Luke 11:1-3 / 10 Pentecost (Proper) / 28 July 2013 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” But, isn’t prayer something “natural”? It isn’t. We don’t know how to pray. Prayer is anything but natural for a natural-born sinner. We are born deaf to God’s Word and mute to prayer. We must be taught. The only prayer we can pray is “Lord, teach us to pray.” And the Lord does.
He gives the words for prayer. Luke gives us the abbreviated version. 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. Name, kingdom, bread, forgiveness, temptation. The basics. Five things we cannot live without. Add God’s will and deliverance from evil and you have the Lord’s Prayer as we know it from Matthew.
Jesus gives the words for prayer. His prayer is a perfect prayer. Taught by the Son Himself, it’s guaranteed to be heard. Jesus knows His Father better than any of us do. This is what the Father wants us to pray for. This is how the Son teaches us to pray. All prayer that is Christian prayer starts with the prayer that Christ teaches. Or at least should. I have heard stories of whole classes on prayer that use all sorts of books and methods and videos but never mention the prayer our Lord taught us. The one perfect prayer that embraces every other prayer. There is nothing uncertain about this prayer. Nothing tentative. No “if it be your will” in case we got something wrong. This is the pure and holy prayer of God’s Son taught to God’s children.
Luther once described the Our Father as the greatest martyr in the church. It’s prayed without thought; it’s not prayed at all. There are people who malign it and say we shouldn’t recite a prayer by rote or memory but should pray spontaneously “from the heart” (as though anything good could come out of there). We think that God hears prayers for their sincerity, their eloquence, their religiosity, whatever. And we would be wrong in that. Prayer is a privilege of grace, an undeserved kindness on God’s part.
Jesus tells a parable to that effect. The parable comes in the form of a question. Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he will answer from within, ‘Don’t bother me; the door is shut, the children are asleep, and I can’t get up to give you anything?’”
I have good neighbors. I like the neighbors. We regularly borrow flour, sugar, dishes, and all kinds of stuff, but I have to say, I’ve never tried that trick at midnight. In fact, I think I’d be a bit reluctant about knocking on the neighbor’s door at midnight. That would take a bit of courage. The Greek word is ἀναίδεια. I like the dictionary definition: lack of sensitivity to what is proper, carelessness about the good opinion of others, shamelessness, impertinence, impudence, ignoring of convention.
Now there’s an interesting view of prayer. Careless disregard to propriety. Shamelessness. Impertinence. Impudence. Importunity. Ignoring common convention. Jewish people have a great word for this: chutzpah. It takes a lot of chutzpah to pound on your neighbor’s door at midnight and expect him to greet you with a smile and three loaves of bread. It takes a lot of chutzpah to pound on the Lord of the universe’s door no matter what the time of day or night.
Prayer is an act of faith. Trust. You must first of all believe there is a God on the receiving end of the line. And you must believe that God will hear your prayer and act accordingly. And when you stop and think about it for a second, that really takes a lot of chutzpah to imagine that the Creator of the universe and the Lord of all will take the time and energy to listen to our little trifles. Seriously! Three loaves of bread at midnight. Couldn’t this wait until the morning?
“I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence, his chutzpah, he will rise and give him whatever he wants.” Hardly a flattering view of prayer, is it? God will give you what you want not because He likes you as a friend, but because of the sheer impudence, the chutzpah, of your faith that wakes Him up at midnight for a few loaves of bread.
Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. Those are promises in prayer. That is the basis of this “holy chutzpah” of the justified sinner who dares to come to God with his troubles. “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you.” That is the basis for the boldness and confidence of faith that comes to God in prayer as “dear children coming to their dear Father in heaven”. It’s the childlike boldness of a little child waking a parent up at midnight for some little request that was on his mind that just couldn’t wait for morning.
St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Are you anxious? Then pray. Pound on God’s door at midnight. Dare to let your requests be made known to God. Even when the door is shut and God seems to be in a grumpy mood and not listening, bring your prayers and petitions before Him. Truthfully, that’s how prayer feels a lot of the time. It does not feel like some deep, meaningful two-way conversation with someone who is giving you their rapt, undivided attention. It feels like pounding on a neighbor’s door at midnight with an outrageous request. Don’t be anxious, Paul says. Pray. Pound on God’s door. There’s a promise: The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
The promise of prayer is peace. Peace that goes beyond your understanding of what peace is. Peace that the world cannot give. Peace that flows from the cross of Jesus to you in your Baptism, in the forgiving Word, in the Body and the Blood. True, lasting, eternal peace. “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?”
No father gives his son a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion for an egg. We give good gifts to our children. We give them what they need, not always what they want. God doesn’t promise to give us whatever we ask, or that we will find whatever we seek, or that every door we pound on will be opened. To be in God’s favor does not mean that God does you favors. He promises that in this exercise of holy chutzpah called prayer you will find peace and God will bless you with the Holy Spirit.
One of the greatest errors of prayer is the notion that prayer is a means to an end. A way to get something from God. We want God to suspend the laws of creation and the order of the universe so that it won’t rain on our parade. But prayer is not a means to an end, it’s an end in itself. And God isn’t a vending machine dispensing favors to those who ask in the right way. He’s our Maker, our Redeemer, our Comforter who created us, who redeemed us by the blood of His Son, and who sanctifies us by the Word and Spirit. Prayer is, in the end, an exercise of trust that God will not ignore you because you are in Christ.
We must never forget that our prayers are never heard on their own merits. St. Paul reminds us that we don’t know how to pray in the first place, but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with unutterable sighs and groanings. Our words are delivered to the ear of the Father by the Spirit who recasts them according to the will of God. That’s why we don’t always get what we ask for. The prayer we pray and the prayer God hears are different. The Spirit has been at work retooling our prayer.
All prayer goes through the High Priest, through Jesus who is the sole mediator between God and Man. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that call at midnight. Maybe not a knock on the door, but a phone call. And you don’t want to get up to answer it, and you roll over in bed and throw the pillows over your head. And someone else picks up the phone and comes to you and says, “You have to get this one. It’s family.” When we knock on God’s door at midnight, it’s not the Father who comes to the door but the Son. And Jesus goes to the Father and wakes him up from his midnight slumber and says, “Dad, you have to answer. It’s one of the family.”
You’re one of the family. You’re baptized. You’re permitted to bug God at all hours of the day and night with whatever you want to talk about. And God will listen. Not because you’re so likable or your prayers are so eloquent. But because of the holy chutzpah of faith that dares to cling to Christ even in the face of a closed and locked door at midnight. Jesus hung on a cross so that you might have access to God’s grace and pray. Jesus sent His Spirit so that your words might reach the ear of God. There is no way this can go wrong. It takes a lot of chutzpah to pray. Holy chutzpah. Faith in Jesus chutzpah. As dear children coming to their dear Father in heaven. As a neighbor knocking on the door at midnight.
In the name of Jesus,