Being a Doer

April 27, 2008
Bible Text: James 1:22-27 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Being a Doer St. James 1:22-27 by William Klock In our collect this morning we prayed: “O Lord, from whom all good things come, grant to us your servants that by your holy inspiration we may think good thoughts and by your merciful guidance put them into practicethrough our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” “That we may think good thoughts and by your merciful guidance put them into practice.”  How often do we get some great idea in our head, but never follow through on it?  We tell ourselves that we’re going to go on a diet or start an exercise routine in the new year and forget about it within weeks.  We tell ourselves that we’re going to break that bad habit, but we never make it past the first day.  Maybe we make it a whole week before we give up.  Sometimes we never actually follow through at all. Several years ago I joined a health club.  When I went in to sign up I noticed that they give all sorts of discounts if you’re willing to pay for six months or, better yet, a whole year in advance.  But even if you’re not willing to pay for the whole year in one lump sum, the club didn’t offer any way to just come in and make monthly payment.  I ask them, “I come in here three or four times a week – consistently – so why can’t I just make a payment each month?”  They just told me the don’t do it that way.  If you weren’t paying in advance, they required either direct and automatic debits from your chequing account each month or automatic monthly credit card billing.  You see, the people in the health club industry know that ninety percent of the people that join stop coming within a month or two.  In fact, of the people who join, an extremely high percentage never even come back after the first week!  When I was lap swimming the pool always got crowded during January, but by February the crowds always disappeared and I was back to having a lane all to myself.  The health clubs don’t care so much whether or not you actually show up, they just want your money.  In fact, after being a member of one for years, it’s pretty obvious that they oversell memberships big-time in the knowledge that most people will quickly drop out. As human beings we’re very fickle.  It’s part of our fallen human nature.  We make grand and glorious plans, but we’re very prone to forgetting about those plans.  And even though our fallen nature died with Christ on the cross and was buried with him in the tomb, we still have to fight the desire to go back and dig it up.  And so even more disastrous than forgetting about the fitness plan or diet we planned to start after Christmas or the credit cards we never quite got around to cutting up, is our tendency to listen to what God has to say to us in the Holy Scriptures but never actually putting those words into action. In a very practical sense this it what we’ll be looking at on Sunday nights starting next week.  Maybe more than anything else, this is our biggest problem as Christians.  It’s not a lack of knowing the right thing to do.  It’s a lack of doing it.  And so St. James addresses this in our Epistle lesson.  Look with me at St. James 1:22: Become doers of the Word and not only hearers, fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 CCNT). Have you known people that seemed to know it all when it comes to the Christian life, but they never actually seemed to live it out?  I think we all know people like that.  They’re walking encyclopaedias of theology.  They know every Bible verse from Sunday school that you’ve forgotten.  They beat everyone at the Bible Edition of Trivial Pursuit.  They read all the right books.  But somehow all that head knowledge never quite makes it out into the way they live their lives.  If you were to talk to their co-workers about them, you’d never know they were a Christian. I remember years ago being in a Bible study at our church.  It was part of a new members intake group, so there were mature Christians there and some who had just been baptised and hardly knew anything.  One guy in our study group always had the right answers, but he consistently belittled and was verbally abusive to the people who gave the wrong answers.  On one occasion we were looking at Colossians 3:20 (“Children, obey your parents.”).  One young girl who was a new Christian asked, “What if you’re parents tell you to do something you know is wrong?”  And before anyone else could respond he jumped in saying, “Duh! St. Paul assumed that the people reading his letter had half a brain!  Of course you shouldn’t obey your parents if they tell you to sin!”  We were all taken aback and not sure how to respond to someone like that – it wasn’t what anyone expected to happen in a Bible study!  But this is exactly what St. James is talking about.  It’s not enough to know the right things – we’re obligated to do them too.  The example of the guy in our Bible study is pretty extreme, but only so because even a non-Christian would consider what he did to be just plain anti-social behaviour.  But most of us – probably all of us – do the same thing on a regular basis, cutting people down.  We just wait to do it until they’re not around or until we’re in a group setting where we can get away with it. Part of our problem is that we’re prone to relying too heavily on our emotions.  Have you ever heard a really good sermon that got you fired up about something, but forgot about it before you got up Monday morning and had a chance to apply it to your life?  