“In the Name of Jesus” – Rogate 2013 – John 16:23-30

05. May 2013
St. John 16:23-30

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

John 16:23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. 

It was only a little while before Jesus would leave His disciples. Soon they would see Him no more. The intimate personal contact would be broken. We have seen the despair and fear of the disciples after the crucifixion. It seemed as if the bottom had fallen out of everything. The disciples had staked all on Jesus. They had given up their businesses and followed Him. Their lives had come to revolve around Him. Where Jesus went, they followed. The disciples’ lives were given to Him. But when Jesus was gone, the heart was taken out of their lives.

Jesus knows this feeling too. He was human like you and I, and He knew how far the disciples would be able to get along without Him on their own strength. So during the forty days between Easter and Ascension, He prepared them for His departure. The risen Christ did not fit back into the lives of the disciples as they had been living with Him previously. That is what Mary Magdalene wanted, but Jesus said, “Touch Me not.” Before Calvary the disciples had leaned heavily on Him. Jesus had carried them as lambs, as children. Now He wanted them to stand upright like men and go forth into all the world with brave hearts and voice, proclaiming the crucified and risen Savior. The visible presence of Christ, like spiritual hand holding, was soon to be withdrawn. Jesus was going on ahead, and He told them, “Follow Me!” Through all their lives, they were to know that Jesus was leading them forward. “I am with you.” The disciples walked in His steps. Following Christ, their journey was set from earth to heaven. They were to learn to walk by faith, not by sight.

Jesus knew the disciples’ weaknesses and promised them that He would not leave them comfortless. Down to their weakness would come the strength of the Spirit of God. By His power, the living connection with Christ would be maintained and strengthened. Although the tangible contact with the visible Jesus would be gone, a deeper, more inward contact with God was thrown open to them. The disciples were granted the renewed privilege of prayer. They had prayed before, but now they were to learn to pray so prayer would be for them a mighty, strengthening contact with God. So far they had prayed with sight, now they were to pray with faith alone. To all disciples of Christ who walk by faith and not by sight is given this same privilege and promise.

Much ridicule is nowadays heaped on Christian prayer. They say, “Do you suppose that a puny individual like you can change the laws that govern the universe? Can you, who are so sadly shoved around by others, influence the course of this world or interrupt the chain of gigantic events? If there is a God, do you suppose that He is going to pay any attention to you?” Before the barrage of such contempt, Christians have sometimes weakened and backed down. They qualify and weaken the Lord’s promise to match their own prayer experience so lacking in faith.

But this talk about unchangeable laws isn’t nearly so impressive as it once seemed. The scientists aren’t at all as sure about their unchangeable laws. The speed of light may not be constant after all. Thus, it isn’t by our own power that we seek to achieve anything. If we stood alone in our own puny weakness, then we must certainly shudder at the thought of God and hide our faces before Him. In us there is no hope, and if in heaven there is no Father, then we certainly cannot pray. If we cannot pray, it is all up to us. But our Gospel text does not just speak of God. It speaks of the Father. That makes all the difference in the world, all the difference between life and death.

It is only because God has come to be our Father that we can pray to Him. Only because Christ has taken our sins on Himself and wiped them out by His victorious death can we stand before God, forgiven, His children in Christ. Only as we are bound to Christ in Holy Baptism like little Esther, can we come before God as His children. In Baptism God sees us in Christ, wearing the garment of Christ’s righteousness. This is the key to a living connection with God our Father. All contact, all prayer with Him must be in Christ, in the name of Jesus, that is, with faith in Him.

Prayer can only rise from faith in Christ. Apart from Christ and His atoning, redeeming work, God is no one’s Father. It is delusive sentimentality to talk of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man without Christ. Only in the acceptance, the clinging to, the giving of ourselves over to Christ is God our Father or anyone our true brother or sister. Faith in Christ is rejection of self and all we have to offer. “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling” (The Lutheran Hymnal, 376:3). Not I, but Christ. We come as beggars before God and have no right to ask anything. “We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment” (Luther’s Small Catechism).

The perfect example of humble, selfless prayer is that sinner who, not venturing to go right into God’s temple, bowed his head, beat on his breast and sighed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” There was room for God in his empty heart. In the Pharisee there was no room. He felt no lack. He was making such a beautiful job of his life. His prayer was a summons to God to admire him. The publican went down to his house with a glad peace in his heart, justified. Jesus says so, as He does with the absolution, He bestows on penitent sinners by His use of the mouth that He has put there to speak, His forgiving words in His name. Our Amen speaks the prayer of faith in Jesus’ name.

