Sermon for July 24, 2016

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

July 24, 2016, Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Luke 11:1-13

Sermon Theme: “God’s Door Is Always Open”

(Sources:  Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Westminster Dictionary of the Bible; Footnotes from the Life Application Study Bible; What Luther Says, Compiled by Ewald Plass; original ideas; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; “Six Reasons Prayers Are Not Answered” by David Wilkerson)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many smaller churches have only four Elders, and they don’t always agree on things, so they have to take a vote to make a decision.  In one such church, there was an Elder who always cast his one-against-three losing vote no matter what the issue seemed to be.

After a number of years of always having to give in to the majority vote, this Elder brought up an issue he felt very strongly about and was sure he was right in God’s eyes.  Knowing that the other three would vote against him and believing that God was on his side of this particular proposal, he decided bold action was needed.  So when the negative vote came from the other three, he prayed aloud in front of them, “O Lord, I know in my heart that I am right and they are wrong.  Please show us a sign now, so that they will understand that I know your ways.”

At that very moment, a storm cloud moved across the sky, rumbled, and then disappeared.  The outvoted Elder said, “See, a sign from God!  Now you will have to believe me!”

But the other three disagreed, saying that storm clouds just suddenly form on hot summer days.

So the lone Elder prayed aloud again, “O Lord, I need a bigger sign to show them that I am right and they are wrong.  Please, God, give me a bigger sign.”  This time four storm clouds appeared out of nowhere and rushed toward each other to form one big cloud.  Then a bolt of lightning came down and knocked down a tree ten feet away from the window near where they were sitting.

“See, I told you I was right,” said the lone Elder.  Reluctantly, the other three said, “OK, we’ll agree with you that God thinks you are right.  But that only makes the vote 3 to 2.”  As if God’s will was only one vote.

In our sermon text from Luke, Jesus gives his disciples a two-part reply to their request, ‘Teach us to pray,’  — one is a model or example of prayer, and the other is a parable.  In the model and the parable Jesus focuses on three aspects of prayer, —  ONE, its content, TWO, our persistence, and THREE, God’s faithfulness.

Please note the order of the Lord’s model prayer:  First Jesus praises God, “Hallowed be Thy name,” and prays for His kingdom to come, then He makes requests.  Praising God first puts us in the right frame of mind to tell Him about our needs.  Too often, our prayers are like shopping lists rather than a conversation with God.  So what should the CONTENT of a prayer be?  That’s the first aspect of prayer.

The first petition or request is, “Give us each day our daily bread.”  Martin Luther tells 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.  In other words, “bread” is a metaphor for everything we need to have a safe and happy life.

The father of one family used to pray the Lord’s Prayer at every meal as their table grace.  One night, as they were gathered around the table, when he got to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” the youngest child said to his dad in a loud whisper, “Ask for cake.”

When Jesus taught us to ask for bread, He meant bread, not cake.

Then comes the petition about forgiveness.  Jesus made forgiveness the cornerstone of our relationship with God.  God has forgiven our sins, we must now forgive those who have wronged us.  To remain unforgiving shows we have not understood that we ourselves deeply need to be forgiven.

It’s quite likely that Jesus had Psalm 103 in mind when He was teaching His disciples about prayer; after all, the Psalms are the Prayer Book of the Old Testament.  Psalm 103 says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all the benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

The parable in the second part of our text illustrates “persistence” in prayer, — that’s the second aspect of prayer.  In the parable, the man did not want to get up and open the door to his friend and only did so after the persistent badgering of his friend.

Persistence DOES open many doors in this world.  If Thomas Edison had not been persistent, his struggle to find the right filament for his light bulb would have ended in failure.  The same was true of the Wright brothers in the invention of the airplane.  Had they given up on their many, many attempts before that successful day at Kitty Hawk, they would have been crushed by failure.

Persistence, or boldness, in prayer overcomes OUR insensitivity, not God’s.  To practice persistence does more to change our hearts and minds than God’s, and it helps us understand and express the intensity of our need.  Persistence in prayer helps us recognize God’s work.  By no means does Jesus mean in the parable that God will change His mind if you badger Him long enough.  It’s absurd to think that you can browbeat God into changing His mind.

Jesus says in the text, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  Psalm 65 says, “God is attentive to EVERY prayer that is RIGHTLY offered to Him.”  And James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a RIGHTEOUS man is powerful and effective.”  John 14:13 says, “Whatever you ask in my name, that will I do.”

God is not some hateful ogre who is reluctant to give His people good gifts.  Our text concludes with these words from Jesus, “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 the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift of all.

Again, we can’t help but think Jesus had Psalm 103 in mind, when it continues with, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

We must never think of God’s unwillingness to give.  God loves to give; He is more willing to give than we to ask.  As I said before, God, like a good father, gives only good gifts.  If a person asks for a fish, God does not give a serpent.  God’s gifts are only and always good, helpful for us.  He gives us the best gift, which is the Holy Spirit.  It’s the best because the Holy Spirit is God.  To have the Holy Spirit is to have God in you, with you, and for you.  There’s nothing better than that.

This brings us to the THIRD aspect of prayer, — God’s faithfulness.  Some people hear what the Bible teaches about prayer, but they question God’s faithfulness, because they complain that some, if not many, of their prayers are not answered.  Why doesn’t God answer my most desperate prayers?

The late Rev. David Wilkerson, former pastor of Times Square Church in New York and author of The Cross and the Switchblade, has come up with six reasons why prayers are not answered.  ONE, prayers are not answered when they are not according to God’s will; TWO, when designed to fulfill an inner lust, dream, or illusion; THREE, when we show no diligence to assist God in the answer, — such as praying for a job, but not applying for one; FOUR, when we have grudges lodged in our heart against someone else; FIVE, when we don’t expect much to come of our petitions; and SIX, when we ourselves try to prescribe how God should answer our requests.

We must pray with a pure heart, and we must be persistent, because persistence in prayer tells God we mean it, we are sincere, it is urgent.  We must be persistent, because at the time we pray for something, we may not be ready for the gift.  If we do not keep asking, when the time is right, we may not be receptive.  Also, God often answers our prayers through others, who may at the time refuse to cooperate with God.  Until that cooperation is given, we need to keep praying.

As Martin Luther said, “Prayer is not optional; God commanded  us to pray.”  God’s door is always open.  It is never too early or too late to pray, but have faith that God will act on your petition.  He loved us so much that He sacrificed His only Son to save us from our sins.

As Psalm 103 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever, He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Indeed, God’s door is always open.  You enter through prayer.  May you always choose to go in.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.