7/28/2019 Seventh Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 11: 1-13.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And God’s people say…Amen!
As I examined this morning’s readings in preparation for the homily, I began to sense that it would be quite easy to devolve from a sermon into a Catechism class on the Lord’s Prayer. We could spend a great deal of time exploring the instruction that Jesus gives the disciples on ‘how’ to pray. But I’m pretty sure that we have all recited the Lord’s Prayer enough times to have a pretty good grasp of the seven petitions contained in it. I think the better direction would be to contemplate on the ‘why’ of prayer. What is our motivation to pray and what is the ultimate purpose? The simplest form of prayer that I have found and that I use in my invocations is ‘ACTS’. A-C-T-S. Have you heard of this acronym? It stands for; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
Our prayers should always begin with a declaration that we love and worship God. The ‘why’ of this adoration is that we acknowledge that all creation, and we ourselves exist because it is God’s will and that we give God the glory for this. ‘Why’ do we confess our sins before God in prayer? God longs for a right relationship with us. And we are not able to enter into and maintain this righteousness without an honest admission that we are broken people and that we need God’s forgiveness. The ‘why’ of thanksgiving is probably the most obvious. Our parents have told us since we were small children to always say ‘thank you’ when we receive something. We ought always to be ready to thank God for all that God provides. Paul tells us: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances”. Finally, a great portion of the Lord’s Prayer deals with supplication, the requests we make to God, for ourselves and on behalf of others. Again, the ‘why’ of these appeals is rather obvious; we ask for those things that are dear to our hearts and we earnestly petition God to provide them.
I came across a revelation when studying the texts for this morning. When Jesus addresses God, as ‘Our Father’, the word he uses is ‘Abba’. I found this to be especially reassuring; ‘Abba’ may be translated as ‘Daddy’ or ‘Papa’. This reinforces that righteous relationship that Jesus wants us to have with God the Father and the one that God so longs for.
Here comes the tricky part; Jesus has taught us the ‘how’, and we have a pretty clear understanding of the ‘why’. What about the results component of prayer? This aspect of our prayers can be complex; and in many cases delicate, and perhaps even problematic. Back to ACTS prayer; our adoration of God is straightforward; we give glory to our Abba and we worship God in our prayers. We confess our wickedness and God hears our sins. Through our faith in Christ and by God’s grace, we know we are forgiven. We give thanks to God for all the blessings we receive through God’s mercy and love for God’s people. Now, to the awkward part; the supplication, the asking. If you have ever prayed and asked God for something, either for yourself or others, please raise your hand. I admit, that was a trick question, since you are all sitting here in church. We church people tend to pray a bit. Now, if a prayer has ever gone unanswered, or if you didn’t receive the answer you wanted, please lower your hand. I did say this was going to be the uncomfortable part.
Back then to the ‘why’ of prayer; if God doesn’t always give us the answer we want, why then do we, why should we, pray? Jesus tells us that his description of prayer in this morning’s parable is an invitation rather than an explanation. A ‘why’, rather than a ‘how’. Jesus encourages us into relationship with God through prayer; a relationship rooted in faith, trust, and persistence. God craves to hear from his children, to be in relationship with them. And God hears all our prayers, but sometimes the answer is ‘no’. Or maybe ‘not yet’. Or perhaps even ‘this is not what you really need at this moment’. For God knows what is best for us; often, when we really don’t, even if we are sure we do. Jesus tells us; ‘how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’ And the giving of the Spirit is grounded in God’s true knowledge of our needs.
That said, we should never stop appealing to God through prayer. The Genesis passage this morning is one that best illustrates God’s willingness to maintain relationship with his children. I love that God remains patient with Abraham even as Abraham haggles, negotiates with God.
God tells Abraham that Sodom must be destroyed for its wickedness and sin. ‘What if I find fifty righteous people for you, Oh, most glorious God?’. Can Abraham attempt to butter up God any more blatantly? God says ‘okay, if you find fifty good ones, I will spare the city’. “Oh, most holy God, ‘what if there are only forty-five, will you then spare Sodom?’”. God answers, ‘alright, I’ll be merciful if there are forty-five’. Abraham doesn’t let up; ‘what about forty?’ I imagine God’s patience is beginning to grow thin at this point. Again, Abraham tries to sweet-talk the Almighty; ‘please don’t be angry if I ask for a lower number; what about thirty?’ God says, ‘okay, for the sake of thirty, I will not condemn the city’. Abraham; ‘I don’t want to be a pest God, but if I find only twenty?’. God, who is now probably growing weary with the debate, agrees to twenty. ‘One more time’ says Abraham, and he offers up a mere ten righteous people. Now, likely at the end of his rope, God says, exasperated; ‘Fine, if there are ten good people in the city, I will spare Sodom’. God and Abraham, in an episode of ‘Let’s Make a Deal’!
But we can learn from this exchange; persistence in prayer may make a difference in the outcome. If we appeal to God in faith and with hope and trust, God’s will might just be accordance with our desires. But the means by which prayers are heard by God, the ‘why’ we pray, isn’t determined by our pleas to the Father. Prayer, our dialogue with God, whether an anguished imploring, or a rather comical ‘give and take’ concerning Sodom, works because God first seeks us out. Our Abba yearns to hear from us in prayer. God aches to be in relationship with his children. That is precisely why we were created, all of us. To be connected with the One who made us. To cope with the realities of this world, we must be in relationship with the Father. God seeks out our conversation with him; we need only to respond. The answers to our prayers may not be quickly provided, nor may they be the ones we want to hear; but continue to pray we must.
What other option do we have? We know we are unable to make the world conform to our will, that’s why we pray that God’s will be done. And God’s will is always for the greatest good, whether for us as individuals or for the larger world. Although we might never truly know what this greatest good looks like; we have to be confident that God is working for what is best for all God’s people.
Yet, there are other powers at work in the world. There is evil, there is sin, there is the overwhelming desire for mortals to want to put their will before that of God. Jesus has shown that all these will someday be overcome and the will of God will prevail. In the meantime, keep on praying, keep asking God to fulfill his promises to his people. To be with us, to never leave us, to send the Holy Spirit to be our guide, our advocate, and our defender.
Persistence is the key, just ask Abraham.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, you desire for us to be in right relationship with you. You are always available to hear our prayers. Make us willing to initiate the dialogue with you. Help us to accept that we might not always receive the answers we want, but to have faith and trust enough to return and ask again…and again…and again.
And the people of God say…Amen!