Praying “in Jesus’ name” means to pray in the spirit, manner, and character of Jesus. Our prayers must be of the Jesus kind. Just as faith is created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, so by the Word we are given guidance and example in the art of prayer. There we find our Lord in His life so rich in prayer. As we come to know Him better and are drawn closer to Him, our prayers will take on more of His character. We often take on the manners and speech of those with whom we associate. Traveling closer with Jesus, our prayers will be more and more pulled into the purposes for which Jesus gave Himself. In the name of Jesus is in the name of Him who is our Savior. Therefore, in the name of Jesus, we can ask nothing that is contrary to our salvation. Whatever would harm us or draw us away from our Savior is not in the name of Jesus.

Can we always know what is good or not good for building us up in stature for our salvation? Of course not. The confession that our heavenly Father knows better than we is basic to all rightful prayer. If you ask Christians, “Are you wiser than God?” they will, of course, say no, but if each of us will examine our prayer life, we will surely see how often we speak to God as if we know better than He. We become impatient and grumble when God doesn’t jump to it and do as we tell Him. But someone will object, “Hasn’t God promised to hear our prayer and give us everything for which we ask?” That is true, so long as it is asked in Jesus’ name. As we might say, that is the catch. Is that just a loophole for God? Not so! God would not be our loving heavenly Father if He gave us everything that we wanted, just as those are pretty poor parents who give their children everything they want.

God loves us too much to give us everything we want. He draws a boundary around the things that He promises to give us in answer to our prayer. That boundary is His love. So often God’s curse is His letting people have just what they want. That is the way people get to hell. God says, “Well, if you insist on cutting yourself off from Me and going full speed to hell, you shall have it your way.” If we deliberately shut God out of our life, God finally says, “All right, you shall have it as you want it.” Because God is our loving heavenly Father, He restricts His promise to those things that are for our good, which draw us close to our Savior, in whose name alone we pray properly. As our mind and wishes come more and more into line with our Father’s mind and wishes, we shall more fully pray in the name of Jesus. If we learn to pray in the manner of Christ, we shall learn of Him to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Yet even when our Father, out of love, refuses to give us that particular thing for which we may be foolishly asking, our prayer is not unanswered. The heart of our prayer is always granted us. Take the old example of little William asking Mother for a sharp knife. The heart of the child’s request is that he may have fun playing with the knife. Mother refuses to give little William the knife, yet by doing that, she grants the heart of little William’s prayer. Young William thought he would be happier playing with the knife. Mother knew he would be happier not playing with it. The happiness of William has been granted, though he may pout for an hour and think his mother most hard and unloving. So also our Father in heaven deals with us as His children, who so often ask for foolish and hurtful things.

It does not follow from this that we ought not to ask for particular things. We should have no desire about which we are ashamed to tell our Father. He is pleased with us when we speak to Him as dear children speak to their dear Father, even if it is about a new pair of shoes or the tomato plants, but always with the confession, “Lord, You know only too well what a foolish person I am and how apt I am to ask for hurtful and selfish things. To me it would seem that these things would be good for me and my neighbor, but I will leave it all up to You.” Not my will, but Thine be done. We will learn to pray, “Lord, teach me to serve Thee with all I am and have” instead of a prayer that goes no further than “Lord, give me more money.” In the perfect prayer our Savior taught us, there is only one petition for earthly things. We need them for a while and are glad and grateful for them, but the whole weight of prayer is in the things that last for good, that work our salvation, the things our Savior came to accomplish.

For these we can ask without condition. God has to grant them to us. He has promised, and God is faithful. Claiming Jesus’ blood and merit, God has to forgive us our sins. That certainty is “in Jesus’ name.” We can hold God to His promise. That, however, means that we trust His promise. We may never complain of our prayer not being heard if we pray with a hit-or-miss attitude that says, “I don’t know whether it will do any good, but I don’t suppose it can do any harm either, so I may as well give it a go.” This is insulting to God because not taking God at His word entertains the possibility that God is a liar. Thus all our prayers must be with confidence. We must take God at His word: “Not one word has failed of all His good promise” (1 Kings 8:56). When we pray for our salvation for Jesus’ sake, God has to give it to us. When we pray for earthly things, we tell our Father what we would like and are confident that He will give it to us. If it is for our good and He does not grant it just when and how we like, we know that He gives us what is better for us. The heart of our prayer, our sure good, is always granted. We confess, “Lord, You know what best, and we trust Your promise to hear our prayer.”

