Beloved. Today is called “Rogate” and it gets its name not from the first word of the Introit like we have so often seen before but from the theme of today’s Gospel. Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you… Ask, and you will receive, so that your joy may be made complete. Rogate is the command to pray/ to ask. Today’s Gospel has the theme of prayer. And it is especially fitting because we are also looking ahead to Ascension Day which is Thursday. In the Gospel, Jesus is pointing His disciples ahead to His Ascension, to His return to heaven as He says in the Gospel: I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am going to leave the world and go to the Father. These two themes of prayer and of Jesus’ ascension beautifully belong together because now, after His holy life and His suffering and death, after His glorious resurrection and ascension—after doing everything for us and our salvation, Jesus is still at work for us. He is still doing His work as our Great High Priest. A priest is to offer sacrifice—and Jesus did that, on the cross, with His perfect, once for all sacrifice for the sins of all; and the job of a priest is to pray and intercede for the people. And that’s what Jesus is doing now for us. He still pleads/ intercedes for us with His heavenly Father. St John writes [1 John 2.1]: We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. Our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is praying/ interceding for us—He the very God who is also our crucified, risen and ascended Savior is before the throne of the Father praying for us and asking Him to forgive us our sin, keep us in the faith, give us eternal life, open heaven to us, etc. What joy and comfort that gives us every day especially in the midst of trials and hardships: Jesus prays for us and the Father grants His prayer.
And we pray too. Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you…. Ask, and you will receive, so that your joy may be made complete. We have to be a little careful here, though. Some will read this and think that Jesus is here promising that God will answer “Yes!” to every earthly/ carnal request that we make. If we pray for a big black Cadillac God will have to give it to us. But that is wrong. Jesus here is speaking to His disciples/ to Christians. And what does He promise? Ask, and you will receive, so that your joy may be made complete. Jesus is here speaking of our spiritual joy. Our true joy is not in carnal or earthly things. Yes, they serve us; are blessings of God; help us in this life; and, yes, even are things we enjoy. But as Christians our joy is not in them; our joy is in the things of the Lord—forgiveness of sin, peace with God, doing the Lord’s will, the certainty of heaven, etc. To put it differently, God created people as spiritual beings. We cannot find true joy/ complete joy in things, in things of this world; our true joy comes only in the Lord and heavenly things. To put it differently, as Christians we ask for God and the things of God—great heavenly and spiritual blessings. And when we do that we are asking for the greatest gifts and blessings. There is our true joy. All earthly blessings we ask for—as wonderful and necessary as they are/ may be—are really nothing compared to the great spiritual blessings and the perfect/ complete joy that we have in them. Our true/ complete joy is in the spiritual blessings; and when we pray for them, we know our Lord’s answer is always “Yes!”
Now think to what we pray for in the collect today. There we pray that we, our Lord’s humble servants, …by [His] holy inspiration…may think those things that are right and by [His] merciful guiding may perform them. What a great spiritual blessing we are praying for: we are praying for the Holy Spirit not only to guide us into right thoughts but that He may lead us to actually do them.
This is our greatest prayer: the prayer in which we are mindful of our salvation and thank the Lord for our salvation—that He has brought us to faith—and to ask Him to continue to bless us with the gift of faith and to lead us into exercising that faith—to think those things that are right and by [His] merciful guiding [to] perform them.
That’s where today’s Epistle from St. James comes in: Be people who do what the word says, not people who only hear it. Such people are deceiving themselves. There’s a huge difference between simply hearing something and doing something/ carrying it out. Simply to hear is passive; doing is active. When it comes to the word of God, both are necessary. We need to be and can only be passive when it comes to the word. The word of God comes to us/ the Holy Spirit is mightily at work in the word to create faith; we can do/ add nothing to it. That’s conversion! Simply hearing is at good thing—at conversion. But now that we are Christians, we are ones who as to be doing the word.
So what is the word that we are not only to hear but to do? St. James tells us in the verse right before our text which we heard as last week’s Epistle: So after getting rid of all moral filthiness and overflowing wickedness, receive with humility the word planted in you. It is able to save your souls. There we see that the word is both planted in [us] and is able to save [our] souls. That is the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus! For most of us that word/ the Gospel was implanted in us at Holy Baptism as the Holy Spirit came to us in the water and word and washed away our sin, created true, saving faith in our hearts and brought us into God’s holy family, the Church. What is that word able to do? –To save [our] souls. That word/ that Good News about Jesus/ His gifts and blessings He won for us on the cross is then receive[d] with humility, that is, faith. Faith humbly receives God’s gift to us in baptism, in the word that gives what it offers—forgiveness of sin, life and salvation.
