|Serra Retreat Center, Malibu|
The whole thing begins simply enough … the disciples say to Jesus, Teach us how to pray.
The disciples reminded Jesus that John taught his disciples to pray … so maybe Jesus outta get on with it?
Whatever the motive, it’s a universal thing.
This business of prayer.
Because the world is so big.
And we’re so small.
And we know it.
And we hope there’s a god out there somewhere!
Let’s be honest.
We’d all like a little help now and then from the gods.
Protection for loved ones.
Healing from disease.
A little more money in the bank.
Human beings pray
We’re profoundly and incurably religious.
Ancient caves thousands of years old reveal drawings and artifacts of religious activities …
History might well be read as a story of what we worship and what we think the divine beings want of us.
Life is full of religion:
Song and dance.
Art and music.
Holy men and holy women.
Rituals and rites.
Good luck charms.
Spilled salt thrown over our shoulder.
Don’t walk under a ladder.
Don’t step on sidewalk cracks.
Go to church and say our prayers.
If there’s something out there, we’d like it to be on its side.
Prayer is a big business.
Google prayer … 77 million results, .13 seconds …
Go to a book store …
How to pray …
What to pray …
Ancient prayers …
New prayers …
Traditional prayers with thee and thou …
Hip prayers for the young …
Prayers of comfort for the old …
Prayers for parents.
Prayers for children …
You name, we’ve got prayers.
Prayer is a big business.
Teach us how to pray, said the disciples to Jesus.
Simple enough …
And Jesus offers a simple prayer, When you pray, pray like this …
And thus the LORD's Prayer …
Let’s say it together this morning …
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen!
We can do no better then to pray The LORD's Prayer.
Pray it often.
All sorts of ways:
Pause on each line.
Devote a day to one line.
Let it sink in.
Our Father who art in heaven.
The LORD's Prayer is clear.
Honor God and pray for the stuff of life – bread and forgiveness.
But one line is strange.
Hazard a guess?
You got it,
Lead us not into temptation.
Let’s do some work.
The word can also be translated “testing.”
In Genesis 22, it says, God tested Abraham.
It’s quite a story, but God had to find out what kind of a man Abraham was.
God had to do some testing.
And we know the rest of the story.
God asks Abraham for his son.
The very next day, early in the morning, Abraham loads a mule with wood, and off he goes with his beloved son Isaac … three days trek to a mountain, a high place, to meet God and God’s awful demand, and on that mountain, Abraham builds an alter, places wood on it, binds his son and lays him on the alter, to sacrifice him to God.
At the very moment when Abraham has the knife in hand, ready to do the deed, the LORD calls out, Abraham, Abraham.
Now I know, says the LORD.
No need to go any further.
In the bushes, you’ll find a ram.
Now I know.
You’re the man.
You’re the one to shoulder the burdens of faith for a new day, for a new world.
You have withheld nothing from me.
Even your beloved son.
Life is full of tests.
Teachers test us.
The boss tests us.
Life tests all the time.
Lead us not into a time of testing, says Jesus.
Don’t put us into a place where our faith will be challenged, like Abraham was challenged.
We’re not up to it.
And that’s what this piece is all about.
LORD, we’re not superstars.
We’re not Abraham or Isaac or Jacob.
We’re not giants in the faith.
We’re just fisherman and tax collectors and ordinary folk who try our best.
We don’t pretend to be anything more than what we are.
Flesh and blood human beings.
We love and we laugh.
We work and we weep.
We mess up and do foolish things.
We do good things and smart things.
We are what we are.
And here we are LORD.
We don’t ask to be tested, because we’re not that confident.
We don’t ask to be put on trial, LORD, because we’re not so sure of our selves.
We’re not proud LORD.
We’re not boasting about our faith.
We don’t look down our noses at anyone else LORD.
We know how tough life is for everyone.
So, LORD, don’t put our feet to the fire.
Don’t expect too much of us.
Lead us not into a time of testing.
The prayer ends with one final petition:
Deliver us from evil.
Let me say clearly: This is not a prayer for deliverance from bad things … bad things happen to all of us … there is no escape from hard times …
There was no escape for Jesus, and no escape for us either.