How many times have you read a good book on growth as a Christian, but the longer you put off doing what it said, the less enthusiasm you had for it?  St. James warns us against just this.  If you’re enthused by the Word of God, do something about it NOW and take advantage of that enthusiasm, but by the same token, don’t let it die as your enthusiasm wanes.  Remember that our faith has as much to do with the head as it does the heart! But whatever the cause for our being hearers only and not doers, the real danger here is that we deceive or fool ourselves.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging our spiritual maturity based on what we know instead of how we apply that knowledge and live it out.  Knowing that I have to change the oil in my car every 5,000km is easy, but it takes some commitment to caring for my car to actually take it down to the shop and fork over the money to have it changed.  I had a friend who never bothered to change his oil – he just dumped another quart into the engine whenever it got low.  And he wondered why his cars only lasted two or three years while I was still driving mine after twenty years.  It wasn’t that he didn’t know he needed to actually change the oil, he just didn’t care to make the commitment to do it.  And so his car didn’t take him very far.  Just so, it’s easy to talk about the ideal Christian life, but it takes real commitment to Christ to give up our old ways and live a Christ-like life that is pleasing to God.  If you don’t make the commitment and do in your life what you know in your head, your walk with God is going to be just like my friend’s car – it won’t get you anywhere. The Apostle gives us an apt illustration of this: Whoever is a hearer of the Word and not a doer is like man who sees the face he was born with in a mirror – he sees himself, and goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like. (James 1:23-24 CCNT) James gives us this very apt illustration of a man looking in a mirror.  It works.  My guess would be that everyone here probably took at least a quick look in the mirror this morning.  The mirror warns us if we’ve got bed-head or hat hair, bags under our eyes, or if we need a shave.  The mirror helps you ladies to make sure your makeup goes in the right places and it helps us men make sure that we don’t miss any spots as we shave.  Our mirrors show us what we look like when we get up in the morning and help us as we do whatever it takes to look the way we really want to.  The whole point of looking in the mirror is to make sure everything’s okay, but St. James says that the man or woman who hears God’s Word, but never applies it and never does anything about it is like a man who looks in the mirror, sees that he’s got green bits of spinach stuck in his teeth, that his hair’s a mess, and that he desperately needs a shave – that he sees all that, but then walks away and forgets how unkempt he looks. You see, just as the bathroom mirror shows us everything that’s physically wrong with us and helps us make it right, the Word of God shows us what’s spiritually wrong with us and how to make it right. You know how there are days when you’ve been out and about all day thinking nothing was wrong, but wondering why everyone was looking at you funny, and you get home only to pass a mirror and see that somehow you only managed to shave only half your face that morning or you’ve got something really gross stuck in your teeth or hanging out of your nose.  It happens to the best of us.  There we were thinking everything was fine when there was really something terribly wrong.  Well, God’s Word should do the same thing to us spiritually.  We go through life thinking that we’re in good spiritual shape, thinking that we’ve got out spiritual hair perfectly combed and our spiritual teeth just bleached and regularly brushed – and then God jumps out at us from the pages of Scripture and shows us a giant spiritual wart right on the end of our spiritual nose – a big flaw that everyone else has been seeing for years, but was too embarrassed to tell us about – or worse yet, the same spiritual wart that everyone else has and that we’ve all come to see as perfectly normal. Scripture shows us all of our sins and, worse yet, just when we’re inclined to see those sins and start comparing ourselves to someone else who looks even worse than we do, Scripture holds up before us the example of Jesus Christ and says, “Don’t compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to him.”  And we look at Christ, and no matter how good we look and no matter how much grooming we do, we know that we can never compare to the perfect image of the Word Incarnate. The mirror of God’s Word condemns us by showing us what we really are, but in doing that it also shows us what we really ought to be.  It shows us what real righteousness is as it shows us God’s holy Law and it shows us an ideal of righteousness as it holds before us the perfect life of Jesus Christ. This is a pretty bad spot to be in, but God doesn’t leave us condemned – his whole point is our redemption.  The mirror of Gods Word doesn’t just show us to be the sinners that we are and it doesn’t just show us the perfect image of Christ to which we can never fully live up.  God’s mirror also shows us what we can be.  