[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 28, 2019) on Luke 11:1-13. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
You would think, by this point in my life, that I would be pretty good at recognizing when a sixth month old needed to go to sleep. I should, now that I’m on kid number three, be able to notice when she’s only a few minutes away from needing to fall asleep. My real-life training should enable me to swoop in, pick her up, and know exactly what to do so that, after only a few minutes, she’s embraced her naptime zzzs. But there are times when my baby-sleeping skills are not as strong as I expect them to be. I’ll catch her rubbing her eyes and thinking she’s ready for a nap. I pick her up, get her all setup to safely rest for a few hours, and I start carrying her around the house. I then start imagining all the stuff I can get done once she finally falls asleep. Yet that’s when I discover that I didn’t read her correctly. She’s not as tired as I thought she was and since I’m now holding her, she doesn’t want to be put down. The moment I planned to help her fall asleep turns into minutes and maybe hours. It’s not long before I lose feeling right arm while she’s happily talking at me and looking around. It’s not long before the deadpan look of a child needing to fall asleep that I expected to see on her face - is now actually on mine. I end up feeling as if I’m in a sort of a trance, walking around my house and not really seeing what’s in front of me. And it’s at that moment when my sixth month starts getting to work. She’s able to see what I can’t and so, before I know it, she’s grabbing everything that she can. She’s snatching the take-out menus we’ve left out on the counter, the toys scattered on the dinning room table, and all the hand towels and random clothing left around the house. I keep finding her holding things in her hands even though I never see her pick anything up. I swear there are times when I’m pretty sure she’s grabbed stuff that I don’t even own. Yet, when I’m caught up in my own stuff, unable to pay attention to everything that’s around me, she’s still wide-eyed and looking for all the things I can no longer see. She’s able to pay attention when I cannot - and her awareness becomes a defining part of who she is. The ability to always be paying attention is one of the things I think Jesus was trying to get at in our reading from the gospel according to Luke. Today’s passage isn’t only about prayer. Jesus also shared with his friends and with all of us - an insight into what God sees and what God is holding onto in our lives.
Now, we could spend time today digging into the nuts and bolts of Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer. This text and it’s counterpart in the gospel according to Matthew is the foundation for what we’ll recite later in our worship service. But, at this moment, I’m drawn to what starts this whole reading off. After praying in a certain place, one of Jesus’ disciples asked: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” Scripture doesn’t tell us the name of the person who made this request but I’m pretty sure everyone had it in mind. Jesus, the Son of God, was literally walking with them so it made sense to ask him what his prayer life was all about. How does he, the One who was there when everything was created - talk, communicate, and connect with the Father and the Holy Spirit? The “how” in that question seems to imply that the disciples were asking a technical question. They, we think, were looking for some training on what techniques they should use in their own prayer life. That training could, we imagine, be used to make our prayers feel more substantial, proper, and holy. Now, since Jesus followed the disciples’ request with a version of the Lord’s prayer, our interpretation of this passage as some kind of technical manual seems to make sense. And if Jesus had stopped talking at verse 4, then Jesus’ answer would be exactly what we were looking for. The Lord’s Prayer could be seen as some kind of technical training that defined how we connect to the creator of the universe. It could then be like a recipe or a list of magic words that convince us that, if we said the right thing in the right order, then God truly would hear our prayers.
But that kind of guarantee isn’t a very strong one. Because we end up thinking that the Lord’s Prayer is somehow needed to get God to do something. Prayer, then, becomes a way for us to activate God; to make God move towards us - but only on our terms and after we’ve said the magic words. That kind of God is a God that only works on-demand and who remains pretty silent and pretty quiet until we need them. Yet a God who waits for us to move isn’t really the God we get. Instead, as we remember today on this Christmas in July Sunday, Jesus didn’t wait for us to be ready before Jesus, finally, showed up. There was no one magic word or statement or belief that made God live as a human being on earth. And there was no magic word or something or belief that made Jesus show up in your life. Jesus always comes on his terms - because there is no moment when God’s love isn’t on the move. That’s why, I think, Jesus didn’t stop his words with verse 4. Instead, he continued and his answer stopped being technical. Jesus told a parable about an unexpected guest showing up in the middle of the night. And instead of waiting until the morning to take care of them, Jesus admitted how we might shamelessly, and persistently, do whatever we could to take care of them. We didn’t ask that friend to show up. But since they did - we freely and abundantly serve and love them.
The Rev. Matthew Skinner, professor at Luther Seminary, recently wrote, “everything about a prayer reveals something about what the pray-er thinks God is like.” And according to Jesus, our God is anything but technical. Our God, instead, is in the business of knowing who we are, where we’ve been, what brings us our greatest joys, and what it is that keeps us up late at night. Our God doesn’t wait for us to say some magic word before getting active in our lives. And that, I think, is one of the reasons why we pray. Not because our words will somehow get God to do whatever it is we want but because God has already made the decision to be with us, no matter what. In our baptism and in our faith, we are united with a Jesus who chose to see us as we truly are. When we are caught up in the busyness of our everyday life, plotting through without the time or the energy to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are going, or where we are right now - we have a Jesus who is already there, holding onto all the things we need to help carry us through. Even when we can’t see it, Jesus is making sure that God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness, and God’s love is being given to you. The God who made you, who came into the world for you, who died for you- sees you, values you, and is already listening to you. Your prayers and your silences are not going unheard because God will, shamelessly and persistently, always love you.
*Questions from - Kristin Berkey-Abbott email on July 15, 2019 from the Christian Century “Sunday's Coming: Putting ourselves in Martha, Mary, and Jesus’ shoes”
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