7/24/2016 Tenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 11:1-13.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s gospel should be very familiar to us all. It contains the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that we are taught as children and pray throughout our life time. The prayer is so familiar, in fact, that we rarely ever think about what we are saying.
Today’s gospel also contains a parable about prayer and those familiar, yet often misunderstood words, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” When those words are misunderstood, the existence and sovereignty of God comes into question…because we know we don’t always get what we ask for and seek after, and not all doors are opened to us by a simple knock.
So why ask? Why seek? Why knock? Praying didn’t allow Jesus to escape from the terror of his final days, the pain of people turning away from him and the ridicule of the religious leaders. Jesus did not have a perfect, healthy and long life. His praying did not produce a utopia where people always loved each other as brother and sister and accepted him as the Son of the living God. And the door that was opened to him led to a cross. Yet, Jesus asked, sought and knocked as he prayed and taught us to pray, “Father, let your name be hallowed; let your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we indeed forgive everyone indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”
The Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter than the one we learn and pray. It has only 2 parts. The first part acknowledges God’s holiness and sovereignty. For, it is only in the assurance God’s holy name and sovereign kingdom that we have the confidence to pray about our life. Without that, it would make no sense. When we lose our confidence in God, we don’t pray. We don’t bring our needs to God. We no longer ask, seek and knock. We no longer believe that God can make a difference in our life, in the lives of others and in the world in which we live. So, praying would make as much sense as talking to a wall.
Delores, a friend of mine when I was in my 20s, lost that confidence. She had been a faithful member of St. Mark’s for years. In fact, she was the person who introduced me to the joys of hugging. She taught Sunday school, cooked for all sorts of occasions, painted and cleaned up around the church, participated in the work of the altar guild. Delores was one of those persons who loved to talk about the Bible any chance she got. That was, until her sister became terminally ill with cancer.
When the “C” word entered her life, Delores prayed and prayed for a miracle. She prayed that her sister would be spared from the death which was closing in on her. And, she asked others to pray for her sister too, confident that God would surely give her what she asked. But, Delores’ sister did not get better. As what often happens with cancer, she died and Delores’ confidence in God died with her. She no longer was assured of God’s sovereignty, God’s holiness, God’s justice. She had asked, but did not receive what she wanted. She had sought, but did not find what she was looking for. She had knocked, but only found a locked door. She felt betrayed and angry at the world and at a God who did not answer her prayer in her way.
For Delores, a God, who did not meet her expectations, could not exist. So, she no longer prayed, “Father, let your name be hallowed. Let your kingdom come.” As it was her world, as she envisioned it, and not God’s kingdom that was the focal point of her life, she no long asked, sought and knocked. God’s kingdom was fine with her as long as it met her expectations right now. She did not understand that when we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we need to let go of our expectations about this life (which is always terminal) and to have confidence that God has our back and will usher in an eternal life of justice, peace and joy – a life where death and pain and sorrow will be no more.
Sadly, Delores lost sight of this. She wanted her sister to be saved, to be spared from death. What Delores didn’t understand is that she was saved, yet not in her way, but in God’s way. God has given to us the way of everlasting life, the key to his kingdom…the way paved by the cross. But to obtain that peace, that life everlasting, we must first lose this life which we rightfully cherish and want to hold onto. God’s kingdom will come. God’s peace and justice will come. God’s reign will come at God’s time and in God’s way, not ours.
The key to living in confidence and hope during the interim period is found in the second part of the Lord’s Prayer. Here, there are three petitions for the life of the community. They are bold and direct: give, forgive, do not lead. Like Abraham who stood boldly before God in Genesis 18, the Lord’s Prayer instructs us to stand before God with boldness and simplicity. We are urged to pray to God boldly, trusting God with our needs and our life, because we have confidence in who God is and that God really hears and cares. We pray that God give us each day everything we need for subsistence. We are not praying that God gives us what we want, but what we need.
Also, we pray that God will forgive our sins. We pray that God will take away those things which lead to broken relationships with God and others. We pray this because we are confident in God’s ability to build bridges, fill in the gaps and holes, and make us whole. In confidence, we even dare to say, “for even we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” We cannot do this by ourselves. We keep score cards. It is God’s forgiveness, and God’s forgiveness only, which frees us to envision a new way of dealing with people. The old ways of dealing with one another have no place in a world governed by the one who forgives.
Finally, we ask God that we not be led into temptation. In asking this, we acknowledge our weakness and our reliance on God’s sovereign presence and guidance for the faithful conduct of life.
We pray these things boldly, trusting God with our needs and our life. And, we boldly ask, seek and knock, trusting in God’s justice and goodness. Ask, seek and knock – these are simple things to do, as we boldly make our needs known to God, trusting that he will answer us, even if we don’t get the answer we are looking for. Just as a child places confidence in a parent as the one who will meet needs, we are to trust and to not be timid. We are to be bold as we pray, “Father, let your name be hallowed; let your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we indeed forgive everyone indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.” These are familiar words which have been recited from memory from the time we were little shavers.
On this day, we pray that these words taken on new and full meaning in our lives, that we may pray them not just with our minds, but with our hearts and our whole being. We pray that the Lord make us bold enough to bring all our needs to his door, asking, seeking and knocking, confident that God will answer; and then give to us the courage, faith and confidence to accept the answer we receive. We ask this and all things in the name of Jesus Christ. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.