Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 28, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 11:1-13
Sermon Theme: “A Lesson on Prayer”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas; Brokhof Series C Preaching Workbook)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Two rather disreputable looking men were shipwrecked on a deserted island. Frustrated by their situation, one man began to pray, “Dear Lord, I know that I haven’t been a very good person. In the past I have lied, cheated, and hurt people with my behavior. I drink, smoke, swear and gamble. But God, if you get us out of this mess, you’ll see a changed man. I’ll . . . “
At this point, his friend shouted, “Hold it! Don’t say another word! I see a boat, and it is coming in our direction.”
Funny, isn’t it, how some people view prayer.
To be sure, there is a universal need to increase prayer knowledge. John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray. Jesus’ disciples asked their Lord to give them a lesson on prayer. He gave them a prayer, “the Our Father,” as Luther called it, “the Lord’s Prayer,” as we call it, and it is in itself a lesson on prayer.
Many of you may pray, but you’re not satisfied. Like Paul we don’t know how to pray as we ought. Like the disciples, our minds are full of questions about prayer. Our sermon text alone answers many questions that we might have about praying, and numerous of Paul’s letters answer questions about prayer. If my sermon answered all the questions raised about prayer, we would be here until sunset, at least.
So, we are going to focus on five of the points that Jesus teaches us about prayer. One, place for prayer; two, way to call upon God; three, kind of petitions; four, persistence in prayer; and five, gifts God gives. We’ll look at each of these.
One, place for prayer. There are many people who believe that prayer is more effective if it is done in the church. Those who believe that probably will pray the most effectively in the church. In actuality, we can pray anywhere. But certain places are more conducive to praying than others. Our sermon text says that Jesus was praying “in a certain place.” That implies that it was a place where He liked to pray. Before His crucifixion, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Other times, He liked to pray in the mountains.
I like to pray in the car while driving to work at the church, especially in the morning, when there is little traffic. I also like to pray in the car, driving home from work, especially at sunset, when the beauty of the sky gives a hint of the awesomeness of God.
But place is an individual choice, — only you know what works best for you; the Bible doesn’t tell you where to pray.
Two, the way to call upon or address God as you begin praying. I don’t think it’s appropriate to look upward, and say, “Hey, you, up there!”
In our sermon text, Jesus refers to God as His Father, and He encourages us to do the same. Now this isn’t something new, as we saw it in the Old Testament. Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophets, both referred to God as the Father of the people.
But the prophet Hosea especially saw the relationship with the people of Israel and God as broken, therefore, there were times when the Father-children concept was lost. When Jesus comes along, He is consistent in calling God His Father and relying on that relationship in good times as well as hard times. Thus Jesus begins this model prayer with “Our Father” (in some translations) and “Father” (in several newer translations).
So, are we supposed to address God as “Father” or as “Our Father”? The problem which allows slightly different translations is that the Aramaic word used at the start of the Prayer is actually the intimate form of “father” used by small children, and, in English, should actually be translated as “Daddy” rather than “Father.” The fact that no translator has ever used “Daddy” rather than “Father” is no doubt due to the radical nature of the word “Daddy,” as they thought it wasn’t dignified enough for God.
Yet, in Romans 8:15, Paul says that through the Spirit we are no longer slaves but have become “sons” of God, therefore we can call God, “Abba Father,” which literally means “Dearest Daddy.” So why don’t we begin, “Dearest Daddy,” that makes sense to me! It certainly tells us that we can go directly to God; we don’t need a priest to pray for us. Realizing the intimate nature of God and our relationship with Him helps us to come to Him with our confessions and our petitions.
Three, — kind of petitions. To petition means to ask for something. Jesus says in our text, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
Many folks are hesitant to petition because they don’t know what they can ask for. Well, Paul says that we should pray in everything with thanksgiving. So, can we really pray for anything and everything?
Once there was a family who used the Lord’s Prayer as their table grace. One night, as they were gathered around the dinner table, and the father got to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” the youngest child said in a loud whisper, “Ask for cake!”
Martin Luther reminds us that when Jesus taught us to ask for bread, he was instructing us to ask for everything a Christian needs to sustain life. All necessary food, clothing, shelter and also the work we do, our family and friends and even the government which protects us, we should ask for in prayer. Bread means everything we need to have a safe and happy life.
But, when the little child asked for cake, it represents our asking for things we don’t absolutely need, such as luxury cars, designer clothes, and more sweet desserts than our bodies can handle. Most Americans today have a lifestyle that even kings in another era would envy. Perhaps it is all right for us to have many of these things, but it is not God’s duty to see that we do. We have no right to expect them as our due. When Jesus taught us to ask for bread, he meant bread, not cake.
Four, persistence in prayer. This advice about praying is given in our text through the parable of the persistent friend. In the parable, the man gets up and gives his friend bread because the friend was insistent and persistent in asking. It became obvious that the man asking for bread was not going to give up.
Most of us need to hear this advice about praying, because I think we have a tendency to give up too soon, especially if God doesn’t answer our prayer as soon as we think He should.
Grace Easley has written a poem that shows perseverance and suggests persistence in prayer:
“They said, ‘You’ll never make it.’
And they thought that they were right,
But I kept plodding onward, because God had given me light.
And they shook their heads in wonder that I lacked the sense to quit,
But I held my chin up higher, and I didn’t mind a bit.
“They said, ‘You’ll never make it,’ as the problems multiplied,
But I had to make an effort and to know at least I’d tried.
So I dug my heels in deeper, though sometimes my spirits lagged,
And I shouldered what was lightest, and the rest I sort of dragged.
And I found to my amazement, at the ending of the day,
That what they said I couldn’t do,
I had managed anyway.
It only took three little words, ‘Lord, help me!’ and I rid
Myself of doubt, and all they said I’d never do . . . I did.”
Five, gifts God gives us. Many of the people Jesus preached to were the poor and the outcasts. Under the Roman rule in Jesus’ day there was no Middle Class, people were either rich or poor, upper or lower class. Jesus ministered to people who were too poor to afford to go to the temple and offer sacrifices for their family. They could not afford the price of a mikvah, or ritual bath, which barred them from the temple worship as well. These people felt they were too dirty, too ritually impure, and too small for God to notice.
So to be told by Jesus that God is not reluctant to give good gifts, that He wants to give good gifts to those who love Him, was a shocking idea. Jesus says in the text, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent, or if he asks for an egg, will give him 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!”
And of course this passage gets back to the idea of God as the loving and caring “Daddy.” If you petition God to give you fish for your hungry family, He is not going to give you poisonous snakes instead; in fact, God knows your needs before you ask, and He will give good gifts even before you ask. The greatest gift He can give you is the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Spirit brings with Him the fruits and gifts of the Spirit.
Jesus admonishes us to be seekers of the faith through prayer, because prayer is at the heart of our faith. When we follow Jesus we are not to wait quietly in the corner of the room waiting for the kingdom to come to us, we are to bravely step forward and knock on the kingdom’s door. Jesus says in our text, “and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.” Prayer is the means by which we find ourselves at the kingdom’s door.
As Ralph A. Herring put it so beautifully, “Prayer is need finding a voice. Prayer is embarrassment seeking relief. Prayer is friend in search of friend. Prayer is a quest in the darkness of midnight. Prayer is knocking on a barred door. Prayer is communion through both darkness and closed doors. Prayer is shameless insistence in the name of another. Prayer is expecting and receiving all things whatsoever we need to meet the demands when Jesus our friend calls on us.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.