The Sixth Sunday of Easter (St. Philip & St. James, Apostles), May 1, 2005
God will give us anything, if we ask in Jesus’ name?
Reversal of the Usual
Now just the opposite is what Jesus tells his followers in this conversation with them before he goes to the cross and all that that means. Jesus says, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Wow! Ask him for anything and he’ll do it!
Ask him for anything and he’ll really do it? Sound to good to be true, doesn’t it?
Maybe it is too good to be true. Just perhaps Jesus is promising more than he can deliver. Or perhaps we are getting it wrong, and don’t understand what he is telling us.
And just what is he telling us about praying, about asking in his name?
I want to assure you that Jesus is not giving us some kind of car commercial that seems to give us the promise that if we buy that hunk of metal, we’ll be turned into hunks that will attract a bevy of curvaceous women, or men. He really means what he says, and either we will “buy” his line and live our lives on the basis of it, or we will have to say that this is one more of those promises which churches talk about but which is, well, not to be taken too seriously.
Does “Jesus” name really work?
A lot of people have given up on prayer. They don’t think it works. They don’t get much from prayer, whether they’ve asked in Jesus’ name or not. Asking things from God even becomes the last resort when all else fails.
As a person who ministers to people, I have had people say to me, “Pastor, my loved one is in the hospital and the doctors have given up. Would you come and pray?”
I don’t know whether they thought perhaps prayers might work, when no thought had been given to them before, or that a “pastor’s” prayer would get done what doctors, and family could not get done.
Some of you are old enough to remember when radio preachers asked you to put your hand on the radio (now it’s the TV screen) and you would get an answer to your prayer. All of us have had enough of that kind of Barnum & Bailey circus to be highly skeptical of prayer.
I remember clearly when I was around 10 or 11. It was right after the end of WWII. No cars were produced for the civilian population during the war years. My father was driving a ’35 Chevrolet. It was a clunker. Black, somewhat dented, ugly, and I was embarrassed. Because new sleek looking cars were coming on the scene. They didn’t even have a mechanical cranking device anymore. They came in colors: cream, blue, maroon—gorgeous. I was a preacher’s son, so I believed in prayer.
I remember praying for God to give us a new car. Prayed in Jesus’ name, of course. Next morning got up, expecting a new car in the garage. Guess what? Same old car. I think I stopped praying for a new car about after two weeks. It just wasn’t going to happen. Dad didn’t get a new car for another 5 years!
That’s not quite the end of the story. I know God heard my prayers, and kept them in the back of his mind, because of what happened to me. Since I have been an adult and married. I have had a new car almost every 4 years. Catch this! I didn’t have to buy hardly any of them!
The “TRUTH” about using his name
Well, the whole Gospel for today is a pep talk to his followers, for he is going away. He is talking about removing his physical presence from his disciples, after the resurrection, after his work is completed.
How often we might have wanted to walk up to Jesus and ask him what he meant by saying this and other things or why whatever is going on in our lives is happening. We are like St. Philip, the apostle of our Lord. All he wanted was a clear presentation of God, so he could trust Jesus. But even if he or we could see God any clearer than he saw Jesus, we would still have to trust him. We have to place our confidence in him, or in someone, something else.
Placing our confidence in someone or something else is worse than betting on a sports team. You have no idea what is going to happen. A vote of no confidence in the power and presence of Jesus is not stepping onto solid ground but trying to walk on water. As I recall only One person was successful in doing that.
Jesus is going ahead, preparing the way for us, getting things ready for us. Before I came down to San Antonio to preach this message, some of the good folks of the church prepared a place for my wife and me to stay. So Jesus is preparing places for you to stay until you reach your home in the eternal land that we call heaven.
He prepares a place for us by going from that Upper Room of this communication to a Garden of Tears, to a couple of packed Court Rooms, to the Place of Judgment, to a Hill Far Away, to a Garden of Memories, to a Celebration of Life in hell and heaven, to a Return Journey from where he came—all places he prepares for us, so that we can be with him forever.
He has come back to us to take us with him. He gives us his Spirit, the Holy Spirit to walk with us on this journey. We, like Thomas, don’t know the way through this world, the way to God, the way to full living. At best we are like pioneers heading west in this country a couple of centuries ago. We find every day new and different, the vistas change, and by God’s grace, wonderful and exciting for Jesus is our way, the only truth that is truth and only through him we can live. Exist without him, yes, but live? Only through Jesus.
