St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Trinity 6, July 28.2019. Canon Claude Schroeder. (Luke 11. 1-13)
“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after He had finished, one ofthe disciples said to him, Lord, teach us to pray.”
So today it’s going to be all about prayer, and the three part teaching on prayer which Jesus gave his disciples in today’s Gospel reading. In the first part, we have the words of a prayer Jesus gave his disciples to pray, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, which we should actually call “The Disciples’ prayer.” Then we have a parable about prayer. Jesus preferred method of teaching was to tell a parable. Here it’s the story of the man who when to his friend at midnight to ask for bread, and then, thirdly, we have some sayings on prayer.
This teaching is part of what we call the “Travel Narrative” in Luke’s Gospel, which is the journey that Jesus took with his disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he was handed over to be crucified and on the third day rise from the dead. It was in Jerusalem where Jesus answered the petition in the prayer which says, “Thy Kingdom Come.” By His death and resurrection, and sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ has established God’s kingdom on this earth and in our midst, setting us free from our slavery to sin and death. As Christians we find ourselves on this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, a journey into the kingdom, where God’s name is hallowed, His will is done, we are given each day our daily bread, our sins are forgiven as we forgive others, God shields and protects us in times of trial. This is the kingdom of God and it’s what we come to church every Sunday to celebrate in our service of Holy Communion.
“How great, dearest brothers, are the mysteries of the Lord’s Prayer, how many, how magnificent, gathered together in a few words, yet abundant in spiritual power.” So wrote St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, in North Africa, in the 3th century.
What a gift the Lord’s Prayer is to us! In Baptism the Church entrusted us with this prayer, which The Book of Common Prayer teaches us to pray every day, three times a day: morning, noon, and night, thereby fixing our hearts and minds on where they need to be: the presence and power of God in our midst.
I guess it was my mom and my dad who first taught me to pray as child. I also recall my Grade 5 elementary school teacher who began the day with the Lord’s Prayer. Then there were the teenagers in the youth group I attended who had this remarkable ability to pray without using a book! Then there was the so called charismatic Anglican priest who taught me about praying in tongues.
But the principle established by Jesus in “The Lord’s Prayer” that prayer is a communal undertaking, according to a shared set form of words, “Our Father”, “Give Us This Day,” Forgive us our trespasses” is central to the Anglican practice of prayer. They don’t call it “The Book of Common Prayer” for nothing.
While prayer to God need not be confined to the book, to regard praying by the book as somehow “not really prayer” or “not very spiritual” is bad teaching for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is you end up inventing your own eccentric version of the Christian faith according to the principle, “the law of prayer is the law of faith.” What you believe is always expressed in and through prayer.
Now of course, it is quite possible to rattle off the words of the prayer, and to think you have prayed. Praying and rattling off the words are not the same thing. This is because the principle organ of prayer is not the mouth, bet the heart. Our struggle in prayer, as one ancient writer put it, “is to enclose our minds in the words of the prayer, and then descend into the heart” and stand there before God. (St. Theophan)
To give concentrated, heart-felt attention to the words of the prayer is no easy task. What we do here in church on Sunday mornings is hard work! Why is that? It’s hard because our minds are unstable. We are so easily bored and seek out distraction, and end up thinking about other things.
I love the prayer from the Order of Service for Young People which begins, “Lord, teach us to pray. Lord, keep our thoughts from wandering. Lord, cleanse our hearts, that we may worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
In giving focussed heart felt attention to God through the words of the prayer, is to have our hearts purified healed from the pollution and wound of sin, and to enter into communion with God, and experience His goodness. It is the very thing for which we have been created, and it is what salvation is.
Now if, as Jesus teaches us in “The Lord’s Prayer,” that to pray is to enter into a deeply personal relationship with God, whereby we speak to God as Jesus spoke to Him, as “Our Father,” what does that mean for the kind of attitude we need to bring to our prayer?
Part of what it means is that God is good and can be trusted to respond to our prayer. In the story that Jesus tells a man receives visitor at midnight. According to the laws of hospitality of the ancient near east, when a guest arrived at your house, it doesn’t matter what time of the day or night, you had the moral obligation to give your guest something to eat. But in our story the man who receives the guest has no bread. And goes over to the neighbor’s house, at midnight, and wakes him up, and his entire family, and asking for bread. The neighbor is less than pleased. The door is locked, and he is in bed with all his children. What a pain.
I don’t know the last you went to the neighbor’s house to borrow some food, but you and I wouldn’t dream of knocking on the neighbor’s house at midnight. That would be really inconsiderate, bad behavior on our part, and would mean the end of any neighborliness we had established.
But in the story world of Jesus’ day, it’s not so much the neighbor who comes asking for bread at midnight who is being inconsiderate and behaving bad. It’s the man who is bed with his kids who can’t be bothered to help his neighbor who is being inconsiderate. Jesus says, “Even though he won’t get up and give him anything some because he is a friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”
There is some disagreement among commentators whether “persistence” is the best translation of the Greek text. It seems to suggest that when it comes to prayer God is reluctant, needing to be prodded and cajoled into acting and responding to our prayer, which of course is a pagan idea.
It’s been suggested that the word here is better translated as “shamelessness,” which raises the question, whose shamelessness is being highlighted here? Was it the shameless disregard of the man who came requesting bread in the middle of the night, or was it the shameless, that is to say “honourable” way in which the sleeping neighbor dealt with his neighbor’s request?
I think it’s both. The parable comes to us as an invitation not be ashamed about acknowledging before God the desperate situation we find ourselves in, to bring before Him all of our needs, all of our wants, all of our hurts, ail of our hopes, and all of our desires. But more importantly the parable comes as an invitation to trust that God will act and respond in such a way that brings honor to His name and ours.
The underlying issue being whether we think our actions and attitudes are the key to prayer, or whether it is based instead on God’s goodness. Given the fact that we are all are such a mixed bag, I hope it’s the latter. This is fact how the Collect for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity teaches us to believe, when we pray,
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
Our God is a good God, and He loves mankind.
And so, if as Jesus says teaches us that in prayer we are to come to God and keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking it is only because God has come to us first.
So what about the fact that in spite of our shameless petitions it seems that God has decided, at least where we are concerned, to stay in his cozy bed. So often we have asked and not received; we have searched and have not found, we have knocked and the door has remained closed. The prayer has gone unanswered.
What are we to say about this? We might say, that God always answers prayer, and sometimes the answer is “No” which is prayer just as clear an answer to prayer as “yes.” The point being we dorft always get what we ask for, for reasons that are not always entirely clear.
But in what follows Jesus seems to give a rather different answer. “Is there anyone among you,” asks Jesus, “who if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?” Of course not. None of us would ever do that to any of our children. “Or if the child asks for a egg, would give a scorpion? ridiculous. None of us would ever play such a rotten trick on any of our children.
“If you then who are evil, know how to good goof gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!”
What is Jesus saying here? What He is saying is that when we pray, what we really need to be asking for, what we really need to be looking for is for God give us and fill us with His Holy Spirit, and in filling us with His Holy Spirit, to fill us with Himself.
When you think about not only the labour that is prayer, but the spiritual labour that is our worship, our service and acts of charity, what would you say is the goal? Why do we do these things? Is this about the fulfillment of a religious obligation and duty? That may be where we begin, but how tragic if were to never move beyond this. The goal of our spiritual labour as Christians is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
Why is this so important that we acquire the Holy Spirit? I want to mention two reasons. In the absence of the Holy Spirit, you will never know who you really are. It is the Holy Spirit who witnesses to our Spirit that we are children of God, beloved and forgiven. ( Romans 8.32) And the second reason we need the Holy Spirit is that, at the end of the day, we don’t know for what and how we are to pray. We need the Holy Spirit to come and pray His prayer in us. This the thought which lies at the heart of the hymn after Communion which we have been singing this summer.
When somebody comes to visit you, and they knock on the door, you go and open the door, and ask them to come in, once they have come in, you don’t need to keep asking them to come in, because they have arrived, and you can now enjoy their presence. In the same way, when as Jesus promised God answers your prayer, and visits you with His Holy Spirit, you can stop asking for Him to come. The time has come to keep silence, and enjoy His presence, because He has arrived.
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.