Sermon for Easter VI

May 26, 2019

It doesn’t get any easier. First, we do it to our children, and then they do it to us. Abandonment. Separation anxiety. The first day that you leave your newborn at day care and go back to work. OR the first day of preschool when you leave your 3-year-old and your heart breaks as you go out the door and they scream, “Mommy, don’t leave.” By the end of the year, she has made friends and gotten used to the daily routine of school. It happens again on the first day of elementary, middle school, and yes, even high school. My baby is growing up. You know that you have to let go so that they can grow and mature and not NEED you when they turn 18. You abandon them so that ultimately, they abandon you when they leave home. Dane left for Missouri on Monday to serve at Height’s Point Bible Camp and Grace went to Shepherd’s Hill on Friday. None of us likes to be abandoned.

The disciples would abandon Jesus in His hour of greatest need and He predicts it. Again, this conversation takes place as He is at table with them in the Upper Room. It is His last word of teaching the disciples. “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet, I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” The Father was indeed with Jesus as He faced Pilate and others who sought to kill Him. However, His ultimate abandonment came when we hear from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus had to die alone. He had to bear the full weight of sin by Himself to be our Savior.

After He completed His work of rescue, Jesus would return to the Father in heaven, the very place from which He had come in the first place. We will celebrate that this week at a special Ascension service on Thursday at Holy Cross.

Because of Jesus’ completed saving work, we now have a direct line to heaven. He has not abandoned us in any way. He begs us to pray. “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. ASK, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:23-24 Our loving Lord wants your joy to be full. He loves you and wants to hear your cares and concerns, your hurts and your happiness. He tells us, “Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you.” “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”  We can now enter the holy throne room of the Father because He loves us.  He loved us enough to send His Son into the world to cleanse us from our sin and make us acceptable in the light of God’s justice.

While Jesus desires our joy to be full, He also acknowledges that “in this world we will have tribulation.” Tribulations threaten our peace and our joy. Tribulations are one of those areas that can bring to the Lord in prayer. Tribulation brings suffering. That suffering can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. It can be all three at the same time.

People in Jefferson City, MO are undergoing tribulation. It started with rising waters and flooding. It culminated in a destructive tornado that killed three and destroyed property and several buildings. We certainly lift those impacted by recent storms in our prayers. The devil will try to use these situations to convince people that God has abandoned them. Our prayer is that they would recognize the Lord as their provider, protector, and Savior. It is He alone who gives a future and a hope for this life and beyond. We pray that God’s people would shine brightly through acts of kindness in times of need such as this. The weather is one factor that can bring trouble and tribulation and certainly provides an opportunity to be in prayer.

Persecution of Christians is as rampant as ever. Athiests have become increasingly bold in their attacks against believers in Jesus. Between 50 and 66% of young Christians will leave the faith during their college years. We need to do a better job of equipping our young people to defend the faith when they are questioned about who Jesus is and what He has done for them. When it is taught as fact that we humans are the result of millions of years of evolution, they start to doubt the truth of God’s Word. I am glad to see that one of the accounts in VBS this week is the creation account that clearly reveals God’s role in the creation. This is yet another area for us to be intentionally in prayer. It also begs the question for each of us personally to be ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in Jesus. Would you be interested in mentoring a young person in our congregation as they are formed and shaped in their faith so that they are ready to face the onslaught of the devil’s attacks?

The same work of Jesus Christ that forgives our sins and gives us life and salvation also opens the door to God in prayer.  As Jesus said in today’s gospel, “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”  Jesus came from the Father to be our brother.  He took our place under the law and kept it perfectly.  He took our place on the cross and endured the punishment we earned with our sins.  He rose from the dead and lives again to show us that we will also rise from the dead and live again.  He ascended to the Father to remind us that our place is also with the Father forever in Heaven.  He has made the full circle – from heaven to earth to redeem us and from earth to heaven as a pledge that He will bring us where He is.

Now we can do something no other people can do.  Yes, We can go into God’s throne room and talk to Him beginning with the words, “Our Father …” As Martin Luther said, “We may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”  Did you hear that – not just children, but dear children – not just Father, but dear Father.  Because Jesus earned forgiveness, life, and salvation for us with His work on the cross, we have the keys to the throne room of heaven.  We have the right as believers in Jesus Christ to enter that throne room, climb up in God’s lap, wrap our arms around Him in a great hug, and tell Him whatever is on our minds.  Because of the work of Jesus Christ, this blessing is ours at any time and any place.

