July 28, 2019 – The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 11:1-13 – The Lord’s Prayer
What does Jesus teach his disciples about prayer? This morning let’s take a brief look at this question from the perspective of the author of the gospel of Luke. Prayer is very important in Luke, an essential component of the life of a disciple of Jesus, an activity that is necessary to equip anyone to participate in Christ’s mission in the world.
In Luke’s gospel we see Jesus modeling a commitment to prayer. Luke tells us that in the midst of Jesus’ busy life of teaching and healing, “he would withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16). Important events in Jesus’ life are often associated with prayer. After he was baptized by John, Jesus “was praying, [and] the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22). The night before he chose the twelve apostles, Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Jesus took his disciples James and John with him when he went up on the mountain to pray, and “while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” James and John witnessed what we know as the Transfiguration of Christ (Luke 9:28-36). Near the end of his life, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:41-42). From the cross Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And his final words were this prayer, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” From the very beginning of his ministry until its end Jesus was a man of prayer.
Our gospel lesson this morning tells us that one day after Jesus had finished praying, “one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). At the time rabbis and teachers gave their disciples prayers to repeat. These prayers identified people as followers of a particular teacher. Jesus’ followers wanted him to give them such a prayer. So Jesus taught them what we all know as the Lord’s Prayer. We use the longer version recorded by Matthew (6:9-13) rather than the version we find in Luke. The Lord’s Prayer continues to define us as followers of Jesus, united constantly throughout the world as millions of Christians offer this prayer to God every day.
Let’s look at Jesus’ parable about the three friends. It is late at night and a man’s friend arrives unexpectedly at his house. He has no bread to offer his guest, so he decides to ask another friend to lend him some. This man has settled in for the night and doesn’t want to be bothered to get up. Jesus says, “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” (Luke 11:8). We should be careful as we interpret this parable. Jesus is not teaching that if we pester God long enough, God will give us what we ask for just to get us to stop asking! The parable is about us being persistent in our prayer to God. The lesson is to pray always and not lose heart, to pray with faith and trust in God’s goodness.
The parable is also about intercessory prayer. The man is asking his friend for bread, not to have for himself but to serve his guest. This is what we are doing whenever we pray on behalf of someone else, at home, together here as we name before God the people on our prayer list, and when we pray for healing with the laying on of hands. Jesus teaches us to pray for others persistently and in faith. He promises that God will give the Holy Spirit – the presence of the divine – to those who ask and seek and knock. Again, we must be careful not to put our thoughts and words into Jesus’ mind and mouth. He is not saying that God will give us what we ask for. I’m sure each and every one of us has asked for many blessings from God for others and for ourselves and for our world that God has not given us. The promise is that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. God will give God’s self to those who seek God. It is our choice to make – to seek God or to seek what God can give us. In other words, it is our choice to seek God or seek ourselves. God gives us the freedom to choose – God or self, life or death. God’s astounding promise is that if we seek God, we will find God.
This past week I went to the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester. I have been there many times, but it has been 2 or 3 years since my last visit, so I decided to take the hour long tour. I would very much recommend that you visit this beautiful place and take the tour. You may be inspired by the experience. During the tour the tour guide read a letter written in the 19th century by one of the elders – the temporal and spiritual leaders of the community – to a young man who was unsure if he would stay with the Shakers or leave. At the time the Shaker communities were in decline. The world had changed. A life of farming was not as attractive as it had been since manufacturing and other jobs became available in cities. The elder didn’t try to convince the man to stay. In fact, he did decide to remain a Shaker and actually became a prominent elder himself during his long life in the Shaker community. What struck me most about the letter was the fact that the elder encouraged the man to hold fast to the “Christ light.” The letter was beautiful and I wish I could have a copy, but the tour guide said it wasn’t in any of the books about Shakers that were available.
I wished for a copy, not only because it was a beautiful letter, but because every word of it could apply to our situation here today in the church. We are in decline, too. The world is more and more secular. Some would say it is darker and darker. What we have to offer is that we, too, hold up the “Christ light.” If we do that, faithfully, we will be doing what we are called to do to be the church of Christ.
There are only two remaining Shakers in the world, both living at Sabbathday Lake – an elderly woman and a middle-aged man. Before long every Shaker settlement in the country will be a museum. But the Christ light continues to shine, in and through every faithful follower of Jesus and every community of believers who hold fast to that light. The choice is ours, again. Will we be faithful to God and to Jesus Christ? In the words of this morning’s Collect, will we choose God to be our ruler and guide, and “so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal”? May God help us to choose wisely. In Jesus’ name. Amen.