Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sermon -- 10th Sunday after Pentecost (July 24, 2016)

LUKE 11:1-13

LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY.

In the name + of Jesus.

      If it sounds strange that one of Jesus' disciples should ask Jesus to teach him how to pray, that's because it is.  The Jews knew how to pray.  It was a standard part of their life in the home, in the synagogue, and at the temple.  But Jesus had come proclaiming the message: “The Kingdom of heaven is near.”  And he had declared that he was the one who would be ushering in this kingdom.  So, the disciples were eager to know how they should pray in this kingdom and for this kingdom.
     Almost everything Jesus teaches about prayer is found in the first two words of the Lord's Prayer, “Our Father.”  “Our Father” tells us who God is, what our relationship to him is, and what his relationship to us is.  It tells us what we can expect from God, and what he desires of us.  He is our Father in heaven, and therefore, he desires what is best for us just as he desires what is best from us.
     Lord, teach us to pray.  Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father.”  He is your Father not just because he created you.  He is your Father especially because he redeemed you.  He loves you, and he demonstrated that love by sending his Son, Jesus, to do all that was necessary to bring you into his family.  Rather than give you want you deserve for your sins, God the Father gave Jesus what you deserve.  Rather than convict you because you are guilty—and you are—God the Father convicted and cursed his Son for your guilt.  Rather than forsake you for your continued weaknesses, God the Father forsook Jesus at the cross.  And now, rather than turn a deaf ear to your cries, God the Father turns his ear to you as any parent would heed the cries of a child in need.  Your Father in heaven has adopted you as his beloved children.  He is eager to hear his children call upon him.
     Lord, teach us to pray.  Jesus teaches us why we can trust our Father in heaven to hear and answer.  He told a parable of a man who asked his friend for a favor in the middle of the night.  It was not friendship that motivated the neighbor to act; it was because he was shameless in asking.  But God is not a friend who will only come to your aid reluctantly if you badger him enough.  He is your Father in heaven.  He summons you to pray, and he never finds your petitions inconvenient or burdensome.
     Lord, teach us to pray.  Jesus teaches us about the boldness with which we can come to our Father in heaven.  He says, “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!” (Luke 11:11-13)  Children will ask their parents for anything.  We parents often respond with an eye roll or a sigh because we find our children's requests to be an interruption or a burden.  Nevertheless, even sinful parents see to it that our children get what they need and what we believe to be the best for them.  That doesn't mean we give them whatever they ask for.  Some requests are unaffordable.  Some are just plain foolish.  But you would never give your children anything that is harmful for them.  And your children know that.  That's why they come to you and ask for anything.  Now, if sinful parents with limited resources, limited knowledge, and limited patience still know how to give their children what is good for them, will not your Father in heaven who is holy, loving, omnipotent, and omniscient give good gifts to you?  He will never give you want is destructive to you.  Whatever your Father in heaven gives you is ultimately for your good.  When the Lord does grant us a burden to bear, we complain about it.  Repent; for, the Lord gives us burdens to teach us to rely on him for the strength we do not have.  Your Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift.  He summons you to pray so that he will give you his gifts.
     Lord, teach us to pray.  And Jesus teaches you to pray with astounding confidence and freedom.  He basically issues a blank check to you.  Jesus says, “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.” (Luke 11:9-10)  Our sinful skepticism replies, “Oh, that's nonsense!  God will not do that much for me.”  But to say that is also to confess, “He is not really my Father in heaven.  He doesn't love me that much.”  Or, “He doesn't know me well enough to know what is best for me.”  Do not take Jesus' words lightly.  To believe Jesus when he issues that blank check is similar to the spirit in which children ask their parents for things.  Children are bold enough to ask for anything—whether it is candy or new shoes or a pony or a trip to Disney World.  Children do not crunch numbers or calculate the odds of getting what they ask for.  They just ask boldly.
     Now, your Father in heaven summons you to pray to him.  You are children of the Most High God.  He is your Father.  Therefore, you get to ask him boldly for anything—from a cure for cancer to rain for a green lawn to a faster morning commute.  And you get to ask with the confidence that your Father in heaven actually hears your prayers and will answer as is best for you.
     The Patriarch Abraham knew how to pray boldly to the Lord.  That's because he knew God's promises and he knew who God was.  Abraham did not pray for Sodom and Gomorrah, that they should be spared because God doesn't judge people.  Rather, Abraham prayed for the Church.  He prayed this way because he knew that God loves his Church and does not seek its destruction.  So Abraham held God to his word when he prayed, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  … Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:23,25)  The Lord was not insulted by Abraham's prayer, but rather honored because Abraham believed God's word and held him to it.
     Lord, teach us to pray.  And 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 who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4)  Jesus teaches you to pray not only for your daily worries and wants, he especially teaches you to pray for the spiritual gifts that God grants.  These are the good things that your Father in heaven wants you to have.  These gifts have everlasting value.  Your daily bread and your daily concerns are only for this momentary world.  Therefore, Jesus teaches you to pray that you would keep God's name holy with a pure faith and a godly life, that God would break and defeat every plan and purpose of the devil that would threaten us, that God would continue to be merciful to us in forgiving our sins, that God would lead us to demonstrate such mercy to other sinners, and that God would strengthen us against every temptation.  These are the blessings we need to strengthen and preserve us in the true faith until life everlasting.  And God the Father will never deny you these blessings; they are exactly what God wants you to have so that you will be his children both now and for eternal life.
     Therefore, when you pray, remember who it is to whom you are praying.  He is “Our Father” who loves us and has sent his Son to save us so that we will dwell with him forever.  If the Father wants you in his kingdom forever, then he certainly will care for your needs today.  We pray, holding God to his promises.  This honors him, and it comforts and aids us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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