James 1:22-27 and John 16:23-33
Jesus said, "I give you my assurance. Whatever you ask the Father, he will give you in my name."
My friends, today is not only the Fifth Sunday after Easter, but it is also Rogation Sunday. The name "rogation" means simply "prayer of petition", when we ask God our Father for the needs of the upcoming planting and harvesting season. It stems from a time when most of society was very much rural. Of course, in our current urban environment, it has lost much of its meaning. Unless you and I are concerned about aphids, nematodes, and various other kinds of afflictions that can happen to our plants, we probably really don't understand the vagaries of growing vast amounts of food as the farmers would who are so dependent upon the weather and other things to make a harvest that will feed not only ourselves but most of the world.
It is a good time, however, on this Rogation Sunday, to consider prayer: what prayer is, what it is not, and how we can better pray. It is of our very nature as Christian people to be people of prayer. Prayer is, first and foremost, an attitude. It isn't running on and on with a lot of words. It is an attitude of faith and an attitude of hope.
Jesus said one time that if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains. Faith means that you and I know for certain, as Jesus has taught us, that our heavenly Father love us. He loves us to the point that he would want to spoil his children rotten! He does that, you know. He really spoils us. That is the kind of faith that we are to have.
The hope is not a hope against reality, but a hope that is founded in truth. We can believe what Jesus said and know that it is true. "Whatever you ask the Father, he will give it to you in my name."
If prayer is first of all an attitude, it is, secondly, something even much more. We usually consider prayer in four different categories. First, prayer of adoration. Second, prayer of thanksgiving. Third, prayer to seek forgiveness for our sins. And fourth, prayer of petition.
So often, when we think of prayer, we think of it only as prayer of petition. We pray and pray and pray because we have to ask God for the things that we need. And that is all right. But the most selfless kind of prayer that we can offer to God is prayer of adoration. Prayer of adoration really means to be aware of being in the presence of our God at every moment of our lives. Sometimes there is, in that prayer of adoration, a charism, a gift that is given to us, and that gift is the gift of contemplation. Contemplative prayer is to be able to glimpse, maybe only for a fleeting time, the reality and the wonder and the mystery of God. Contemplative prayer is the kind of prayer that you and I should aspire to.
We also pray to say thank you to our God for all of the gifts and benefits that he has given us. We must be a grateful people for all that God has given us. We also seek forgiveness for our sins. We ask God in prayer to forgive us. Finally, we ask for the things that we need. These are prayers of petition. This is what Rogation Sunday is about.
Prayer is not only the words that you and I say. Prayer is conversation. And if it is conversation, it means very simply that it is a two-way street. We talk to God and God talks to us as well. By his inspiration he can move our hearts and lives. He can change us. He can give us his word, if we listen. It is very hard for us sometimes to listen to God, to just be in his presence, keep quiet, and listen. He will speak to us. He will talk to us.
Prayer of petition is prayer that we are most familiar with. In fact, this defines prayer for a lot of people. Whenever they think of praying, they think of asking. Jesus told us to ask and we shall receive. And we believe that. Whatever we ask for in Jesus' name, the Father would give it to us. Now Jesus also tells us something else. "The Father already loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came forth from God. On that day you will ask in my name and I do not say that I will petition the Father for you." The Father already knows because you are a follower of Jesus. The Father already loves you. It is good that we have such a powerful mediator in the person of Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Father who has the Father's ear on our behalf. But Jesus is saying, "You can ask the Father for what you need in your own right. The Father loves you so much." What an idea that is! What a wonderful, beautiful idea that the Father loves us so much!
When we ask for so many things - and God expects us to-it seems as though, not always are our prayers answered. It is a common saying that God always answers our prayers but sometimes the answer is "no". We could ask our Father for everything that we need and the Father who is so loving and so provident will always respond to that prayer but maybe not in the way that we think it should be answered. After all, when we ask for things we have a tendency to limit God and limit his providence. We want him to do the things that we ask for, but God, who sees a bigger picture, will give to us something even greater than we can ask for.
You and I are asked to beseech our God for everything that we need. "Give us this day our daily bread", we pray so frequently. Yet even before we have said that, we have acknowledged God, who is in heaven, that his name be hallowed, that his kingdom come, and that his will be done. All of these are segments of that prayer of petition that Jesus has so beautifully taught us: the Our Father.
When we come together for Eucharist, we come together for prayer. In this Eucharist, we see all of the aspects of prayer. Prayer of adoration - we adore our All-holy God. We say thank you to our God for all that we have and all that we are; most of all for having given to us his only begotten Son as our Redeemer. We seek the forgiveness of our sins in this Eucharistic prayer as well. We acknowledge that we are sinners and we ask our God to forgive us. Finally, we ask him that we may continue to be sustained by his providence. Listen carefully to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer. Understand that our Father not only hears us, but responds so lovingly to his children.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne