Sermon: “Ask Your Father”
July 25, 2010
Luke 11:1-13 NRSV
He 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.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 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; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 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.’ 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.” 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. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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!”
My dad worked as a manager at Kmart until I was in middle school. There is a sweet story that my family tells about a time when my mom took me to see him at the store. They were having a family festival and were giving out balloons. My favorite color was brown when I was in preschool, so I’m sure that I had to settle for a red one. Well sometime after leaving the store and saying goodbye to my dad, my balloon popped. I’m sure the tears flowed. Well my mom called my dad at work and asked him to bring home a new balloon for me. When my dad came home, I saw the balloon in his hand (a red one of course). I ran up to him and exclaimed, “Daddy, you fixed it!” To me, he just knew what I needed and he took care of it without me even asking. I think that God does that for use more times than we can count. But today’s lesson is about how we ask our heavenly father.
First lets put these verses in context. You will notice that the prayer here is not exactly the Lord’s Prayer that we use in service. That is closer to the version that we find in Matthew as part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here in Luke Jesus, says the prayer as a response to a request at a different time. Scholars are mixed as to what time Jesus gave us this prayer, or maybe he repeated himself for emphasis.
The disciple starts by asking Jesus to teach them to pray, but not just to pray, to pray in the way that John’s disciples did. Earlier in Luke 5:33 we learned that the John the Baptist’s disciples spent a lot of time fasting and praying. And the Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus’s disciples weren’t more like that, instead of out carousing with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus of course has a quick rejoinder for that. But it sounds to me like they got to this disciple a little bit. “Those people down the street have a prayer, I want a prayer.” But Jesus obliges and gives us this simple prayer that we still use today.
We have studied the Lord’s pray here in worship not too long ago. In fact if you want to go and listen, the whole series is available online in the audio sermon archives in September and October of 2008. So instead of looking at the specifics of the prayer, I think it is a great opportunity to consider why and how we pray. And what it tells us about the nature of God.
First I think that we are pointed to the parent/child relationship that we are supposed to have with God. The prayer is addressed to “Father.” The word that Jesus would have used in his native language, Aramaic was Abba. It is a word that first appears in Aramaic, but is thought to have arrived from the ancient Hebrew ABEE or AVEE that means father, but more formally, and it was later adopted by Greek speaking Christians as the correct way to address God in prayer. Some scholars think that Abba was a mispronunciation of these Hebrew words in a way an infant might say them, before they can fully form words. So you might have heard that Abba means Daddy, but it is more like Dada. That image of an infant so powerfully illustrates the dependence that we supposed to have on our heavenly Father. It’s also used as a term of endearment, when every I’ve heard teenage girls use those cute terms for their dads, you know they’re some request not far to follow.
After teaching them the prayer Jesus went on to tell them a parable. “Imagine this… You get a surprise visitor, and you have nothing to feed them. So you go to your next-door neighbor even though it’s midnight and ask for some bread. He starts out by saying ‘no. It’s late the kids are in bed, leave me alone.’ But then he eventually relents.” The Bible says that it’s because of the asker’s persistence, not just good will among friends. Did you know that we are supposed to bug God with our prayers? If we pray without ceasing like it says in First Thessalonians that will give God a lot to listen to.
I think there are some other reasons the friend ends up getting the bread too. Showing hospitality was a big deal in Jesus’s time. And Jesus’s listeners would have understood the social obligation that the man was under to provide for his friend’s guest. Grudging it or not. The way you treated people would reflect back on your village or town. So your there would be consequences if you did not do what was honorable. That level of expectation almost provided a guarantee of satisfaction. And because God is honorable too, we have an assurance that our prayers will be heard. He will keep his promises and provide for what we need. We ask with a level of expectancy, we know God is trustworthy.
I’ve been working as the House Manager for the musical at the Little Theatre for the last two weekends, and part of that I’ve been training people to sell the raffle tickets that we have. I tell my trainees that if they ask most of the people will buy a ticket, it’s just a dollar after all. It’s not a scary thing to do because we don’t get a lot of rejection. We expect them to buy. All we have to do is ask.
So actually on the most basic level, our hero gets some bread because he asked for it. His friend didn’t do daily bread deliveries and he wasn’t waiting around for the bread fairy. He wasn’t just hoping something would fix the problem; he had to make the first move. It’s something we are reluctant to do even in the little things. My friend was telling me how excited he was when at his new house the kids from next door came over asking for a cup of sugar. “It’s like we’re living in the fifties.”
When I was little and in the midst of a temper tantrum, or maybe just sobs, my parents would tell me to “Use your words. We can’t help you if we don’t know what is going wrong.” God created human beings for language. The babbles that babies make are composed of the basic sounds of language called phonemes. Every baby babbles with all possible the phonemes naturally. Then as they are exposed to their native language and learn to speak in words, the phonemes that are not used are dropped from the baby’s vocabulary. Language and communication are innate and essential for us to form and grow relationships. If you tell me whom you talk to most I can likely tell you whom your best friends are. So why is it a surprise that God asks us to “use our words?”
But here we come to a limit of this analogy. See, God does not need us to tell him what to do. Martin Luther says “Of course, God’s name is holy in and of itself; Truly God’s Kingdom comes by itself, without our prayer; Truly, God’s good and gracious will is accomplished without our prayer.” So I think that prayer is a gift for us. It uses our very human stuff, language, to change who we are in our soul.
People of prayer have a focus that is bigger than their immediate surroundings and needs. People of prayer give of their time and energy to something greater than themselves. And that’s something that’s very against our natural inclination.
That’s not to say that we can’t make prayer into an exercise in wish list making. And our good intentioned prayers and lists of prayer concerns, can come off as better addressed to Santa than to God. Bishop Will Willamon says “Prayer is not whenever I spill my guts to God: prayer is when I obey Jesus and pray for the things that he teaches me to pray for and when I pray the way he prays. Prayer is bending my feelings, my desires, my thoughts and yearnings toward Jesus and what he wants me to feel, desire and think.” See Jesus’s prayer changes our attitude from “my will be done” to “thy will be done.”
Let me back up on that a little. I believe that God wants to be near you, to share all your hurts and joys. My little brother was in an awful car accident just the other day, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the pictures of his mangled car. I earnestly prayed that he was all right, until I took a breath and realized that he was the one posting the pictures, and then it changed to thanksgiving. I know that God was with my brother in the car and he was with me to share in my relief. But he wants to be more than a sounding board for my feelings. He wants me to pray to change who I am.
To pray like that takes practice and persistence; it’s a personal discipline. It’s a scary thing to pray that you will be treated in the same way that you treat others; unless you are willing to change the bad things you do to people. And we pray for God’s kingdom to come, a kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last. Is that what we’re really ready for?
I’ve been reading the Anne of Green Gable’s series of books. Anne is an unusually bright and loquacious middle schooler who is adopted from an orphanage by a middle age unmarried lady and her brother named Matthew and Marilla Cuthburt. In the first days she is at their home, Marilla asks Anne if she has been saying her prayers at night and Anne says that she doesn’t know any. Marilla says she is old enough to speak for her self. But she was a bit shocked when Anne’s prayer concluded “…and please let me be good-looking when I grow up. I remain, yours respectfully, Anne Shirley.” Marilla sets her off to learn the Lord’s Prayer the next day because “she’s next door to a heathen.”
I feel that way sometimes… next door to a heathen. So I’m glad Jesus gave me a tool, something to say when I know my words aren’t going to cut it. When they are forced, or tired, or failing. We can look to Jesus’s words to remind us what is important.
The last bit of our lesson today is a promise that God will provide what we need. “Ask and it will be given to you”… what’s the “it?” Verse thirteen says, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” “It” is the Holy Spirit.
I can’t be a better person just by trying. It takes God living in me, as the Spirit. My selfishness wins unless I put him in control. He can guide our steps, he’s a comfort when you are hurting and need someone to cry out to, and he shares your joy just like a friend. And his nearness is what allows us to bend our will towards that of the Father. His presence with us is an answer to our prayer.
We say the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus told us to, and because it’s powerful. But to be real for just a second, the way I do it sometimes can make it the most rote, ineffectual, inauthentic part of the service. I have to pray with persistence because I’m an expert at sending the Holy Spirit packing. There are a million distractions. But when I see the error in my ways, I can come back just like the prodigal son and be greeted with care and compassion, more than any earthly parent.
So there is an invitation for you here today. If that sounds like were you are now, lost and disconnected, you are invited back. Or maybe you just need to practice a little persistence. Our God is faithful to hear when we call.
And we can use the words that Jesus taught us to ask our father to send us the Holy Spirit.
Will you pray with me?
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
“Ask Your Father” by Erin K. Thompson
July 25, 2010 Saint Pauls UMC Tallahassee: Aldersgate Service 9:45am