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Ask and Take Heart

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Rogate 

“ASK and TAKE HEART!”

St. John 16.23-33

26 May 2019

Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

The hatred of the world occupies a sizable portion of Jesus’ discourse with his disciples in John’s Gospel. [John 15.18-21] Christians will find themselves persecuted by the world. It is a certainty.

In the world you will have tribulation. (John 16:33).

Forty-six years ago I began occupying this pulpit and many times I warned that Christians might become as odious to the world as were early Christians. At every Rite of Confirmation of our youth and at the Reception of New Members by Profession of Faith I asked very seriously,

“Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

As I listened to catechumens, young and old, I wondered if the answer was said with true conviction. So many have fallen away for much less than persecution. Many became like the seed sown on rocky soil or soil that had no depth or the seed among the thorns. [Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23]

According to news sources Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, and that persecution is increasing at alarming rates. I doubt that any who heard me warn of possible persecution in these United States really believed it. Perhaps not even I believed that such a thing would actually happen. I never doubted the possibility; I simply didn’t think it would come forth with the fury it has in this day. And yet, here we are, publicly slandered and humiliated by politicians, entertainers, and corporate CEOs who hate Christ and his Church.

All of this fits into our Lord’s command to pray and his promise to hear. Rogate. That’s Latin for “ask.” Imperative. It’s not an invitation but a command. Rogate comes from today’s Holy Gospel, and not the Introit, when Jesus says,

“Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” [John 16.24]

Historically, Rogation days were kept until the Ascension of Our Lord five days hence. The Church prayed for all things needful, especially for God’s blessing on crops that had just been planted, and how that seems quite appropriate this year. Paul admonishes us to pray for all things in our Epistle reading. [1Tim. 2.1-6]

The prayers of Christians are ridiculed by unbelievers. Following tragedies we were accustomed to hear someone say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of  . . .” Soon the anti-Christian Left began ridiculing prayer altogether claiming that our prayers did no good and that there is no God. “Your prayers didn’t protect the people who were gunned down,” etc. So now we are left only with thoughts, as if thoughts do any good or cause any change!

Unbelievers expect magic from God. They are like the Jews who confronted Jesus and demanded miracles in order to believe. Like Thomas of a few weeks ago, they want proof before they will believe, but proof is not believing. Such persons do not understand prayer at all nor the content of Christian prayer at such times. For them prayer should prevent anything bad from happening, a kind of magic incantation, and when it doesn’t, they conclude that prayer is worthless. They despise it. They are fools who say that there is no God [Psalm 14.1]

First, God has promised to hear prayer. Let me repeat that slowly. God has promised to hear your prayers. His ear is open and he hears them all. In teaching the meaning of the Our Father [and how beautiful is that term!] Luther describes it correctly: ” . . that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” [Small Catechism, The Our Father, Introduction]. Jesus gives us direct access to the Father.

All of you should know from experience that not everything that children ask their parents receives a positive response. Like immature children we cannot always grasp the scope and consequence of what we often ask. Our heavenly Father is good and wise. He grants nothing that ultimately harms our salvation. Maybe you have asked God to help you win the lottery. Oh, the good that you would do with those millions of dollars! Yet God in his wise providence knows that money would be the ruination of your soul, so he does not answer in the affirmative. God has heard your prayer as he promised, but he isn’t going to give you something that harms you. Or you ask for health and God lets you suffer, not because he hates you, but because he wants to draw you closer to himself.

There are prayers God answers affirmatively without qualification. At the top of that list is a prayer for forgiveness. God always answers “Yes!” for the sake of Christ who purchased your forgiveness by his life, suffering, and death. All other spiritual blessings God delights to grant. Here we include faith because one cannot have God’s blessings without it. We include peace, joy, strength in trials, guidance in our calling, and many other Christian virtues. Unbelievers see none of these things because they imagine God to be only a Sugar Daddy God, not one who truly cares beyond human understanding.

There are prayers which God does not grant although he indeed hears them as he has promised. Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal as no human being has ever prayed.

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”. (Mt 26:39).

The Father did not take away the cup of suffering and death from his beloved Son. He let it play out because the world’s salvation hung in the balance.

Some things must remain in the mystery of God. Why he lets tragedy strike, why he allows tribulation and trial to afflict us, we often cannot know. These reasons are hidden from our eyes, but faith grasps them. Here we are driven to our knees in prayer. We may never know this side of eternity why God did this or that, or allowed certain things to happen to us, but when we are with Christ in eternity all of our questions will be answered and we will see the good God did through them.

God gives what is best for us. Jesus said this when speaking about prayer:

11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Lk 11:11–13).

God will not give you a scorpion or a serpent! He is not the giver of evil as unbelievers accuse. He is not like human fathers who make mistakes and give dangerous things to their children. God gives only good things, yet we may not recognize the good he gives.

Sometimes in our private prayers words fail us. That’s when God the Holy Spirit takes our deepest yearnings and brings them to the Father. Says the Apostle Paul:

Likewise 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. 27 And 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. (Ro 8:26–27).

You have the privilege of going directly to the Father with your prayers. It is because of Jesus. He has opened the way for you to the Father. In fact, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are involved in your prayers! No prayers are really prayed without the Holy Spirit because he is the one who gives faith.

“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.” (Jn 16:33).

The Christian life follows the pattern of our Lord’s Cross. The word “tribulation” can also be translated as affliction. Afflictions may be both external, like the hatred and hostility of the unbelieving world, and internal, the testing that bring troubles of the soul.

The Apostles suffered both. Jesus told them beforehand that it would happen, but he also bestowed gifts. He bestowed his peace. In Christ you have peace! When this sermon is finished a prayer is spoken. It’s called the Votum. The peace of God is given to all who have heard the Word and believe it. God’s peace is not the absence of all conflict because Jesus speaks of God’s peace in the midst of worldly trouble. The Christian has God’s peace while floating on a sea of trouble.

I read somewhere that if a hen with different markings is put into a hen run where all the other hens are the same, those hens will peck her to death.” Does that sound familiar? Our world hates nonconformity. Anyone who doesn’t conform will certainly meet trouble. In our electronic age it has reached horrifying proportions. “Conform or we will ruin you. We will see that you never work again. We will exclude you from society. We will make you a stench in the nostrils of others.”

How can we be at peace when swimming in so much affliction and hostility? Here’s the second gift. “I have overcome the world.” Satan does his worst to pry you away from Christ, but he cannot succeed because Christ has already conquered him when he rose victorious on the third day.

“Take heart,” says Christ, another way of saying “Have courage.” Have courage because you know the outcome! Don’t despair! Christ has conquered the world and you share in the conquest of his cross and resurrection.

We come back to prayer. Rogate! “Pray! Ask!” Why? Because Christ commands you to pray in any and all circumstances. He hears, and you and I need to be bold in approaching our dear heavenly Father. Prayer is like a young child entering his father’s room without knocking, and the moment that God sees him coming he asks, “What do you need? Come on in. I’m all ears.” And our heavenly Father gives us his undivided attention.

So pray! Ask! Yes, and don’t be afraid! Christ has heaven and earth in his hands. He won’t give you a poisonous snake nor a scorpion nor a stone. His pleasure is to give you his eternal kingdom, and if you have his kingdom, you need never be afraid.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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