Rogate Sermon 2013
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 16:23-30
May 5, 2013
This week at least two different people asked me why it was that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod censured a pastor for giving a blessing and maybe a prayer at a public interreligious gathering meant to comfort the people in Newtown, Connecticut, after the terrible shooting of the children there. I suppose that it came up because of the reading from John, where Jesus talks again and again about prayer in His name.
Some of you may have heard this and wondered about it also; it seems harsh and cruel to punish a pastor for trying to comfort grieving families in such a horrible circumstance.
But the pastor was not “punished”. The president of the Missouri Synod said publicly that the pastor’s action was not in keeping with our confession of faith, but the pastor was not punished in any way. Then the President Harrison later apologized for not handling the situation better.
The reason for the criticism of the prayer was not loveless, Pharisaical strictness. Who could not grieve over the tragedy that happened in Connecticut, unless they have no heart? The reason for the criticism has to do with upholding a very basic, simple truth of Christianity.
Not every religion leads to heaven. If I go to a gathering where a Muslim cleric prays, then a Buddhist, and then me, a lot of people could get the impression that a prayer in the name of the Triune God is no different than a prayer in the name of one who denies that Jesus is the Son of God. If that were true, then Jesus Christ would not be the only savior of the world. Then we could be saved by being sincere and working hard in any religion, or by being the best people we can with no religion at all.
In the sixteenth chapter of John, which we just heard, He tells the disciples, The Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. But if it is true that a religious leader who does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God will have his prayers heard just the same as one who believes in Jesus, then Jesus is wrong. He has led us astray.
The young men who exploded bombs at the Boston Marathon and drove around the city trading gunfire with the police were very sincere in their beliefs. So are the people from Westboro Baptist Church, the people who show up at the funerals of soldiers and others with signs declaring “God Hates You!”
They sincerely believe that God is happy when His enemies are damned to everlasting fire. Muslim terrorists sincerely believe that God is happy when they kill unbelievers and send them to hell. But they are both wrong, no matter how sincere they are. Paul says in the Epistle, I urge that prayers…be made for…kings and all who are in authority…this is good, and pleases God, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2).
No matter how sincere someone is, his prayers are not heard when he prays to a false god. God does not listen to prayers to an idol, and a person who believes in a god who is not the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is an idolater, who disobeys the first commandment: You shall have no other gods. And when someone prays to Allah, or to a generic “God” who is not found in Christ, or to Krishna, or any other god, that person defies God’s 2nd commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. God gave us His name so that we could call on Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. To call on the name of another God and give the glory of the one God to an idol is to misuse God’s name.
Apart from Jesus Christ we don’t know God or have access to Him. And even among those who believe in the Holy Trinity and confess that Jesus is the Son of God, where there is no faith in Christ, there is no knowledge of God, no access to God, and no prayer.
How Christians have done this:
Salvation by works;
Prayer to saints
Human reason, strength, piety, is opposed to Christ.
Even Christians in the flesh oppose Christ:
The disciples still didn’t really understand what “going to the Father” meant. If they had, they would have prayed against the will of God that it not happen.
Apart from Spirit, the more we learn, the more self-reliant we become.
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.
We are helpless
We learn that God is triune and that Jesus died for our sins while children.
Thus we are tempted to despise it and look elsewhere
Many Christians do. Jesus died for me is great, but it doesn’t address my problems, people say. Or there must be more—and thus God’s great revelation is cast aside in favor of works.
Knowledge of God through faith in Christ results in prayer that the Father receives.
The world does not have this knowledge.
We can’t get it on our own.
The disciples were given this knowledge so that they did not need to ask Jesus questions when He rose from the dead.
They knew that Christ had died for their sins and risen from the dead; thus they had access to the Father.
This access is given to us through the Gospel. WE have a gracious God. He hears us as if we were Christ.
This is easy to understand but hard to believe, esp. in trial.
Through prayer Christians do their greatest work—join together with Christ in His royal work and priestly work.
Through this the impossible is done
Through this we learn to pray according to the will of God
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.