10th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – July 24, 2016 – Luke 11:1-13
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Praying Like Jesus – Pastor Evan Davis
Lord, how do we pray? Maybe that’s our question. How do we pray? What words should we use?
Most of us probably think we should pray more. Maybe we remember Paul’s words, “pray without ceasing,” and his words cause us unceasing guilt! But why? Why should we pray? What is it for? What does it do? What role does it play in our lives? Not how, but why?
We will pray today for the people we carry in our hearts. We pray that God would intervene in their lives…that God would bring them healing, or peace, or comfort. That God would show them hope, love, connection, and a bright future. That people would get jobs, that the doctor will bring good news, that relationships will improve, and simply that we and our loved ones will be happy.
Those of us who worship regularly in this tradition of the Church that goes back to the earliest apostles – maybe you didn’t know that, that everything we do is something we didn’t make up, but is something Christians have been doing for 19 centuries and maybe more – we also have been formed to give God thanks and praise at all times and in all places. Why? Because God is the One from whom all blessings flow. Because God saves us from ourselves, from sin and death, by grabbing hold of us in baptism that we might participate in his death, accepting our own death and mortality, and thereby participate in his resurrection.
So we notice that when the disciples ask, Jesus instructs them to pray in a simple way1:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Acknowledge God as your Creator and the source of everything good for us. Say aloud that this God is holy and ask God that his name become holy in us.
Your kingdom come.
Ask that the kingdom of God, which “comes on its own without our prayer,” “may also come to us.” That the kingdom, that is, the state of being when everything is as God desires and God truly rules in the world as in heaven, that this might come and become ever more real in the world. “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven” is just another way of praying the same thing.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Ask simply for today’s bread, for enough for today, recognizing that God provides enough for all even without our prayer. And not just food, but everything we need for life. Help us see how precious this gift is that we may stop and acknowledge it every day, every meal, every morsel of life that we take into our bodies.
And forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
Admit that we have no ground to stand on. That the emperor is wearing no clothes. That “we are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it.” We ask that we might release others as we ask for release from God, and in so doing, discover that we too are set free when we forgive others.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
Ask that “God would preserve and keep us” from evil, from the deceptions of the devil and this world, from all the ways we are tempted every minute to abandon the Way of Jesus and fall into the ways of this fallen world.
In Jesus’ prayer, we acknowledge God. We ask that God would have God’s Way, not that we would have ours. We ask for enough for today. We ask that love and forgiveness would rule the world, not hatred, vengeance, fear, or rage. And we ask that God would keep us on this narrow Way. Perhaps it’s obvious at this point, but nowhere does Jesus instruct us to pray for everything we want. It’s not that God doesn’t care about us or even many of the things we want, but that this is not what is most important.
If Jesus is our clearest vision of God, and the clearest vision of the life God intends for us, then we have to notice that Jesus prays for the Father’s will to be done, but that even Jesus struggles with this. As all of us would, Jesus prays in the garden to be released from the troubles he faces in this world, from the cross that awaits him. “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…” But he resolves, “yet not what I want, but what you want.” Ultimately, Jesus lets go. He lets go of this world, of his own desires, and of his own life, to receive death and the new life of his Father.
So notice that in this story Jesus tells about persistence in prayer, that what he promises the Father will give us when we ask and knock and search is not the latest thing on our minds, nor even the most legitimate requests we can imagine, but the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who gives faith, who gives encouragement and life itself. The Spirit who brings the Father’s kingdom. The Spirit we truly need.
And yet today of course we continue to pray for wellbeing for our loved ones, friends, and neighbors, for the cancer to go away, for recovery from flood and earthquakes to be quick, for wars to cease, and for people to understand one another in our divided nation. Why some of these good things for which we pray comes to be, and some does not, or at least not on our timeline, neither I nor any other human being can answer. One thing I do know is that it’s definitely not that we didn’t pray hard enough or well enough. Jesus says clearly elsewhere in the gospels that this is not the case.
Personally, I prefer to look at it this way…every day of life, and everything I have, is a complete and total gift from God. God didn’t have to give me one day of life, much less 31 wonderful years. Why do I get to have more food than I need when millions starve? Why do I get to live in a peaceful and beautiful place when other people’s homes are being bombed from above and their families taken prisoner? Sometimes we are in too much pain to have this kind of perspective, and that’s ok too. I’m sure there will be times when I too can only cry out “why?” to God.
But what God promises is the Spirit who gives us real life every day we do live on this earth, the kingdom which is life as God intends, and the heavenly kingdom, the new heaven and new earth, which awaits us in the resurrection. But maybe we don’t even have to wait that long.
A pastor spoke this week about the kind of confidence Jesus is saying we can have in God.2 Now when you’re sure of something, you’re going to start to take action in accord with what you’re trusting will happen. If you’re confident the plane is leaving at noon, you’ll get to the airport by 10am. If you believe people will buy your product, you’ll make plenty to have in your store. And if we’re sure that God will give us the Spirit and the kingdom, what does that move us to do? Trusting that God will complete our actions, which are always incomplete?
If you believe your body is a gift, you might exercise as a prayer of thanks and stewardship. If you believe that love triumphs over hate, you might seek out those you consider enemies or opponents, or the people you just can’t stand, and get to know them, see the world through their eyes, and forgive them. If you believe God wants us all to be fed and clothed, you might knit a blanket, donate some food, or ask why people are still so poor, and act upon what you learn. If you care about God’s creation, you might tend a garden, use less energy, or work to conserve the landscape and all life. All this can be prayer if done with intention.
So how will you pray? Maybe your prayer will be a run, an hour of yoga, an hour at someone’s bedside, repairing something broken, calling our homebound members, or starting down the long road of repairing a broken relationship. And you might begin those things by stopping in your day to speak these words…Lord, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
1I am basing my explanations of the Lord’s Prayer on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, of course. When I am directly quoting, I use quotation marks. Small Catechism of Martin Luther, in Evangelical Lutheran Worship(Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 1163-1164.
2David Lose, “Pentecost 10C: Shameless Prayer,” http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-10-c-shameless-prayer/ (accessed July 22, 2016).