10th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 7/24/16
first reading: Genesis 18:20-32
second reading: Colossians 2:6-19
gospel reading: Luke 11:1-13
When we’re in awe of someone who does something really well, we want to capture a bit of their magic. A kid who meets Derek Jeter wants to know how he holds the bat. An aspiring singer gets to meet Beyonce or Adele and they want to know, “How did you break through?” A struggling writer gets to meet J.K. Rowlings and asks, “Do you have any advice?”
We see someone we admire, we look up to, someone who we KNOW has the “inside track” and we WANT TO KNOW.
Jesus was praying. And when he was done, one of the disciples had the courage to step forward and do the same thing. “Lord, how do you do it? What’s your secret?” “Lord, teach us to pray, as John the Baptist taught his disciples.”
First, Jesus gives them the words. What we have before us is a form of our beloved “Lord’s Prayer,” or “Our Father.” It’s not as wordy in Luke’s gospel, but it catches the spirit of the longer form we all know from St. Matthew (6:9-13). And it pretty much sums up the things that are most important in life and faith. Jesus DOES know what he’s talking about.
“God, you are holy. We pray for your kingdom. Give us the things we need. Forgive us, as we forgive, and save us.” Then, after giving them the words to use, he teaches them about perseverance and attitude using a silly story about two friends. One friend is needy, and the other is tired. New Testament scholar David Tiede puts it this way: “The man making the request is some kind of midnight fool, and the man in the house only responds to hush the noise.”¹
I know what that’s about. I have three kids, and all my great parental rules went out the window when I had my third. I’d do almost anything to placate the older two while the baby was napping, and I’d do almost anything to keep the baby quiet in the middle of the night while the older two were sleeping (because they had school in the morning)! I gave into my kids’ demands, not out of any great love or affection for them at 3am, but because I just wanted quiet.
Martin Luther, in the Large Catechism, might’ve had our gospel reading in mind when he wrote: “…call upon God incessantly and drum into his ears our prayer.”²
Although… contrary to the story Jesus tells and the quote from Luther, Jesus tells us that God DESIRES to answer our prayers. For as much as we grant requests because we’re pestered, God grants us the needs of our lives out of LOVE. In this, Jesus tells us about the character of God.
The persevering part is for US. So that WE don’t forget to pray, or forget the importance of prayer in keeping relationship with God. God, in fact, desires, LONGS, to answer our prayers.
Jesus says, “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!” If we sinful people, on our best days, want to give the best to our children and those we love – how much more does God?
This is where I claim a certain amount of humanly ignorance. This is why I really don’t like to preach on prayer. Because our understanding of it is so so small. Our experience of it is imperfect, even though God IS perfect.
Because the first question that comes into many minds is “Well, why do certain prayers go unanswered?” Sometimes the response to that question is, “ALL prayers ARE answered – some with a ‘yes,’ some with a ‘no,’ and some with a ‘not yet.'”
But that response is REALLY unsatisfying. What parent, begging in prayer for their child’s chemotherapy to work wants a “not yet” from God? What child, pleading with God for their mother to stop hitting them, will be comforted by a “no?” Every week in worship we pray for peace, and yet are almost daily confronted by some national or international act of violence. Is our answer to senseless death, “not yet?”
I think we can all agree that certain prayers deserve a “no.” I think we can all agree that sometimes God is perfectly just and even loving to deny us some of the things we desire. Janis Joplin asked in her famous song, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedez Benz?” I can hear the Lord saying, “Nope.” But the prayer of an abused child? The prayers of couples struggling with infertility? Of the spouse sitting by their loved ones hospital bed? Our prayers for peace on our streets?
What’s up with this God? Why the delays or “no” answers?
This I cannot tell you. I only fall back on God’s command TO pray, and God’s promise to hear us.
That may, at times, seem small consolation when we’re in pain. I’ve been there. I’ve felt it. And we may even get really angry with God at times. I’ve been there too.
But that’s when we also fall back on another promise of God – the promise that we are not alone. That is the ultimate promise of Jesus’ words, of his life, of his death, and of his resurrection – that we are HIS. We are NOT left to face our life circumstances, or our deaths, alone. “I am with you always,”³ MEANS something.
Are we freed from every painful circumstance? Are we showered with every material desire? Are we granted the worldly power we seek? Not always. Maybe hardly ever.
But are we claimed and loved and strengthened and guided through the journey? Are we promised a place prepared for us at the end by a loving Savior?
¹David Tiede. Luke. Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988. page 214.
²Theodore Tappert trans & edited. Book of Concord. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959. page 420