220724 – Asking for IT

Yr C ~ Pentecost 7 ~ Luke 11:1-13 (GNT)

If we didn’t know this already, this passage underlines a foundational aspect of being a person of faith: praying is hugely important. But it isn’t like Jesus invented prayer. Prayer was a rich part of the Jewish tradition that Jesus and all his disciples had grown up in – been steeped in. And yet, even though they would have been around praying, and prayed themselves, for their whole lives, they still want to be taught. There must’ve been something special in the way Jesus prayed – or perhaps it was in the noticeable effect it had on him?

In Luke 11 Jesus is praying, presumably by himself, privately, because the story says that the disciples engaged with him “when he had finished.” It almost sounds like they were watching him pray, trying to learn what he knew – trying to catch what he had obviously already caught. You know, ‘IT’. So Jesus finishes praying, and the disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, just like John the Baptizer taught his disciples to pray.

Hmm. Interesting. So now we know that John taught about prayer, and his disciples must have been known as good pray-ers, I mean, otherwise how would Jesus’ disciples even know that John taught his own disciples? I wonder if Jesus’ disciples had already asked John’s disciples (they seemed to know one another?) how John taught? Now they want to hear it from Jesus himself.

Here’s a thought. If prayer was already integral to their faith, what made Jesus’ version of it worth learning? How did Jesus learn to pray in the apparently deeper way that he did? Was it just inherent for him? Was he born with it? Was he born with ‘IT’? Or maybe he learned deep prayer from John when Jesus hung out with him? Or vice versa? However it happened, one thing’s clear friends, there’s a whole lotta prayin’ goin’ on! And it must be important because everyone seems to want to know how to do it like Jesus. So he does some teaching.

Luke 11:2-4 Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this: ‘Father (Abba): May your holy name be honoured; may your Kingdom come. Give us day by day the food we need. Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who does us wrong. And do not bring us to hard testing.’”

Obviously, that’s very familiar language for us. The Christian tradition has gravitated more to the version of this prayer in Matthew’s gospel. We include it in worship every week – the Lord’s Prayer. Most Christians have it memorized, so it must be special, right? It’s the one set of prayer words that Jesus explicitly gave. But that’s not Jesus’ only instruction on prayer, either explicitly or by modelling.

Jesus teaches that it’s best to go off by yourself to pray rather than stand up in public and make a big deal out of it, and to let go of your words and just be with God. (Says the minister who leads wordy, public prayers all the time!) The point is, according to Jesus, prayer is between you and God – not for the sake of an audience who can judge how holy you are by your mellifluous verbosity. Jesus models that because he so rarely teaches about praying, nor does he go on and on in long-winded public prayers. But he does “go off by himself to pray” over and over again in the bible. What’s he doing when he does that? What’s he saying to God? Is it ‘the Lord’s Prayer’? Or is he just listening? Or is it just nap time? (Sometimes a nap is the greatest prayer there is!)

Whatever it is Jesus is doing it seems to be working, because his disciples and everyone else can see and perceive that his connection with God is powerful, as joy, and peace, and holiness radiate from him. I think praying is Jesus’ super-power. And through prayer Jesus becomes full of ‘IT’ – and his followers want ‘IT’ too, so here they are asking for ‘IT’.

So Jesus gives them some basic words to pray – but the magic isn’t in the words! If the specific words were magic they wouldn’t be different in Matthew and in Luke. Look instead at the themes.

May your holy name be honoured – Address God with respect and honour. – Check!

May your Kingdom come – Express your desire for God’s Kingdom to be ever-more revealed and realized. – Excellent!

Give us day by day the food we need. – Affirm your basic needs, trusting that God provides. – Ok.

Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who does us wrong. – Seek God’s forgiveness, while assuring God that you’re already forgiving others. – Hmm.

And do not bring us to hard testing. – Express your desire to not have too hard a time in life. – Umm, duh?

Ok, so, I don’t know how to say this, but it starts out great, but really, to be honest, it’s not a great prayer. If I was teaching a prayer class and someone submitted this I’d give it, like, a C+. Right after Jesus offers these words, though, he immediately abandons that fixed-word kind of concept and launches into teaching them via story.

But it isn’t a story about praying. It’s a story about bread. Tangible, basic. Someone shows up and asks you for something late at night when you’re already settled and done for the day, and your first instinct is to blow them off. But they persist, and you relent. Now, if that story is about God it makes God into a pretty crappy deity that has to be pestered to do anything. Does that sound like God to you? No. We know that God can only and always be LOVE, so it must mean more than this.

