3 Things That Startle You, 4 that Take Your Breath Away
The sermon title is what Old Testament scholars call a "numerical saying." For example, Proverbs 30:21, "Under 3 things the earth trembles, under 4 it cannot bear up:" When you hear our text, what startles and leaves you breathless is the law. But there's only one imperative in this text: "You must remain in My love." Jesus goes on to say, "Since you obey My commands, you will remain in My love." And Jesus says the reason for this discourse is, "That your joy may be full." So, He must be saying something startlingly breathtaking if full joy is the end game.
The first thing He says we've heard before. "Everything which I heard from the Father I made known to you." Stop thinking there is a God behind Christ who is different, menacing, out to get you. Every single thing that the Father wants you to hear from Him has been revealed to you in who Jesus is and what He does. You are "in the know". You're not outside God Almighty's circle of friends. Think of Abraham. 2 Chronicles 20 calls Him God's friend forever. In Isaiah 41 the Lord calls Abraham, "My friend." James 2:23 says, "He was called God's friend." Read Genesis 12 through 25. See the ups and downs of God's friend, and know that in the depths as well as in the heights, the Lord never ceased to be Abraham's friend. Here Jesus assures us He has forever called us friend'.
Our sin is that we don't believe it, doubt it, or don't rely on it. On top of that, we think our Friend's Father is out to get us. Truth be told: we put more trust in a sinful, fallen friend than we do in God in flesh and blood. That too is startling, but I'm not here to startle you with your sinfulness. Your conscience can do that easy enough. I'm here to startle you what your Friend Jesus says. He says, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." I'm sure some of the apostles in the upper room thought they had chosen Jesus. They looked at their whole relationship that way. Here Jesus turns it completely around. "Not (emphatic) at all did you make the choice, but totally to the contrary I chose you for Myself."
The last lines in the movie version of Steven King's Stand by Me are an author typing, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. [Expletive] does anyone?" That's true. When Jesus calls us friend', it takes us back to middle school where life can be tribal and savage, and even one friend made a difference. And it takes us back to what could've been the horror of horrors, choosing sides for team sports. It was okay not ever to be the captain. It was okay not ever to be chosen first, but to be chosen last! Or, worse, to be chosen dead-last by default!
Here we're startled to find that we're not the last chosen. In fact, we were chosen before God's own Son and that God the Son chose to stand by us, to stand in front of us, as our sins, our death, and our devils came raining down upon Him from Gethsemane on. Few of us were that friend that everyone wanted, that was bigger, better, smarter, more popular than everyone else, but we all know what it meant to have that guy or girl as our friend. I can't make that happen for you in middle school, but I can tell you it has happened in time and for eternity. The holy Jesus, the Jesus who can do everything, deserves everything, whom heaven and earth wait on hand and foot, stands by you. And He doesn't stand there with His hands in His pockets. He fights for you; He pays for you; He defends you.
Startled yet? Go back to middle school; think of that time when the popular kid stuck up for you, and realize, "My Friend Jesus does that 24/7!" But keep listening. Not only did Jesus choose you, but He "appointed you to go and bear fruit fruit that will last." From God's word to the first Adam, "Dust you are and to dust you shall return"; to Kansas' realization that "all we are is dust in the wind"; to Johnny Cash at the end of his life referring to all he accomplished as "my empire of dirt"; divine truth and human reasoning agree: nothing lasts. Correction: nothing lasts except what God says does.
God the Son says that "if anyone gives even so little as a cup of cold water" in His name, that lasts forever. When Mary anoints Jesus feet in preparation for His sacrificial death on the cross and burial in the tomb, she is roundly criticized. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (Mt. 26:13).
That thing that you did in Jesus' name, that offering you gave as a disciple, though you might not remember it, Jesus can't forget it. Though all that we build with these hands, though these hands themselves will decay to dust, the name of the Lord endures forever, and those in that name as well as deeds done in that name to do. But I will show you more startling things than these. Things that just might take your breath away.
