MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV John 16:23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. 25 These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. 26 At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: 27 For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. 28 I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. 29 His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. 30 Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.
Rogate Sunday is named for the Latin verb – Pray – and that is the topic of this Gospel lesson.
I have had the chance to read a lot of fraudulent religious material. I recall a huge volume from the Urantia Society. Like many cults, it pretended to be organized around Christ. The book went into detail about what the disciples did. (The New Testament properly focuses on Christ and what He did.) The funniest description was that a certain disciple was responsible for organizing games on Thursdays. No doubt the author felt that was essential information, even if invented. The tone of the book was pompous, inflated, ultra-serious and yet hilarious in trying establish a new religion.
In contrast, this sermon by Jesus is very simple and plain. The Holy Spirit chose to use the simplest language in the most profound Gospel. Luke is far more elegant, but John’s Gospel is more likely to be our favorite, because we seem to be standing at His side while He speaks. The immediate nature of the Fourth Gospel, I believe, comes from its author being the favorite disciple of Jesus (John, “the disciples Jesus loved).
The point of this Gospel message from Jesus is that the disciples will soon face a time when they no longer ask Him for anything. It is expressed in an odd way that makes us think: “You shall no longer ask Me.” We can go back to that expression of Jesus and see what He was teaching His disciples and us.
When believers pray, they are asking God the Father “in the name of Christ.” The Holy Spirit moves us to pray because of the Gospel promises and helps us in our prayers. Therefore, the Holy Trinity has a combined role in every prayer of the Christian.
As I have said many times before, the Bible does not merely tell us we should pray. It would be easy for God to say, “Thou must pray.” Instead, the Word of God fills us with desire to pray by reminding us of God’s love for us. Parents fall into this from time to time. They take a moment to tell their children how much they love them and appreciate them. Halfway through the speech, one child will recognize that this is the moment to ask for something based upon this profound love and appreciation.
In this example, Jesus says, “You will no longer ask Me, but you will ask My Father. He will respond to your prayers because you have loved Me.” Several excuses keep believers from praying. One is that God does not love each and every one of us. This is a false view of God and a sin against God’s revealed nature. We should never doubt the goodness of God. Believers will fall into this mode of thought by imagining that God loves us in the abstract but not me directly. God knows each and every one of us by name.
Another excuse is that I am not worthy to pray to God for anything. This is not altogether wrong. No one is worthy, as the communion prayer says, “We are not worthy to gather the crumbs that fall from Your table, nevertheless…” Jesus makes us worthy. It is not our worthiness, but the merit of Christ. He is our unending source of forgiveness and love. God plants faith in our hearts through the Word. He moves us to love Christ by His Word. Then He teaches us that He answers prayer because of that love and faith.
Notice how this is entirely based upon the Gospel. Prayer is the fruit of the Gospel. That is why Lutherans properly reject the Reformed error of basing salvation upon praying Jesus into our hearts. The non-Lutheran Protestants (as a whole, with variations abounding) turn the Gospel into Law by saying, “You will be forgiven and saved when you pray this particular prayer and ask Jesus to come into your heart.” Since this is based upon an action, the question arises whether it is done with the proper fervor and zest. It also implies that Jesus does NOT enter our hearts already through the Word. If you have to pray to obtain salvation, and pray in a certain way, the monster of uncertainty fills the heart with doubt. Reformed doctrine never remains Trinitarian for long. Rationalism and salvation based upon works will follow without fail. In the United States, the Congregationalists became Unitarians, giving up the Trinity. After a few more decades it became impossible to make the Unitarian group agree that there is a God. They merged with the Universalists because both groups deny Hell, so they joined forces in their denial, even though they have slightly different perspectives.
Another excuse for not praying is founded upon whether God can and will do what He is asked. Many people lose their faith, as Satan desired, because they confused demands with prayer. If you demand that God do something in prescribed manner, to satisfy your gnawing doubts or immediate needs, He will give you nothing. I noticed from the newest WELS statistics that the denomination now has the lowest number of baptized members since 1979, a net loss of 3,285 souls in one year. The communicant number went up by almost 60, even though confirmations would add thousands of communicants to the list. Obviously God is throwing their concern about Church Growth statistics back in their face. When the main concern was doctrine, the synod grew like kudzu vines in the South.
I hope those administrators who fired the WELS pastor in the Deep South for not having a “growing” congregation will face the facts and resign from the ministry themselves.
Luther taught a very simple thing to remember about prayer. One is that we ask everything in faith. Nothing is too small for God to consider. The other is that we receive in faith what God supplies. The nature of God is to take care of all of us, even unbelievers, but also to take care of us according to His wisdom and not ours. If we have no faith in His wisdom, then we will be pouty when He does not give in to our demands.
It is an indictment against this age that much of the talk about prayer focuses upon materialistic prayers. The Reformed and the Pentecostals especially have dwelt upon obtaining wealth and success by demanding it from God, even declaring that God is unable to share the wealth unless He is ordered about like a zombie. (Paul Y. Cho, The Fourth Dimension, a favorite Church Growth, Evangelical, and Pentecostal text.)
We can and should pray for the means to support our families, thanking God for the abundance He has provided. But our prayers should be mostly concerned with the spiritual needs of our family, friends, and others. It is in remembering others that we give support and comfort and prove to be a channel of God’s love, as He intends.
Although Memorial Day is a secular holiday, it is worth remembering as Christians. This is a weekend when we recall the sacrifices made for us by the fighting men of our armed services and by many women in support roles. The special role and the special blessings of our country have come from God, as the founders of America confessed in many ways. Even in this day, the general peace of the world comes from the power of a society based upon God’s Word and the Ten Commandments. The Russian Communists often treated us with scorn and contempt, especially through their puppets. But they were moved by an action we took. When we recovered the Soviet sub through the Howard Hughs Glomar Explorer, we also recovered the bodies of their sailors. America conducted a funeral service for those men and video taped it. Later, we gave that tape to the Russians, so they would know their dead were buried with dignity. The Russians were astounded that we respected our enemies so much in death.
The greatness of America has come from the providence of God and the faith of its leaders. George Washington had a prayer book where he wrote his own prayers. Only some of those prayers survive today, but he was clearly a believing Christian. He and many others wanted America to be a city on a hill, an example to all nations about how to govern with justice and freedom. Thousands of our soldiers died to preserve that ideal.