Satan hates the prayers of Christians and loves the prayers of everyone else.  He loves the prayers of unbelievers because he knows they are praying to gods that aren’t there.  Their prayers are worse than useless, because they are a form of idolatry that buries them deeper and deeper in sin.  Even when unbelievers use the right words, God sees that they are covered with sin instead of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Their use of God’s name is therefore a blasphemy instead of a blessing.  Satan truly loves it when unbelievers pray.

On the other hand, Satan will do anything to stop the prayers of Christians.  As the Holy Spirit inspired James to write, [James 5:16] “The prayer of a righteous person has great power,” and Satan hates that power.  He throws all kinds of distractions and thoughts at us whenever we prepare to pray.  How often have you joined your brothers and sisters in the Lord’s Prayer and begun to think about lunch; or the ball game; or the garden; or a project you have at work; or any number of other distractions that draw our minds away from our prayers?  How often do we pray on auto pilot before meals – or before bed?  This is not just weakness on our part, but the demons of Satan are at work trying to distract us while we talk with God.

Martin Luther said, [Luther’s Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John] “If I am to speak and pray to God for myself, a hundred thousand obstacles immediately present themselves before I can begin. The devil can put all sorts of reasons in the way and can hem me in and hinder me on all sides. As a result, I go my way and never give it a thought. Let him who has never experienced this just give it a try. Earnestly resolve to pray, and you will soon see what varied thoughts of your own come upon you to distract you from beginning in the proper way.”

If Satan cannot distract us so that we simply forget to pray, then he brings other weapons against us.  He switches from distraction to accusation.  Again Martin Luther wrote, “Satan suggests such thoughts as: “How can you pray to God and say ‘Our Father’? Your daily sinning makes you unworthy. Why not wait until you become more pious, until you have gone to confession and to Holy Communion, until you are not only in a mood and ready to pray, but until you can feel a burning desire to pray and thus are able to approach God with firm confidence and say ‘Our Father’ with all your heart?” That is the real and serious hindrance with which the heart must wrestle and under which it writhes until it has removed the heavy stone and can undertake to step before God and call upon Him despite its feeling of unworthiness. Let everyone try this and then tell me how easy it is for him to banish such thoughts and to say in all sincerity: “My dear Father in heaven”!

Here is where the Holy Spirit comes to our aid.  He works through God’s Word to remind us that our worthiness is not the issue.  We do not come before the throne of God in our own power.  We come before the throne of God in the name of Jesus Christ who offered up His life for us.  Yes, we are indeed unworthy to come before God, but Jesus Christ has covered us in His righteousness with His suffering and death.  Jesus Christ Himself has invited us to pray with the words “Our Father …” When we come to God, God does not see our sin.  He sees the righteousness of Christ, instead.  We are no longer the enemies of God, but the beloved of the Father.

God inspired Isaiah to write, [Isaiah 65:24] “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”  God also inspired Paul to write, [Romans 8:26] “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.”  So while Jesus commands us to pray, it is a Gospel command that gives us the wonderful gift of prayer for our comfort and encouragement.

Jesus speaks to us in today’s gospel and invites us all to pray.  He is going to the Father so that the Holy Spirit do His amazing work of calling, gathering, and enlightening the whole Christian church on earth through the precious Gospel of sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake. We also have the wonderful promise that God will hear the prayer of all believers.  For the blood of Jesus Christ that forgives our sins makes us part of the family of God.

Jesus declares these things so that we might have true and lasting peace. He reminds us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus won the ultimate victory when He rose from death on the Third day. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. It means we belong to Him. Your sins are forgiven. He loves you. He wants to hear the concerns on your heart. Our heavenly Father is always accessible, no matter the time of day or night. He will never abandon us. In fact He will bring us to live in His presence for all eternity. God the Father is our Father and He loves us and is eager to hear what is on our hearts and minds.  For Jesus’ sake, we are always welcomed as children of our heavenly Father.  Amen.