, there would be nothing for us but eternal death. When we ask God for anything in faith in Christ, when we ask Him to help us, to forgive us, to remember us, and so on, we are acting as Christians. We are obeying God’s command and we are acting in faith according to His promises. The need for a benefactor, the posture of the beggar, is the essential posture of faith. Faith looks to God in Christ for its every necessity. It expects goodness and mercy from God. Our asking God, our prayer, is a confession not only of His power and desire to do good, but also of our expectation to be heard. We aren’t grasping at straws like cancer patients smoking marijuana while enduring acupuncture and wearing copper bracelets. When we pray we are doing so in faith. We are confessing that whether we live or die we belong to Christ. He told us to pray and told us that He would hear us. He wants us to ask His Father in His Name and He wants our joy to be full. When we ask Him to give us these things, He is pleased because He wants to give us these things.

Prayer is not only petition. Nonetheless, the chief meaning and purpose of prayer is to make requests of God, that is to call upon for help, for daily needs and desires. Prayer kneels before our generous Lord as beggars, confident that He hears us, has provided, and will continue to do so.

We are always subservient to God. We are always beneficiaries. Even though God is pleased by your good works and blesses both you and your neighbor through them, He doesn’t need them. He does reward them, but not with salvation. They don’t benefit Him, they benefit you and your neighbor. He doesn’t need anything from you but He is pleased to receive them. You offer them as sacrifices of praise. They don’t change His mind about you for He already loves you and credits all of Christ’s holiness and innocence to you. In both justification and sanctification, in prayer and faith, you are always the beneficiary and He is always the benefactor.

Besides asking God for things, we also praise God and we can, and we should, lament. Even in this we are beggars. Praise that recognizes that God is good to those who not only have not deserved it and are barely able to recognize it but who will never return the favor is more exuberant and honest. In some sense, we have nothing to do but praise because we are blessed with some many gifts that we do not deserve and have not earned.

Lament seems outrageous given our unworthy beggarliness, except that we know God’s promises. We expect Him to be just and merciful according to His Word. Our complaints come not because we have suffered something that we did not deserve. We are beggars. What do we deserve? Death and damnation. We lament and complain because life is not what He has promised in His Word. We aren’t asking for strict justice, an eye for an eye. We are asking that life meet the description of the Bible. Our complaints are requests, begging, that God would be Whom He has promised to be and do what He has promised to do – and that according to His Word. We make these complaints because we are members of His family and are unafraid to speak frankly to Him.  We would not treat our friends this way. If our friend serves up burnt bread we will pretend to like it. We are polite. But if our mother serves less than our favorite bread, even if it is unburnt, we will complain. We expect cake. We offer these complaints to God  as insiders with special privilege. Why do the wicked prosper? Why is the Church persecuted? When will justice be obvious and His reign in power, glory, and grace all coincide? We offer these complaints in love for Him and His plan, as children who are learning patience the hard way. We do so in confidence that He will work all things together for good

Listening to and meditating on God’s Word is also a form of begging. It begs that God would speak. This isn’t because we aren’t sure if He will or not, rather we recognize that we aren’t worthy of His attention. Yet He seeks us and He speaks to us. This He has always done, both before and after the Fall. Some of what He said to Adam was harsh on Adam’s ears for his ears had become sensitive and selfish with sin. But it was the truth and it was for Adam’s good. God told him of the curse in mercy. He told him of the consequence of his sins so that he would know his need. Then God told him how He, God, would solve the problem and pay the penalty in Himself and die for Adam’s sin and thereby crush the serpent’s head. He came to Adam to talk to him even though Adam wasn’t worthy of it and didn’t understand all of it. He comes to us still. He speaks in the Scriptures. Begging Him to speak, is begging Him to be who He is, who He promises to be, and looks for Him where He is to be found.

In these ways, faith is engaged in an ongoing conversation with God. Even as the Christian rejoices always, so also he prays always. This conversation is possible only because the Christian has been made a child of God by the sacrifice of the Son for the life of the world.

You enjoy a familial privilege. You get to listen to God and talk to Him. Your conversations ought to include the full spectrum of your emotions and experience, of your needs, desires, and fears. You ought to make requests not just for daily bread, but also that your joy would be full, that your faith would be strengthened, that you would not be led into temptation. You ought to  intercede for others, remembering that you belong to a family and that others need you. You ought to pray for the Church and the Ministry. These intercessions aren’t merely requests – letters sent off to a foreign country. Prayer is a conversation. In these intercessions you ought to ask God how you can help those in need, how you can serve the Church, and that He give you the courage and selflessness to do it.

You ought also to give thanks in your prayers and receive all of your life as a gift. You should complain some in your prayers. You should cry out for justice in the world, in our country, and in your circle. You confess your brokenness and the great need of this world and church and city for God to intervene and make it what He said it should be. Lastly, you should praise God for His mercy and love.[3]

All this is a response to God’s Word. When God speaks, you must respond. It is rude not to. We don’t listen to the Bible like listening to the radio. God is present. He is talking to you. You have to respond. Prayer is necessary and can never be apart from the Word of God. God Himself initiates prayer. He does this both by His command and by His encouragement in His promise. He is not angry with you, but has accepted the payment of the Son on your behalf. He wants to hear from you. Are you listening? Did you understand? Has your heart been changed? Prayer is conducted directly in God’s presence. It is not merely talk thrown at God or to God. It is a dialogue. It is with God. Prayer includes hearing His Word, proclaiming His Word, contemplating and meditating on what He says, as well as asking and talking, complaining and rejoicing, and reflecting.

Christians, like the disciples before them, must be open to being taught to pray. Prayer does not come naturally to men on this side of glory even after conversion. We must abandon the vanity that expects prayer to be easy, obvious, or natural or that thinks we’ve already learned all we need. We must learn to listen. This lesson is always being undone by our sin. It has to be repeated, again and again. We need to pay careful attention to God’s Word. We also need to learn to be honest and to trust that God really does love us in Christ. We have to learn to stop hiding ourselves from Him. We must learn to wait in trustful obedience based upon God’s promises. We must learn discipline in reading and contemplation.

All of this is taught most efficiently by the liturgy. The liturgy is nothing but Scripture. It teaches us to make the words of Scripture our cry to heaven. It also pauses to listen to the Bible being read and to preaching that interprets and applies God’s Word. It confesses sin and hope. It cries for mercy and rejoices in God’s promises. It lifts our hearts to God even in the midst of our complaints and worries and we find Him for us with the forgiveness of sin hidden in bread and wine, water and Word, and in one another’s mouths. The liturgy prepares us for death and at the same time sends us into the world, with His blessing, as ambassadors of His peace. It fuels ongoing rejoicing and prayer even as it informs it by directing it to God’s Word.

In the world, you will have tribulation. No one escapes it. But take heart. Jesus has overcome the world. He has won you for Himself that your joy would be full. Are you ready to listen? To ask? To receive? He is ready to give.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, eds. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 476.

[2] John W. Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 29.

[3] Catechism 2017, 233.

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