St. James goes on: But whoever looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues to do so, becoming not a hearer who forgets but a doer of deeds, will be made happy in the doing. (James 1:25) The key is in the doing.  God doesn’t leave us condemned because of our sins.  When we make Christ our Lord and Master, God extends to us his grace.  And so now we have Christ’s perfect image in the mirror and the grace of God to help us along as we imitate the example.  It’s not that following Christ isn’t hard work, but it’s a work of love and one that eventually sets us free as we throw off the bondage of sin. Have you ever tried doing something you’d never done before and without the instructions?  Last week the movers took apart quite a few pieces of our furniture.  The problem was that we didn’t keep the assembly instructions for any of those pieces and the guys who had to put it together here in Courtenay weren’t the ones who had taken it apart.  They were only able to do it because they’d reassembled so much furniture in the past, that they were used to how it all works and could figure it out.  But imagine how frustrating it would be to have all those pieces in front of you and no idea how they go together.  Imagine putting together a puzzle with no box-top to look at to see what you’re doing.  Imagine trying to paint a painting with no knowledge of how the paint works or trying to play a musical instrument with no idea how it works or how to read music.  How would you play the piano if you didn’t know which key played  C or which played an A – its not like they’re labelled.  How do you pick up a trumpet and get multiple notes out of three valves, or multiple notes from just four strings on a violin.  In each case it’s knowledge that sets us free.  It’s an intimate knowledge of his instrument and of music that sets the musician free.  It’s an intimate knowledge of colour, lighting, and shading that sets the painter free.  And it’s the intimate knowledge of God’s Word and of the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, that set us free to be the people that God calls us to be. We need to stare long and hard into that mirror, looking into its pure surface and allowing the Holy Spirit to convince us of sin, righteousness, and judgment. I think it’s important to notice that James says that we “will be made happy [or blessed] in the doing.”  The blessing comes in the doing, not before.  We’re often prone to sit around waiting for God to give us what we need to do a task we know he wants us to do.  Sometimes we even make our waiting sound spiritual and saintly.  We tell people we’re waiting on the Lord’s timing.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we need to wait on the Lord’s timing, but when it comes to conforming to the image of Christ, the Nike slogan, “Just do it,” is very applicable.  Remember that God’s already given us everything we need to do what he calls us to do.  His grace is with us all the time and so is his Holy Spirit. St. James drives his point home in closing as he gives us a very practical example: Whoever thinks he is religious and doesn’t bridle his tongue but swindles his own heart, his religion is worthless. (James 1:26) I think those are Words that convict us all.  How often do we forget that we’re called to imitated Christ and end up letting our mouths run, saying stupid things, things that hurt others, things that blaspheme God, or even things that suggest we wouldn’t know Jesus if he was sitting right next to us.  James says it doesn’t matter how religious you may be or think you are, if you’re characterised by an unbridled tongue, you’re only deceiving yourself.  An unbridled tongue is just one example – it just happens to be one that should hit home for many of us – but he could have used any number of ungodly and un-Christ-like behaviours.  If you call yourself religious – not matter how many Bible verses you have memorised or how much theology you know – if you’re not a doer of that Word and if instead your life is characterised by sin and un-Christ-like attitudes and characteristics, you’re only fooling yourself.  Your religion is worthless.  You’ll be like the men Jesus described who will stand before his judgment seat pleadinging, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out demons in your name.”  Our Lord’s response is a truly frightening one: “Depart from me.  I never knew you.”  Jesus said that his followers would be known by their fruit and that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire. And so in contrast James shows us that good fruit with the example of charity: Clean and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself from becoming spotted by the world.  (James 1:27) The Apostle makes a clear reference to the message God gave over and over through the Old Testament prophets: that worship, sacrifice, and all the externals of religion are worthless if the heart is not turned toward God.  A heart turned toward God is a heart of compassion.  It’s a heart that looks out for others instead of trampling anyone who gets in the way of its own ambitions.  A heart turned toward God doesn’t make excuses, saying, “He’s down and out because he’s a sinner.”  It doesn’t say, “Welfare is the government’s job.”  It doesn’t say, “I don’t have enough.”  A heart turned toward God is one that says, “What can I give in the knowledge that my provision for those in need reflects my trust in the God who also provides for all of my own needs.”  It’s a heart that humbly says, “How can I show the grace of God as one sinner to another.” Finally, a heart turned toward God is one that is totally committed to him.  