Only through Jesus can we begin to understand God, whom St. Philip wanted to see. Only through Jesus and what he has done can we even talk to God. Jesus makes it very clear who he is. He is the Bread of life. The Door to security and safety. The Water of life. He is resurrection and so much more.
Jesus reveals the heart of God—not a soft God who overlooks the savage, evil, self-serving impulses of those who live in his created land, but who sees their faults and failures--the sometimes sly but often overt attempts at becoming the masters of their own lives. Jesus becomes God’s instrument to do away with our whoring after the American gods of wealth, power, prestige, sex and self-serving behavior. God clobbers Jesus instead of sticking it to us. There you see, God, St. Philip!
In the miraculous acts of Jesus, he reveals that sickness and death are not from God; that starvation and deprivation are not in God’s plan, but the result of the corrupt perverted heart of man. And look no farther than the mirror to perceive the culprit in these matters. We build weapons of mass destruction and then don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste in our nest.
All the miracles of Jesus show us nothing less than what the destination of our life will be like. And all who trust Jesus will be able to do even greater things than the miracles he did because He has given his power to you—the power of Gospel and Sacraments. This shatter the hard shell of sin, open the heart of persons to the Holy Spirit, and bring life, a way of living, the only truth to people.
And whatever we ask to accomplish to bring people to the truth, to the joy and hope of salvation he will do it for us. When we ask for that which we know he wants us to accomplish, he will do it .
So you don’t win the lottery. So you don’t get out of troubles. So you don’t find all of life a bowl of cherries. So you don’t get that car you wanted, at the time you wanted.
But what do you want that is in line with what Jesus wants for you and your world, for the church? Do you wish this gathering of God’s people to increase greatly? Do you wish for the hearts of all people here to find joy and peace in Jesus? Do you want greater faith in trusting the power and promises of Jesus? He will give you all that and more. Trust in God. Trust in his goodness for you and for his church.
Two examples of “praying in his name”
Now Baal was the god supposedly in charge of fertilizing the ground with rain and he was also in charge of lightning. 400 of the devotees of Baal gathered and one lonely, isolated man of God, Elijah.
The priest of Baal went first. They built an altar, put wood on it, killed the animal for sacrifice, and then called on their god to send down lightning and burn the sacrifice. Well, they chanted, they knelt all day. They even cut themselves to show Baal that they were serious about this.
Elijah taunted them. He said, “Maybe Baal is taking a nap. You better yell louder. Perhaps he’s in the bushes to relieve himself.” Nothing happened. And it became late in the day.
Elijah’s turn. An altar, wood on top, the animal sacrifices, a moat around the altar, the whole thing soaked in water until the ditch was full. Elijah said a prayer that probably went something like this. “It’s your turn, Yahweh. Show ‘em who’s in charge.!
Zap!! And the whole thing, meat, wood, stone, water consumed!
Elijah told the king he better get his chariot up to full speed because he would get soaked by rain. Sure enough, the God who controlled rained soaked King Ahab to the skin.
The other example is a man who worked hard for the Lord. I mean you haven’t done anything like this man! He walked a zillion miles in the Lord’s work. He got jailed because of his work for Jesus. He was stoned, shipwrecked, beaten, harassed, driven out of towns. All for Jesus! Wow! The Lord would do anything for this man, right?
We don’t know what his problem was. Some say his eyesight was poor. Some think he had a speech problem. It was something that prevented him from being as effective as he wanted to be.
He prayed. It says three times. I suspect this wasn’t a three day thing, but for three one year periods he asked the Lord to take it from him.
God’s answer? “My power is shown in your weakness. Even if you are weak, less than you want to be, my power shows through you.”
I’m not sure just quite how that fits into this, but I think I have it. Paul, St. Paul asked God to make him more effective by taking this impediment from him. God’s answer was that he was more effective with the problem than without.
Asking in his name
When we do it for him, the name above all names, when we want his will to be done and his kingdom come, it will happen. Sometimes we might get bulldozed out of the way. But even then you will be doing even greater things than Jesus ever did.
Look at this community of believers. This is the result of prayers to Jesus, and he has done it. And he will do it for you from now on as well. Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor