Sometimes You Get What You Ask For – September 1, 2019
September 1, 2019
The Rolling Stones told us, “You can’t always get what you want.” Anybody remember that song? Anyone want to venture a guess as to when that song came out? I’ll give you a hint. 19… (I know it wasn’t much of a hint!) 69! I used to try to talk my organist into playing a church sounding version of it for the offertory. For the record, Bill would never do it!
Well, you can’t always get what you want. But sometimes you get what you ask for! Oh, and just so you know… It’s killing me to end this sermon title with a preposition! However, “Sometimes You Get That For Which You Ask” seemed a bit pretentious – and it wouldn’t fit at the top of my page. S0…
Sometimes you get what you ask for. This is the story of Peter being released from prison. There were a lot of imprisonments in the early days of the church. And there were also a number of jailbreaks! In another story, Paul was jailed with his feet in stocks and he was freed. In this case Peter was sleeping between two guards, bound with two chains, with sentries at the door. And I love how this happens.
This angel comes in, and lights up the cell, and the chains fall off of Peter. Now, it doesn’t say what happened to the guards and sentries! But they must have been “put to sleep,” because this is no quick escape! The angel says, “Get dressed Peter, and put on your sandals.” I can see him standing there while Peter dresses. Then he says, “Ok Peter, put your coat on.” “Ok now follow me.” (Does that seem strange to any of you?)
So Peter is led out, and he’s not sure whether he’s dreaming all this or not! It says, “He did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.” But he passed by the guards at the city gate, and the gate “opened of it’s own accord.” and the angel leaves him. At that point, Peter realizes that he’s not in a dream, but that he has been rescued from Herod.
We can’t forget that part! There was real danger here! The beginning of this chapter says that King Herod had “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He killed James, the brother of John, with a sword. And when he saw that it pleased the Jews [those who were trying to stamp out the Church] he proceeded to arrest Peter, too!” So make no mistake here. This angel saved Peter’s life!
So Peter goes to the house of Mary, who we’re told was the mother of John, whose other name was Mark. And she is not to be confused with Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, or the one the Bible calls “The other Mary.” There were a lot of Marys in those days! Whichever one this was, Peter went there and they were praying. As it says here “Earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church.”
So, that’s the scene when Peter comes and knocks on the door. And then we have this wonderful little scene with this maid named Rhoda, who answers the knock on the door, hears Peter’s voice, recognizes him and then runs to tell the others – without actually letting him in! Then when she tells the others they say, “You’re mad!” “Your loony!” or the one I really like, “It is his angel!” (He thought it was much more likely that Herod had killed Peter already, than it was that he had escaped!)
So what we have here is a story where people are praying for something, and yet when it actually happens, they don’t believe it. Sometimes you do get what you ask for! But when do you, what then? Are you surprised? Or maybe shocked? Do you think about the impossibility of it, or it’s unlikelihood?
If you remember back to Easter, I reminded you of the words of the angel at the tomb of Jesus. He said to them, “You seek Jesus. He is not here. He is risen.” But even more than that, he added, “He is risen just as he said he would!” Because the prevailing reaction that first Easter morning was universal unbelief! They didn’t believe Jesus when he said it was going to happen. And they didn’t believe it when it actually happened!
Think about your own prayers. Do you ever pray for something to happen that would be hard to believe if it actually did happen? That’s ok. Because often the natural first reaction is often unbelief!
Sometimes we pray for things, but our belief, when they will actually happen, is not very strong. And if that’s the case, we’re in good company. Just read these stories from the early days of the Church. And I’ll bet that, if we were there in those days, without our knowledge of these stories, we wouldn’t have believed what they didn’t believe either! But then, if we think about it, we will move on, as they did, to the place of acceptance, and then wonder, and then thanksgiving.
You can’t always get what you want. And when we pray, we pray with that understanding. But we pray anyway. Because that’s the important thing. We pray because we need to interact with God, because that’s what God wants. He wants to share this life with us and us with him. He wants to hear our wants and our needs. He wants us to pour our hearts out before him. But it is still up to God. We get in trouble when we pray as though we are in charge, as though we can always get what we want – as long as we pray “the right way.” Because then we think there’s something wrong when we don’t get what we want.
I love the story of Job. Job had such horrific things happen to him. And everybody tried to tell him he must have done something wrong, for all those bad things to happen, But I love God’s answer to Job! After hearing his pleas to know the “why,” he said, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” That’s the thing we have to know. God is beyond us. God is way beyond us. We cannot control him. It is his will that prevails.
In Isaiah’s time, the people of Israel were trying to deal with bad things that were happening to them. And they were wondering if God was hearing their prayers, or if he even had the power to help them. And the prophet Isaiah said,
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
– (Isaiah 40:28-31)
Yes, God is beyond us. He is way beyond us! He is infinite! But we can know that his love for us is infinite, too! And we can keep that in mind while we pray for that which we might not be able to believe. And we can remember, that part of the way – and I say part of the way! – part of the way he shows us his love is that, sometimes we do get what we ask for! So be looking for that. Be praying for that. Be grateful for that when it happens.
With all that in mind I’d like to close with this little benediction that Paul wrote to the Ephesians. “And now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or even think, unto him be glory in the Church of Jesus Christ through all ages, world without end, Amen.”
Eternal God, help us to know your power. Help us to believe that you can do all things, and that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Help us to know that it is your will that is done, to your glory. And we give you all glory, honor, and praise, now and forever, Amen.