Life is what it is.
It’s prayer for deliverance from the greatest of all evils.
The evils within us.
There is no evil “out there” that can match the “evil within.”
Deliver us from the evil within.
Attitudes that frighten and frustrate.
Ideas that turn our heart heavy with envy and jealousy and anger and impatience and pride.
Longings that make us bitter and cranky and hard to live with …
Things that twist our soul and distort our values.
Deliver us from evil.
And with that, the prayer ends.
But the prayer is NOT the end of the story.
Jesus continues to teach.
Not how to pray.
But to whom we pray.
Anyone can use the words.
But Jesus wants us to know God.
The one to whom we’re praying:
With that, Jesus tells a delightful story.
Let me rework it a bit for you.
It seems that Donna and I got a midnight call from a friend, who just landed at LAX, and needs a place to stay, and he’s really hungry.
And we don’t have a thing to eat in the house.
So I go to my neighbors across the courtyard and pound on their door.
My neighbor hollers, Who’s there and what do you want?
I shout back:
I have an unexpected guest in my house, and the cupboards are bear – do you have any extra bread?
Go away, says my neighbor. I’m in bed; we’re all asleep. Let me alone.
But I keep pounding on the door.
And my neighbor finally gets up and gives me the bread.
Now here’s where the story gets complicated.
Some translations put the emphasis on the persistent person, as if Jesus were teaching us that God is a sleepy neighbor who doesn’t want to be bothered, so we have to make a lot of noise and pound on heaven’s door.
Is that what Jesus is teaching us?
That God would rather be left alone?
That the only way we can get something from God is pound on the door and make a lot of noise?
Make a fuss and embarrass God in front of the neighbors?
Is that what Jesus is teaching us?
Let’s read carefully.
Other translations suggest something else.
The man got up because he didn’t want to appear shameless.
The word for “persistence” can be translated “shameless.”
The burden is not on the guy pounding on the door; the burden is on the man in bed.
The man has a reputation to maintain.
He doesn’t want to look bad.
Now this may not catch our attention, but in First Century Palestine, reputation is everything, and hospitality is the heart of it.
In First Century Palestine,
It was a serious offense to withhold hospitality.
Now we have to stay with the story.
Is God concerned about God’s reputation?
The answer is yes!
Psalm 23: God leads us in paths of righteousness … finish it … for his name’s sake.
For the sake of God’s name.
But Jesus goes further.
You all know how to give good things to your children.
And if you know how to love your children, even though you’re not so hot.
How much more does your Father in heaven love you?
This parable moves from the lesser to the greater.
If your neighbor can be awakened in the middle of the night, how more will your Heavenly Father be willing to hear your prayers?
If your neighbor is concerned about his reputation,
How much more is God ready and eager to defend God’s name and maintain God’s reputation?
If we, who are the lesser, know how to love our children,
How much more will the Greater One know how to love us and provide for us?
We don’t have to bang on the door all night long.
God is our friend, and so much more.
God is our Father in Heaven.
God gives what we need.
So, go ahead and ask, and you shall receive.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened.
But you say to me, Preacher, wait a minute … I’ve asked, and I didn’t receive … I’ve looked high and low, and I didn’t find … I’ve knocked on the door, I’ve pounded on the door, and it remains closed.
Jesus adds something that catches us by surprise:
How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The Holy Spirit?
What’s up with this?
I’m not asking for the Holy Spirit.
When was the last time any of us asked for the Holy Spirit?
I’m asking for health, for a job, for a child in trouble …
But Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit.
To bind our heart and mind to Christ.
And to bind Christ to us.
It’s not what happens to us.
It’s what happens inside of us.
Attitude is everything!
The Holy Spirit is what we need.
A Spirit-filled heart.
Let that be our first prayer in the morning, and our last prayer at night:
O LORD my God, fill my heart with your Holy Spirit.
So that however life plays itself out for us, we sing the songs of God.
In life and in death.
In the best of times and in the worst.
In our laughter and in our tears.
With faith, hope and love.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Amen and Amen!