Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Rogation Sunday
May 26, 2014, 3:51 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 25th May 2014

The old name for the Sunday before Ascension Day was “Rogation Sunday”, “Asking Sunday”. In the old Prayer Book, the Gospel reading began with our Lord’s words to the disciples, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” On the next three days, especially in country areas, processions were held around the fields, singing the litany, to ask God’s blessing on the crops. Maybe you remember how, two years ago, Fr Richard organised a Litany Procession from Christ Church to St Mary Redcliffe (I certainly remember the rain!)

Our Lord taught his followers, “Ask and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” But this does not seem to be borne out by our experience, does it? Not everything we pray for is granted, so what are we to make of our Lord’s words?

Jesus told several stories about people asking. In one, a man knocks on his neighbour’s door in the middle of the night, to borrow a loaf of bread to feed a visitor. The neighbour is reluctant to get up at first, even though he is a friend, but when the man keeps on knocking, he gets up just to get some peace! God, says Jesus, is much more generous than that.

Or there was the woman who kept pestering a judge to settle her legal claims; at first he couldn’t be bothered, but when she kept on at him, he got so tired of her that he gave her her rights. God, says Jesus, is far more eager for our welfare than that.

But there is a catch, all the same (if I may call it that). Our Lord says, “Whatever you ask in my name.” It’s that “in my name” that makes the difference. Asking “in the name of Jesus” is far, far more than just tagging on the words, “We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen,” at the end of our request. To act, or to ask, “in the name” of someone else is to act, or ask, on their behalf, with their authority. A few years ago, to indicate that the government was acting in a way that they didn’t support, people had stickers in their cars or windows saying “Not in my name!” You aren’t acting as my representatives.

If we are to pray “in Jesus’ name”, we have to be praying with his spirit, according to his mind, for the things he wants and in the way he wants. We have to put aside our personal wishes and wants, and adopt his agenda.

When Jesus himself prayed in Gethsemane, he added the proviso, “Not as I will, Father, but as you will.” When he taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer, he told them- told us- to pray “Thy will be done.” Prayer is always, in part, an attempt to conform our thoughts and wishes to those of our heavenly Father, not the other way round.

But our Lord really does want us to be confident. He really does want us to be honest. We should express our wants, our hopes and our fears, just as they are. But we should also recognise that these wants, hopes and fears are full of mixed motives, ignorance and weakness. That is part of our human condition. If we pray as he did, “Not my will, but yours, be done,” he will gradually purify our motives, enlighten our ignorance, and strengthen our faith. That process may involve NOT giving us what we superficially ask for now, in order to satisfy our deepest wants in due course.

When we ask “in the name of Jesus” (even when our asking is full of muddle and misunderstanding), we are asking as children of a loving Father, who only wants what is for our good, for our true happiness. If, when we ask, we too are seeking the true good, happiness and welfare of others, we can be sure that our prayer will be answered, even if not in the way we expect.

In the Gospel read this morning, our Lord spoke of love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” These words immediately follow “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.” he went on to say, “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.” The word used, Paraclete, meant someone who spoke up for another in court, their “Counsel for the Defence.” This is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of God, his “breath of life,” who lives in us and makes us truly alive. He is the one who strengthens and defends us.

As we move towards Pentecost, remember that it is when we think and speak and act in the Spirit of Jesus, in the Spirit of God, that we are able to think and speak and act “in his name.” Then our prayers will be granted, because we will only want what he wants.

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