It doesn’t flirt with sin.  It doesn’t flirt with the world.  It doesn’t peek around the corner at what the world does.  It doesn’t sit on the couch with a girlfriend or boyfriend pondering how far is too far.  It doesn’t ask how far I can bend the tax laws without actually breaking them.  A heart turned toward God doesn’t ask, “How far can I go without actually sinning” when it comes to the temptations of the world the flesh and the devil.  A heart turned toward God seeks after righteousness.  It doesn’t skulk in the shadows on the fringe of darkness – it desires the glorious presence of God that dispels all darkness! And so let us be reminded as we once again come to Our Lord’s Table this morning, that what is offered here in the bread and wine is the sign and seal of his gracious promise of new life.  Here we commemorate not just the death of the perfectly righteous Word Incarnate, but also his Resurrection and Ascension.  Through his blood sin has been conquered and in knowing that he reigns as King we have confidence in our own victory.  Here at his table we see him face to face.  Let us look at his perfect image and the example he has set, knowing that his Father has given us the grace to conform to the Divine image we see staring back at us in the mirror. Please pray with me:  Again Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that all good things have their origin with you.  It was your Holy Spirit that turned us to you in the first place when you regenerated our sinful hearts.  Let us now not only be renewed in our minds as we study your written Word, but let us also be always mindful of the grace that you have given us, so that what we hear we will also do, as we conform ourselves to the image of Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate.  We ask this confident inyour promises and in the name of that same Incarnate Word, your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
Bible Text: John 16:23-33 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for Rogation Sunday St. John 16:23b-33 by William Klock The Gospel lessons for these last three Sundays of the East Season are all taken from John 16—from Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples when they were gathered in the Upper Room.  These Sundays take us from the Easter joy of the Resurrection and the excitement of the disciples when Jesus appeared to them, and turn us toward the continuing reality of the risen life Jesus brings.  They were excited to have Jesus with them, but as he’s been saying in these lessons, he’ll be going away soon.  Real life will set in—they (and we) are going to have to start dealing with the struggles and pressure of everyday life.  What happens when the excitement dissipates?  What happens when Jesus is no longer with us in person?  And so Jesus has a final heart-to-heart talk with his friends so that he can prepare them for everyday life as his people.  And I think we can sum up the general idea of what he says here in one word: consolation. I can’t help but think of the time when Veronica and I were dating.  A couple of months after we met the school year ended.  She went home to Kelowna.  I was staying in Vancouver.  We didn’t just leave each other and expect to pick everything up again in September.  No.  We consoled each other and we made sure we knew how to call and write each other.  We made sure we each had the other’s phone number and address.  I made sure I had directions to her parents’ house so I could visit.  And in many ways, this is what we see happening between Jesus and the disciples.  They were going to be sad when he was gone. And so he prepares them.  In effect, he saying, “I’m going ahead to prepare a home for you.  Then I’ll come back to get you.  But even while you’re here and I’m there, we won’t be completely separated.  There are ties that will continue to bind us together.”  And as he talks to them, the first tie that Jesus refers to is his sanctifying grace.  That was the idea behind his parable of the vine and the branches.  Even when he’s gone, we’re still one with him—we still get our spiritual life directly from him.  The second tie is the Holy Spirit—the Helper or the Comforter—who’s going to take Jesus’ place with his people.  That was the focus of last week’s Gospel.  And today’s Gospel gives us the third tie: prayer.  But not just prayer; specifically, prayer in and through Jesus. In fact, five times in this passage Jesus talks about praying through him, or praying in his name.  In John 14:12-14 he tells them: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. In the parable of the vine and the branches, in John 15:7, he says: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. A few verses later, in 15:16, he says: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. And then in today’s Gospel, in John 16:23-24, he tells them: Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. And in verses 26 to 27: 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. Almost everything that Jesus had to say to his disciples before he left them, he eventually tied into the subject of prayer, and so we can be sure that if the subject of prayer was so important that it was the focus of his last talk with his friends, it should be important to us too.  And yet maybe more than anything else that Jesus taught about, it’s prayer that Christians today so often don’t seem to understand.  