“ Praying, Sharing and Asking”
July 28, 2019 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost – Year C
Since moving to Brunswick Street my prayer life has improved significantly. You see, I live around the corner from the fire station. Each time I hear the siren and see the engine going by my home I say a prayer that God will comfort the person who the firefighters are responding to. And I say a prayer that the fire-fighters will be safe in the rescue they are on. Some days there are numerous arrow prayers sent from my home to God.
In Luke’s account, Jesus has been absorbed in prayer and when he finishes, the disciples ask him to teach them to pray. Jesus teaches the disciples what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. Luke records a shorter version than the more familiar, and likely liturgically enlarged, passage from Matthew. It is a prayer of the community, not an individual one, and it is focused on the coming of God’s realm. “Give us daily what we need” seems to move Luke on to the Parable of the Friend at Midnight. An unexpected visitor has arrived close to midnight, and hospitality is a sacred act. The host persistently knocks on a friend’s door seeking help. The 3 loaves requested is the amount of bread needed for a meal. The point is that if a reluctant friend will help, think how much more God will respond to our requests in prayer. So “ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find, knock and the door will be open for you.” Just as a parent knows how to give their children what they need, God is even more generous and willing.
A little boy prayed and prayed for a new pair of cowboy boots. One night, he refused to say his prayers. His mother asked, “Why won’t you say your prayers?”
Art doesn’t listen!”
“Art in heaven!”
The question we ought to ask is not “Will God answer prayer?” Instead, the question is “Will we persist in prayer?” Once upon a time there was a church gathering, filled with good people largely unconcerned with certain injustices in society. In the midst of this gathering, an elderly black preacher stood and said, “until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you really do not know what prayer is.”
“Knock and the door will be opened to you, says our scripture text.” It is an invitation to break out, to open up to the world, to leave my narrow little world, my narrow little church, and open up to the world out there.
Our actions are prayer. Assisting at Soupateria is prayer. Counting the offering on Tuesday morning is prayer. Choir practice is prayer. Helping out at a concert is prayer. Sending a note to a person who is sick or shut-in is prayer. Serving on one of the church committees is prayer.
One evening, a little girl was saying bedtime prayers with her mother. “Dear Harold, please bless Mommy and Daddy and all my friends,” she prayed. “Wait a minute,” interrupted her mother, “who is Harold?” “That is God’s name,” was the answer. “Who told you that was God’s name?” asked the mother. “I learned it in Sunday school, mommy. “Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be they name.”
According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it.
The images he uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all. He says God is like a friend you go to, to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again.
Or God is like a crooked judge who refuses to hear the case of a certain poor widow, presumably because he knows there’s nothing much in it for him. But she keeps on hounding him until finally he hears her case just to get her out of his hair.
Even a stinker, Jesus says, won’t give his own child a black eye when the child asks for peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so how all the more will God hear a child’s prayer?
3 year old Caitlin, had been taught the Lord’s prayer as a bedtime prayer. After repeating the lines after her Mother, she felt ready to say it solo. Imagine Mom’s amazement when Caitlin was offering each phrase, carefully enunciated. Then the young girl came to the end of the prayer and she carefully stated: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us some email.
The model prayer, and in fact, every honest prayer, is about attitude more than words.
Before the days of the chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, an elderly but alert lady advertised for a new coachman. Selecting 3 promising replies, she asked each applicant the same question: “How near could you drive to the edge of a precipice?
The first answered that he could easily drive a coach to within 1 foot of the edge. The 2nd went one better: “I could drive within 1 inch of the edge.”
When the 3rd applicant came for his interview, he was met with the same question: “How near to the edge of a precipice could you drive a coach?
“Madam,” he replied, “I cannot tell you, for I always keep as far away from a precipice as I can.” He got the job.
In the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation” does not suggest that God deliberately tempts us, but rather that we be kept from our particular precipice.
“Where are you Jane?” asked mom during an ominous silence. Came a small, distant voice: I’m in the pantry, fighting temptation.”
No one can expect to avoid temptation; but we need not make it more difficult for ourselves.
What are we seeking? Whom are we asking? What do we fear? Do we believe in prayer? Do we pray? Are we prepared to keep knocking on another’s behalf?
Jesus apparently prayed habitually, instinctively. He and God were like soulmates, constantly communicating. But that was a new concept to his disciples. If we were to compare and contrast Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of the Lord’s Prayer we would find that Matthew’s has the addition of several verses. These verses reveal something of the new church’s spiritual priorities. Later additions, – especially the “power and glory” bits – show us the mindset of an increasingly established church. Luke’s account is probably an older version.
Perhaps even more significant than the prayer itself, are the explanations Jesus adds. They’re almost comic illustrations. Is God really like a capricious parent? Can God be badgered into submission? Yet underlying all these examples is a sense of trust. The friend keeps knocking because he trusts that his friend will eventually respond – the child trust that she will not be given a snake or scorpion.
It is worth remembering that in Hebrew, “faith” was more verb than noun. You didn’t have faith – you did faith. Our closest English verb would be “to trust”
People in the two-third’s world, or the Southern Hemisphere, might have significant questions whether “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds.” For them that just isn’t true. To ask or to search, at best rocks the boat. Threatening the status quo gets you stomped on. To ask or to search too often is to risk death.
I asked God to take away my pride.
God said, “No. It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.”
I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, “No. I give you blessings, happiness is up to you.”
I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, “No. Suffering is part of every life, and it beings you closer to me.”
I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, “No. You must grow on your own, but I will prune you to make you fruitful.”
I asked God for all things, that I might enjoy life.
God said, “No. I give you life that you might enjoy all things.”
I asked God to help me love others as much as Christ loved me.
God said, “Aha! Now you’ve got the idea!”
An opened window brings fresh air; an unlocked door opens a new possibility; and an answered prayer brings the promise of new life. Today we are invited to visualize ourselves asking, seeking, and knocking unceasingly – yes, unceasingly – so that we may learn again and again that to persist in prayer is to move forward in faith, hope and love. Amen.