given all the riches that are available this week, what on earth persuaded me to run with this angle...but here we have a rather rough and definitely risky sermon which I clearly can't post on the St M's sermon blog...and I think it will be a while before I feel brave enough to suggest a sermon blog here. So, for better or worse, and because I hope that it might be good in some parts at least, here's tomorrow's offering
Easter 5 Year A John 14
Good news! Today’s readings are rich enough to inspire at least 3 sermons
Better news – I’m only going to preach one of them!
In all seriousness, it’s rare to be presented with such wonderful riches to choose from…We could think about the promise of a home in heaven, and our route to get there….we could consider our position as living stones, the fabric from which God builds his church –
We could think about prayer.
Having summed up like that, it seemed to me that there was, after all, only one sermon that I needed to offer you today – the one with prayer at its heart.
“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it”
Whatever you ask
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can expect the slot machine experience – prayer in equals result out. You don’t need me to tell you that simply adding “in Jesus’s name, Amen” to a string of requests
does not automatically guarantee success, even when the things we ask seem to be wholly good…the sort of thing that surely no loving God could ever deny us.
That’s always a challenge to faith…for even as I speak I’m sure that many of you are remembering with sadness the times when you prayed urgently, with all that was in you, for something that just didn’t happen…
The cancer didn’t go into remission…A troubled marriage did not suddenly come right after all…
Warring nations did not experience a sudden unexpected outbreak of peace
“Whatever you ask in my name…”??
We do struggle with this, don’t we?
Sometimes hindsight makes sense of a prayer that’s been left apparently unanswered…for sometimes the answer is “Wait”. Sometimes, we have to acknowledge that the “No” that was so unwelcome actually led to the best outcome in the end.
Sometimes I think that we’re left in a situation where all we can do is to be honest with God about our disappointment, our rage…
“You are supposed to be almighty yet these awful things happen, despite all our prayers and entreaties.
What are you doing – and don’t you know that this hurts!”
Thankfully prayer is nothing to do with being polite to God, and everything to do with coming as we are, with our wounds, our angers, our deepest most painful needs.
We set out with our best intentions…we try to believe that God will answer our prayer…and then it seems as if nothing has changed.
Yet we have this promise…Whatever you ask in my name…Does that mean nothing?
When we pray in Jesus’s name, we’re actually doing something rather different. Do you remember the protests before the troops were sent to Iraq? Hoards of people marched in many cities across the country, chanting “Not in my name…” because they did not wish to be associated with a government action in which they had no confidence. Whatever the rights and wrongs, they needed to make it clear that what was happening was not an expression of their world-view, their way of being.
We see this happening in many parts of the world, where someone’s name is taken to reveal their inner character.
We talk about preserving someone’s good name when actually we are intent on ensuring that people realise they are people of worth and integrity. Names are powerful things… So…when we are praying “in Jesus name” we should be doing a bit more than using it as a sort of formulaic ending, a quality stamp for our own wishes. Perhaps it’s a bit more like adding it as a signature to our words that precede it. We’re asking Jesus to validate our prayer – and if we are to do that with any integrity, that means we must ensure that our prayers are those we know he can be part of.
In other words, when we pray in Jesus’ name, we must set out to align our own wills with his, so that the prayers that we pray have the hallmark of his presence running right through them, like the lettering on a stick of rock.
Clearly this is something that Stephen had achieved for his final prayers are exactly parallel to those that Jesus prayed himself on the cross – a prayer committing himself to God’s love and one asking forgiveness for his persecutors. We, though, don’t have to pray only those prayers that we know for sure that Jesus himself prayed, though we are blessed that in the Lord’s Prayer we have a model that covers all that we could need for the world’s good
“Thy kingdom come…Thy will be done”
Thy will…In Jesus’ name…
That’s the secret. It’s not about what we want, about what we think would be the best way to arrange things…We aren’t setting out to change God’s mind, but rather, by spending time with him, to change our own minds, our own outlooks.
Once we have got to know Jesus well enough we are enabled to pray in ways that express the essence of his life and love, and so we can trust that God will honour that direction, always.
We get to know Jesus by spending time with him in prayer…and we pray about situations and issues that concern us, trying to discern what is God’s will so that we can place that at the heart of our own prayers…
Jesus gave us the authority and permission to use his name, but unless we take the time to
prayerfully discern his will, the use of his name won’t be of any help to us…
We cannot authenticate our prayer with his name unless it is already authentic in itself.
Sometimes, as you know, to pray about a situation is to find ourselves clear that there is something we should be doing to bring about the longed for outcome. It’s by no means rare, though it can be uncomfortable, to find yourself as the answer to your own prayers. At other times, prayer may bring us to a point where our original desire is transformed…
In any situation, our task is to determine, in the words of those popular wristbands, What Would Jesus Do….We can pray towards that end, but we may well need to engage with it too. We need to be doing the works that Jesus would do, praying His kinds of prayers, having the same type of intimate relationship with the
Father that He did. If we can't identify His works (which are also the Father's) then how can we ever hope to do greater works?
But amid our faltering prayers, and our failures of confidence we have a promise…Jesus said He Himself would perform whatever we ask in His name in order to glorify Father God
So, there’s another question…Not just “What would Jesus do?” but also
“Do my prayers, my inner longings, glorify God?”
If the answer to that is "Yes", then I can surely pray in Jesus’ name, confident that God will honour my prayer.
Prayer works. It changes people and situations…When we pray, we become more Christ-like…we enter into a benevolent circle so that as we pray in Jesus name we become more able to see what Jesus would do…and to work with him to achieve this.
We pray, God works and to him be the glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.