Rogate (Easter 6) Sermon, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
You can’t always get what you want. But…what?
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find, you get what you need.
The world teaches us that if we try, we get what we need. If we put forth the effort necessary, we get what we need.
It’s up to us.
That’s what the world teaches.
Today, Jesus teaches us to pray, and so it’s good to ask:
Does prayer rely upon your faithfulness or God’s?
Should the Rolling Stones have taught us to sing, “You can’t always get what you want…so pray the Lord’s Prayer, because God’s going to provide your daily bread”?
That wouldn’t have sold many albums, but it’s right.
As good Lutherans, we don’t want anything to rely on us. We know that we are poor, miserable, sinners—by nature sinful and unclean.
But experience teaches us that while God is good and holy and perfect and almighty, you can’t always get what you want.
This is an issue when you deal with earthly suffering—pain, sickness, and death.
You won’t care that you can’t get what you want when you’re not suffering, because—you’re not suffering.
But when you suffer, when, for example, your Lord is taken from you and killed, when you’re persecuted and threatened and, yourself, martyred—this is the apostles, I’m talking about—surely, at some point, they wondered.
“If I’m faithful, wouldn’t God help me?”
Ask that question while suffering, and you’ll arrive terribly bleak answer: either you’re not faithful or God doesn’t care.
To ask it another way:
Is God even listening? If He’s listening, is He answering?
It’s most difficult to believe that God answers prayers when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23).
We don’t want to hear that, because appears to be so obviously untrue. We want to hear God tell us that through many toils and tribulations, pray with fervor, strive, struggle, reach, feel, yearn, love, do, trust, just, just, just…pray.
We want to hear that because—we are convinced that if you try sometimes, you get what you need.
What Jesus teaches seems so obviously wrong.
In Jesus’ name, give me a healthy spouse, a faithful family, a long and trouble-free life.
How can it be that the Father will give whatever you ask of Him—and—we don’t have all that we ask for?
Notice this difference: Jesus doesn’t say “Whatever you ask the Father, he will give it to you.” He does say, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Jn. 16:23).
Think of it this way: in the name of DiCarlo’s Pizza, for what can you confidently ask and expect to receive? Pizza. Obviously.
In the name of the governor of the state of Illinois, inmates at a state facility hope for an official pardon. Inmates of a federal prison hope for a pardon from the President.
And in the name of God, we ask for forgiveness for Christ’s sake. We ask for so much more, but we ask for these things.
If you ask DiCarlo’s Pizza for forgiveness, the governor for a pizza, and God for an earthly pardon, you have no guarantee that you’ll receive any of that.
DiCarlo’s doesn’t promise forgiveness
Bruce Rauner doesn’t deliver pizza.
Nor does God promise an earthly pardon.
It makes sense to us, instinctively, to ask a person for what they can give us.
But when Jesus says, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you,” Jesus is teaching us much more than what we instinctively know.
He’s teaching us how to ask for things. That is, we are to ask in Jesus’ name.
You can ask for anything. But it may not be promised to you.
You can ask for pizza or an earthly pardon, but God doesn’t promise those specific things.
Daily bread and justice belong to God, and He gives them. But we may not get pizza and a pardon.
Regardless of whether we get those things or not, blessed be the name of the Lord, as Job teaches and “Thy will be done” as Jesus teaches.
For that which God does not promise, we must, to our prayers, append the words “Thy will be done” and bless God’s name even if He doesn’t give us what we want.
That’s how to pray in Jesus’ name—to recognize God as Creator and provider and to see His gifts as good and perfect.
We have lots of wants, but God knows better than we do.
So, we pray for anything, we pray for everything, and we say, “Thy will be done.”
But here’s what’s difficult about the will of God:
The only things we can be sure about are those things that God has revealed to us in His Word.
And those are the things we take for granted.
The sure things.
At church, your sins are routinely forgiven. Freely forgiven. But it’s less and less common for people to arrange their lives around church. What’s common is this: we fit church into our busy schedule. And if it’s a square church peg in the round hole in our calendar, we set the square peg down, perhaps with the intent to come back when we can or when we need to.
We take for granted not just the forgiveness of sins, in general, but the forgiveness of our sins, in particular.
We wait to confess our sins. We wait to baptize babies. We shouldn’t. Who has guaranteed that you will live? That your child will live? We are fools who don’t imagine that God could today require of us our souls.
And those are just two examples.
We take for granted what God has given us for certain, because we have been taught by example if not by words that we can’t out-sin the grace of God. That if we try real hard, we’ll get what we need.
On this topic, C.F.W. Walther said, “The light of faith can be extinguished not only by gross sins, but by any willful, intentional sin…Defection from faith occurs far [more often] than we imagine. Faith ceases not only in those who lead a life of shame, but also in such as permit themselves to be led astray against their better knowledge and the warning of their conscience. They plan to do a certain thing and carry out their purpose, although they know that it’s contrary to God’s Word. In such instances faith becomes extinct; however, the person caught in this snare promptly recovers his faith if he promptly arrests himself in his wrong-doing, as the instance of Peter shows. Peter didn’t harden himself. When the glance of Jesus met his eyes, he went out and wept bitterly. That glance made him repent of his sin, causing him to realize the enormity of his offense and the unspeakable greatness of his Lord’s mercy. It seemed to say, ‘Poor Peter, repent!’ and pierced his heart like a dagger. Happy [is] the man who, after falling, rises at once, immediately, and does not delay his repentance, lest he arrive at a stage where his heart is hardened” (Law and Gospel, Thesis X).
It is the case that all sin is forgiven in Christ.
It is the case that God freely reckons righteous all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But it is also the case that willful sins extinguish faith and drive away the Holy Spirit. Repent.
Repent and rejoice at the new and clean heart our God creates in us when, caught in our sin, we cling in faith to Christ alone.
When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are praying according to what He has revealed. What He’s given us. What we know for certain.
When we pray in Jesus’ name—when we pray for God’s will to be done—we hold fast to His Word and promise.
God has revealed His will.
In the Small Catechism, we confess this simply.
We ask the question: How is God’s will done?
And we hear the answer: God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will” (SC, III).
God’s will, is a certain thing.
And it is accomplished in Christ.
When you pray in Jesus’ name, when you pray for the will of God to be done, ask yourself: are your sins forgiven in the shed blood of Jesus Christ? Do you wait for the Lord’s return, the Last Day, and the Resurrection? Is Jesus the Christ?
When you answer “Amen!” to all these, rejoice that God’s will has been done for you and all who sound their Amen! with you.
This is what it is to ask for things in Jesus’ name, to ask for things according to the will of God.
We ask for everything. We ask for anything.
And we trust that God gives us all that we need for this body and life—and all that we need for the life to come.
It will never be all that we want.
But it will always be all that we need.
With all this in mind, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you…Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!