What Are You Asking For?

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 28, 2019 at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, CA. The full video can be found on our Facebook page.

 

Psalm 138

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;
for you have exalted your name and your word
above everything.
On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.

All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

  

Luke 11:1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 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 indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

In this lectionary sequence, and the sequence of the Gospel of Luke, we have been on quite a journey. Two weeks ago was the story often named the Good Samaritan, where Jesus is stirring a privileged, educated, rich, religious scholar to action, and to act on behalf of and in solidarity with his neighbors, all his neighbors. Last week, we read the story of Mary and Martha, and again, Jesus’ call was very much alive. He invited Mary and Martha to be a part of this opportunity to make disciples, to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from him. This week, Jesus tells another story, he continues to teach, and this time his focus is on prayer.

One of Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. And Jesus responded with a prayer many of us have grown up reciting, a prayer that plays a central role in our worship services and many of our liturgies. Jesus gives them a sort of formula for prayer, saying, ‘when you are praying with your words, here’s what you can say’.

The Lord’s Prayer has a certain formula to it. It isn’t a singular thought prayer, and the purposes it serves are many. In seminary, we learned that many prayers, when they are constructed, follow a similar formula: You-Who-Do-Through.

The first part, you, is naming God. Jesus does this by naming God Father here, though we can exchange any name for God here. What are some of your favorite ways to name or refer to God?

So Jesus names God, and we are on to part two: Who. Who invites us to say something about who God is, what God does. God, who is in heaven, we pray, hallowed be thy name. This piece says something about God’s character, and how God resides as well. Jesus tells us we are to look upon God with adoration and awe, this heavenly figure present in our lives.

Part three is do. This tends to be the easiest of the four parts for many of us, myself included. Here Jesus models it by asking God for what we want God to do for us. Feed us, forgive us, help us forgive others, The Lord’s Prayer says.

Finally, Through. This is the sending off, naming God’s ability to do great things, to hear our prayers, to answer them. Jesus tells God that thine is the kindom, the power, and the glory forever, speaking to God’s reign, God’s strength, and God’s goodness.

When we pray, or when we hear prayers spoken, chances are there are at least two of these four elements included. We pray to lift up, to give thanks, to ask for help, to give voice to, to give over to God.

So while the Lord’s Prayer is foundational, this is only half of our scripture passage for today on prayer. In the second half, Jesus tells a story about a friend who doesn’t really seem like a great friend. Through it, Jesus tells us that persistence in our ways of praying is important.

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Now, here’s the reality. These words are beautiful, and they make for great hymns and greeting cards and well-intentioned words, but these words simply are not our reality today. If only it was as easy and seeking and finding, as easy as praying to God for the exact format and thing we want, and it being given. My guess is that if this was the reality, we’d have a lot less kids at the border in cages, a healthier climate, no more police brutality, and more representation of marginalized people groups in the world.

The reality is, that we too often get in the way of God’s work, God’s vision. And so this prayer, this piece we read here in Luke, is our call to action. Because like we said before, as we read the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to lift up, to ask for help, to speak out, to help. We can do this through our words, but Jesus also suggests that we do this through our actions, the ways we move in our daily life.

Ask, and it will be given.

Seek, and you will find.

Knock, and the door will be opened.

These are all aspirational. They are examples of the kindom of God that we can take part in. They are examples of what can be when we get out of God’s way. We can get glimpses of the kindom now, and we are told that there is much more to come. God directs us towards an attitude of prayer always. Not just at bedtime or mealtime or at church, but always. God points us to and re-points us towards the vision Jesus spoke about that is the kindom of God, and our prayers are all the things that lead us closer to it.

This seek and find thing in Luke isn’t true yet, but the goal is for us to create the kindom of God on earth (as it is in heaven). This passage gives us something to strive and work towards. And Jesus tells us that getting there is centered in our prayer.

Prayer is noticing God in our everyday actions, transforming those actions to a point where they become prayer themselves. Prayer is choosing to orient ourselves again and again toward the kindom, that aspirational example that Jesus visioned for us.

Prayer is a state of being, which may or may not always be a constructed set of words. Prayer can be formulaic, like the Lord’s Prayer, but it also could be something entirely different, like the making of a peanut butter sandwich or the time offered to serve in church.

Frederick Douglass famously said “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Perhaps we can expand what prayer looks like, to open our eyes to the incredible depth of prayerful moments we experience.

What if prayer became a mindset, a routine that didn’t start with Dear God or end with Amen, and instead was a state of mind we woke up in and went to sleep with?

Today’s passage in Luke is challenging, because it asks us to dream, and then to work at that dream, because part of our identity as Christians does go along with this kindom of God end goal thing.

When the disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus taught them to know God, to be persistent, and to look to the kindom of God. In other words, in all that you do, let your prayer be a reflection of your relationship with the Divine, and your commitment to the work that Jesus started for us.

So may that be so, Friends. May we reimagine prayer to go beyond the words we speak, and let it seep into everything we do, reflecting God’s great vision for our world. And may we find God in those moments, small moments of reflection, solace, and out-crying for God to lead us to live one day on earth, as it is in heaven.

Let us pray:

God of earth and heaven, we thank you for guiding us towards your kindom. Give us the strength and the wisdom to continue following you prayerfully, allowing who you are to mark the ways we are to go. In your steadfast love and your loving name we pray, Amen.

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