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Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 16:23–33

James T. Batchelor

Easter 6, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, May 1, 2016 

You may never have heard the name Anders Behring Breivik, but the average adult in Norway knows the name very well.  Breivik is responsible for the terrorist style murder of seventy-seven people at two events in Norway in 2011.  Breivik now lives in a three cell complex where he has access to a television, a computer without internet access, a games console, and other similar privileges.  The one thing that he does not have access to is people.  He is in solitary confinement.  Communication can come in, but he cannot communicate with anyone.  Anders Behring Breivik has been in the news in Norway because a court has recently ruled that his solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment even for a mass murderer.  Now you might want to disagree with the courts ruling, but, for most people, solitary confinement is a punishment.

I would now ask you to consider a different kind of solitary confinement.  An elderly person in poor health is unable to leave home for anything other than the occasional trip to the doctor.  The spouse has died.  The kids live on the other side of the country and are only able to make it back for the week between Christmas and New Year.  Otherwise the elderly person has no contact with other people.  I wonder what that court in Norway would have to say about the solitary confinement of this elderly person.

The very first time that God declares that something is not good, it is the loneliness of Adam.  Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him. (Genesis 2:18) God created us to be a social species.  He created us to live in communities and not in solitary confinement.  Solitary confinement might be appropriate for a mass murderer or other hard core criminals, but, for the most part, we really wouldnt wish long term isolation for anyone.

How much more negative is it then to be cut off from communication with God, our creator.  This is what happened when Adam and Eve sinned in Eden.  Before that first sin, communication with God was a joy and a delight.  After that sin, when God made His presence known in Eden, Adam and Eve were terrified and they tried to hide from God.  One of the many disastrous consequences of sin is the loss of open, loving, communication with God.  In a way, our sin creates a sort of solitary confinement where our communication with God is concerned.  Our sin prohibits our communication with God.

As long as we are under the curse of sin, our communication with God must deal with His justice.  According to the law, we are guilty and we deserve punishment both here in this world and forever in the next.  Gods justice would punish and not listen to our prayer.

That is the reason that the words we heard from Jesus in todays reading from the Gospel are very encouraging and give us great comfort.  There is a way for us to communicate with God the Father and He will hear our prayer.  Jesus states that He has lifted our solitary confinement with God the Father.  He said, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. (John 16:23) He does not merely give us permission to speak with the Fatter, He encourages us to do so.

How can this be?  We are sinners and Gods justice must punish our sin.  What has changed?

A little prepositional phrase makes all the difference.  Jesus said, whatever you ask of the Father in my name In my name means by my authority. When we pray to God, we do not pray to God by our own authority, but by the authority given to us by Jesus.

The authority of Jesus is the authority of His perfect life, His sacrificial death, and His resurrection.  When He shed His blood for you, He satisfied Gods justice by taking into Himself the punishment you deserved for your sin.  He has purchased and won victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  Eternal life is yours in Jesus Christ.

The eternal life that you have in Jesus Christ gives you the authority to talk with the ruler and creator of the universe at any time about anything.  You can talk about your joys and your sorrows.  You can talk about your pains and your pleasures.  You can talk about your successes and your failures.  Martin Luther expresses this well in his explanation of the introduction to the Lords Prayer.  With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.  In my humble opinion, these are some of the gentlest and most comforting words in his Small Catechism.

Praying in Jesus name is the foundation of prayer.  It anchors prayer in the salvation that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death.  It anchors our prayer in Christs resurrection and the promise that we shall also rise from the dead.  Since the power of prayer resides in Jesus name, it does not rest in the prayer itself.  Nor does it rest in us.  We need not worry about making our prayers eloquent or long.  We need not be concerned about the exact form of our prayer.  We need not worry about being worthy to pray, for the worthiness of our prayer resides in Jesus Christ.

Praying in Jesus name does not require us to actually say, In Jesus name I pray, or something similar.  It simply means that there is trust in Jesus Christ.  Thus prayer is a gift that the Holy Spirit gives to us at the same time that He works saving faith in us.  If we have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, then we also have the faith that prays in Jesus name.  To pray in Jesus name means that God hears our prayers for the sake of Christ, our only Mediator and High Priest before God. Therefore, our prayer must be centered in Him alone.

This also means that those who reject the Holy Spirits gift of faith cannot really pray.  They can say the words.  They can go through the motions.  Never the less, if they do not trust Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, they are not praying in the name of Jesus.  Their faith is in a false god.  If their faith is in a false god, then they are praying to a god who does not exist.  They are praying into emptiness.  It is like having a conversation in an empty room.  You can say amazingly eloquent things.  Your prayer can be a literary masterpiece, but no one will hear it.

On the other hand, those who trust in Jesus have no need to be eloquent.  We dont have to worry that we will get the words exactly right.  Just as a loving parent will listen to the silly words of a toddler, so also God the Father loves to listen to those who trust in Jesus.  Because our sins have been removed and Christ has covered us in His righteousness, our thoughts, words, and feelings are precious to God no matter how crude they are.

Furthermore, we have the promise that the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostle Paul. 26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:2627) Here the Holy Spirit promises to take even our most awkward words and thoughts and transform them into perfection and then He intercedes for us.  The Holy Spirit knows what is on our mind and He will convert our prayers into a perfect heavenly language that our little words cannot even express.  Even our crudest prayers will be translated into the beautiful language of the Holy Spirit as they make their way to our dear Father in Heaven.  From the simplicity of the youngest child to the confusion of the Alzheimers patient in the nursing home; the Holy Spirit will make them all into heavenly masterpieces.

The wonderful thing about the gift of prayer is that it lasts forever.  We who have the Holy Spirits gift of faith in Jesus will not experience eternal death.  At our earthly death, our souls will be with Jesus in paradise.  There we will pray in His very presence.  When the last day comes, He will raise our bodies to immortality and we will be body and soul once again.  Then we shall gather around the eternal throne and pray to our dear Father in joy and peace.  There we will communicate with God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect prayer.  We shall see Him face-to-face and experience his perfect love.  Amen

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