On the one hand, lots of us very much affirm our belief in prayer, but then we’ve got all sorts of unbiblical ideas about it, and on the other hand, I’ve met lots of Christians who have, after years of not seeing their prayers answered, have become very sceptical about the whole thing.  I’m convinced this is because we either forget the “in my name” part of what Jesus said, or we just plain misunderstand what he means. In my first year in University I spent a couple of weeks praying desperate that I’d pass my Calculus final, but I still got an “F”.  We pray for the salvation or the welfare of our children, but we see them experiencing desperate trials and tribulations or we see them making bad choices or we see them turning their backs on God.  We pray for ourselves or family members or friends who are sick and dying, and instead of getting better they get worse or they die. And so we look at the subject of prayer and on the one hand we see that Jesus tells us that whatever we ask will be granted, and on the other hand we see all these unanswered prayers and we just don’t seem to be able to reconcile these two things.  Our problem—whether it’s losing faith and becoming sceptical about the power of prayer or some of the crazy ideas we’ve got about prayer and how it works—our problem can be resolved if we look at what Jesus actually tells us.  We need to focus on those words: “in my name”. What does that mean.  One of the things that stands out if you read this whole passage that starts in John 13 with Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and runs all the way through Chapter 17, is that Jesus focuses our attention on the fact that we are children of our heavenly Father.  That’s hard to grasp sometimes.  I’ve met a lot of people who seem to have a picture of God based solely on the portions of the Old Testament that present him as a wrathful judge.  For them he’s unapproachable.  Somehow they’ve missed his loving-kindness, his mercy, and his grace.  Somehow they’ve missed that he’s not just the Father, but our Father.  In most cases, I think this is the difference that St. James gets at in our Epistle today when he talks about people who think they’re “religious” when in fact, they aren’t.  Just as true religion and true piety are found in a truly changed life—a life changed by union with the Son through the working of the Holy Spirit, our being able to see the Father as our Father comes only as we are united with Jesus through the working of the Spirit—only as we become his children and part of his family.  It’s this sonshipthat Jesus is getting at when he talk about praying “in his name”.  It’s another way of expressing the fact that we have access to the Father through Jesus and because we are in Jesus. Our ideas about prayer start to clear up when we realise that it’s part of a family relationship.  If God is our Father, not just someone else’s father, then we can go to him freely and openly with our requests.  Think of your own family and your own children.  I’m glad that my daughter can come to me any time and say anything or ask for anything.  But the fact that she can ask me for anything, doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to give her whatever she asks.  As parents you know that part of the responsibility of being a parent means looking out for your child’s best interest.  A good parent isn’t going to give his son or daughter something that would harm them.  And the fact is that if we raise our children well, they eventually outgrow the “asking for anything” phase.  The more they mature the more they understand what’s good for them, and so they don’t ask for silly things anymore.  And the more mature they get, the better they understand and trust your judgement as a parent, trusting you when you tell them “No”. Our relationship with God is very similar.  We’re God’s beloved children and we’re the brothers and sisters of Jesus.  Just as we want what’s best for our children, God wants what’s best for us.  And that knowledge needs to shape our prayers.  We need to understand our fallen state.  Adam and Eve fell out of their state of grace because they decided to take God’s role on themselves.  God didn’t create human beings with the ability to fully know what’s best for us.  To know that we’d have to be all-powerful and all-knowing as God is.  No. God created us to be reliant on him for that knowledge and reliant on him to provide what’s good for us.  The Fall happened when we turned everything upside-down and tried to take God’s role on ourselves, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.  That’s why we sin—we reject the good that God wants for us and try to find it on our own and on our own power.  And so even when we pray, we often try to usurp God’s role—we ask for things thinking that they’re what’s best and we forget that God often knows better and has better plans for us. One of my favourite movies is A Christmas Story.  The main plotline of the story follows a little boy, Ralphie, in his attempts to convince his parents that they should get him a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas.  He asks his mom, and she tells him, “Oh Ralphie, you’ll shoot your eye out.”  He writes on essay for school hoping that maybe he can convince his teacher who will then convince his mother, and when he gets the paper back the teacher’s written on it, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  He goes to the department store to visit Santa and tells him, and Santa tells him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”  In the end, his father breaks down and buys him the BB gun.  