When prayers seem unanswered, let us not first blame God but begin closer to home. Let us examine our prayers and see if we are not, perhaps, trying to order God around, telling Him just how and when He is supposed to do what we tell Him. Let us ask ourselves whether Jesus and all He stands for and wants to accomplish in us are at the heart of our prayer. If there is no Jesus in our prayer, then it is no prayer and we have no Father to hear us. How beautiful are our Collects that end “through Jesus Christ our Lord” in their recognition of this fact that without Jesus it is no prayer. Yet not in words mechanically added on for a prayer, but only in heart-filling faith and reliance in Christ do we pray properly in the name of Jesus.

Scripture abounds in examples of answered prayer, but there are also examples of what we would sometimes be tempted to call unanswered prayers. A Gentile Samaritan woman prayed to Jesus for her daughter. Jesus said it wasn’t fit to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs. Her prayer’s answer came later to that conquering, humble faith that clutched Jesus’ words and cried, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27). Mary begged Jesus to do something for the embarrassed host when the wine gave out at Cana’s wedding. Jesus replied that He had His own good time. “When Lazarus lay dying, his distressed sisters sent to their best friend for help. Jesus tarried and Lazarus died. St. Paul was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh and prayed three times to be cured of it. God did not take away that thorn, but He built Paul up to bear it. Monica prayed forty years for her son gone to the dogs. Ambrose comforted her that a son of so many prayers could not be lost. And her son was finally gripped by Christ and became the great man of God, Augustine.

If God seems to tarry, let faith cling fast. We are given the example of the widow who kept troubling the godless judge until he gave her justice just to get rid of her pestering. Jesus says we can surely expect better treatment than that from our Father in heaven.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

Today we have only considered prayer as asking, but it is infinitely more. Prayer is, first, an act of worship. We open ourselves to God. Guided by His Word, we point ourselves in His direction. Prayer is an answer to God’s word of saving, life-giving love in Christ. In prayer we make reply to Him, giving Him back our love, our adoration, our praise, our loyalty, our lives. As we pray we are in contact with God our Father through Christ, and therein we are made strong as His children. The more we pray, the stronger we are. We can only breathe out as often as we breathe in. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian life. As we are alive in Christ, we pray. AMEN.

Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Norman Nagel preached in London in 1957.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Circumcision and Name of Jesus 2012 – Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21

01. January 2012
Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 2:21

And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21).

Circumcision seems an odd topic for a liturgical festival to begin a new year. It probably makes the men squeamish. And it should. To have flesh cut from one of the most sensitive parts of the male should make everyone uncomfortable. Think: pain, blood, and babies screaming. Or in the case of Abraham and his host, even a ninety-nine year old having his flesh cut. Ouch.

Circumcision is similar to any self-inflicted distinguishing body mark. Men of the Armed Forces get painful tattoos to indicate their unit or force. Girls mark themselves with ear piercings to indicate their femininity. Many such examples exist throughout the world, with nations and tribes marking their bodies to distinguish themselves.

The receiving of these marks is a rite of passage. That is, before the marking they are outsiders, initiates, or questioned. Afterwards, they are insiders, members of the community, and accepted. Circumcision is like that. Only, it is different from almost every other rite of passage of the world. Circumcision was instituted by God and carries with it the promise of God.

When Abram was 99, the LORD appeared and said “I am God Almighty. Live before me and be perfect. And I will make My covenant with you, and I will make you a father of very many people.” With this promise came a new name. No longer was he Abram, that is, high father, but now Abraham, that is, father of many.

The covenant promise was not simply about children. God said to Abraham: I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Gen 17:7-8).

As the reminder of the covenant, every male would bear the mark of circumcision. God said to Abraham, “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendent.” 

Abraham of 99, Ishmael of 13, everyone he had bought, and all the men of his household were circumcised. This was the sign of God’s everlasting covenant. If a man is not circumcised, that person must be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.

All men of the household received this mark, whether of Abraham or Gentile. This Law is repeated by Moses in Leviticus 12:2-3: When a woman gives birth and has a boy… on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 

Joseph, in keeping with the covenant given to his father Abraham, submitted Him to the Law. So it was at the end of eight days, when [Jesus] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

One has to wonder if Joseph struggled with the command. I doubt it. No hand-wringing, talking about the pain it causes the boy, or how it decreases his risk of transmitting an STD. No, Jesus was a Jew and thus Joseph submitted Him to the Law.

