Sermon :: July 24, 2016

Luke 11:1-13

11He 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.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3   Give us each day our daily bread.
4   And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

5 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;6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”7And 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.” 8I 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.

9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to 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. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If 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!’

—–

I grew up in a church very similar to St. Paul here in Warren in a town fairly similar, too. I sat in church pews each week, wearing whatever my mom decided was “church clothes” that week while doing my best to pay attention. I did my best, but many times, if we weren’t singing a hymn, I was worrying about what we could have for lunch, when would the pastor be done talking, and (in the appropriate time of the year) whether or not the Packers could pull off a win (don’t judge me). I tried my very best to pay attention and some weeks were easier than others. Passages like this, in Luke, made it very easy to pay attention. Why? Because, in my mind, when verse 9 of this passage was read, or its equivalent passages in the other gospels, I immediately was giddy with all of the things that I’d be getting in the next few weeks because of all the asking that I’d be doing the rest of the day.

It comes as no shock to you, I’m sure, that I did not receive a space ship or an endless supply of root beer floats or a pet monkey or the ability to breathe underwater in the following days, weeks, or year. No matter how much I asked, I did not receive what I wanted. I was often disappointed and a little annoyed when this passage turned out not to be about me getting everything I ever wanted.

I think we can easily see how this passage, especially verse 9, can be a recipe for disenfranchisement and disappointment. It’s easy to read this, assume that God is something like a cosmic vending machine, and believe that if we pray hard enough, if we believe strongly enough, that we will get everything we want. The hard reality, though, is that our prayers are not a shiny token in a cosmic vending machine. Our faith is not a shield against disease, death, and disappointment. And our relationship with God cannot be measured by the stuff that we accumulate, the awards that line our shelves, the promotions at work, the grades on our report card, or the yield of our harvests. It seems like Jesus is setting us up for some kind of “psych!” moment when it comes to our prayers.

So if our prayers are not guaranteed to give us what we want, what are we supposed to do? If our prayers, our wishes, our wants are not being met, what are we supposed to do? Well, Jesus addresses that. At the beginning of the passage, Jesus tells us what to pray for. He instructs his disciples to pray for the Kingdom of Heaven, not their own kingdoms on earth. He instructs us to ask that our needs be met. Jesus’ prayer is for healing for the whole world, for the forgiveness of sins, for the deliverance of all humanity.

What we can often miss is that this prayer that Jesus teaches, which is very similar to Lord’s Prayer we say each and every week, is not just a prayer for the world, but it’s a prayer for us. Jesus understands that we are broken and flawed, that we are sinful, and that we cannot change ourselves on our own. That’s easy enough to see when you watch the news. Despite our best efforts, we cannot save ourselves on our own. At our best, our very best, we are sinners saved by the grace of God through faith. It is through grace, grace alone, that we are freed from the bondage of sin. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus has made this prayer a reality. In Jesus, we see the Kingdom come. In Jesus we see forgiveness of sin. In Jesus, we see that we have been delivered from the trial that would surely condemn us. In Jesus, we find what we need for our daily spiritual nourishment and sustainment.

So, if Jesus is the answer to this prayer, why do we still want us to pray like this? To answer this, we have to examine what we really think prayer is about. Much like my interpretation as a child, we often approach prayer as a way to get things and to change the world around us. And that’s not a bad thing – we should pray for the world around us (we do it every week during the prayers of intercession), but the object of prayer is not that we would get the stuff that we want and that the world would change. The object of prayer is to change us, in order that we may change the world around us. In the Lord’s Prayer that we say every week, we pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth, as it is in heaven. On earth as it is in heaven. Guess what, folks, that means that God is bringing the Kingdom to earth right now and God is using you to help make that happen.

When we pray this prayer, we don’t ask for things to happen out in the world, but we pray that things would happen in here. In our hearts and in our minds. We pray that we would have the energy, the passion, the guidance, and the wisdom to change the world. We pray that we could repent and become all that God has created us to be. We pray that we could be a part of that Kingdom, that we could see a glimpse of God’s infinite beauty, goodness, and power in the small moments of our lives. The whole earth is being transformed – bridges are being built, communities are coming together, tears are being wiped away, tables are being shared. Bread is broken and wine is poured. We have a glimpse of this infinite reality in the finite, small details of our lives. That’s what communion is about. That’s what the Lord’s Prayer is about. To equip us and sustain us and to change us to be the hands and feet of our God, who is transforming and changing the world.

As you pray in your daily life, dare to ask for these things. God is doing these things and you get to be a part of it. You may not get a space ship. You may not get a million dollars. You may not see change right away. But you are changed. And we will be, and what we are now, is so much more than anything we could ever think to ask for on our own. Praise God for that promise and praise God for that gift. Amen.

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