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John 16:23-33

Rev. Alan Taylor

Easter 6, series C
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, May 26, 2019 

Easter 6C St. John’s, Galveston 5/26/19

John 16:23-33

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He taught them to invoke the Father’s name. Thus, they prayed then, and we pray today, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” For us, it seems somewhat self-evident that we should call upon our heavenly Father in prayer. For the disciples, such a bold approach to prayer, that is, to call God, “Father,” would have been presumptuous, verging even on blasphemous.

In the Old Testament period, and even into the New, God’s name was held in such high regard that it couldn’t be spoken.  In fact, when the ancient texts of the Old Testament were read it was customary for the reader to substitute the divine name of God, that is, Yahweh, with the word Adonai, meaning Lord.  The custom, while well intentioned, created the perception of distance between the creator and His creation. God couldn’t be approached without the proper protocol and the appropriate amount of fear and trepidation. That being the case, it is safe to say that the ancients knew what a radical departure from custom was represented when Jesus taught them to pray, saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” And, of course, later, St. Paul emphasized God’s paternal relationship to His people when he encouraged his brothers and sisters in Christ to cry out to Him, saying, “Abba, Father.”

Perhaps what our forefathers in the faith couldn’t even dream of, we have, to one degree, or, another, taken for granted.  I came across an article the other day that posed an interesting question.  “Are we too comfortable with God?” I found one particular section of the article pretty compelling. It’s a brief section, but I quote, “there is a Christian t-shirt that declares “Jesus is my homeboy.” There is an action figure named “Buddy Jesus” where our Savior has both of his thumbs up like Fonzie from Happy Days.” The writer goes on to say, “while I do not own either of those things, both represent how many Christians, including myself, tend to view our Creator and our Sustainer.” Are we too comfortable with God?

This morning’s Gospel reading is a powerful text on the inner working of and the nature of the Holy Trinity. In that respect, it’s a resounding rebuke to those who suggest that there is no such thing as the Trinity, or, the Triune God in the Scriptures. At the same time, the passage reminds us of the majesty and of the incomprehensible nature of God. It also elaborates though on a subject that is near and dear to all us, namely, prayer.  How are we to address God in prayer? What expectations does God desire us to have when we pray to Him? And, perhaps most important of all, what promise does God make to us that emboldens us in prayer and gives us the courage to face each new day with confidence?

Throughout the passage, Jesus says, we are to ask the Father, in His name, that is, in the name of Jesus.  In fact, in this short little section of John’s Gospel, He says it three times. “Truly, truly, (He says), whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” It is certainly appropriate for us to take our petitions to God in Jesus’ name.  He is, after all, the One who has reconciled us to the Father. He is the One who has given us unlimited and unbridled access to God’s throne of grace. It is in Him that the promises of God are sure and certain. As St. Paul so eloquently reminds us, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”

To pray in Jesus’ name, however, is to pray according to His will.  One does not invoke the name of Jesus for something that is in option to the will of God.  In that sense, Jesus’ promise to give us “whatever we ask,” assumes, if you will, that we have commended to request to Him and that He, as always, will only give us what is right and best. 

Though Jesus is our intercessor before the Father, though He mediates for us, offering Himself in death for our sin, He says something rather interesting here in John 16 regarding prayer.  He says, “you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

The Father Himself loves you because you have loved His Son. That relationship, that dynamic between you and the Father was created by God in your baptism.  In Holy Baptism you were united with Jesus, both in His death and in His resurrection.  At the same time, all that belongs to the Son became yours.  You are, after all, an heir of the Kingdom of God.  United with Jesus in Holy Baptism, the Father loves you, even as He loves His own dear Son. To put it another way, the Father can more stop loving you than He can stop loving His own Son. 

So, you pray in Jesus’ name with the full expectation that the Father loves you and that, as your heavenly Father, He will to give you all good things for your well-being. 

Still, as the old bumper sticker so crudely reminded us, “stuff happens.” Life is filled with all sorts of trials. And, in some sense, those trials seem to contradict the very premise that the Father loves you. In fact, many people hide behind this very objection when they avoid the Church. “I could never believe in a God, they say, that would allow such awful things to happen in the world.”

If only we had a promise from God that He is greater than our trials and that He ultimately triumphs over those trials for us, then we could pray to Him with confidence and we could face each new day with courage and hope.  If only!!  One day a man stood on the roof of his house surrounded by flood waters. He implored God to help him, to save him. He pleaded and pleaded. Finally, desperate and exasperated, he cried out, “God, why won’t you help me.” All the while, right behind him there hovered a rescue chopper with a ladder dangling just inches from him. 

Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The image of Jesus as the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, the One slain for the sins of the world, is an enduring and an endearing one to Christians around the world. It is a humble image of the triumph of Christ over sin, death and the devil.  But, it’s not the only image, nor does it convey the only purpose and meaning of the cross of Jesus. He is also the Christus Victor, Christ in Majesty, or, as He is known most notably in the Eastern Church, the Pantocrator, the ruler of the heavens and the earth, Almigthy God. St. Paul uses that name for Jesus only time in his Epistles, where it’s translated as “Lord Almighty,” but it’s found nine times in the Book of Revelation, which is written to beleaguered and fearful Christians who are facing persecution and even martyrdom. It was that image of Jesus as the Almighty ruler of heaven and earth that bolstered the Church’s confidence and gave them courage to face those who persecute them for their faith.

Mindful of that same image, you too can face each new day with courage and with hope and joy.  Jesus is the Pantocrator, the ruler of the heavens and the earth and He says to you today, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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