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.”
The disciples could not help but notice how much time Jesus spent praying by himself, nor how important it was for him. They sensed the power and clarity he derived from it. And they were aware that their prayer life was nothing like his, and they felt at a loss for how to prayer in the manner in which Jesus prayed. So sensibly, they asked him to instruct them, just like John the Baptist had instructed his disciples. Here in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus proceeds to teach his disciples a shortened version of what we call the “Lord’s Prayer.” The longer version that we are more familiar with is found in Matthew’s Gospel.
Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: Father…
Jesus addressed God as “Abba” – the Aramaic word that is closer to “Daddy” than to the more formal sounding “Father.” What we think of as masculinity and femininity are qualities that describe dimensions of God’s love. If it is helpful, you can just as easily call God “Mother” – or Mommy.
The point is that the God we are praying to doesn’t need to be coaxed into listening to us. This God is more ready to listen than we are to speak. We are the children of God, and God loves us, even more than a parent loves a child.
Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
The concept of God’s “kingdom” can be hard to relate to. It sounds like a place far, far away – like the heaven we expect to find not now, but after we die.
The fact is, however that God’s kingdom is here — whenever God’s will is done.
We know that the way we humans relate to one another is often not at all the way God intends. We love things and money and use people, as if they were mere objects. Our hearts are often hardened.
But God’s kingdom is among us in those moments when people are loved, and we open our hearts to one another in good will.
In God’s kingdom, people have what they truly need, forgiveness and reconciliation prevail, and people feel safe. And so Jesus instructs us to pray for these things – for ourselves, and for all people.
Give us each day our daily bread.
It is right to ask God for the things we truly need.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
Forgiveness, if you haven’t noticed, is a big deal with Jesus. When we harden our hearts against others – holding on to resentments and anger – we close our hearts to God as well.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Acknowledging just how frail and vulnerable we truly are in this world, we pray for safety. Safety not only for our bodies, but for what we refer to when we speak of our “souls” — that we might not lose our capacity for love because fear has overtaken us.
Although I think there is value in us praying the “Lord’s Prayer” together every Sunday, we all know that to a large extent, we pray the words by rote, losing track of what it is we’re saying. When we really have the time, it’s good to slow down the words, to ponder each line.
When you think about it, though, the prayer is pretty simple: We’re praying for God’s will to be done in the world. We’re praying about the basics of life: that we have the things we truly need; that there by harmony in our relationships, and where there isn’t, that God might lead us towards reconciliation. And we’re praying about feeling safe.
So rather than just praying these same exact words over and over, Jesus is encouraging us to talk to God about these basic themes of our lives.
And Jesus 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; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 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.’ 8 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.
(Projection of Jesus laughing.) It might not occur to us, but Jesus had a great sense of humor. I am convinced that when Jesus told this story about the cranky guy who won’t get up out of bed to give his friend three loaves of bread to feed his guests, his listeners would have howled with laughter.
When we take ourselves too seriously, it might just be that a good laugh is what we most need.
There seem to be two things that Jesus is saying with this humorous story. The first is that whereas our capacity for friendship is imperfect, God loves us unconditionally. So we should be even more confident in approaching God with our requests than we are in approaching a human friend.
The second thing is that when it comes to this spiritual journey we all are on, there is something about the quality of perseverance that really matters.
There is a lot being written lately about how the single most important indicator of whether a child will be successful in school isn’t the sort of things we usually think of. For instance, it’s not how well a child will score on an intelligence test, or whether the child has parents with the desire and the means to provide educational advantages outside of school. No, the most important thing is whether the child has, or can develop, the quality of what is often called “grit” — a dogged determination not to give up, but to keep trying.
The same principle applies in our spiritual lives. In those times when it seems very much as though you don’t have what you need, keep reaching out to God, telling God what you need, trusting that God is on your side, and that in time, you will get what you are asking for. Somehow the “journey” itself matters more than we know.
