Sunday, July 25, 2010

“Let’s Pray”

Luke 11:1-13
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!"

A Message from the Pastor
Let’s pray. That’s what the gospel story is all about. It’s about praying.

Let us pray is what we say in communal prayer when we come together to worship. It is a little different than personal prayer. And when we come together in communal prayer, the leader is the one who prays. If someone were asked to pray during communal prayer, many of us would become uncomfortable and hope we are not called upon, since we might be concerned about the words we use and how we sound.

Personal prayer is somewhat different. Personal prayer is about relationship. Personal prayer is about being in relationship with our God. Let me give some examples of what personal prayer might look like.

When we go to some big event or party, we will see people who we might not know or are just acquainted with on a name basis. The conversation is usually about such things as the weather, general experiences, or such things as sports. This is an example of being relational, even though it is somewhat shallow. Prayer can be shallow, also.

Let’s imagine we’re talking to God in prayer. Sometimes we might think that we are talking to a traffic cop. We want God to guide “things” forward or stop them. We want God to let us move in the direction we want to move. Sometimes we might think that God is a judge. There is someone we are having a problem with and we want God to “zap” him/her. Or, we’re having some problems and we might want God to go easy on us. Then, there are times we might think God is Santa Claus and we want God to respond to our long list of needs and wants. This is also relational. It can be somewhat intimate, also.

Let’s also picture ourselves in relationship with someone. There are times we may talk to the individual briefly, just to let them know we are thinking about them. That can be prayer. There are times we may talk to that person with whom we are close to let him/her know what’s going on as the day unfolds. That can be prayer. Then, the day ends, and we find ourselves sharing the events of the day. That can be prayer. Also, there are times when we need to discern issues, work through them, consider all the alternatives and possible consequences. That is also prayer. Other times, in our closeness, have a “pink cloud” experience. That can be prayer with God. Consider times you might walk a mountain trail and enjoy the scenery and the beauty of creation. The trail may be narrow and you might not be able to walk side by side. During the walk, nobody says anything. There is no need to. That also can be prayer.

When the disciple asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, we need to consider that, although they were uneducated, they knew how to pray. They had been taught that. They knew how to position themselves. They knew the kind of prayers they were told to pray. But they had watched Jesus. They knew he was very close to God. (The author of the gospel of Luke reported more about Jesus in prayer than any of the other gospel writers.) They wanted that closeness.

Jesus knew what they were asking. That’s why Jesus told the parable. Picture the people living at that time. Their homes were not ranch style or two story homes with several bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and possibly a dining room. Their homes were made from earthen materials, with a straw roof and mud, and the most rooms they had were probably three – one for everyone to sleep in, a living and eating room, and a room for the animals. When the neighbor/friend came at midnight, he knew that when he knocked on the door, everyone would be awakened, even the animals. However, he was desperate. In the culture of the time, hospitality was important. When someone came to visit, you welcomed them in your home, no matter what time, and you fed them. (Notice the neighbor/friend did not ask, as we would, to help him out. He had a specific request; he wanted three loaves of bread.) He was in a very vulnerable position. The one whom he woke knew that something significant was happening that the neighbor/friend would come so late at night and awaken everyone. He knew he needed to respond. Jesus was giving an example of a close, or intimate, relationship and the need to respond.

Jesus talks about how that dialogue in a relationship might look. The prayer that he provided was not just a prayer that they could recite. It was an example of how one might come to God in prayer. First of all, the word used by Jesus for “Father” was the word “Daddy,” to denote a close, intimate relationship. Then he also indicated that we need to recognize God’s holiness and our need to honor that. When we ask for God’s kingdom, or reign, to come, we are asking God to bring into our lives his way of living, not the world’s way. The next three requests in prayer are representative of how God’s reign might look. We ask for daily “bread.” As Martin Luther said, “daily bread” means everything we need to live a life in God – food, shelter, family, government, etc. Then, we ask for a kind of life that develops reconciliation. We ask to be forgiven and the ability to forgive. And, then we ask for a life that is free from trials and temptation. All of these are the kind of life we live under the reign of God.

In this gospel story, Jesus ends it by reminding us to ask, search, and knock. We will receive, find, and doors will be opened. However, he does tell us what we will receive or find or what doors will be opened. However, he leaves us with an incredible promise. When we openly pray, seeking to be in relationship with God, we will receive the Holy Spirit. That’s quite a promise.

But how do we develop this intimate relationship? This is hard work, just as it is hard work to have a healthy relationship with someone we are close to. Well, we remain in prayer. We develop our relationship by talking and listening to God. We also worship regularly, coming together with people as a community sharing in the means of grace which is the word of God along with feeding on Jesus, we are nourished by word and sacrament, the means of grace. But we also read scripture, for in scripture we find Jesus and how he relates to us.

Prayer is relational. Prayer is coming into the presence of God. Prayer can bring us closer to God. Prayer can open us to the Holy Spirit.

So, let’s pray.

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