Pentecost 10, 2016, Bunker Hill Luke 11:1-13
When our daughter, Sarah, was in the third grade, she fell from a small tree in a neighbor’s yard breaking both bones in one arm at the wrist and at the elbow. Bob Reinhardt, my partner pastor, came to the hospital to be with us. As the hospital personnel hurried Sarah into surgery, Bob reached down, touched her and said, “God go with you.” In four words, Bob spoke a prayer, a blessing, and a promise.
One day when Jesus finished praying, His disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In answer to their request he taught them the Lord’s Prayer. How simple, powerful, and packed with meaning and surprises is the version that Luke presents. “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 who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” This morning we also request, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
When Bill Moyer was an assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, he was invited to the family room of the White House for a meal one evening. Since Moyer is an ordained Baptist preacher, the President asked him to return thanks. As he was praying, the President said, “Bill, I can’t hear you. Speak up!” Moyer responded, “I am not speaking to you, Mr. President.” Prayer is God centered. Prayer is talking with God. But prayer is also more than our talking. Mother Teresa was once asked what she did when she prayed. “I listen,” she said. Prayer is not about how we can influence God, but about entering the heart of God and letting God lead us. That requires listening.
I think of Lois, a member of a former congregation I served. Her whole family looks to her for guidance. Often things happen when she prays, or she receives insight into how to advise those whose lives are troubled. Lois would never accept the acclamation that she is a Prayer Warrior or a Prayer Champion. Lois is often both awed and mystified by this gift. She carries out this ministry of prayer with a sense of great responsibility and humility. Veit Dietrich, a friend of Martin Luther wrote that he daily spent at least three hours in prayer. Yet, Luther said of himself, “Praying comes close to being the most difficult of all works, therefore I do not claim to be a master in this task.”
Nevertheless, we are all able to talk with our Father who has rooted our lives in Christ Jesus. In Christ, our Father cleared away all obstacles that might hinder our approach. He invites us to not only call upon him in the day of trouble, but even in the mundane every day affairs of life.
We come to a Father who cares and loves his children. We come to him not as champions and warriors but as beggars and beseechers. We come like the friend who knocked on his neighbor’s door at midnight wanting, of all things, three loaves of bread, for a famished friend who arrived from a journey. We are bold enough to come to him with the most trivial and even audacious requests. For we have a Father who dared to not withhold even his own Son, the bread of life, but sent Him to die on the cross for us. Jesus’ cross is the key that opens the way to mercy and grace.
When we come before our Father we are doing what Jesus did throughout his time on earth. Jesus prayed at life’s most hectic and distracting moments. He prayed when he was baptized, before he chose the twelve, At the Transfiguration, as he prepared to face Jerusalem, and when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross. He and the Father were in frequent and fervent communication.
The disciples asked “Teach US to pray.” Jesus taught them, “When YOU pray, say.” When we pray, we pray not just for ourselves but for each other and indeed for the whole church and the whole world. Thus we prayed in the Collect, “Teach us to pray that our petitions may be pleasing before You.”
Jesus would also teach us that our Father has no equal in the entire universe. Though our Father is completely approachable, we do so in reverence. We pray, “Holy be your name.” This petition corresponds to the 2nd commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, your God.” When we use his name to curse we are abusing his name, which is above every name. When we say, “We’ll pray about that.” Does the performance follow the promise? If not then we are, as Luther explains, “deceiving by his name.” Giving the impression of piety without practicing piety is not letting the Father’s name be holy in our lives.
Furthermore, we pray for the Father’s kingdom to come. Seminary professor, Jeff Gibbs points out that we are actually praying for the kinging of God. “Your kinging come.” We pray that God would break in to our world and govern. He has already done so in Jesus Christ. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah sang at his son’s birth, “God has visited and redeemed his people.” He has bought us back from sin, death and the Evil one. The Father raised up a son from the house of David who brought us salvation from all that keeps us separated from our Father. Instead of judging and punishing us as the disobedient children we are, he laid the judgment on his son. In Christ, he shows us the mercy he had promised through the ages. One day Jesus, in whom all the fullness of God dwells bodily, will return in glory to take us to live with him in the eternal realm where we will ever be in communication with God and ever eat at the banquet with him who is the bread of life.
You see, Christ does not separate our spiritual needs from our material needs. They are intertwined. We not only need to know from whom our bread of life comes. We also need to recognize who is the source of the bread of our sandwiches. Included in the prayer is the need that the earth would produce these basic daily needs without which we cannot live. Even as we are taking the bread of life at communion, the wafers of bread we receive in our hands is bread that started in wheat fields which were recently harvested.
Jesus also teaches us to pray for another daily need, the forgiveness of our sins. On the cross we find Jesus in prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The Father nailed the record of our debt to that cross thereby canceling the lien that God held against our life. Though we sin daily he continues to forgive us assuming that, as his people, we are forgiving everyone who is in debt to us. We are praying that we will be the model of what we are asking for.
Finally, we pray for spiritual protection. However, like being forgiven by God goes hand in hand with forgiving everyone indebted to us, so requesting spiritual protection is accompanied with asking God to help us avoid the times and places of temptation. We can’t throw ourselves into situations where we are surrounded by that which appeals to our weaknesses and then blame God for our failure. However, in the daily to and fro of living we will be confronted by testings. Leaning on God, provides the power to overcome that which faces us, and when we do succumb, provides release when we miss what God would have us do.
At the very end of our Gospel lesson Jesus promises one very important gift which the Father will give us. That is the Holy Spirit, who will carry our prayer thoughts, words and sighs, to the Father. Thus when we pray, as imperfect as our prayers may be, the Holy Spirit reshapes our prayers and presents them to the Father in accordance with His will.
Thus today we ask, O Lord, continue to teach us to pray. Amen.