Easter 6 2022 Rogate

John 16:23-30

May 22, 2022

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


When Moses asks God for His name, God replies “I am who I am.”  This God who made the heaven and the earth, who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, who made Abraham a father of many, who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, who sent His Son to die for the salvation of the world, is the God who IS.  This is an exclusive claim of Christianity. He is the only true God. All other gods are imaginary, idols of fallen humanity’s imagination, or demons masquerading as something they are not.  God is truth, idols are lies.  God IS, idols are made.  God leads people to live holy lives, idols give permission for sinners to sin.  

The Psalmist speaks to this in Psalm 135:15-16 wherein he says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.  Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, uses many derogatory words for idols, one of my favorites being “dung deities” showing no mercy, grace, nor respect to idols and false gods (Chad Bird). St. Paul describes in 1 Cor. 8:5 how the world believes that other gods exist, yet only one God lives.  The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine Being.

Just like we see throughout cultures and times in the OT and in the Roman world, religious pluralism runs ramped in our culture today and says that all gods are the same and ought to be tolerated, or even honored. To our modern way of thinking, how silly it is to think that some pray silver and gold, to a statue of wood or stone.  Who is foolish enough to pray to a god that they themselves have made?  But what happens when the false god is a little more sophisticated?  What about the Muslim god, the Jewish god, the Mormon gods?  What about the idol of one’s body, to elevate fitness or diet or physical health above everything else, or to shape or reshape one’s physical self through introducing foreign hormones or even surgery to change? COVID certainly highlighted our culture’s worship of physical health and a deep seated fear of suffering and death to which one must make sacrifices of physical distancing, isolation, lockdowns, compliance with cries of salvation to the government?

This all rests on the first table to the Law, the first three commandments.  The First Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods.” This is how you identify what you worship: what do you fear, love, or trust in above all else.  But it is also tied to the next commandment of not misusing God’s name.  Rather than misusing it, or avoiding it, or twisting it, we should call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. But you have to know and believe in the God who reveals Himself in His Word in order to call upon Him and use His name, otherwise your prayers have nowhere to go.  It’s like letter sent to the wrong address.  If there is a return address, the letter comes back.  Return to sender - address unknown.  If there is no return address, the letter goes to the dead letter office.  Either way, the letter does no good.

In a similar way, words intended for a false god have no place to go.  They are intended for a destination that does not exist.  Words addressed to the nature god of the Wiccans or to the generic god of the Unitarians, or to the god of the Jews, or to the gods of Mormonism, or to the god of Islam, or to god of government, or any false god ultimately do no good.  No matter how sincere the words are, they have no effect on their intended recipient because their intended recipient doesn't exist, or they have no power to truly save.  The only “god” who can respond to prayer is the God who actually is. In order for our words to become a prayer, they must be prayed to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Hoy Spirit.

This again is a unique aspect of Christianity. This is for the simple fact that we believe, at St. Paul writes to Timothy, that there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…”  Because of Jesus, we have the right and privilege to bring our wants and desires before our heavenly Father in prayer. We pray in Jesus’ name, that is with faith in Him as our Redeemer. We pray with confidence, that is with trust and faith that for Jesus’ sake our prayers will be answered. It takes faith to ask for faith, forgiveness to ask for forgiveness. No one confesses his sins to God without expected God to remove them. Notice the confession we make in Church each week. We flat out say we are sinners and we deserve God’s wrath.  But this is not the confession of a scared person. It is a confident request that expects God’s grace for the sake of Christ.   For Jesus invites us to pray, “Truly, truly I say to you, whatever you ask of My Father in My name, He will give it to you… Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23b, 24b).

So pray to the Father in Jesus’ name with boldness and confidence and without fear to the One who declares you righteous in His sight for the sake of Christ.  The prayer of a person made righteous by faith is motivated by that faith and seeks God’s will.  This is why the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  The power does not come from you nor your sincerity or passion of faith. It comes from Christ. Jesus is the power in prayer because Jesus is God.  Out of the Father’s love for His fallen creation, He sent His Son to restore creation.  If Jesus is not God, if He is not sent by the Father to save us from our sins, then calling out to Him in prayer is meaningless at best, and blasphemy at worst. But since we believe, along with the disciples, that this Jesus is the true Son of God sent by the Father, then it is true that all our prayers, all the promises of God, find their “Yes” in Christ.  To which we add “Amen” as the great word of faith. Amen is the confession that God’s promises are true, reliable, trustworthy, that when we pray in Jesus’ name, we have the promised yes in His name.  For the word Amen simply means “Yes, yes it shall be so.” Or translated into Lutheranese is means, “This is most certainly true.” 

This is the way of prayer.  And it connects us to the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy”, which means to not despise preaching or God’s Word, but gladly hear and learn it.  Prayer goes hand in hand with the Word of God and we cannot pray without it. God’s Word is first heard. It enters you, then it comes out again. He speaks, and then you speak His Word back to Him in faith. Because it is His Word, you have the Lord’s assurance that your prayer in His name will be heard. You will find the Father’s heart wide open praying in Jesus’ name, and the Holy Spirit will speak the truth plainly so that we might hear and believe that this Jesus came from God, and that He came to save us and bring us with Him to the Father’s side.

Christ gives us the invitation and command to pray, which carries His promise, “ask, and you will receive.”It is handing over the content of our prayers to God, giving up the control and the worry and the doubt because God is our Father. So pray for yourselves and for your family and for your friends and for your enemies.  It does not annoy your Father in heaven to hear the voices of His children. It is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior to hear the voice of His children. Lay your wants and needs before God, not as though He doesn’t know them, but that by pouring out your cares to the Lord, you may unburden and comfort our souls. Even when you or I neglect our prayers, when we forget or are forgotten by others, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes with groans that even our words cannot express (Romans 8:26).You have Jesus, who has ascended and sits at the right hand of the Father and speaks on your behalf (1 John 2:1-3).