And then in our text, St. James also calls the word/ the Gospel/ the Good News about Jesus: the perfect law, the law of freedom. It is the perfect law, or better put, the perfected/ completed law. It is God’s holy Law that we cannot perfectly do/ fulfill, but which has been perfectly completed/ fulfilled by Jesus. That’s what Jesus was doing all during His earthly life—keeping God’s holy Law for us. He fulfilled every bit of God’s holy Law for us. That’s the Gospel—the good news that Jesus obeyed God’s Law for us; it is perfected/ completed by Jesus for us. Now, even when we sin, we are free from the accusations of the Law; it cannot condemn us because Jesus obeyed it perfectly and fully. And on top of that, Jesus took our sins on Himself and suffered the wrath and punishment of God for them and died on the cross. But when Jesus rose from the dead, that was God’s pronouncement of forgiveness on the whole sinful world; that was God’s pronouncement that His holy Law has been perfected/ kept perfectly and fully by Jesus for us.
That perfect law is the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus; this good news is the word that by baptism and preaching God planted in [us] and which is able to save [our] souls. And what does St. James here call on us in our text? Be people who do what the word says, not people who only hear it. Such people are deceiving themselves. We are to do what the word says. What is it that God demands of us in the word? To believe it! To receive it and take it to heart! The most wonderful thing is that God, in grace, creates in us the very faith to believe the Gospel and receive it. And so is St. James here “preaching to the choir”? After all, those to whom he first wrote, and us who are hearing it now, are already Christians. We believe the Gospel; we receive[d] with humility the word planted in [us which] is able to save [our] souls. So why write Be people who do what the word says, not people who only hear it? Because we need to continue to do what the word says; we need to continue to receive it.
The simple fact is that although we are Christians, we still have our old sinful nature that wants to fight against the will and way of God and wants us to do “our own thing.” Our old sinful nature that we were born with and which will be with us until our dying breath works together with the devil and sinful world to destroy faith in Jesus in our hearts; they try to rob us of our heavenly treasures in Jesus. That’s why we need to be mindful of our salvation and not take it or our faith for granted; that’s why our greatest prayer is that the Lord would continue to grant us this greatest treasure and keep us in the faith, believing the Gospel and so being people who do what the word says—namely, to believe it.
Doing the word/ being people who do what the word says means that in faith we believe the word/ Gospel and in that faith receive its gifts and blessings. God is so rich and abundant in His grace and mercy, that He doesn’t just come once implant His saving word in us/ give us faith and then leaves us to fend for ourselves. Instead, He continues to come to us in His holy word and sacraments. And that’s why St. James here reminds us: if anyone hears the word and does not do what it says, he is like a man who carefully looks at his own natural face in a mirror. Indeed, he carefully looks at himself; then, he goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like. Do not let hearing God’s word only become a mere dead custom. Don’t hear the Gospel superficially and think you have all you need since you gave ear for a time to lovely talk about God. Reflect on it and take it to heart—especially after a serious and earnest examination of heart and life in the light of God’s Law. Do not let God’s word go in one ear and out the other—“I’ve heard all this before; tell me something new.” Instead capture the word; treasure the word; ponder the word; believe it and trust it. And use/ apply the word to yourself. The devil has two ways of working: either he wants to get you to think that your sin is no big deal and certainly not damnable, after all you have good reasons for it or you are no worse than anybody else and probably better than most—but an honest examination of heart, conscience, word and deed remedies that; or he tries to drive you to despair that your sin is so horrible and damnable that you have no hope. But when you do the word, you believe it. You believe that no matter how horrible the sin, Jesus paid for it. You believe the Gospel; you believe the absolution: “I forgive you all your sins”; you believe Jesus’ words to you: “This is My body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.”
The most glorious thing for us is that as we are people who do what the word says and live in the freedom of the Gospel, of the forgiveness of sins, of the Law perfectly lived by Jesus for us, we then experience its joy and freedom; we delight in the word of God because there we find forgiveness of sin, peace and joy with God; there we find true fulfillment of everything that we feel is empty in us. Rejoicing in what we have in the Gospel, the word, as we take it to heart and apply it, as we do what the word says, we want to go deeper and as we do so faith increases and we become more Christ-like. Outwardly our behavior reflects the righteousness that God has given us in Jesus. With the forgiveness of sin, we are given/ credited with Jesus’ perfect righteousness and as we treasure that and do what the word says, namely believe it, we grow in love and in works of love so that we, although far from perfect, but more and more reflect in our lives the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And how can we not? He is in us; He has given us His Holy Spirit and as we pray that…by [His] holy inspiration…may think those things that are right and by [His] merciful guiding may perform them. Our blessedness as we do the word, that is, as we believe the Gospel is noticeable. As we serve the lowly like Jesus did, He is seen in us. Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. Be mindful of your salvation: continue to do/ believe the Gospel. INJ Amen