Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 5/22/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Easter6 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, click here.
Rogate Sunday is a day historically focused on prayer, a theme clearly presented in the Gospel for this morning.
As Rogate is always the sixth Sunday of Easter, it typically comes around planting time, as it does this year. On this day it is customary to pray for God’s long list of mercies toward us, which is why the Prayer of the Church this morning is in the form of the Great Litany.
In more rural congregations, prayers would always include requests for seasonable weather, for rain, good soil, and a fruitful harvest. My dad always served in farm country. On this day he would pray for farmers, and their fields, and visit and bless each one throughout the week.
Today Jesus is teaching the disciples about prayer, but He is doing so in figures of speech. That’s what He has been doing, and it is something He will do until His hour comes.
That means that in this teaching, there are still some things the disciples won’t understand until the other side of the cross. And there is something for us to learn and remember about this, too. We’re conditioned to think that asking in Jesus’ name is some sort of an incantation; that as long as we tack “In the name of Jesus” to an end of a prayer, it’ll happen.
But asking in Jesus’ name is not the same as fitting the name into a formula. Something not entirely clear when using figures of speech. To ask in the name of Jesus means to ask according to His will and mercy. It means to ask as a child of God, baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, trusting your Father to do what is best.
You know this already, really – that “anything” doesn’t exactly mean “anything.” You should know instinctively that you’re not free to pray for sin. You can’t ask to get away with cheating. You can’t ask not to get caught in a lie, etc. You can’t pray against God’s revealed will in Scripture.
Moreover, it means to ask while trusting God to do what is best. The truth is that you don’t know exactly how God will respond. He will either give you what you ask, or what He knows to be more profitable for you and / or your neighbor. In this way, it’s not really different from Jesus’ prayer in the garden when He asks that, if it would be possible, the cup be allowed to pass Him by.
An easier example might be from today’s Old Testament text. In the wilderness, God’s people didn’t pray as much as they complained. God disciplined them and sent fiery serpents. They begged Moses to pray for them to take the serpents away. And God didn’t do it. At least not immediately. Instead, he gave them another serpent. God provided them a way through.
Would it have been good for God to take the serpents away? Maybe? Probably. But it was even better to provide them a way through their trials. It was even better to point them to His Son.
That bronze serpent was a figure of speech, too. Because it pointed to a Christ whose hour had not yet come.
They did not fully understand it, of course, what it meant to look at the Serpent. The disciples didn’t fully understand Jesus’ figures of speech either.
But you do, because Jesus’ hour has come. He has overcome the world by His life, death, and resurrection for you. He Himself has ascended and intercedes for you, and you have access to the Father.
So pray for everything you need, as children would ask their father. Daily bread, baby formula. Faithful spouse. Health and healing. Lost car keys and convenient parking spots. The economy, your kids to straighten up. Righteous world that gives free course to the Gospel.
Trust God to do what is best, and in the meantime do what is put in front of you. James talks about being doers of the Word and not hearers only. Religion is not limited to Christian Doctrine and faith, but the life that flows from that.
Care for widows and orphans, the defenseless, the unborn, the unwanted, the unloved. Little, least, last, lost, dead.
And, keep yourself unstained from the world. That list of mercies will be good for your neighbor no matter what. But it won’t actually be a religion pure and undefiled before God unless, you keep yourself unstained from the world.
How do you do that? Well, it isn’t by refusing to encounter the world. How else can you come to the aid of widows and orphans?
Remaining unstained from the world is not an invitation to the monastery. It is to have your stains removed. It is to have your sins forgiven. It is to ask, to pray, that God would give us His grace to live as His dear children. It is to ask that we be hearers of His Word, believers of His Word, and doers of His Word.
That we gladly receive our post of responsibility toward the world, to serve it and pray for it. And to trust the ends of all things to God, who works them for our good.