10th Sunday after Pentecost
July 24, 2016
Luke 11: 1-13 You can click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser
Prayer! It should be so simple, right? Listen to Jesus, just ask, and don’t be afraid to ask. But it never is. I’ve had so many people tell me that they don’t know what to pray for. Isn’t there a certain formula? Don’t I have to ask for God’s will? People say sometimes God says NO, is that why I never got what I prayed for?
On days during the last few weeks, it feels as if prayers don’t make any sense, the world is too out of control for my prayers or out prayers to make any difference. “Lord, teach US to pray,” say the disciples as they witness Jesus in prayer. “Lord teach us to PRAY,” we say as we fling our hopes toward the heavens.
OK, says Jesus, do it this way. He names the person to whom we pray in the most personal terms, Father. Our Father, the father we share with each other and all believers. At the same time we recognize that our Father is both holy and in charge of everything. Then we tell God what we want: the earthly sustenance we need for life to be sweet, the forgiveness we need to get on with life and the recognition that once we realize the gift of our forgiveness by God’s grace, we will also want to extend it to others, and then the protection we need in evil times. That’s it.
Notice that it doesn’t ask for anything, it tells our Father what we need. It doesn’t plead for something vaguely spiritual, or even tack on, ‘if it is your will.’ It is specific to our life on this earth, and in our communities.
And then Jesus tells a story of a man who shamelessly asks for something really inconvenient from is friend, and because of his persistence or shamelessness, his friend gets up and gives it to him. So if you know how to answer your friend’s and your children’s requests with the things they need, won’t the One who loves you more than life itself bend over backward to give you what you need? So ask, and ask again, and ask again, says Jesus, because everyone who asks receives, everyone who searches finds, and everyone pounding on the door will find it opened.
But wait. Great lesson, Jesus, but I have prayed hard in my life for things that never happened. We’ve just listened to the psalms, those prayers of lament and of trust and of reorientation. That’s the example that speaks to me. Those people weren’t afraid to tell God exactly what was going on and what they wanted. They begged, they pleaded, they cajoled and flattered God, and they expected to be heard and answered. They named God, and God’s faithfulness in the past. They named God’s steadfast love and mercy. And they claimed it for themselves. They didn’t worry about God’s will, they knew that God was faithful, and merciful, and they knew that God didn’t want them to suffer. And they claimed their right to cry out about everything that was going wrong. They claimed God’s promises to answer and to walk with them. And they trusted in the middle of their cries for help that God would be the God they’d always known. They trusted God enough to get on with their lives.
I don’t think that God’s will for us is some sort of recipe or manuscript that has all the events in our lives written out with the right times and places named and dated. I think that when God promises to walk with us, we can trust that whatever we do as we move forward in prayer IS God’s will. How would your prayers be different if you really believed that God wanted to hear them and wanted to give you more than you ever expected? Maybe you wouldn’t just send a little word up to heaven for someone who is lonely, maybe you’d call her up or send her a card. Maybe you wouldn’t just pray for an end to violence, but you’d meet your local cops and thank them, or joining a group that campaigns against military-grade weapons. Imagine that when you ask for something, you are already living into the future that God has promised for you and for the people you pray for. Would that change the way you pray? Imagine that what you do and what you say may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Would that make a difference?
The promises we claim are the ones that have already come true in Jesus, the ultimate answer to all our prayers. You can’t lose God’s love; God came in person to show us how much he loves us. He knows what your life is like. He knows your joys and your sorrows, and his very presence in our world is the assurance that God hears our petitions and will certainly come to save us – one way or another. In Jesus, we know that God’s love is stronger than death itself, and that God’s loving care is for each of us.
So if you’re angry with God, speak up, say what you have to say, and ask for what you want to ask for. If you have been saved from disaster, say thank you as many times and in as many places as you need, and go forth in joy to live anew. Be shameless. And pray about everything and anything. In everything you do and say, you are living out God’s will for you. Don’t fail to keep in touch with the source of your blessings and the hand that holds you fast. Amen.