The propers for this day have a very consistent theme. In the Introit, we heard, “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” The Old Testament reading is about Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Gospel, Jesus is teaching about prayer. In the collect of the day we used this gift of prayer to pray for prayer: “O Lord, let Your merciful ears be attentive to the prayers of Your servants and by Your Word and Sprit teach us how to pray …” There is a lot of talk about prayer in the propers.
One of my favorite parts of Luther’s Small Catechism is his explanation of the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father who art in heaven.
What does this mean?
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.
Martin Luther packed a lot into these words. The first thing that strikes me are the words of relationship … the tender invitation … the dear children … and the dear father. When we understand that, as a child and young man, Martin Luther was terrified of God as a vengeful judge and then, later on, he read the actual words of the Bible and learned that God the Father was a loving Father who sent His Beloved Son to rescue us from sin. When we understand this transition, what joy it must have been for Martin to understand the comfort, the love, the tenderness, the mercy, and the grace that God has for us. Then God gave martin a gift with language so that he could communicate the joy, the beauty, and the comfort of prayer in such a short sentence.
In the prelude that John has at the beginning of his account of the Gospel, he described Jesus as the true light, which gives light to everyone … (John 1:9) He then has these marvelous words: To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12–13) From these words we learn that through Jesus Christ, we receive the right to become children of God. The Apostle Paul emphasized this in his letter to the church in Rome. You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15) Once again we learn that we do not come before God in fear, but we come before him as His adopted, chosen children. Martin Luther included this teaching in his explanation when he used the words with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him. Martin Luther came to realize that, as children, we have the right to pray aggressively. Jesus Himself taught aggressive prayer in today’s Gospel with a parable about a man who asked his neighbor for bread at midnight.
In order to properly understand this parable, it is helpful to remember that there were no 24-hour convenience stores in first century Israel. There was also no electronic communication. Transportation was also more of an ordeal as you traveled by foot or beast of burden. When you take all these things into account, the scenario that Jesus has in His parable is not that outrageous.
Given that travel and communication were much more primitive, it was not at all unusual for a friend to arrive unannounced in the middle of the night. Since the friend arrived unannounced, it would not be surprising to be without food or refreshment for him. Since there were no 24-hour convenience stores, it fell to the community to help the host care for the midnight traveler. The reputation of the entire community was at stake, if the host did not find a way to serve this guest. So, if a midnight traveler arrived at your home, the entire community expected you to call on their aid in caring for this traveler.
So Jesus told this parable. Imagine that a traveler has arrived at your home and you have nothing to serve him. You do what the community wants you to do. You go next door and ask if they have any food to give to the traveler. Now, your neighbor is already in bed and his kids are all asleep and he really does not want to get up and help you. On the other hand, this neighbor also knows that your knocking on the door and calling to him has probably awakened some of the other neighbors. If they find out that he did not help you, then he will bring shame on the entire community. He will lose his reputation. So, reluctantly, for the sake of his own reputation in the community, he will help you.
The point that Jesus made with this story is this. If a neighbor who is irritated with you for wakening him in the middle of the night will still help you for the sake of his reputation in the community, how much more will the Father of all mercy and grace be eager to help you when you call on Him?
Jesus then reinforced this idea by referring to the care that earthly fathers have for their children. If sinful human fathers are eager to give good gifts to their children, how much more will the Father in Heaven eagerly give good gifts to us? Jesus encouraged aggressive prayer. I also like the way Martin Luther brings the topic of prayer to a close in the Small Catechism: I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us.
The example of Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah in today’s Old Testament reading also teaches something about prayer. If we read on after today’s Old Testament reading, we learn that God may answer our prayer in an unexpected way.
Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah, but he overestimated the righteousness of those two cities. He assumed that, surely, there were at least ten righteous people among the many who lived there. He was wrong. There were not ten righteous, and God destroyed the cities with fire and brimstone. Never the less, God answered Abraham’s prayer in another way. He warned Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and Lot and two of His daughters escaped the city before the destruction. Lot lost all his wealth, but his life was safe. God answered Abraham’s prayer by saving Lot, his nephew.
Jesus not only teaches us to pray with confidence, but He is also the one who makes it possible for us to pray with such confidence. The one who teaches us to pray is the one who set His face to go to Jerusalem. He set His face to go to Jerusalem in order to tear down the wall of sin that makes us enemies of God. He tore down that wall by offering Himself up as a sacrifice to make the payment that our sin requires. Jesus allowed His enemies to nail Him to a cross so that He could offer those same enemies a place in His family. With His suffering and death on the cross, He makes us His brothers and children of our heavenly Father. This is a certainty because Jesus did not remain in the grave after He died, but He rose from the dead and has ascended to rule at the right hand of the Father.
By the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are God’s children. We have the right to enter the throne room of the Universe, crawl up on God’s lap, and talk to Him using imperative verbs. We can pour our hearts out to Him about anything. We poor sinners can approach God boldly for the sake of Jesus Christ. We can be stubborn. We can be persistent. After all, Jesus Himself teaches us to pray that way in today’s Gospel.
Prayer is an incredible gift from God that we receive as a result of the salvation that Jesus earned for us on the cross. It is one of the many gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to us when He establishes and maintains our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Only those who believe in Jesus have the right to become the children of God and call on God as their Father in heaven.
Jesus teaches us to pray. The throne room of heaven lies open before us. God is ready to listen to whatever we have to tell Him. The privilege of prayer is there for all who believe. It is one of the many gifts God gives to us with His presence here in time and forever in eternity. Amen.
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