The topic on the table this morning is prayer. Abraham prays for Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, giving them the words for prayer, a parable about prayer, and some encouragement to pray.
Prayer is one of those least common denominator religious activity. Whenever people get religious, prayer is involved. People who are “spiritual without being religious” usually pray, or at least meditate, or thing “God-ward” thoughts.
Prayer is also one of the more misunderstood religious activities. LIke any other bit of religion, prayer can become a transaction, a deal, some sort of bargain where we try to extract some favor from God by saying the right words. Kind of like God as vending machine. Put in the right combination of petition, prayer, and praise and out pops your miracle, blessing, or whatever you are seeking from God. Many people have stumbled on this way of thinking. And when God fails to deliver the goods on demand, that marks the end of their religious phase.
Prayer is not a bargain. Nor is it informing God of something He isn’t aware of. “Hey God. Over here. It’s me. I’m sick, in case you haven’t noticed, and wouldn’t mind feeling better. So could you please send some healing my way?” Doesn’t work that way. Jesus told His disciples, “Your Father in heaven knows what you need even before you ask.” Our catechism says the same thing: God’s name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, His will is done without our prayer. So there. Ponder that for a while. God already knows what you need, and promises to give you what is best. Shoot, He even causes the rain and sunshine to fall on the heathen.
So then, why pray? Ah, good question! Why pray when your Father in heaven has it all covered anyway? Well, why bother talking to your earthly father if he’s going to give you the keys to the car anyway? Why talk to your wife if she already knows what you’re going to say? Why talk to your friend who already knows what you’re thinking?
If you stop and think about it, most of our talk is not about getting things out of others. Most of our talk is just talk, chat, saying what’s on our minds and hearts, sharing our secrets, our fears, our hopes, our longings. Most of our conversation is not so much communication as it is communion. And there is the Gospel key to prayer. Prayer is not communicating with God, but communion with God. Holy conversation. Dear children coming to their dear Father in heaven and saying, Abba. Papa. And the Son insisting that the Father listen to us. And the Spirit packaging and delivering our words to the Father.
Jesus prayed. That’s the beginning of our Gospel reading and also the beginning of our prayer. Jesus, the eternal Son in human flesh, prayed. Luke makes a point of it more than the others. If anyone didn’t need to pray, it was Jesus. He knew the mind of God perfectly. He and the Father were one. Why did He need to pray? He was God in the flesh. What did He pray about? Luke doesn’t tell us here, but in other prayers of Jesus, He prays for HIs disciples, for the world, for us. He is our High Priest and intercessor, who prays for us. And because He prays for us, we are able to pray. We pray through Him, through HIs sacrifice, through HIs blood, through HIs death and resurrection.
Jesus taught His disciples to pray. This is the second thing. Prayer is not a natural activity, like eating or breathing. Prayer must be taught the Lord and learned by the disciple. The disciples recognize this. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” We don’t know what John taught about prayer, and this is the only mention of it. But that doesn’t matter. The One greater than John is speaking.
He gives them words to pray. Father. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us Lead us not into temptation. You’ll recognize what we call the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father, at least five of seven petitions. It’s a perfect prayer, embracing all that we need. Daily bread, certainly. Enough for the day, each and every day. But surrounding that God’s name and His kingdom, the Name by which we are claimed and saved, the kingdom that comes by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus teaches us to pray on the front end for the big stuff, the eternal stuff, the stuff that lasts forever. God’s Name, HIs kingdom, and in the longer version, HIs will.
This has nothing to do with getting favors from God; it has everything to do with His favor for Jesus’ sake. May your name be holy, Father. On our lips and in our lives. God owns us. He has stamped His claim on us in Baptism. We are His children. We bear His Name. And that Name burnishes our lips like the hot coal that touched the lips of Isaiah. He opens our lips that praise might come forth. He claims our lives for HIs own that we might serve Him without fear.
May your kingdom come, Father. Rule us! Be our Lord as you already are. Overrule every competing rule – the devil, the world, and yes, oh yes, my own sinful self that wants to be king. Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection over me. Let the Word be preached and heard. Let faith take hold and love flow. That’s what we’re praying for. Nothing less than the reign of Christ over us. Big stuff. Eternal stuff. Stuff that matters forever. We might call it “spiritual stuff.” You can’t take it to the bank, and it’s not going to pay the rent, but in the end, it’s what we need to see us through death to life.
Yes, it comes “without our prayer,” but in praying we are reminding ourselves from whom it all comes. And when you’re praying that God’s Name be holy and HIs kingdom come, you’re not so much praying to get stuff as you are praying that God would be gracious to you and establish His reign in your life.
On the other side of daily bread is forgiveness and our being guarded against temptation. That’s the agenda for prayer, then, according to Jesus, and He gives a perfect prayer for us to pray, which means we don’t even have to worry about getting the words right, because, let’s face it, sinners that we are, we’d mess up even something as simple as prayer.
Third, Jesus encourages us to pray. He tells a funny parable of a person who has unexpected out of town company and is three loaves short at midnight and so goes and pounds on the door of his neighbor who’s already sound asleep. Outrageous? Of course! It’s over the top. The point of the parable lies in the Greek word anaideion, which gets translated as impudence but I think is better translated with Yiddish word chutzpah. Prayer is an act of sheer chutzpah, like pounding on your neighbor’s door at midnight. And the only reason we get away with this is that our Father is that crazy neighbor who actually listens to our prayers and petitions and doesn’t mind the midnight intrusion. In fact, He delights in it! He thinks it’s great. But then, what parent doesn’t like to hear from their kids?
Fourth, He promises that prayers do not go unanswered. Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened. He doesn’t promise that you will get precisely what you ask for, or find exactly what you seek, or that every door you knock on will be opened. Fathers know to give good gifts to their children. Right gifts. Gifts that will bless and benefit them. He promises the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. And with the Spirit, every good and perfect gift.
I dare say that every petition of the Lord’s prayer is answered fully. His name is hallowed. His kingdom comes. His will is done. He sustains your life with daily bread. You are forgiven, guarded from temptation, delivered from evil. Every single petition of that perfect prayer is fulfilled in your life every single day. Maybe not in ways you might expect, but our expectation fall far short of what our Father in heaven wants to give us.
I started by saying that prayer is the least common denominator religious activity. Religious people pray. I’m going to end by saying don’t look at prayer in a religious way. Don’t think of prayer as something you do to get something from God, but something you do because you believe you already have everything you need and more. Don’t pray to earn God’s favor or to get favors. Pray because you have God’s favor in Jesus. Don’t pray as though you were coming to a king or some powerful political bigshot looking; pray as children coming to their dear Father in heaven. Don’t pray as the religious types do; pray as Jesus, your Savior, has taught you. Short, sweet, to the point.
And remember this. Prayer doesn’t begin with you. It begins with Jesus. His prayer. His words. His sacrificial life and death. His resurrection. Your Baptism into Him that makes you a child of God who dares to knock on the Father’s door at midnight. He has to answer. You’re one of the family.
In the name of Jesus,