July 24, 2022 Seventh Sunday After Pentecost The text is Luke 11:1-13.
1 [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.” 2 He 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; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And 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.’ 8 I 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 you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If 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!”
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. Amen.
It’s somewhat ironic, isn’t it, that we tend to think of the Lord’s Prayer as something decidedly Christian? It must be because it was instituted by Jesus Christ and he is our Lord, right? Well, the problem with that line of thinking is that we forget that Jesus wasn’t a Christian, since the term itself denotes those who later came to follow his teaching. Jesus was a pious Jew and the fact is that this prayer that he taught to his disciples is unmistakably Jewish in its form and content. There is a strong similarity between what we call the Lord’s Prayer and the Amidah, an ancient Jewish prayer that was to be recited three times a day, after the Shema, which first declared Yahweh as God. After this prayer of praise the Amidah contained anywhere from 14-18 separate benedictions, or requests to be made to God. You might agree that this may be somewhat of a challenge; to have to recite a prayer that contains up to 18 distinct, separate appeals to God, thrice daily. And the very name of the prayer in Hebrew means “to stand”; it was required that one stood upright and prayed the Amidah out loud, but in a whispered voice. Again, three times each day
This was a requirement of the Law, and was a religious obligation that all Jewish people in Jesus’ time, and before were obliged to fulfill. That said, Jesus’ disciples would have already been keenly aware of this obligation and they would have committed the Amidah prayer to heart. Why then, would they ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray”, since they would already know exactly how to do so? There is a distinct possibility that what they were asking Jesus asking for was “Lord, teach us to pray a shorter version of this required prayer so that we might fulfill our obligation to the Law, but without having to stand around for half an hour three times every day”.
Now, I know this seems a bit overly critical on my part, but there are so many similarities between the Lord’ Prayer and the much longer Amidah that we shouldn’t overlook the possibility that the disciples were actually seeking a shortcut. “Teach us the minimum we should pray and still meet the requirement for daily prayer”. Well, the first line in the Amidah is “O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise”. Followed by “You are holy and your name is holy”. Next; Forgive us our Father for we have sinned”.
Sound familiar? “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name”. “Forgive us our trespasses…”
To add a bit more complexity to the situation, this morning’s version of the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke is a shorter form than the version in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus explains in Matthew. Luke omits “Thy will be done”, “deliver us from evil”; as well as the final doxology of “the kingdom, and the power, and the glory”. In fact, this final verse was thought to be added to the Lord’s Prayer in the mid-1500’s. Confused? But wait, there’s more. The current trend is moving away from the King James version we all remember from childhood, the one with the “thee’s”, and “thou’s”, and “thine’s”. Most churches have adopted the more modern language; in fact, both are listed as options in our hymnal. Here’s a little secret; I love the old one!
The bottom line is that all this matters not; what is truly important is what the Lord’s Prayer means to us as a way to petition our God, with whom we have a righteous relationship. And this is the bond we share as children of our Father. In fact, our Roman Catholic friends refer to the Lord’s Prayer as the Pater Noster in Latin, the “Our Father”. They have certainly come to recognize that the ultimate goal of the Lord’s Prayer is to acknowledge that God is the Father of all, and that we are invited to bring all our desires, cares, needs, fears, and worries to this most perfect of fathers, ours, our God in heaven. And, it’s clear that all that we would ask of our Father is contained in this prayer that Jesus taught the disciples, and us. And we don’t have to stand up and recite 18 benedictions three times a day.
After explaining to his disciples how they should pray, Jesus tells them a parable about the man who wakes up his neighbor, asking for some bread to feed an unexpected guest. And, to make his point he gives two examples of a father providing what is good for his child, rather than something harmful. This is intended to further elaborate the understanding that God is the loving parent who provides for us only what is right and good; nothing meant to harm us comes from God our Father. Note also that the sleeping neighbor is willing to rise from his bed to provide for the neighbor in need.
There is a slight mis-translation in the Greek that the one asking for bread does so with “persistence”. This word only appears twice in all of the New Testament, and is more accurately translated as “shamelessness”. The man asking for food for his guest is doing so without regard for his embarrassment at not being able to provide for his hungry visitor. And the one who rises from his bed, who is compelled to give him what he requires does so, not because of friendship, but because there is simply a need. Although the one asking might suffer humiliation because of the late hour and the obvious indignity he feels, yet he makes his request knowing that it will be fulfilled; ashamed or not.
What a wonderful metaphor for God’s answering the prayers of his children that Jesus offers through this parable. If we, as sinful, disobedient humans are still willing to provide for the needs of those who come to us in shame, how much more is our perfect Father willing to bestow upon us, no matter the circumstances when we raise our needs in prayer? And the final point Jesus makes is that Our Father will send the Holy Spirit to those who call upon God in prayer. And this is the very essence of God, in the third person of the Trinity. God will not only answer our prayers but will do so with God’s very presence among us; the Spirit is available to us when we come to God with our needs.
We do not receive a scorpion when we ask for an egg, nor a snake instead of a fish; but God provides for us God’s very presence in our life. So, let us not be too concerned about whether we remember to include all 18 benedictions our ancient forebears incorporated into their Amidah prayer. Or, whether we recite the Lord’s Prayer with the “thee’s” and “thou’s”; or we use the more modern verbiage. Or, if we neglect to ask for some portion of an unspoken need. All we need do is remember that Our Father, who art in heaven is our most perfect parent. And that all our needs will be provided for us and that we may rest assured knowing that the Holy Spirit will come among us; whenever and however we pray, and even when we forget to. For, like the disciples, our Lord has taught us to pray, and whatever form our prayers take, our Father hears them.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, Jesus taught us how to pray to you for those things we require. And we thank you for always hearing our prayers and for sending your Holy Spirit to comfort us. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One whose teaching secures for us a right relationship with you, our Father in heaven.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.