Teach Us To Pray

Download or listen to The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost, “Teach Us To Pray” (Luke 11:1-13)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Teach us to pray, the disciples say to Jesus. And we might be tempted to take Jesus’ next words only as instruction on what to say. He does give us that, and the Church has been praying the words of Jesus ever since. But what Jesus teaches here, and in Matthew’s Gospel, is not so much what to say as who God is. This prayer will be answered, because this is the sort of God you have. Sure you can say other things, but if they are not based in who God is for you in Jesus, then they very easily can become uncertain; and when prayer becomes uncertain, faith dries up like a puddle on a 90-degree day; and when faith dries up, prayer is neglected and disappears. Then we daily become more unfit for prayer because of indifference, by which we have ignored and denied the command of God that we ought to pray without ceasing. So these three things always go together: the certain Word of God, where He tells us who He is for us; faith in the Word, which is created in us by that very Word; and prayer, which clings to the Word of God that is given. Christians who learn to pray always first learn Jesus. We learn Jesus because He is the only God we can know with flesh-and-blood certainty. Any other God—not anchored in the flesh and blood of Jesus, disconnected from the dirt and air of this creation—is a constantly shifting God. He may be an idol or the real God who exists, but you cannot be sure which one. You cannot know where He is or what He is doing. He may smile on you or terrify you. He may harm you or heal you. Who knows?

But if Jesus is the Word of God to you, then you have a certainty grounded in a particular man, a particular place, a particular Word. No more frustrated searching, no more blind grasping, no more hesitant steps: you have a God, you have a Word, and you can and may speak a certain prayer into His ears. But even though we know full well what this little parable in Luke 11 is saying, we often act like it’s saying the opposite: that it’s not saying you should pray at all times, but instead that you should be afraid of going to your Father with both small and large things. That it’s not saying that your Father is ready and willing to grant you everything in Jesus Christ, but instead can’t really be bothered to give you what He says He’ll give you. Which of you, Jesus asks, has a friend like this, who would deny you a little food, even in the middle of the night? To us it’s sort of a strange request, who have refrigerators stocked to the top, so that there’s always food and drink to share. Even so, I could probably go to a stranger’s house in Fisher and find someone willing to give me something if I really needed it. In other words, the answer to the question is, “None of you have a friend like this!” Same with the question about fathers. The clear and expected answer is, “No father would give snakes and scorpions in place of fish and eggs.” How much more, then! How much more your Father in Heaven, whom you know through the eternal Son in flesh. If Jesus says His Father is your Father, believe it! If Jesus says you can talk to Him, believe it! You can be sure of it because, as Paul puts it, “You were buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Jesus from the dead.” Your Father in heaven will not look upon your sins, nor will He deny your prayers because of them. They have been nailed to the cross with Christ. We are not worthy of any of the things for which we pray; we haven’t deserved a single one. We fill up our days with sin, and our eternity ought to be filled up with punishment, starting now. But still we pray because we know He grants all things to us by His grace. Still we pray, knowing that His Name is holy among us because Jesus is among us, His Reign has come to us in Jesus, and His will is done on earth because Jesus has done it. That’s enough grace to cover both now and eternity.  But I wonder if we really believe that grace.

You may know that I love raspberries. And, thanks to Betty Wagner, we have a patch of vines that now stretches the whole width of the garage. In some ways, with obvious exceptions and conditions, I think God is like those raspberry plants. Because I go out there and pick a bunch of them, and then I go out there the next day afraid that I’ll be disappointed and that there won’t be any more, because I just picked them the day before. But I’m never disappointed; as many as I pick, it seems that there are a thousand more that are brand new. Isn’t that the way we approach God so often? We pray once in a while, looking for some good fruit; then, we’re afraid that we might be disappointed; we forget to look for God’s mercy for today; we think it might be used up or exhausted or depleted. But it never is; in Christ, all God’s promises are yes. His Name is made holy, His Reign comes, the things we need for each day are given freely without any merit or worthiness in us; He forgives you all your sins, with more than enough left over for everyone around you; He does not lead us into temptation, but delivers from the evil One, this present evil age, and our own evil hearts.

Your Lord has taught you how to pray by teaching you what kind of God you have. His steadfast love never ceases, never dries up, never expires; His mercy is new every morning, to cover your whole day, what you do and leave undone; what you say and what you should have said; what you need, whether you know it or not; what you hope others will forgive you, and what you must forgive them; all temptation and all evil. Ask Him! He hears you. Seek Him! He already found you. Knock at His door! He has already entered in to eat with you. You and I are evil; He is good, good enough to give you His Holy Spirit so that you believe what you could not believe, love those whom you could not love, live life in the midst even of death. Until He grants us a blessed end and graciously takes us to Himself in heaven, to wait the day when He will raise up you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is certainly true, and that is why all Christians end their prayers with “amen.” That is, yes, yes, for Christ’s sake, it shall be so.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/27/13

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