I think Jesus is offering up a comparison to teach how prayer ‘works’. Humans, you and me, often treat requests and even responsibilities as impositions. But even a human will relent and ‘do the right thing’ if a persistent and passionate case is made. God isn’t like us in this regard. Thank God! God is just LOVE. So I think Jesus is trying to communicate to us that we should stop worrying about what words we’re saying, stop worrying about techniques or postures, and stop limiting God’s reactions to mere human reactions.

Luke 11:9-10 Jesus says:And so I say to you: Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks.

Need something from God? Ask. Trying to find God? Seek. Want to be more fully in God’s Presence? Knock on the door. Don’t try to make prayer so complicated. Just do it.

Would you swap in ‘snake sticks’ for ‘fish sticks’ for your kid’s dinner? Instead of bacon and eggs would you serve up scorpions? Of course not. It’s ludicrous. Well, if you wouldn’t do that to the people you love, and your grasp of love and the practice of love is limited in the way it is for all humans – then don’t you think God will probably do better than you in the loving department?  Jesus thinks so.

Luke 11:13 Jesus says, “How much more, then, will (God) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for it!”

I wonder if some people have difficulty with prayer because they’re too afraid of offending God somehow. Or maybe they’re too worried about being unworthy of God’s attention, or love. That’s all rooted in a theology that sees God as scorekeeper and punisher. That’s not God, because that’s not love. Christianities that reduce faith to moralism run into this all the time. It’s like they’re all anxious that the way they’re living their lives seem to God like they’re ‘asking for it’ and that prevents them from…asking for ‘IT’. Jesus says, “Nope! Ask. Seek. Knock. That’s all there is to it. That’s how you get IT.”

Ok, I’ve been teasing you this whole sermon with this play on the word ‘IT’. Whenever I’ve paused before saying ‘IT’ I’ve typed in my script in all caps! Capital I, capital T – IT. IT isn’t a new Ferrari, or a yacht, or a gold necklace, or a big screen TV. IT isn’t a career advancement, or a deliverance from pandemic, or even a medical miracle. Those are all ‘holy vending machine’ asks. Oh, I’m not saying they shouldn’t be part of your praying. They should. (Well, maybe not the overtly materialistic stuff.) We’re human – and those specific kinds of challenges and ‘asks’ are absolutely appropriate to pray about. But being hungry and praying for a pizza and then getting angry because God didn’t deliver in a half hour or less – not so much.

Ask and ye shall receive. If not pizza, what? Ask for ‘IT’ and you’ll get ‘IT’. What is ‘IT’?

Luke 11:13 “How much more, then, will (God) give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for it!”

There ‘IT’ is! God gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask for ‘IT’!

Well, having the Holy Spirit sounds nice, but what good is ‘IT’ when I have all these other problems? Ask Jesus. Do you think he had no problems? Have you read the book? Seen the movie? In Luke 11:4 Jesus said we should pray: “And do not bring us to hard testing.” Well, Jesus was an expert pray-er, and everyone wanted to learn from him – but even Jesus could not avoid the hard testing of life. The cross is our constant reminder of that.

Does that mean Jesus’ praying didn’t actually work? Absolutely not! Remember, he’s the one emanating joy, and peace, and holiness. He’s the one with light in his eyes, and love overflowing his heart. Jesus was, ahem, full of ‘IT’. (That’s next week’s sermon title, by the way.)

Pray for the Holy Spirit and God will provide – and fill you with ‘IT’ – and strengthened and renewed that will carry you through your life, helping you to deal with all the things humans have to deal with. It’s a beautiful fulfillment of our prayers – it’s just not a magic wand. Ask for ‘IT’ – seek ‘IT’ – knock on the door and ‘IT’ shall be opened unto you.

We have to do the asking, the seeking, and the knocking. We can do it with words, even Jesus’ words – but it’s probably best to go beyond the words and meet God in that silent place within ourselves – off in our own private prayer places – immersed in ‘IT’.

This is the first part of a four-part series. Next week we’ll be ‘full of it’ – then we’ll be ‘fit for it’ – and then we’ll ‘stand to it’. But it all begins today, by ‘asking for it’. May ‘IT’ be so. Amen.