With a little help from Luther…
Text: St. John 16:23-33
Rev. Fr. Paul L. Beisel
Dearly beloved in Christ:
If you’ve ever seen the Wizard of Oz, you know how scary it was to approach the Wizard and ask him for things. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion were so fearful of him that they could barely stand to be in his presence. The Lion tried to make a break for it several times before his friends finally dragged him in. He wanted to be as far away from the Wizard as possible.
What made him so scary? Part of it was the mystery of the whole thing. You couldn’t see the Wizard. The room was shrouded in darkness. Another thing that made it so scary for them was the unpredictability of it all. Would the Wizard be favorable or not? Would he answer their requests or not? Would he even hear them? Another thing that made it scary was the deep, thundering voice that spoke to them. This was not the kind of voice that made a person feel like coming near.
Dear friends in Christ, this is a good example of what God is like to those who do not know Him and His love in Christ Jesus. Apart from Christ our Mediator, God the Father is unapproachable, mysterious, and unpredictable. He is someone to be afraid of, someone to avoid. He is definitely not someone you can trust. He is not safe to be around. No one in his right mind would be so bold as to approach Him in order to ask Him for something. Who knows how He will react?
The truth is, folks, apart from Jesus Christ, we have very good reason to be afraid of God. It is not safe to approach Him without a mediator. He is holy and we are unholy, according to our natural man. We are a people of unclean lips and uncircumcised hearts. Not only do our hearts in their natural state lack true fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but our lives also lack the love and charity towards our neighbor that is required in the second table of the Law.
This is why God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden. This is why He excommunicated them from His presence. He did this not just to teach them a lesson but because their condition had changed. Their relationship was broken. They had sinned against Him and now the only thing that God could do, the only just thing, was to exile them.
This is also why the children of Israel could not approach the divine majesty on their own. God gave them an intercessor, a mediator. Moses stood between them and God. Had they tried to approach Him without such a Mediator, they would have been destroyed. They, like us, were a people of uncircumcised heart and lips. They were unclean. Only through the blood of bulls and goats and heifers, only through the mediation of a Priest could they enjoy fellowship with God. For it was through these sacrifices and blood that they became clean. Only then could they share in the holiness of God. That was why the Lord established this Old Testament Ministry, so that His people could have safe access to His grace and blessings.
As long as the children of Israel followed the commands laid down by God in the sacrificial system, they could approach God and have access to His blessings. If they failed to follow these commands, or if the priests did not follow them, their access to God was cut off. He is the Lord. He sets up the terms. We are not in a position to question or doubt the goodness of what He gives us. In the case of the Israelites, their free access to God’s divine throne was connected to the carrying out of the priestly sacrifices.
But now, dear friends, the fulfillment of these things has come. What came before was imperfect. What has come now is perfected. Christ, our true Mediator and Redeemer offered His life on the cross on behalf of sinners. Through Christ God has opened up the door of heaven to us once more. In His blood, fellowship between God and man has been restored. This is what St. Paul meant when he said to the Romans: “We now have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”
In Christ, the true sacrificial Lamb, and through faith in Him, we now have full and unhindered access to God’s gracious presence once again. His anger and wrath have been set aside in the cross. In His death for sins Jesus emptied the Cup of God’s righteous anger once and for all. With Christ Jesus as our Mediator, it is safe to approach Him in faith. Those who wish to deal with God apart from His Son do so to their own doom and destruction. God the Father has only given us one door of safe to His almighty throne: and that is the crucified and risen body of Jesus Christ. Through His death the threat of divine punishment for sins has been removed. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What comforting and marvelous words for believers!
What all this means is that we Christians are without excuse for not approaching our heavenly Father boldly and without shame in prayer. Our hearts have been sprinkled from an evil conscience by the cleansing flood of holy baptism. We believe in Christ, that He came from God. And we know—we do not have to be uncertain about this—but we know that the Father loves us. Jesus says so Himself in our Gospel today: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
It was this Fatherly love in Christ that Luther was referring to when he wrote the explanation to the Our Father: “God would, by these words, tenderly invite us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we might ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.” This gracious invitation, along with the great need that you and I have every day, ought to spur us on to prayer. It should teach us to put aside all of our pithy excuses, our laziness, and our lack of trust in God and to pray. The fact that it does not do this for all of us shows us how much of Adam’s rebellion still lives on in us.
But never mind what you have done in the past. Today is a new day. The Father still loves you, even for the many mistakes you make every day, even for the many ways that you turn away from His love. He sees that you are clothed with Christ. He has adopted you into His heavenly family. Christ has told you to ask and has promised that you will receive. Though you do not always see it, your prayers do matter.
So pray. That is what that strange looking word on the cover of your bulletin means. Rogate means pray. To pray is simply to ask. Ask the Father in the name of Jesus, His Son, and do not be ashamed to do so. What kind of a father would not rush to help his son who was in trouble? Will your heavenly Father not also come swiftly to your rescue?
Do not look at such things as though they were childish or think yourself above them. Do not think that because you are older, because you are wiser that you can take care of yourself, or that you do not need to call upon your heavenly Father, or that now that you are a grown up you have to say “grown up” prayers. This is nothing but the devil’s work, for he cannot stand for God’s children to pray. If you want to send the devil away, if you want to really annoy him, pray to your Father. Nothing annoys him or disgusts him more than for his enemies to seek help from above.
If you are not sure what to pray, if you do not know for what to ask, look to the prayer that Jesus has taught us. Pray the Our Father, for in that brief prayer is contained everything for which we need to pray daily. “Hallowed be Thy name,” that is, give your Church faithful pastors and preachers who will preach your Word truthfully and faithfully so that hearing it, and believing it, we may live holy lives according to it. “Thy Kingdom Come,” that is, send us your Holy Spirit so that we might have true faith in your Word.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This means very simply: bring to destruction every work of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. Do not let these hinder the work of your holy Gospel among us. “Give us this day our daily bread” includes more than just the food on our tables, but also every physical blessing such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, etc.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” that is, let us not be condemned because of our many sins and failures, but show us grace, so that we may pray boldly and also learn from you to forgive those who offend us. “Lead us not into temptation,” that is, guard and keep us from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame or vice. It means: “Do not let us fall because of temptation.” And “Deliver us from evil,” that is, rescue us Father from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and lead us finally out of this world to our heavenly home.
He who prays this prayer or uses it to form his own prayers will never be lacking in words and thoughts to lay his needs before God. But he who does not pray, or who is convinced that his prayers will do no good, or doubts God’s grace and favor should not expect to receive anything from God. Such a person is not a true son of God, for he clearly has no faith in God as his heavenly Father. May God preserve us all from such unbelief, and move us to pray in the name of Jesus, who has given His Church such marvelous and comforting promise regarding prayer.
In Christ Jesus we have no Wizard of Oz for a God, unapproachable, unpredictable, and mysterious. Rather we have a tender, kind-hearted Father, who loves to hear His precious children call on Him. Amen.