9th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 19
July 25, 2010
He (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.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3Give us each day our daily bread.
4And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5And 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.
9So 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. 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!”
My friend Norvene dismissed that notion that was so popular, that when God answers your prayers, sometimes the answer is NO. “I think that somehow the answer is always YES,” she said. “But sometimes it takes a long time for God to work out how to get it there, and sometimes it comes in a form that we didn’t expect.” I think that Jesus story to encourage his people to ask for what they really need says something similar. Don’t be afraid to keep knocking on the door, even if it feels presumptuous. Don’t parents want good things for their children? Don’t your friends want to help you? If that’s your experience in the imperfect life we have amongst ourselves, why wouldn’t God, the Father of us all not want to give us everything that’s good for us?
What a nice place to start to talk about prayer. Ask, search, knock. You will receive, you will find, the door will be opened. God will send the Holy Spirit to guide you in your asking, and lead you in your search, and open the door for you.
Prayer seems so simple in Jesus example. Say it like this, he says. And so he names who God is: a Father, first of all. Fathers in 1st Century Middle-Eastern cultures were not necessarily cuddling, crawling on your lap daddies. They might be stern bread-winners, a bit removed from family life. But they were the keepers of the family. This Father is named as the One who is holy, and the One who has the power to reign beyond the end of time. This is good, because that Father is the only Father who can grant the things we need: all that nourishes daily life, forgiveness of our imperfections and our offenses, and protection from evil.
This prayer is short. It gets at the basics almost immediately. And it doesn’t waste time in compliments. Rather, it demands that this Father take care of us.
My Grandma gave me a book of prayers as a Confirmation gift. They were written in very religious language and were about things that 14 year-old-girls don’t worry about. More books have been written about how to pray than almost any other facet of Christian life, and many of them are so rigorous that they would discourage anyone who’s afraid of doing it wrong. Even the simplest books about prayer which I have on my shelf have sections about distractions: what should you do if you find your mind wandering? They have sections about anger: is it OK to be mad at God? How would you pray then? There are sections about the proper order of things: praise, confession, intercession, etc. Jesus doesn’t seem to worry about those things. He seems to want us to feel the need and offer it up. He suggests that God wants to hear from us, and that God wants to give us good things.
Maybe it is because we feel so unworthy when we meet God, that we feel insecure about praying from our hearts. Maybe we recognize that God is so far away and has so many other concerns. But Jesus himself is the living proof that God is near. He is Emmanuel, God with us. And in his death and resurrection, he has broken the power of evil to keep us away from God, and proved to us beyond any doubt how much God loves us and forgives us. Don’t ever be afraid to trust God’s promises for you, they are all guaranteed to come true through Jesus.
Maybe it is hard for us to admit that we can’t figure out how to fix what feels wrong or out of control in our lives. Maybe we really believe that God helps those who help themselves. That’s not in the Bible, you know. Maybe our culture of independence has made us think that God doesn’t want to be bothered with whiners. All our Bible stories today tell us that God wants to hear what we want. Turning to God when you can’t figure it all out is smart. Those petitions “Give us,” Forgive us,” “do not bring us,” are demands, pure and simple.
Who taught you to pray? Was it simple or complicated? Ask, Jesus says, because God wants to give. Search, because God wants you to find what you need. Knock as often as you need to, because God wants to open the door to you. It doesn’t get any simpler than that, does it?
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.