Preacher: Marcus J. Haack
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We truly are creatures of habit, aren”t we? Some of you may have heard the story of the priest who stepped up to the pulpit to deliver the sermon. As he started speaking, the microphone began to cut out. The priest cleared his throat and started again, but the microphone continued to cut out and make loud screeching noises. Frustrated, the priest firmly tapped the microphone, but to no avail. Finally, he blurted out, “There”s something wrong with this microphone!” To which the congregation immediately responded, “And also with you”!
And what does that have to do with today”s Gospel message? Well, if we look in the Book of Common Prayer it doesn”t say: As our Savior Christ has taught us, we now mindlessly recite, Our Father who art in heaven. . .
In today”s Gospel Jesus responds to the disciples” request to teach them how to pray by giving them (and us) what we now call The Lord”s Prayer. It”s the one prayer that unites all of us as Christians, and is familiar to all of us regardless of our theological or denominational differences. We”ve all prayed the Lord”s Prayer hundreds and hundreds of times in our lives
But just like that congregation that mindlessly responded, “And also with you” to the priest experiencing problems with the microphone, we, too, can mindlessly recite memorized prayer instead of praying the prayer.
My purpose today isn”t so much attempting to explain what each part of the Lord”s Prayer means. It”s more about prayer itself and how we can use Jesus” example of prayer to help shape our own prayer life.
How do we pray? If I was teaching a class on prayer and you were my students, I might begin by asking you to take out a piece of paper (or your iPad!) and have you reflect on what prayer means to you and to describe your prayer life. I”m certain there would be as many variations in the responses as there are individuals seated before me today. We pray collectively when we come together to celebrate the Eucharist or when we gather for Morning or Evening Prayer. But prayer is often a very individualized endeavor. We each have our own approach to prayer. Some of us rely on the printed word from a prayer book. Others prefer communicating with God in their own words. Yet others have mastered the art of meditative or centering prayer. Still others pray through music, dance, nature, and even through silence.
A number of years ago a priest friend of mine told me he structured his prayer around the word ACTS: A-C-T-S. His prayer began with adoration (A), continued with contrition (C), followed by thanksgiving (T), and ended with supplication (S). If you”re into following a formula for prayer, that one seems fairly all-encompassing. In fact, when we look at Jesus” model for prayer in today”s Gospel, we can identify most of those elements.
Not that there”s anything wrong with that, of course! Jesus included supplication in his instruction to the disciples when they asked how they should pray. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Now theologians and biblical scholars have posed various interpretations of what that statement actually means, and I don”t intend to get into all of the theological nuances of that one petition. However, it”s pretty obvious that Jesus wants us to ask God to provide us with our basic needs.
And that leads us to the second half of today”s Gospel reading. We have this rather curious story of someone banging on the door of a friend”s home, asking for three loaves of bread to feed someone who has stopped by for the night. Obviously it”s late enough at night that the friend and his family have already gone to bed, thus the rather abrupt reply, “Don”t bother me. The door is locked and we”re in bed. I can”t get up to give you anything!” But even more curiously Jesus says that even though the friend won”t get up because of mutual friendship, he WILL get up to give as much food as is needed “because of the neighbor”s shameless audacity”
And this story is the precursor for Jesus” well-known instruction to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” God wants us to ask, to seek, and to knock. God wants to come to Him, even if it”s our shameless audacity that brings us to him in the middle of the night! God wants us to verbalize our needs, our fears, our hopes, even our doubts.
Now I have to admit, there have been times in my life when I”ve found it difficult to hear Jesus” admonition to ask, seek, and knock, and fully believe that my prayers would be answered. How often have we fervently prayed for something only to have an outcome different than what we desired? Did that mean God didn”t hear my prayer or that God didn”t want to answer my prayer? Did it mean that I didn”t pray hard enough or often enough or that I didn”t articulate my prayer in the right way? These truly are hard questions to answer. However, I do believe that sometimes, maybe often, we turn to God in prayer and have casino online in mind the exact outcome we expect from prayer, only to have God answer in ways we didn”t expect.
To illustrate this point I’d like to share a story that many of you may have already heard. It’s the story of a family who lived near a river and whose house was being threatened by flood waters after days of unrelenting rain (and no, this isn”t about anyone here in Iowa City!). Warnings were issued for those living along the river to move to higher ground. However, the family decided to stay put and place their fate in God”s hands. They held family prayer vigils asking God to spare them from the rising and rushing water that was creeping out of the river banks.
As the waters rose a neighbor came by with a large truck and offered to help the family move some of their possessions, along with the family, to higher ground. But the family declined, instead placing their trust in God to spare them.
However, the rains continued and flood waters continued to rise. As the house became surrounded by the raging water, the local emergency crews came to the house with a boat and urged the family to get in so they could be taken to safety. Still, the family declined, insisting that God would surely answer their prayers and save them as well as their possessions.
It wasn”t long, however, before the family had to climb to the second floor of their house because the first floor was now inundated with flood waters. As they leaned out the second story windows, they saw a National Guard helicopter hovering overhead attempting to drop a harness to pull the family to safety. But yet again, in spite of their growing fears, they waived off the helicopter and resumed their prayers imploring God”s protection.
It wasn”t long before the dam upstream had reached its limit and gave way. The rushing flood water leveled everything in its path, including the home where the family had huddled together in prayer and they all drowned.
When the family appeared before God”s judgment seat they asked why God hadn”t saved them and protected them from the flood. After all, they prayed fervently and unceasingly for God to intervene. Hadn”t he heard their prayers? To which God replied, ” But, my dear children, I did hear your prayers, and I did intervene. I sent you a truck, I sent you a boat, and I sent you a helicopter, but you wouldn”t accept my help. You expected a miracle. You prayed for my protection, and it was there all along. You just couldn”t see my hand in every attempt to help you.” And so it is with us. We often expect one outcome from our prayer and totally miss God”s presence and God”s help when it”s revealed to us in a way we hadn”t expected.
We know that even Jesus himself prayed for an outcome that wasn”t to be. In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
So what is the real message of today”s Gospel? Is it the gift of the Lord”s Prayer? Is it the admonition to ask, to seek, and to knock without ceasing? Is it to trust in God”s plan for us? It certainly is all of those things. But I think when we step back and reflect deeply on today”s Gospel story, we realize that God is eager to have a close, trusting, and personal relationship with each of us. God wants us to turn to Him often in prayer. Even though God knows exactly what”s in our hearts and minds, God wants us to verbalize what it is we want and need.
Just as human relationships can be strengthened through on-going and effective communication, our relationship with God is strengthened when we turn to Him in prayer. Think of our closest human relationships: with a loved one, spouse or partner; parent, child; closest of friends. How long can the relationship exist, let alone grow and thrive, if there isn”t on-going communication to strengthen the relationship? God also desires our communication, our verbalization of our needs, our hopes, our fears, our dreams……our unceasing prayers.
And so as we go about our lives during the coming week, let”s follow Jesus” instruction. Let”s be shamelessly audacious. Let”s unceasingly ask, seek, and knock, knowing full well, that God does hear our prayer, and that God does answer our prayer. And let us ask God to open our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds to the many ways in which God works in our lives.
As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”