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Pastor Dean M. Bell

Pentecost 9C
Unknown Location  

Sat, Jul 24, 2010 

+In Nomine Iesu+

+In Nomine Iesu+

Pentecost 9

St Luke 11:1-13

25 July 2010

You might think prayer a topic that would take care of itself in the Church.  After all, we're told to pray.  It is God's command.  Prayer is the proper response to the Second Commandment.  Prayer obeys that commandment.  But notice what happens in our text.

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Jesus, himself, has been praying.  The eternal Son has been speaking with His heavenly Father.  The disciples aren't totally out of the picture.  They know what He has been doing - maybe even trying to eavesdrop.  And as Jesus finishes, His disciples make a request: "Lord, teach us to pray."  Think of that.  These men had been raised in the worship of God.  They had witnessed the religious life of the temple.  They were familiar with the services of the synagogue.  And yet, they were uncertain of themselves.  When it came to prayer they needed to be taught.  Knowing that, there is no reason for us to be hesitant in admitting our own uncertainty concerning prayer.

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So, what does Jesus do?  He teaches.  More than that, He gives them His prayer.  He gives them what we know as the "Lord's Prayer."  Seven petitions, divided into two parts.  Did you notice that structure?  A parallel, in some ways, to the Ten Commandments - also divided into two parts.  In both, the first part reflects what our relationship is to be with God.  And the second deals with our relationship to our neighbor.

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Why might that be?  Why the concentration on God first?  The answer is, I think, quite simple.  If we are alienated from God; if we are unsure of ourselves vis--vie God; if we are uncertain of God's attitude toward us - if any of these conditions prevail we can never approach our neighbor and his welfare as we should.

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So, what does Jesus instruct His disciples to pray for first?  The holiness of God's name.  His kingdom.  And, as we learn from St Matthew, God's will.  In other words, we pray first for that which is above us.  We pray that we would be reconciled to God.  And in this we are praying against our self.  Praying against our self because by our self we cannot accomplish any of these things.  Left to ourselves we cannot make God's name holy, or bring about His kingdom, or accomplish His will.  Thus, in these first petitions we ask God to do what we cannot do.  We ask Him to accomplish - for us, and within us - what He wants.  We ask that God reconcile Himself to us.  And this is exactly what our Father in heaven does through Jesus Christ.

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Then the prayer takes a very interesting turn.  Up to this point we have been praying for that which is outside of, and above us.  We have been praying for the things of God.  But, as Martin Luther says, at this point we become like little two-year-olds sitting in our high chair.  Our prayer, our concern, our pleading, becomes very basic, very personal - very concrete.  In the first three petitions we have prayed for life as it should be - as it ought to be.  But in the fourth petition we come crashing back down to earth.  We look at our lives, and they are sordid, messy, frail, full of contradictions.  Not much strength.  Lots of weakness.  And, like a child, we cry out.  It's the only way a child knows.  To paraphrase Luther again, like a child we bang our little fists on the table.  "Daddy, help me!  Take care of me!" Exactly what you'd expect from a child, isn't it?  Exactly what you'd expect from a child who is dealing with daddy.  A child is not reticent.  Not timid.  The child - us - the child has needs, and loudly - insistently - brings those needs to the only One who can help.

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But this isn't the end of the reconciliation.  Next comes forgiveness.  "If, dear Father, I have been too forward, please forgive me.  Forgive me for this, and for all my other sins.  And help me to forgive in like manner."

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Now, please notice this.  As we pray we are never praying only for ourselves.  Notice the language.  Always we speak in the plural.  "Our."  "Us."  "We."  What we want for our self - as Christians - we also want for our neighbor.  We want him cared for by God's gracious provision of daily bread.  We want him forgiven.  We want him to have a forgiving heart toward us.  We want him protected from all temptation - and from the Evil One.  You see, we are praying here for each other.

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So, how do we know that any of this does any good?  How do we know that God hears?  And, if He hears, how do we know that He will listen and answer us?  Jesus uses two parables to give us that assurance.

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First comes the man in the night.  This man has a friend whom he feels he can count on in desperate times.  We are like this man.  We are not strangers to God.  Nor are we His enemies.  We count Him as a friend.  The person comes late at night, after everyone is tucked into bed.  He bangs on the door.  "I have a need," he cries out.  "Leave me alone," comes the answer.  But, no.  The banging goes on.  The individual will not go away.  "I have a need."  And what does Jesus praise here?  Persistence.  The person in need doesn't quit knocking.

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The second parable presents a picture of earthly fathers dealing with earthly children.  If a son asks for a fish will dad give him a snake?  Or a scorpion instead of an egg?  Of course the answer is no.  No father would think of treating his son is such a way.  So, Jesus says, if you who are by nature evil - sinful - know how to give good gifts, don't you think your Father in heaven knows how to give you good gifts?  The answer, of course, is "absolutely."  Our Father will give the very best of gifts.  And what is that?  The Holy Spirit.  The Spirit who keeps us in the faith.  The Spirit who leads us in the Christian life.  The Spirit who pleads for us.  The Spirit who takes our mangled, stumbling prayers and presents them to the Father whole and complete.

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And then there is this verse.  "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."  There's the promise.  There's the promise that God will hear - and act. 

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Two things here.  First, there is a progression in these words.  A progression from the lesser to the greater.  First there is the asking.  We're wondering, so to speak.  There is a certain shyness here.  We're not quite sure of ourselves, but we ask.  Then everything moves to a higher level.  We are seeking.  Actively looking.  Searching.  We're hunting.  Rummaging around.  Finally, we're knocking.  We won't be dissuaded.  To use Luther's language again, we're pounding on the gates of heaven.  And as we pound away, what are we calling out?  "God!  Listen!  You promised!" And what has God promised?  The promise comes in words like these; "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you." (Ps. 50) And again, "When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him." (Ps 91) God does not leave us wondering.  His attitude toward us is clear.  He promises to hear us.  He promises to answer.  He promises to help.  And that promise is made to each of you.

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Secondly, when Jesus tells us to "ask," "seek," and "knock," this is not a casual thing.  Rather, it involves ongoing activity.  It's as if to say, "keep on asking," "keep on seeking," "keep on knocking."  In other words, don't become discouraged.  Persistence, remember?  Don't give up.  Don't think God is sleeping or inattentive.  It is God's will to exercise your faith.  Only in its exercise does faith become stronger.  We don't pray but once and think it done.  No, we continue day after day.  We are to be - as mentioned earlier - single-minded.  And in His time - in His way - God will answer.  He will answer as a Father who loves and seeks only the best for His children.

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And such children you are.  Your heavenly Father has brought you into His family.  You are part of the household.  You are not aliens.  Strangers.  Your baptism is evidence of that.  And now - as members of the household - not only have you been taught to pray - you have been given the prayer of Jesus.  You have been given that prayer that defines you.  Defines you as among those who can with confidence seek God's name, His kingdom and His will.  And, additionally, defines you as being among those who look to God for every good gift.  Every good gift for you and for your neighbor.  Provision for your earthly life.  Forgiveness.  Help in the face of temptation.  And - at the end - deliverance from the Evil One.  Thank God, dear friends.  So it shall be.  For you belong to Jesus - and to the Father - through the Holy Spirit.

Amen

+Soli Deo Gloria+





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