“A Posture of Persistence”
Proper 12C, July 24, 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches
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 Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Prayer is a teachable skill.
At a young age
Parents, Sunday school teachers, and pastors alike
Teach our children
Prayers for bedtime,
Prayers before a meal,
Prayers at the communion table.
Guidelines and expectations are set:
Don’t let your thoughts stray;
The posture for prayer,
Often, hands folded, eyes closed, and head bowed;
Even how to pray in public,
Usually, keep it short and simple!
Mechanics are taught by rote memorization
And burned deeply into our memories
For recall at a moment’s notice.
The goal is to create idealism,
A placid countenance,
A reverence regarding prayer
That becomes acculturated into life-long Christian practice.
We ripen into adulthood,
And the silver polish of prayer begins to develop tarnish.
Life experiences create questions beyond mere mechanics:
How does God answer prayers?
Why aren’t my prayers always answered?
Tragedy, illness, suffering, death
Can create a tremendous amount of
I asked, Lord.
I begged you, Lord.
Yet, you didn’t appear to hear my cry.
You told me to pray like this;
I prayed like that,
And nothing seemed to happen.
There may come patches in life
Where we stop praying altogether.
Yes, we bow,
We may even recite,
But we allow our minds to be elsewhere …
Simply because we’ve become
chronically under whelmed with the results.
Late life brushes with mortality,
Lead us to take inventory of one’s ultimate concern,
This often creates a renewed passion
To re-engage in an active prayer life.
No place in the Gospel narratives
Is a better place to begin
A deeper reflection about prayer
Than this eleventh chapter of St. Luke.
In thirteen short verses we are given
The Lord’s Prayer,
A parable on prayer, and
Several sayings on prayer.
Answers to our deepest questions
Can be squeezed from scripture.
The words of Jesus
Give us direction
And set the larger context
In which conclusions about prayer can be made.
I don’t know why we’ve come to call
Jesus’ response to the disciples question
“The Lord’s Prayer.”
Given the disciples exposure to our Lord’s practice,
(Luke gives at least nine accounts of Jesus praying)
it might more appropriately be called
“The Disciples’ Prayer”
[With thanks to David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair,
Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, as found at workingpreacher.org]
than Matthew’s version,
Luke offers a more down to earth signature
That emphasizes bread for tomorrow,
The importance of forgiveness,
And an intimate invitation to address the Holy One of Israel,
Whose name no Jew would ever speak or write,
To address God as Pater,
As a child would ask a loving parent
For anything of need or desire.
Pray intimately, Jesus teaches us.
Simple prayers are free of flourishes and fancy words.
Simple prayers can be recitations from rote memory.
Simple prayers are straight to the point.
Simple prayers are honest.
Intimate prayers reveal the self,
Expose our deepest wants, needs, and motives.
Intimate prayers trust God with everything known and secret.
Intimate prayers express a willingness to trust at ever deeper levels.
“Suppose one of you has a friend,”
Jesus begins his parable with a premise
That almost sounds like an attempt at Scottish humor
Or a skit from Monty Python.
“Go away!” is the first response to the knock.
“I’ve got company, and nothing to serve.”
“Can you help me?”
“We’re already in bed; go away!”
Persistent knocking, however,
“Alright, already! Let me see what I can find you.
Just stop the knocking; you’ll wake the entire neighborhood!”
I’m told by Biblical scholars
That the word Persistence in the Greek = Anaideia
In today’s Gospel, it is better translated as
It implies a boldness that comes from familiarity
And the knowledge that the neighbor is beholden
By the community’s expectation of hospitality.
The friendly neighbor is probably thinking to himself,
“you know I can’t turn you away!
Let me see what I can find you.”
I like this boldness;
This parables’ posture taken towards prayer.
Pray shamelessly, Jesus teaches us.
Bold prayers ask for miracles.
Bold prayers hold nothing back.
Bold prayers pave the way for God to intercede with similar boldness!
Shameless prayers are public prayers,
In restaurants, at the park, on a picnic.
Shameless prayers are unafraid of what others think.
Shameless prayers are a public invitation for others to join in prayer together.
In a similar way,
Ask, search, knock.
This is often thought of as a directive to be persistent.
However, it appears that when these commands are coupled
With Jesus’ hyperbolic, rhetorical questions
… Who would give your child a snake when they asked for a fish? …
… Who would give your child a scorpion when they ask for an egg? …
one can advance these sayings beyond the obvious:
Ask, search, knock may be
more about confidence
… knowing that you will receive what you ask for …
and more about trust
… trusting that God will respond to your every petition …
than it is about persistence.
Yes, persistent prayer is the obvious reach that Jesus is making.
Yet, confidence and trust are the foundation that lay just below the surface
For those willing to do some exploration.
Pray with confidence.
Pray, trusting that God will respond, Jesus teaches us.
Jesus tells us to pray.
When we pray, we express confidence in his Lordship.
When we pray, we submit ourselves to Christ’s leadership.
When we pray, we are placing our trust in our loving God.
So, where does this leave us?
Like the original disciples
We love the questions about mechanics:
When should we pray?
Given the complexity of life
And our innate desire for instant solutions
…. Point zero nine seconds for a Google search, finding 14 billion results …
…. 40 minutes to resolve the toughest case on CSI or Law and Order …
it is entirely understandable
why most of us never move beyond
the mechanical question about prayer.
Yet, for those who are spiritually evolving and curious
It is important to recognize that
Jesus is more interested in invitation than explanation.
Prayer becomes the means
To invite us into a relationship with God,
“offering us the opportunity to approach
the God whose name is too holy to speak
and whose countenance too terrible to behold
with the familiarity, boldness, and trust of a young child
running to her parent
for both provision and protection.”
[Quotation by David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, as found at workingpreacher.org]
Indeed, prayer is less about getting
Than it is about
being in relationship with God.
Though God may know all our needs before we ask,
Today we are invited to ask anyways.
Ask because we are invited into the conversation with our Creator,
We are invited into an intimate relationship with our God.
We are invited to ask
With the confidence that
Regardless of the outcome
Our relationship with God
Can bear the strain,
Will survive the immediate need,
And finally, will continue to deepen and grow.
Perhaps our relationship with God
May even depend upon God hearing our every need.
Pray with confidence, trusting that God will respond.
You, my beloved, will draw closer to God.