Ralphie excitedly takes it outside, aims at an old metal sign, and promptly has his glasses broken by the ricocheting BB.  He almost shot his eye out! Brothers and sisters, because of our limited understanding, we’re often just like Ralphie, begging for a BB gun.  We don’t get it and we get frustrated with God or we lose faith, when all the time God knows that if he gave it to us, we’d shoot our eyes out.  Too often in our prayers, we’re going back to Eden and following right along in Adam’s footsteps as we try to take on a role that God never created us for—as we try to determine what’s good for us and what’s not when we don’t have the ability, the knowledge, or the foresight to make those judgements.  God created us to trust him—and that’s something we need to understand as people who pray effectually.  We need to acknowledge that there are things we ask for, sometimes foolishly and sometimes in good faith and with good intentions, but that God denies us because he knows better and because he really is a kind and loving Father. Jesus reminds us that as God’s children, we need to be fully resigned to his holy will.  We need to be conscious of the fact that every step we take in life is taken under his all-seeing eyes and that everything that happens in our lives happens at his hand.  If something we think is “bad” happens to us, we need to remember that it was sent by God, and that regardless of how it may seem to us, it’s something good for us in the long run—and maybe even in the short run.  When we experience suffering, we do so because it’s God’s will for us.  And we should know this.  Jesus promised that we would face suffering and persecution for his sake, but that suffering and persecution grow us and mature us into his likeness.  And friends, if we’d remember this we’d be far better equipped to deal with the problems that come up in life, because we’d know that everything comes from God and that he sends us everything for the best.  If we’d remember that God knows better than we do, we wouldn’t be disappointed or we wouldn’t lose faith when God doesn’t give us the things we’ve asked for.  We should pray with childlike confidence, but if God doesn’t answer the way we want, the response of faith is to say, “God doesn’t want this and for that reason, I don’t want it either.  I’m God’s child and I want nothing that might be opposed to his will.”  And the more we pray and see God answer—whether it’s positively or negatively—the better we come to know his will for us; and the better we know his will, the better we learn to submit to him and experience the good things he has for us. We also need to remember that God’s timing is not our timing.  I think we’ve all experienced this, and yet it’s a lesson we’re prone to forget.  Yes, we may be asking for some thing in harmony with God’s will, but our timing may not be in harmony with his will.  Sometimes it may just be an issue of God teaching us to be persistent—a situation in which he wants to expand our faith, but it usually seems that there’s more to it than that.  Think of St. Monica.  She spent years and years praying that her good-for-nothing son, Augustine, would come to Christ.  She saw him wasting his life.  If it was worldly and sinful, you can bet Augustine tried it.  And all that time his mother wept and prayed for him, and all that time, instead of answering her prayer, God let her son go from bad to worse.  And yet, if God had answered her prayer right away, how would Augustine have turned out?  We can only speculate, but I bet he’d have been a pretty mediocre Christian and Monica might have spent those years focusing her attention on worldly things.  But because she spent those years weeping and praying for her son, she drew close to God, and because of his experience as a great sinner and because of his experience with worldly philosophy, Augustine saw Christ as a great Saviour.  He became one of the greatest lights in Church history—one of the greatest theologians the Church has ever known, and not just an academic, but a man with a passion for proclaiming the Gospel to a world of people who were deceived and hurting just like he had been.  In taking his time to answer Monica’s prayer, God answered it in a way that in the end was better than anything she envisioned with her limited perspective.  So if God doesn’t answer your prayers that you’re certain are in line with his will, don’t lose faith and don’t stop praying, just realise that your timing may not be God’s timing and that he may have better things in mind than you realise. And that brings me to the third point: God’s plans are perfect and usually so much higher than ours.  Monica just wanted her son to be a Christian.  God wanted him to be a great pastor, teacher, and defender of the faith.  I’ve known Christian who don’t get what they want, so they quit going to church or they cut off their financial support.  It’s sort of a spiritual temper tantrum.  “Fine God, if you aren’t going to give me what I want, then I won’t give you what you want!”  But brothers and sisters, that’s being like Adam and Eve again—it’s trying to take God’s role on ourselves. Somehow we’ve got this backward idea that we know better than God.  Somehow we think that we’re the sovereigns, not him.  I don’t think we give this enough thought, because I hear people all the time talking about their prayers.