‘[Jesus said] ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33
Brothers and sisters, in 1989 a song from an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical hit the mainstream in an album by Michael Ball, it went ‘Love, love changes everything, Hands and faces, earth and sky, Love, Love changes everything, How you live and how you die’. Taken in its’ fullest there is much truth to be found. For instance, in our Gospel reading today (John 16:23-33) we find that love really does change everything for the disciples, and indeed for anyone who follows in their footsteps. We continue, our journey towards Jesus’ ascension when He finally left His disciples.
As we journey towards Ascension Day the Church has us look back to Jesus’ teaching in the days before His death. For Jesus, ever the caring shepherd of His sheep prepared His disciples for what would happen next, even if back then, they weren’t really paying attention. And today’s lesson for the disciples is hugely significant, for love, really is, about to change everything. Verse 23:‘[Jesus said to his disciples] ‘Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive’. Until now if Jesus’ disciples have needed anything they have asked Jesus, and if necessary Jesus has asked His Father on their behalf. Jesus was their intermediary if you like. The disciples ask Jesus. Jesus asks the Father. It had to be that way for the disciples—like all human beings—were too sinful, too messed up to speak directly to the Father. Now everything is about to change, and soon Jesus won’t be there to speak on their behalf. Something has to change…and something does. Verse 26:‘[Jesus says] In that day [in the time after His Ascension] you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf.’ After the Ascension the disciples will be able to speak directly to the Father and He will answer their prayers. After the Ascension there will be no need for Jesus to act as an intermediary. Jesus’ disciples—and indeed anyone who follows Jesus—are told to go straight to the Father. Now that’s a big change…but something even bigger must have changed behind the scenes! As we’ve said, the disciples—or indeed human beings—couldn’t go directly to the Father because of their sin; so unless this has changed the disciples are stuck. But truly ‘Love has changed everything’. And what has changed between Jesus teaching them in John 16 and Ascension Day is—of course—the cross. On the cross Jesus takes the sin of all who follow, and will follow Him on Himself. Jesus pays the price for those mistakes and rejections of God’s love and does away with them. Love, Jesus’ love for sinners, has changed everything through the cross. After the cross, Jesus’ disciples can pray themselves to the Father, because the cross has cleared the way for access to the father. The cross makes real, heartfelt, direct prayer possible with God the Father. The way is open because of the cross.
It’s a Coronation year and so for a moment let’s pause and think of H.M. The King. Whenever you go to London, and take a trip to Buckingham Palace there is a very clear sense of access being limited. In front of Buckingham Palace there are some very secure and strong railings; after that there are soldiers with their bearskins and rifles. Then there will be the Security Services—invisible to the naked eye—but there to stop people gaining access nevertheless. Even assuming you got past the fence, the soldiers and security, you would then face a butler, then a senior servant, and then The King's Private Secretary before you even got close to H.M. Access is severely restricted! Now imagine for a second a tourist arriving at Buckingham Palace and noticing all of the restrictions. They notice a man in a suit standing by the gate and they start chatting to him, and they tell the man in the suit it’s no use trying the gate he won’t get in. Imagine the man smiles, and then says ‘oh don’t worry I think it will be ok’. They dismiss him as deluded, but then watch open-mouthed as he opens the gate, walks past the soldiers, past security, past the servants and straight in to see the Queen. This man has complete and free access; the tourists are gobsmacked. Of course, what the tourists didn’t know is that the man they were speaking to was Prince William, the King's son. As the King's son he has free and unfettered access. This is the sort of access that Jesus has always had to His Father and that is why He has always been able to pray directly. Now—of course—in the example of The King it isn’t just William who has free access, any of his children do, even Prince Harry remains the king's child and has free and unfettered access to him. Love changes everything, and love (the love of a parent to a child) ensures free access anytime. Look at verse 27, to see a most amazing truth: ‘the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.’ If you’re a Christian then you are one of God’s children and you have the sort of access to God that Prince William has to the King. God the Father loves you if you love His Son; let that sink in! God the Father loves you. He will listen to your prayers. Love changes everything. However, too often, Christians pray such general prayers it would be almost impossible to know if they have been answered. So think clearly about what Jesus would want and then be specific in your prayers. This way there is a much better chance of seeing prayers being answered, and in the process your faith being strengthen. And we need our faith strengthening because we live in the real world. Having taught His disciples to pray Jesus says in verse 33: ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble’. Christians are soldiers in a fight, a fight against sin, the world, and the devil. So trouble and hardship will come, says Jesus. That is why Jesus teaches them about prayer—the Christian soldiers’ secret weapon—and why He assures us that the Father loves us. We need this knowledge. We need these weapons. We need this love if we are to fight the good fight and keep on fighting; if we are to pray and keep on praying. The end is not in doubt. Victory is assured, as Jesus finishes by telling us: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’
So take a moment to consider Jesus’ words. Think clearly about your prayer life. Read again Jesus’ words, read again of the love of the Father, and then recommit to praying each and every day. Recommit to pray in good times and bad. Recommit to pray clear and specific prayers, which give Jesus the glory, and which are measurable and which you will be able to tell if they’ve been answered. As Andrew Lloyd-Webber wrote: ‘Love will turn your world around, And that world will last forever, Yes, love, love changes everything’. So in that love, and the guarantee of free access to our Heavenly Father, let us go and do battle in the world for Jesus, by praying and never giving up. Amen. (from Fr Mike).