Ask, Seek, Knock, Luke 11:1-13
Plymouth First United Methodist, July 28, 2019
There’s a little book written by the late Bishop Rueben P. Job entitled Three Simple Questions: Knowing the God of Love, Hope and Purpose, that I’m guessing some of you studied when it first came out a few years ago. In the book, Bishop Job reminds us that:
- God is greater than anything we can comprehend or imagine;
- Each of us is God’s beloved child, just like every other human being is on God’s good earth;
- All of us together are God’s family; and
- As Christians, we are the living body of Christ in this world.
With these basic principles in mind, how will we live in this broken and wayward world, surrounded (and we ourselves) being a broken and wayward people?
We live in a time of uncertainty and distrust. It surrounds us. It weighs heavily on us. On top of that, our lives are stressful. We have high expectations of ourselves and others, we fill our days with more than we should ever try to accomplish, and then we fall into bed exhausted, disappointed with ourselves because of those few things that we just couldn’t quite get to. There weren’t enough hours in the day, not enough gas in the tank to do it all. We get distracted and disoriented by the power of the culture and the false gods that are all around us that seek our allegiance, that promise easy answers and healing from all that ails us. And yet those answers ultimately fall short and leave us empty, disillusioned and disappointed. We can feel so small, so weak, and so inadequate.
So, in the midst of all this, how can we stay focused?
How can we remember who God is?
How can we remember who we are as individuals?
How can we remember who we can be together, as a part of God’s entire human family?
How can we remain focused on the cross of Jesus/how can we live out our faith, even during these kinds of times?
The Good News of Jesus Christ reminds us that always—even in times such as these—there is promise. Life can be good and joyful and peaceful and full (full as in abundant, not as in filled with all the things we do!!). That’s what scripture tells us, that in the message of Jesus Christ: there is redemption, there is hope, there is promise. God is with us, and God is good. (All the time!) Even here. Even now. Even in these times.
Prayer is the link that keeps us connected, that helps us focus, that keeps us on track. Prayer establishes, nurtures and grows our relationship with God, that we might live the good life, fight the good fight, always—in the good times and challenging ones—remembering who we are.
Prayer seems as though it is a simple enough thing to do. A whole lot of us learned to pray as little ones, kneeling next to our bed, saying, Now I lay me down to sleep…or at the meal table, God is good, God is great. Though our youngest grandchildren don’t quite have the eyes shut concept down, probably partially because we adults have our eyes at least part way open watching them, we know it’s important to teach our little ones the practice of prayer, the habit of prayer, which is a good beginning. When they grow a little older they come to understand that this time and these words are more than a family ritual: it’s not only a practice that connects our family together, but it’s a connection with God. It’s the beginning of a conversation with God.
Even the disciples, all faithful Jews, all familiar with the practice and ritual of prayer, felt the need to ask Jesus how to pray. They had watched him, surely they had heard him pray and had joined with him in prayer. Yet they realized they really didn’t know how to do it. They needed instruction. “Lord, teach us to pray,” they asked him.
Jesus responded saying, pray in this way, and the words he shares that are written in Luke as well as in the parallel text in Matthew 6:9-13, are the foundational words for the Lord’s Prayer that we all share together. This, too, is a prayer that we probably learned as children or in our youth. It’s a prayer we sometimes simply speak without thinking—and yet it binds us together as a community and as a people. It offers us the opportunity to go deeper, to engage in a real conversation with God.
Before we go any further, I want to make it clear that there is significance and value in memorized and ritualized prayer. I believe God is pleased with every contact we make. As a mom, I’m thankful for my children’s phone calls whether they’re just saying hi, seeking medical advice, or wonder what the ingredients are to something I make that they’re shopping for. All of these contacts are precious to me, and I’m thinking how pleased God must be for every step we take that brings us closer in our relationship with him.
That’s what we’re doing when we pray: we’re building a relationship. We’re centering ourselves, we’re reminding ourselves who we are and who we want to be. We’re reclaiming our identity as God’s children, and we can’t receive the full blessing of that relationship when we’re not sharing/when we’re not talking with one another.
Let’s take a bit to look at the words Jesus used to instruct his disciples, to consider their significance as we go to God in prayer:
Jesus begins by addressing God as Father, Abba, which is not only a child’s term of endearment, like papa or daddy, but is also an adult child’s way of addressing one’s father—one with whom they have a personal relationship. For Jesus, Father is one who loves, forgives and knows how to give good gifts to his children. Keep in mind that male imagery isn’t the only way that Jesus describes God in the Gospels, but that’s what he’s doing here. What’s important is that Jesus is addressing God in a way that is intimate and personal.
Hallowed be thy name. Hallowed means holy, blessed, revered, glorious is thy name. As we pray we are reminded of the magnitude of God. So often, we limit God by thinking God is some kind of super-human, but God is so above all that. As we pray, it’s important for us to remember that God isn’t limited, isn’t bound by what we know and see, but God is great, as the child’s prayer says. God is great, beyond any of our imaginings.
Your kingdom come. That’s the ultimate goal and expectation, but it doesn’t depend on us. God’s kingdom on earth began in the coming of Jesus, and still continues to be revealed. The question for us is do we want to be a part of what God is doing and has in mind for us and our world, or are we going to try to enlist God in what we’re trying to accomplish? In Matthew, the sentence thy will be done follows this one, which I believe, answers that question and calls us to re-affirm our commitment to what God is doing.
Give us each day our daily bread. This sounds simple enough, but the phrase has been interpreted in a number of ways. Jesus could be speaking specifically about present needs: that everyone will have what they need for survival. I think of the Israelites in the wilderness who received manna from God. They were given enough for each day’s need and they couldn’t save any for the next day because it wouldn’t be good.
A second interpretation has to do with the concern Jesus always shows for the poor, and in this prayer he’s making it clear that he wants us to have concern, as well. Finally, some think that perhaps Jesus is talking about the end times: when we all sit down together at the Messianic table at the end of time, a time when there will be enough for everybody.
Next, forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. Matthew’s remembrance of Jesus’s words are just a little different: forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. It helps us to remember that God has been merciful to us, and has forgiven us, and so we’re to “pay it forward,” or “pay it back” by forgiving others in the same way. The parables of Jesus are consistent with his prayer. You may remember the unmerciful servant in Matthew 10 (21-35) whose own debt was cancelled, but who insisted that the one who owed money to him be tossed into jail. That didn’t go over so well. We’re to forgive 77 times, which in biblical terms means a lot. We’re supposed to be forgiving because we’ve been forgiven.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, both Luke and Matthew say, though Matthew continues, saying, but rescue us from the evil one. We’re not to take the evils of the world lightly, but to see them as a threat to faith, and to pray for God’s deliverance from them. We can describe evil as sinfulness: anything that separates us from God or from one another. Deliver us from whatever that may be, God, keep us close to you. Keep us close to one another.
And then, in both Matthew and Luke, the prayer seems to end abruptly, because we’re accustomed to a final benediction added to the prayer by the early church, which comes from 1 Chronicles 29:11-13: For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Jesus’ instructions on prayer don’t end with this model of how to pray, but with 3 little parables that continue to illustrate for the disciples and for us how we’re to pray and how God responds to our prayer.
In the first parable, we discover that persistence pays off: we’re not to give up when it comes to prayer, because God is listening and will give us what we need. (Needs, wants, timing and whether or not God answers our prayers in the way we might expect or hope are important to consider. But God does answer our prayers. So be persistent and pray without ceasing.)
I think of another story Jesus tells in Luke 18, when the persistent widow keeps going back to the unjust judge until he finally gives in to her request so she’ll stop. Jesus says, “Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly.”
In the second parable, we’re given the instructions to ask, search and knock. Go to God with your needs. God expects that of us. Engage in the act of prayer.
In the third parable, we’re given the assurance that God loves us in the best way possible, and will not mock us. Our earthly fathers who are human may do their very best, may want the very best for their children. As good as that can be, what God has to give is even better—it’s the Holy Spirit. So trust that, know that, be encouraged by that. God wants you to have the very best gift that you’ll ever receive. All you have to do is ask.
Prayer is the most life-changing, positive, transformational, transportable, direct and efficient act of faith that any of us will ever engage in. We can do it alone or together (both ways are really good!), eyes open or closed, in silence, with words, through music or melody, or through other artistic expressions. It’s essential to our own personal faith journey, brings us into relationship with God, into the presence of God, and changes us, molds us and aligns us to the will of God.
As I was working on this message, a quote of C.S. Lewis kept coming to mind. In the movie “Shadowlands” which tells about C.S. Lewis’ life, there is a conversation between he and his best friend. “Jack” as Lewis was called, has married Joy, who has cancer and is dying. His friend says to him that the knows how much he’s praying. Lewis responds with this: “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me, all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
Prayer changes us. It molds us and aligns us to the will of God.
Ask. Search. Knock.
The gift will be given. Your life will be blessed.