You know Jesus is speaking to the apostles on Maundy Thursday. You know these men are going to be sent into the world to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. These men after being filled with the breath of peace and the Spirit of Jesus will be sent out to absolve sinners. These men are going to go out celebrating the Meal that is the Body and Blood of Jesus for us Christians to eat and drink. The Means of Grace because they are the Words of God, the Spirit of God, and the Power of God endure forever.
You've been baptized with apostolic Baptism; that never dries up. Though you sin against it a 100 times a day in deeds, words, thoughts, that cool, clear Water remains to forgive, to wash, to save penitent you. You've been forgiven by apostolic absolution, whatever your sins be, they have been sent away from you, separated from you, for good, forever. And meeting your Lord and Friend, in the Meal of His Body and Blood, He stays with you, in you, on your side till the end of the ages.
Finally, we're at the 4th thing that will take your breath away. Jesus says, Jesus promises, God Almighty in flesh and blood guarantees, "Whatever you might ask in the Name of Me the Father will give it to you." The insert takes away from this promise by introducing the word then.' No, this over the top promise that makes me gasp is the result or purpose of Jesus being my Friend, choosing me, and making me a participant in works and fruits that remain till time out of mind.
Remember the 60s show "I Dream of Jeanie"? You know that jinn, singular, is a supernatural being between Allah and men in Islam. Jinns are usually not good or helpful. But Jeannie was, or always tried to be. Well, Jesus is not portraying the Father as a jinn or Himself as abracadabra either. But He is making a promise. He says, "whatever", and this is an expansive, unlimited construction, whatsoever' you ask." So ask. Ask as God Himself has told you that you can. Ask with God the Son standing next to you, covering you in Baptism, in you in Communion. Whatever you ask comes out of His mouth. Don't be shy; don't ask according to what you think God can do, what you think God will do, what science says God can do or what sinners conclude He's willing to do. Ask as you would from a great king with his son standing beside you.
This is Luther in the Large Catechism. "Imagine if the richest and most powerful emperor commanded a poor beggar to ask for whatever he might desire and was prepared to give lavish, royal gifts, and the fool asked only for a dish of beggar's broth. He would rightly be considered a rouge and a scoundrel, who had made a mockery of the imperial majesty's command and was unworthy to come into his presence. Just so, it is a great reproach and dishonor to God if we, to whom He offers and pledges so many inexpressible blessings, despise them or lack confidence that we shall receive them and scarcely venture to ask for a morsel of bread: (III, 57).
Here is our sin and sinfulness. We don't take our Friend, Lord, God, and Savior at His word. We go by the stupid words of men, "Be careful what you pray for; you might get it." We think God is pleased when we come mewling to His throne of grace not with "all boldness and confidence" but like Wimpy comes to Popeye for a hamburger. God sending His own Son into our flesh and blood, into our time and space, the Son choosing us as friends, blessing us with eternal fruit, not remembering our sins but the littlest things done in His name, is all so that we can ask "whatsoever" and we don't even have the courage of Oliver to whisper, "More please."
Thanks be to God, His promises, His grace, His mercy don't time out. It's not too late to bring big, bold petitions to the King of Kings who has the power to do anything and the love in Christ to do everything for His friends. But if you know your jinn mythology, the problem there is in how you ask. If you don't ask in precisely the right way, with just the proper words, instead of getting heaven you get hell.
The true God is not like that. The true God is at least as good as a loving, though sinful parent. Kids ask their parents in their simple innocence for all sorts of things that could harm them. Not even a fallen, sinful parent says, "Sure you can have those matches;" "Go ahead; steer the car yourself." Jesus here gives us the assurance that our prayers can't go wrong, can't go counter to His saving plans. He says, "whatsoever you should ask the Father in My name, He will give to you." The Father never gives what will lead Jesus' friends away from His name.
When you're watching football and the game is on the line and you see that because of a penalty your team gets a free play, they can't lose, they can only win, don't you gasp? I do. Jesus' loved ones, His Friends, can't lose in this life or the next; no matter what they ask in His name. See gasp emoji here . Amen
Rev Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday of Easter (20180506); John 15: 9-17