Actually, Jesus is much more than that. He is the Jew, the Promise, the Covenant, and the Offspring. The Canaan of Heaven is His kingdom, His everlasting possession. He is our God. He is the Law, the Law-giver, and the Law fulfiller.

By taking His the mystery of his holy incarnation, Jesus was made man. Jesus, the eternally begotten Son of the Father now has flesh and bone. In Him the fullness of Godhead dwells bodily. What a beautiful mystery! The God who gave the promise, is the promise, and fulfills the promise, in flesh and blood.

St. Luke records a delightful little word for us in the little Gospel appointed for today, ἐπλήσθησαν (eplethesan). The English translation simply says: “at the end of eight days.” A more faithful rendering from the Greek is “when the eight days were full or complete.” Only St. Luke uses the word this way. He also uses it to tell us of the completion of Zechariah’s priestly duties, and the fullness of Elizabeth’s and Mary’s pregnancies.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses the same word to express the reality that in His death and resurrection, all the prophecies regarding the judgment of Jerusalem are fulfilled. This little word we translate as “at the end” can mean much more. It means that Jesus is the end, the fullness, and the completion of what comes before.

After these eight days, Jesus begins His work of fulfilling, completing, and ending the old covenant. With drops of blood, He begins His work of shedding His blood for us. With the sacrifice of a small bit of flesh, He begins the work of giving His body for us. In His body and blood, He has instituted a new covenant that will never end.

Jesus is the promised seed of Eve, of Abraham, of Jacob, and of David. The promise is fulfilled. Jesus is the culmination of the nation of Israel. In His flesh, all Israel will be joined together as again as a holy nation, the holy Christian church. The promise is fulfilled. The everlasting covenant given to Abraham and his offspring forever is Jesus. The promise is fulfilled. The land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey, the promised land is here. Heaven is here on earth in the holy Church and there into eternity with saints and angels. The promise is fulfilled.

In Jesus, the condemnation of the Law has ended. The Law that led to sin and death is ended. Jesus has done what neither the Law nor our weak flesh could do. He came in the likeness of our sinful flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh. He fulfilled the Law for you, beginning with circumcision, resisting your temptations, suffering your all weaknesses, and even taking your death for you.

How quickly you would like to return to the old ways! You would like to make our faith and life as Christians into a Law of requirements, saying silly things like: You must be circumcised. You must follow this code of conduct. You must live holy and blameless lives. You must resist and overcome. You must do everything to avoid death. Do these things and you will live. Our world and churches are full of people saying: Nevermind Jesus, you can save yourself.

Repent. The Spirit of life has set you free to be in Christ Jesus. Do not submit again to this yoke of slavery. Do not think you are Christian because you can say the books of the Bible in order. Do not think you are a Christian because you were confirmed in the faith decades ago. Do not think you are a Christian because you have your lucky charm of a Christening. Do not think you are a Christian because you do the right things, even the most pious and righteous acts.

Repent. You are not saved by works of the Law. You are saved by Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law. He has done it for you. He has “saved His people from their sins.” Jesus is your hope. In Christ, you are named Christian. In Jesus, you are God’s people. In Jesus you enter into the promised land. In Jesus you are offspring of God.

St. Paul says: I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3). If you submit yourselves again to the Law, you are cut off from Jesus who fulfilled this Law and have fallen from grace. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Jesus subjected Himself to the Law, shed those drops of blood, and even gave of His flesh on your behalf. He has completed the old and has brought in the new and better covenant. This covenant is in His body and blood, given and shed for you.

You used to be captive to the law, imprisoned by sin and death. The law was your guardian, keeping you from utter shame and vice. Now Jesus has come, and with Him, faith in the new promise. You are justified by His flesh and blood. You are in Christ Jesus—Christians saved from your sins by Jesus.

You are sons and daughters of the King, through the new circumcision of the heart, that is, faith. You have received this greater mark, giving you the new name, Christian. You are are marked by Holy Baptism, not with the removal of foreksin, but completely covered by Christ’s flesh. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 

This free and precious gift of God is for all people, for all are one in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. God has put His name upon you, His people Israel, and He has blessed you. You are baptized. You are free. You are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. You are marked and named—child of God.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana