07/28/13 Sermon (July 28, 2013)

posted Sep 3, 2013, 11:40 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Sep 3, 2013, 11:40 AM ]

07/28/13 Sermon (July 28, 2013)

Scripture Luke 11:1-13    (Liturgist)

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!"

Sermon: Knocking on the Door

Praying is a strange thing, if you stop to think about it. You know, taking time to talk to God. If we didn’t call it prayer, most people would look at these one-sided conversations with a certain amount of suspicion, if not concern. For most folks, watching someone talk to a person who isn’t there is a little uncomfortable. At least it was for me when we visited New York city earlier this summer.

And the idea of prayer usually brings up more questions than answers. Are we supposed to pray for things we want, or for things that we need? Are we supposed to pray for ourselves, or for other people? Does God hear our prayers? Does God answer our prayers? How do we know that we are getting our message through to God? How do we pray in such a way that God will give us what we want?

I didn’t grow up in a household that regularly prayed, and so I never had instilled into me the habit of prayer, prayers at night, prayers in the morning, prayers at meals. I don’t regret this, or wonder if my childhood was somehow less holy because of it. My parents weren’t church people, but they were intuitively  Christian in everything they did. It’s just that this wasn’t part of our spiritual vocabulary, the idea of regular, habitual prayer.

And consequently, for most of my life, when I prayed, it wasn’t the result of a habit.  My prayers had a certain amount of urgency to them. Prayer was sort of like a parachute in a stunt plane. I hardly ever used it, but when I did, I really needed it. Does anybody else here feel that way sometimes? Does anybody else here pray parachute type prayers?

I remember especially when I was considering whether or not to go seminary. I was at a crossroads in my life, with attractive opportunities in a couple of different directions, and I prayed and even fasted to see if I could discern God’s will for my life. I figured that the double whammy of prayer and fasting was certain to work, that God would pretty much have no choice but to tell me what I should do.

And you know I can’t claim that God has spoken to me much in my life, but in this particular case, God did. I prayed and I fasted, and I asked God, “What do you want me to do?” And God said, right then, clear as bell, “I want you to make a decision.” It wasn’t the answer that I was expecting. I guess I was expecting God to tell what to do, not for God to tell me to get off the pot.

But instead, the decision was left to me. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not the answer we were looking for. Sometimes the answer to our prayer is no.

So prayer, and answer to prayer is a strange thing. There are no guarantees in prayer. We pray, not knowing what will happen. An old friend of mine told me to be careful when praying for patience. Because God will give all kinds of opportunities to learn how to be patient. I remember during one period of my life, I prayed for the ability to love people, and soon after that, I found myself involved in a prison ministry. I was given all kinds of opportunities to figure out how to love people. Even when they weren’t sure they wanted or needed my love.

We can also find it intimidating to pray, especially when we are around people who pray so very well. Sometimes we are at a loss for words, sometimes our words are less than elegant. Or, we go for the other extreme, with long fancy words, jargon almost, using language that we would never use in any other circumstance. Almost as though we had to adopt a kind of code in order to talk to God.  

And not only do we face the problem of tyring to find the right words, we don’t always know to pray for. We’re not sure what is appropriate and inappropriate to ask from God.

One of the attractive aspects of the Prosperity Gospel is the insistence that if you have the faith, and pray the right prayer, and sow the right seed, that you will be blessed. Money, health, power, peace in you life, these are promised to you if you just pray correctly, with enough faith in your heart.

And oh we want that to be true. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to pray hard enough for God to do what we want him to do. It would be great to be able control the chaotic, fearful world around us with our heartfelt prayer. It would be wonderful if we could, with our own faith, always get what we want the prayer.

The problem is, it’s not true. That’s not the way God does things. To expect God to do what we want him do by throwing gobs of cash at television evangelists, and praying with a fervent and passionate heart is a waste of time, energy and money. After all, if it was only a matter of faith and heartfelt prayer, then Paul would have been healed from the pain in his side. If it had only been a matter of faith and heartfelt prayer then the cup would have passed from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we would be lost. We don’t get to tell God what we want, and then expect him to take our order like a carhop at Sonic.  

God isn’t going to be distracted from the genuine concerns of the world because Kenneth and Gloria Copeland need a new Gulfstream Jet plane.

And yet, in spite of the fact that we don’t know how to pray, and we don’t know what to pray for, we still pray. Paul still prayed that the pain be taken. Jesus still prayed that the cup be taken. We still pray, and we pray that God’s will be done.

Which brings back to my main point: Prayer is a strange thing.

Why on earth should we pray, if there’s no guarantee that it will work? Why should we pray if we’re not going to get what we want? If God isn’t going to give us what we want, why should we talk to him at all?

These are logical questions, understandable questions, even. But they answer themselves. Because, we don’t pray to a God that only exists in order to fulfill our wishes. We don’t pray only in order to get something. God is not a genie in a bottle, granting us three wishes. God is God, and that means that there is more to God than simply giving us stuff when we pray for it.

Because that’s not what prayer is all about.

Prayer is about communication, about having a relationship with God.

You know what, I didn’t really enjoy Wiley’s first four months after he was born. I didn’t get very much sleep, and to tell the truth, he wasn’t much of a conversationalist. In fact, I’m not sure that he even realized that I was in the room with him. And that was hard. Our interaction was really limited to him crying about needing something, and me trying to figure it what it was. Was it food? No. Was it sleep? No. Was it the diaper? Probably. And think most of know what I’m talking about. It was exhausting. And there was really nothing in it for me.

But something magical happened at four month. His eyes began to track me around the room. He would giggle when he saw me. He was beginning to be able to see me as something that he recognized, something that meant something to him. At that moment, in the simple act of recognizing me, he changed from being this sort of blob that only needed to be taken care of, to an actual person, with whom I could interact.

And I believe that God desires that interaction. The give and take of a real relationship. If the only time I talked to my wife was when I needed something from her, well, I think that Karen would hope for more than that from me in our relationship. If the only time Wiley talked to me was when he needed something, well I would think that meant he was a teenager. Wait, did I say that out loud?

I think you know what I’m saying. There has to be more to our relationship with God than simply telling God what we want, and expecting him to make it happen. Faith is more than that. Prayer is more than that.

And you know what? We are not the first people to ever wonder what prayer was all about. Jesus’ disciples also wanted to know how to pray, what to pray, and what to expect from God.

And Jesus tells them a story. “I mean, really” Jesus says. “Think about it. If you had people staying at your house, and you realized that you had run out of food for them, and you went over to your friend’s house next door, don’t you think that he will give you some food? Even if he’s grumpy, even if it’s late at night, you know that he will help with whatever you need, that’s why you are friends with him.

Jesus goes on to say, “And honestly, when your children ask for things that are good for them, things that they need, clothing, books, shoes, food, don’t you give it to them? Are you the kind of parent that would deny her children the basic necessities of life? Come on, think about it. Those things in your life that you need, Those things that you will use to help other people, God will give you. Those things that you need in order to know that you are beloved, forgiven, welcomed, God will give you.”

The Lord’s Prayer is a gift, a promise, and a template. There are times in our lives when we don’t know what to pray for. We don’t know how to pray. We pray, not knowing if God is listening, or if God will respond.

And in those times,we can hold onto the Lord’s Prayer. It may be the only thing we can hold onto.

I have been amazed at the way that people that I visit in hospitals and nursing homes remember the Lord’s Prayer. Whenever I serve communion to shut-ins I always pray the Lord’s prayer, and time after time, people who seem to be on the very edge of cognitve thought, those with alzheimers, those with dementia, they will join me in this prayer. There is something in these words that bring them back into an understanding of who they are, and whose they are.

This is the Good News of the Lord’s Prayer. That God is our Father, a parent that cares for his children; that he is Holy, transcendent, not confined by space or time but, beyond our limitations. We pray, knowing that our world is not the final thing, God has plans for us, plans for a kingdom that lifts up the least, where there is no hunger, there is no war, there is no shame.

This is His desire for us, that we would look for ways to be a part of that kingdom, that we might not fear for our own sake, that we would trust God enough that we can be generous with what we have, that we can live in peace with one another, that we can grant others around us the same grace what we ourselves have received.

We pray knowing that whatever God calls us to do, it will not be a path that leads to death or violence, or anger, or the loss of our soul. And we pray these things because God is good, God is worthy of of our trust, and God has promised an everlasting covenant with us, forever, and ever.

Prayer is a strange thing. In prayer, we are knocking on the door, trusting that someone is there, someone who loves us, cares for us, and will welcome us home. And the Lord’s Prayer perfectly articulates everything we need to know and trust about God.

Because it reminds us that God is also knocking at our door, hoping that we will look for him in our life, that we will simply take some time to just talk to him, That we will tell him that we love him, and to welcome him into our home.

And there’s nothing strange about that.

Thanks be to God. Amen.