Saturday, July 28, 2007

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2007, Luke 11:1-13

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Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 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.” And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 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. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 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 11:1-13, ESV)
Lord, teach us to pray…

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel from St. Luke is the account of Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. It is, in fact, a unique thing. Not that Jesus is teaching but it’s the only place in the bible where Jesus is asked to teach. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray as John the Baptist taught his disciples. They ask and Jesus answers. Notice, too, what Jesus says: “When you pray say…” He doesn’t say here’s a pattern for your prayers, here’s what they should sound like, he says, “Pray these words.” So very often we think that prayers from our hearts are more valid than written prayers. Or that that spontaneous is real prayer and the Lord’s Prayer is just a beginner’s prayer. But the truth is there is no better prayer than this one. A Christian could pray this prayer every day of his life and never exhaust the importance or the depth of this prayer. Now I’m not saying there isn’t a place for prayers from the heart, God loves those prayers too, but often we tend to think that the Lord’s Prayer is a “beginning” prayer, and that our prayers will get beyond the Lord’s Prayer as more spiritually mature. Or that the Lord’s Prayer is just a pattern prayer that we use until we know how to pray. Well, Jesus doesn’t say that he says “pray this prayer.” It is the very best we can do is to say back to God the very words that he gives us to say. Our Church services are full of the very words that God gives us to say back to Him. We can take great comfort in knowing that whenever we pray the prayer that He gave us to pray we have prayed for everything that we need and everything that our neighbor needs. A Christian who knows and prays the Lord’s Prayer every day should never be heard saying, “I don’t know what to pray for.” When you ask, “Lord, teach me to pray.” He answers by saying, “here’s the prayer to use.”

Remember also that prayer isn’t an option for a Christian. God commands us to pray just as much as he promises to answer our prayers because of Jesus. The Second Commandment says “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” God gives us his name, that is, he makes us his children through faith in Jesus. He adopts us through the Word and Water of Baptism and puts His name on us. We are to use His name that He gives us as He tells us to use it. … call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”(Psalm 50:15, ESV) Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!(Psalm 118:1, ESV) … whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.(John 16:23, ESV) We pray because God is our Father, because He commands us to pray, and because He promises to always listen to and answer the prayers of those whom He has given faith in Jesus.

Of course many of you will recognize that Jesus words here in the Gospel of Luke are just a little different than the words He used to teach the disciples in Matthew’s Gospel. There Jesus starts the prayer with “our Father,” here he just begins with “Father.” Either way means the same. The word “Father” sets our prayer in its proper context. God is our Father. He loves us and cares for us by giving us we need. In fact of all the words in the prayer “Father” may indeed be the most important one. The whole rest of the prayer, and the little parables that Luke records for us, are really expanding on the idea that we pray to “Our Father in heaven.”

I find it difficult to say it better than Martin Luther did. Turn to page 302 in the front of your hymnal. Let’s read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer together.

The Introduction
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.

Listen again to some of the words… God tenderly invites us. That’s Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. “Say this prayer.” Use these words that God tells you are true. He is your Father, your true Father and we are His true children. Jesus explains what it’s like in a way that we can understand:

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!”

He’s saying, “You know what it means to have a loving father. No loving father is going to give his son poison when he asks for food.” God is our true father. He is God over all things. He will give us everything we need, because He alone knows exactly what we need. And as Luther said, “God tenderly invites us to believe” this. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are confessing that we believe that God is our Heavenly Father; that He loves and cares for us beyond our understanding. We pray that He will do what is best for us, no matter what. And because of Jesus, that’s God’s promise to us, God’s Children.

But exactly how is it that we are God’s children. How is it that we dare call God, “Father?” It’s easy to lie ourselves into thinking that because we sit in our pew every week that we earn it. We haven’t murdered our sleeping spouse and dumped the body in a dumpster. We haven’t planned terrorist attacks. We haven’t been attending dogfights lately. We always think that while other people aren’t worthy of God, we are, because we give more than our fair share to the church or other charities. We strive to not be wasteful of our possessions. We have worked hard to earn a good long retirement. We are clean, well kempt, non-drug users and respected in the community. Naturally we want to think that because of these and many other things, God calls us his children. We look like his children; we act like his children, so we must be his children. But as I said, all of this is a lie that we tell ourselves because we really want to save ourselves. We want our hard work, all the “good” things we do in our live to account for something more than just a nest egg, and a good reputation in our community. But God makes it very clear. “all our righteous deeds,” He tells us through the Prophet Isaiah, “are like polluted garments.” And as far as our relationship to God, all the good things we do, all the hard work, and self sacrifice, mean nothing. Did you notice that God didn’t say our evil deeds? No, He said that all the good things we do are polluted. You see, when we hold up our good works to God as signs of why He should treat us like His children, it’s like a child offering their dirty diaper as a precious gift to their parent. We are not God’s children because of anything we do. Everything we do is polluted by sin. Everything we do is for our own benefit. Everything we do is to build our own reputation. None of what we do makes us God’s Children. We are God children because of what God does. We are God’s Children because of what God has done in Jesus Christ.

The fact that Jesus calls God, “Father” is very significant for us. Where God tells us our good works are filthy rags, He says to Jesus, “This is my Son; in Him I am well pleased.” What Jesus presents to God, all of His good works, are perfect and perfectly acceptable to God. The life He lived every day, the prayers He offered every day, and especially His self sacrificing death on the cross; His whole life was good and perfect in His Father’s eyes. His life is what ours should be, but can’t be because of sin. But remember, Jesus invites us to believe that God is our Father too. He invites us to believe that we have the same relationship with God the Father that He has. He invites us to believe it. He also promises us that it is true. Jesus has made sure of it. That is what his life, death and resurrection are about. Jesus didn’t come to show us how to do good things that are acceptable to God. He didn’t come to give us a pattern to follow for our live, just as He didn’t give us a pattern of how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus came to do acceptable things for us. Jesus came and lived a perfect life for us. Jesus loved our neighbors beyond our ability to love them. His righteous deeds are perfect, so Jesus establishes a perfect relationship with God. And then He gives that relationship to us by removing the thing that makes all the things we do unacceptable to God. Jesus perfect life was sacrificed on the cross for our sin. His perfect life makes our imperfect life, perfect in God’s eyes. God makes that exchange for us in Baptism. His perfect life is ours; our perfectly deserved death is put on Jesus. His righteous deeds are given to us, our un-righteous perfectly polluted deeds are put on Him. What He takes from us He takes to the cross and puts to death. When He rises from the dead, He proves that what He gives to us is perfect. Everything that He came to do, he came to do for us. In the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus says, “when you pray say, ‘Father’,” He’s saying that, everything that he came to do makes God our Father, too. Sin is removed, God is indeed our Father.

The last thing I want you to notice about Jesus teaching about prayer is this. Do you know what the most common word in this text is? It’s “friend.” That’s Jesus way of assuring us that we are God’s friends and more than that even, as Luther said “true children who in all boldness and confidence ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.” You see, we don’t pray to God for the things we need and want because we deserve anything. We don’t ask for anything from God, our Father, because we earn it. We ask because He is Our Father. We can indeed ask boldly. We can indeed ask with confidence. We can do that because of Jesus, because of what God does for us through Jesus. What God wants to do for us doesn’t have anything to do with our polluted rags. He gives it because of our relationship with Him, He is our Father. And so we pray, Our Father, in heaven…


The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

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