Preached May 29, 2011
St. James 1:22–27
St. John 16:23–33
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In a more typical year, with Easter coming a bit earlier than it did this year, about the time of the Fifth Sunday after Easter you would see the farmers beginning to prepare their fields for the year’s planting, for the crops that will yield the harvest at the end of the summer or in early fall. The farmers are probably those who most directly face the hazards of nature, the risks of too much rain, too little rain, too much sun, wind, hail, lightening, and all of the other disasters that nature brings upon us. Because a successful harvest is of such great importance to all people, the Christian Church has long prayed for the whole agricultural enterprise. This year the farmers are no doubt ahead of the Church!
Days set aside specifically for prayer for agricultural prosperity are called Rogation Days. The Latin verb rogare means to ask, but more than just to ask as in to ask a question, it is to ask in supplication. Thus Rogation Days are days in which we go to God in prayer, seeking God’s approval of our work and his blessing on it that it may prosper for the good of our community. In the earliest times, there was a single Rogation Day, observed on April 25, which was later known as the major Rogation Day. Later, the Sunday before Ascension Day and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after that Sunday were added as what were called the minor Rogation Days. In most places, only Rogation Sunday is observed today.
The first records of Rogation Day appear in Europe in the fifth century. It appears in England in the year 747 AD, all clear evidence that the practice was well established in the undivided Church.
Outdoor processions have generally been a traditional part of the observance of Rogation Sunday. These were suppressed in Tudor England, but were restored by Elizabeth I in 1559 who ordered that “the perambulation of the parish” should be made on Rogation Sunday. This is an occasion for a procession to pass throughout the whole parish, in some cases a trek of quite a few miles, to bless the fields and assure that all boundary marks have remained in place through the winter. This is sometimes called “beating the bounds.”
But just as we need to pray for a successful harvest, we must also pray to our Father in Heaven for all of our needs. We do not pray to God to remind Him of our needs; He is already much more aware than we are of just what we need. Rather we pray to remind ourselves just how dependent we are upon God, how we live and move in His love only, and without Him we die forevermore. But let us look at the situation at the beginning of our Gospel lesson: John 16:23-24 23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. For several years, the disciples have had Jesus with them all the time. They have come to rely on Him for everything literally. He has taught them, but he has also provided them food and shelter. They have become totally dependent directly upon Jesus Himself. That worked just fine as long as Jesus was going to be physically present with them all the time, but now Jesus is preparing them for His departure. He is telling them that they must learn to ask the Father, not to ask Him. Jesus is pointing out to them that, up to this point, they have not asked the Father, but rather they have been asking Him. Now they must change and begin to ask the Father directly.
But there is a catch. They must not just approach the Father of Lights in their own names and expect to be heard. That will avail them nothing at all. God will turn a completely deaf ear, and we need to be listening at this point as well. Jesus tells them that whatever they ask the Father, “in His name,” they will receive, and He says this twice for emphasis. So only if we approach the Father, through the Son, that is “in Jesus name,” then will we be heard, but if we think that we will be heard for ourselves, we can just simply forget about it. Now that will really irritate a lot of modern egalitarians, but that is just the way it is.
Jesus has spoken much all along about the fact that He is the Son of God. It is that relationship that enables Him to pray to the Father. In telling the disciples to pray to the Father, He is telling them that they too are to be sons by adoption and grace and therefore able to pray to the Father. Jesus says, John 16:26-27 26 At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: 27 For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. Jesus is saying to the disciples, because you pray in My Name, the Father will hear you directly as His adopted sons because you have loved and believed on His Son, Jesus Christ. The Father only hears His Son and His adopted sons!
If we truly pray in this way, our lot in this world is going to be quite simply tribulation. We have it directly from Jesus himself. But we also have it straight from Jesus, Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. This should give us great peace, even as we are surrounded by chaos and turmoil in our daily lives. This world is not our true home which is in Heaven; we are here only as pilgrims, passing through on the way to our true home. Let us not be overly concerned with what happens here.
But the Christian life consists not just in thinking sweet thoughts! St. James tackles that idea head on in the first verse of our Epistle lesson, James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. In some respects, that is one of the most brutal verses in the whole Bible! It really hits us in the face pretty hard. What is James saying to us here as he goes on to talk about the man who looks in the mirror and then forgets what he looks like?
The standard for the Christian is Jesus Christ. When we look at Christ, we see perfection in character, words, deeds, and teachings.
(1) When we look at ourselves, if we are honest, we see ourselves as we are. We see our defects, our character faults, the failures in our actions, where our words have gone astray. The person who has never seen Christ has no basis of comparison, but imagines himself to be pretty good.
(2) We also see ourselves as we ought to be. The standard of Christ–like perfection is what we ought to be; this is what the Lord God designed us to be before sin came into the world. By this standard we are condemned.
(3) Finally we see ourselves as we can be as free men in Christ Jesus. We see ourselves still failing to satisfy the standard of the Law in many ways, but striving to do so for the love of Christ, not to satisfy the Law, but be more like Jesus. This last is the man that St. James describes in James 1:25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
St. James then goes on to enumerate three specific practical points of special importance for the Christian life:
(1) The first is to bridle the tongue, the organ of speech, that can do so very much damage in so little time. Boasting, flattery, angry spiteful talk, immodest speech, lies, exaggerations, etc., the list is almost endless as to the ways the tongue can cause trouble. While it is true that it can be wrong to fail to speak up, that is far less often a problem than words spoken than should have been left unsaid.
(2) He speaks of visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and by that he is referring to acts of charity, to the support of those in need. Just as Christ helped those in need, He likewise expect us to do the same. We cannot stand by and ignore those in need and expect to have the approval of God.
(3) To remain unspotted by the world means to maintain personal purity, to avoid the defilements, seductions, indulgences, and temptations of the world. In the statement that begins, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this …,” the word translated as religion literally means worship, so the statement is that no worship is acceptable to the Father that is not accompanied by charity and personal purity. In the eyes of God, you cannot be one person on Saturday night and a different person on Sunday morning.
Our Collect for this day asks God for two things, for inspiration and for guidance. The word “inspiration” has at its root the idea of bringing in the Holy Ghost, in–spiriting. We seek to be in–spirited to keep us moving in the Christian life; we should never think that the age of inspiration is over. Just as we need inspiration to get us going, we need also the guidance of the Holy Ghost to keep us on track so that we arrive at our proper Christian goal in life. As we think about praying for a successful harvest, both in the fields at the end of the summer and in our lives at the end of our days, let us pray again the Collect for the Day:
O Lord, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.