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. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
The spiritual life isn’t static. It’s an ongoing process. It involves asking, seeking, knocking. There is assurance that we will be given, we will find, we will have doors open.
But in this life, we will never “arrive,” and to think that someday we could “arrive” at a place where all our questions are answered, all our seeking is over, and all our doors are opened, is a trap – an illusion.
So somehow we need to cultivate a love for the journey, the quest, itself.
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?
Again, that Jesus’ wacky sense of humor.
If you then, who are evil…
Remember, Jesus likes to exaggerate a point to make a point. His point isn’t that we’re pure evil, simply, that we all have sinful tendencies that inhibit our ability to love.
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!
Again, that assurance that God is on our side, even more than our parents are on our side.
But notice also that in the end the thing God won’t withhold from us is “the Holy Spirit” – God’s presence with us on our journey.
This suggests a couple of things. First, we don’t always know what we truly need. Or perhaps we do know what we need, but we don’t always know what the best way would be to receive it.
In our ongoing relationship with God that is prayer, one of the places we can get stuck is in dictating to God precisely how our prayers must be answered. We miss what God is trying to give us, because it’s not coming in the form we’re looking for. We’re looking for God to come in the front door, so we don’t notice God is trying to come in the side door.
It is also true that the Holy Spirit is the very thing that can take an experience that is awful — something that in no sense should be thought of as having been “God’s will” — and bring out of that experience something good. Experiences like a serious illness, a loss of a job or a home and serious financial struggles, or the untimely death of a loved one. Terrible, horrible experiences. But if the Holy Spirit is present, good can come out of bad.
Mysteriously, the terrible experience brings an new appreciation of what really matters in life, where before, perhaps, we had lost track of it. Perhaps it provides the impetus for broken relationships to be healed. Maybe the new-found humility and empathy becomes the foundation of a new life calling, a new ministry, with people who have suffered what you have know firsthand.
It is such as these that the gift of the Holy Spirit makes possible.
There is something about this passage and its call to prayer that puts a challenge before. Do we, or do we not, truly believe the heart of the Gospel — God is for us: that God truly cares about us and wants to help us and all people live life more fully, abundantly?
It we look honestly inside ourselves, for most of us the answer would be that we are of two minds. We are like the distraught father who came to Jesus with a frighteningly sick son, saying,
“Lord I believe, help my unbelief!”
Belief and doubt struggle within us. And perhaps because of our doubts, we are not very bold when it comes to praying. We’re afraid that if we put our heart into asking God to help us, we’ll end up disappointed. So it seems better not to ask in the first place.
Or maybe we’re simply afraid to make ourselves so vulnerable — to turn and become like a little child who is willing to admit just how strong these longings are inside us.
It might even be that there is a part of us that realizes that if God were to answer our prayers, revealing how intimately involved in our life God really is, we’d be compelled to serve God more intently.
We prefer keeping things the way they are, with God a remote abstraction, and we ourselves pretty much the ones who are in charge.
Whatever the reason, I invite you this morning to consider taking a small leap of faith.
Sure, we have those doubts. But consider putting them aside enough to risk really making some kind of heart-felt request of God. Take Jesus seriously when he tells us that God truly does care for us, even more than a parent for a child. That even though God already knows what we need, there is something about the actual act of reaching out to God and expressing what we want God to do for us that really matters.
You can think of it as a kind of experiment, if you will.
In a moment I’m going to stop talking and we Mahalia Jackson sing a beautiful Gospel rendition of “The Lord’s prayer”. During that time I invite you to choose something to ask God for. And then, silently to do so.
If you do this, you have to be willing to listen for God to answer, not just now, but in the days and weeks to come. God doesn’t often speak in actual words you might hear in your head, so you have to pay attention to other ways God may be communicating to you. For instance, pay attention to people, or situations that show up in your life that might have some bearing upon your particular request. Pay attention to your dreams at night as well as your day dreams. In a word, listen to your life.
Let us be in prayer. (Music begins.)