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been influenced by the “Name-it-and-claim-it” teachers, who teach that if we only have enough faith, we can demand whatever we want from God and he’s obligated to give it to us.  And of course, when prayers like that aren’t answered, no one considers that it might be because the prayer wasn’t according to God’s will, because in their economy, God’s will doesn’t really matter—man is sovereign, not God.  It’s just that the pray-er didn’t have enough faith.  It’s Adam all over again. Instead we need to remember that it’s God who is sovereign, not us.  It’s God’s will that is perfect, not ours.  As long as we forget this basic fact, our prayer lives will be backward.  We approach God as if he’d forgotten something when he made his plans, as if we pray and God, sitting up in heaven thinks, “Oh man!  I’m sure glad Bill prayed about such-and-such.  I hadn’t even considered that when I made my plans.  I’d better change them!” Or we think that if we pester God long enough he’ll give in to our demands.  There’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart and Lisa decide they want a pool in the backyard.  They ask Homer for a pool, but they warn him: “Now before you respond, you must understand that your refusal would result in months and months of…‘Can we have a pool, Dad? Can we have a pool, Dad?  Can we have a pool, Dad?  Can we have a pool, Dad?’”  They repeat the question in unison who know how many times.  Homer finally stops them to negotiate a truce and they get their pool—which promptly turns into a disaster.  God isn’t Homer Simpson, and yet, again, I hear people talk about their prayers and that’s exactly how they're treating him—if they pester him long enough, they’ll get what they want.  And yet to pray that way is to treat God as if he’s fallible, as if his knowledge isn’t complete, and as if his goodness isn’t perfect—it’s expecting that God will somehow cave into our pressure to give us what’s second best, to change his perfect plans, instead of loving us perfectly and giving us the best. There are times when we see those seemingly unanswered prayers eventually answered—times when God’s grants us the privilege of seeing just how much better his plans are, letting us see why he delayed or why he didn’t answer the way we asked or expected.  And yet I’m certain that when we get to heaven, we’ll be able to see God’s bigger plans and only then we’ll be able to see how all those times we got angry or frustrated because we didn’t get what we wanted were actually God giving us something better. So again, back to those words “in Jesus’ name”.  When I listen to people pray I get the impression that we sometimes take it as something like a magic formula.  If we attach the name of Jesus to a prayer, God has to answer it.  But I hope you can see that’s not it.  We pray through Jesus—we pray in his name—because he is the Son of the Father and, more specifically, because through the redeeming work of Jesus, through his mediatorship as our Great High Priest, we are sons of our heavenly Father.  Through him we have access to the Father.  That’s why we pray in his name—we pray through him, because every time we approach the Father, it’s through Jesus.  We sinners can never enter the heavenly throne room on our own merits—we always have to do so solely on the merits of Jesus.  If we understand that, does it then make sense that we would, through Jesus, ask our Father for things that Jesus would never ask for?  Does it make sense that we would have faith in Jesus as our mediator, but not have faith in his Father? We affirm all these things each Sunday as we gather around the Lord’s Table and pray the liturgy —as we experience the foretaste of the good things to come.  We’re reminded each week that we come to the Father not on our own merits, but through his Son.  We’re reminded that we can come only through the cross.  And we’re reminded that God our Father has promised good things for us through his Son.  “We do not presume to come to your Table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies…”  “We ask of your fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and to grant that by the merits and death of your Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and your whole Church may receive forgiveness of our sins and all other benefits of his passion.”  “[We] thank you that you graciously feed us…with the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, and assure us thereby of your favour and goodness towards us.”  As we come to the Table, we’re reminded every Sunday that Jesus has not left us powerless and he has not left us alone.  We are truly in him and he in us.  The secret to prayer is to let that reality permeate our prayer life—to let our prayers be truly through him and in his name, not as some formulaic or superstitious incantation, but as an expression of the life he gives us as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. Please pray with me:  Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have made us your sons and daughters through faith in your Son and we praise you for having promised that you will always give us good things.  As we come to you in our prayers, remind us of our sonship through Jesus and remind us of your perfect goodness that we might always approach you confidently through the merits of your Son, our Great High Priest, and ask for those good things, trusting in your perfect will.  Amen.