[Numbers 21:4-9 / 1 Timothy 2:1-6 / John 16:23-30]
Rogate, the name of this Sunday, means “pray!” or “ask!” Comes right out of the Gospel reading where our Lord says: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full!” But how often is this gracious invitation unheeded? And why? Why is it that people have such a hard time praying?
When Adam and Eve heard in the garden the sound of the Lord God coming, they turned tail and ran away. They tried to hide. You know why. Same reason you like to try to hide from Him. Fear that He is coming to get you, to punish you, to pay you out what you deserve, or, what I suspect many fear nowadays, to take away your fun, to deprive you of doing what you want to do. When the real God comes on the scene, then the play acting that WE are calling the shots is all over. And who wants that game to end? So better just to avoid him. To stay away. Not to pray.
But a people who do not pray, who refuse to live in communion with God, who instead pretend that they are on their own and pursue their own way, doing their own thing – such a people soon come to grief. For the world itself that was created to be nothing but communion with God betrays them at every hand and death dogs their every step. Death, the final end to the foolish games we play, is where there is no more running and hiding. When death comes you will talk to Him, whether you like or not. No evading the moment of standing naked and alone before His throne with all of your life an open book.
And there’s nothing like the fear of death to turn people to God. Think of today’s first reading. The grumbling about the way God was leading them. “We have no food; and we hate this worthless food” – the miraculous manna from heaven! God decided it was time to give them something to really complain about. The fiery serpents invaded the camp and they began to die. And in their terror, they turn to Moses, and ask him to pray for them. To stand before the Lord and ask for what they didn’t deserve – for mercy. Moses does so and God answers. The snake on the stick, raised up for any who will humble themselves to look up and see a picture of God’s coming redemption. And those who did miraculously lived.
Because you see, no matter what that old fiery serpent whispers in your ear about how much God is against you, about how He only wants to deprive you of life, to destroy you, to take from you all your freedom, all your fun – the snake on the pole shows that its all a lie. And that the One you’ve been running from, hiding from, not talking to, pretending He wasn’t there even as He kept you alive – and He’s the One who loves you.
St. Paul put it like this in today’s beautiful epistle: Prayer of all sorts “is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And what is that truth? “For there is one God and there is one mediator (go-between) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” Jesus as the ransom, Jesus the one prefigured by the snake on the pole, Jesus nailed to the tree as your ransom – that’s the testimony. That’s the truth of God. That’s how much He’s not against you, not out to destroy you, not out to take away from you anything but that which would deal you death – eternal death. And He took that away from you by taking it into Himself. That’s how much He loves you.
Our Lord knows that this residual fear is what spoils our prayer, leads us to run the other way when we sense that presence. To fight against it, rather than to rest in it, and to speak to Him whose presence surrounds us wherever we go. And so He says on the night before He was nailed to the tree and lifted up as our ransom: “The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and believed that I cam from God.”
Do you get that? Do you let those words sink in? The Father Himself loves you. You don’t have to run away from Him. When you look to the Cross, when You see that Your Father loved you so much as to give His most precious treasure to forgive your sins, to blot out the accusations of the Law that were against you, to impart to you His own life as a free gift – then the running stops. The hiding stops. The ignoring of God stops. Looking at the Cross is what heals our fears.
We don’t have to wait until the game of hide and seek is over and we stand before the judgment seat. We can stand before the cross itself right now and see the judgment. And the judgment is that God loves us with a love that is unfathomable, unshakeable, and that His desire for us from the beginning has always only been that we share in His eternal love, that we receive from Him the gift of a love that never ends. We can look at the cross and see the judgment of God against all sin – the eternal death that we choose for ourselves when we run from Him and try to find life in the stuff of the creation. It’s all there. All borne. All answered for. All forgiven. And life is being reached us there. Life from the cross – His body and blood, here for you. The forgiveness of sins. The embrace of the Holy One which He gives not to destroy you, but to heal you forever.
Beneath the cross as our true “tree of life” we see that God has never been against us – no matter how it seemed, no matter what fears Satan planted in our heart. For from before this creation, the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. At the heart of God has always stood the Cross – and He created us knowing that He would so redeem us to display for all the ages the glory and marvel of His love.
Stop the running, my friends. Stop living your days avoiding Him. Let your days be wrapped in prayer. For the One to whom you speak and ask for every good, is the One whose heart was opened for all the world to see on Golgotha, the One who gave His Son into death that you, the eternal object of His love, might have a life that does not end. Speak to Him! Come to Him in the name of His beloved Son, your eyes fixed upon His cross, and know that in the name of this Mediator and by the power of His Spirit every promise of God to you is “yes and Amen!” In Him you have nothing to fear.