In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Tradition has given names the Sundays after Easter, just like we do in Advent and Lent. These names almost always come from the first word or two of the Introit for the day. This helps tell us what the day is about. For example, the first Sunday after Easter is called Quasimodogeniti, from the Antiphon of the Introit that admonishes us “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word,” and the day’s Readings center on how we, as Christians, are to rely alone on the Word of God. Today goes against the trend of the naming system and is called “Rogate,” while the Introit never uses that word. However, it does appear in the Gospel as Our Lord’s repeated admonition: “ask,” a word we know better as “pray.” Together with the Introit’s call to remember that the Lord has redeemed His people and to declare it with a voice of singing, we get a full picture of the prayer life of a Christian. We are to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:16-18), as Paul said to the Thessalonians. We ask things of God, thank Him for what He has given us, and rejoice in the salvation given in Christ Jesus. All these prayers are the rights and responsibilities we have as God’s children.
Saying that prayer is a responsibility of the Christian, something we are commanded to do, may sound odd to our ears. We are much more likely to think of it as a right, a privilege, something given to us by Jesus because of His work of our salvation. While that’s not the whole story, there is nothing wrong with that thinking. Because Jesus has died for us and forgiven us all our sin and ascended to the Father, we know that we have access to the Father. Because He has taken away our sins and washed us clean with His holy, innocent Blood, we are able to access the Father worthily. We don’t have to worry about our sin forbidding laying our petitions before our Father because all He sees is the righteousness of His Son. We can pray in confidence because we are made holy.
However, we pray because we are supposed to do it! Though the Second Commandment puts the use of God’s Name in the negative—“You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God”—what it forbids it tells what it commands. The Second Commandment requires that we use the Name of the Lord our God properly, in the way He has commanded. And Luther tells what that means in his explanation of the Commandment when He says “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His Name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
Why would God command us to pray without ceasing, to tell Him about every good thing, every bad thing, to ask Him for everything? Because He loves us! If we communicate with people we love in this life, how much more should we communicate with God, who loves us so much that He took on flesh, lived in a sinful world, and died for us?! He wants us to pray as another means of keeping our relationship with Him close. What happens when a child grows up, moves on to their next chapter in life and doesn’t stay in touch with mom and dad? The relationship suffers, the parents are hurt, and resentment builds. Why would we willingly allow the relationship between ourselves and God languish? On the other hand, when people communicate, they build their relationship and strengthen it. Jesus gives us direct access to the Father in His Name. He says that we can have boldness to pray Our Father. Prayer is how we communicate with our dear Father in heaven as His dearly beloved children and learn to trust in Him because we come to see more and more how He hears us and answers our prayers.
But this command means more than just going through the motions of prayer, saying the words while our minds are elsewhere. But it’s easy to do. As an illustration, Luther once told a story about a man who was discussing with a friend his difficulty concentrating during the Lord’s Prayer. The friend thought it was simple, so the man challenged him: they would both pray the Our Father, and if the friend did it without losing his focus, the man would give him his horse. So they began, and after just a few words the friend interrupted the prayer, asking if the saddle was included with the horse. Though this may sound funny, it illustrates the temptations that plague us at all times, especially when we pray. Especially in church, it’s easy to look like we’re keeping the Second Commandment when our minds are really elsewhere as our mouths are speaking. Chrysostom asks pointedly: “For if while the body is bowed to the ground the moth babbles idly, and the mind wanders here and there through the house, through the marketplace, how can such a person say he has prayed before the face of God?” Repent! We are all guilty of this misuse of God’s name. We become hearers of the Word only, and not doers.
Thanks be to God that His goodness, His promise to hallow His Name, let His kingdom come, His will be done, to give daily bread is not based upon your words, or works, or goodness! God has drawn near in His Son and has opened the gates of heaven to your pleas and has promised to hear you. All of this is based solely upon His own promise to you!
He was able to make that promise because He has lived perfectly in your place. He lived in constant prayer, commending everything to the will of His Father, giving thanks in all circumstances, and most importantly interceding for you and all sinners, pleading for forgiveness even as death was drawing near. He is the only mediator between God and men. He satisfied God’s wrath and made it possible for you to call God, whose enemy you once were, your Father. That is because by Baptism He has connected to you to God by His Blood. You are now a part of the Divine family and have the right as a child to call upon Him in every trouble, to pray, praise, and give thanks, to talk to Him in loving familiarity.
This is why Jesus can say to the disciples and to you: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” The only way you can have good cheer is by the victory Jesus has over the world, sin, death, and the devil. The only way you can have peace is by being connected to God through the Word and Sacraments, and by being in prayer, commending every tribulation into His Fatherly care and almighty hands.
By the Holy Spirit you are bold to pray. The Holy Spirit will bring to mind all Jesus has said and done for you and His invitation to ask anything of the Father in His Name. Because Jesus has died for you, made you a child of God and heir of His salvation, you can ask for anything in His Name, and whatever is in accord with the will of God will be granted to you. Even if it isn’t given to you, God still wants to hear from you! Just as parents never tire of hearing their children and caring for them, so much more does your heavenly Father delight in hearing your every request, no matter how silly or impractical it may be. He loves to see your trust in Him and His goodness and mercy grow and flourish.
So ask the Father in the Name of Jesus, for His sake, and confident that He has died to forgive you and give you access to your Father. The throne of God’s grace is open to you, so you can lay every request before Him and live forever in thanksgiving for gifts that never end.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).