July 28, 2019
Shortly after our son became engaged, his future in-laws invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with their family. Their son, Mike, greeted me with particular enthusiasm, and I soon learned why. Mike usually got stuck with saying the prayer over a meal whenever the family was together. He hated doing it. He didn’t like praying out loud.
Mike was so glad to see me, not because he wanted to meet his sister’s future mother-in-law, but because since I’m a pastor, he knew his dad would ask me to give the blessing over the meal, and he’d be off the hook for once.
Maybe some of you can identify with Mike. Praying out loud in front of other people is just not comfortable for you. In fact, I think that’s why we teach our children table blessings and bedtime prayers they can just memorize. Now I lay me down to sleep…. Lord, bless this food to our use and us to thy service…
The thing is, praying out loud in front of other people can be hard. It exposes our theological weakness and our spiritual vulnerability. Having a set prayer, something you can memorize and pull out of your back pocket at a moment’s notice – that’s a lot easier than thinking of something to say on the fly that will make sense, sound somewhat meaningful, and get the food started around the table before the gravy gets cold. Right?
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, though, I don’t think they were worried about embarrassing themselves if called upon to pray over a meal. These followers of Jesus were well acquainted with Jewish prayers. They prayed out loud all the time – that was the only way they knew how to pray. When his disciples ask Jesus to teach them about prayer, they are looking for more than a simple formula to get them through awkward social situations.
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!” (Luke 11:1-13)
Prayer is a central theme throughout Luke’s gospel, and we find Jesus praying at key moments in his ministry. Luke includes seven examples of Jesus at prayer that we do not find in Matthew and Mark: Jesus prays “at his baptism, 3:21; after the cleansing of the leper and before the conflict with authorities 5:16; before choosing the twelve, 6:12; before Peter’s confession and the passion prediction, 9:18; at the transfiguration, 9:28; the Lord’s Prayer 11:1; and on the cross at 23:34.”
Some scholars suggest we should really call it ‘the Disciples’ Prayer,’ since this is the only place in the gospels where the disciples actually ask Jesus to teach them something. And it is significant that the lesson they want to learn is How to Pray.
Specifically, they want Jesus to teach them the same way John the Baptist taught his disciples. They want a prayer that will identify them as disciples. This prayer Jesus gives them follows the Jewish tradition they know well – praise God, seek forgiveness, ask for what you need – but it is also unique. It sets apart those who pray it as belonging to Jesus.
We could take this prayer apart and examine its structure and grammar carefully, and there would be many details in it to notice. For example, the verb tenses are interesting.
When Jesus says “your name be hallowed, your kingdom come” he uses a tense that indicates this is a once-for-all event. It’s a done deal. God’s name has been hallowed definitively, and it stands holy once and for all.
He uses the same verb tense for “forgive us our sins.” It’s a once and done sort of thing. It doesn’t need doing again. But when Jesus says we should pray, “Give us each day our daily bread,” that verb indicates continuous action. We need nourishment every day, and God provides for us in an ongoing way.
But I think the most striking thing about the language of this prayer, which you may have noticed is much shorter than Matthew’s version, is that the pronouns are plural. Give us our daily bread, save us from being tested, forgive us our sins.
When Jesus gave his disciples a prayer that would identify them as his followers and nobody else’s, he made it a community prayer. That’s why we pray it every Sunday in worship, out loud, together.
That’s not to say you can’t pray this prayer on your own in the privacy of your prayer closet. But the intent is that we pray it as the Body of Christ. We pray this prayer together as an act of witness. It identifies us as belonging to Jesus. It tells the world who we are and whose we are, and that we are in this business of following Jesus together.
And once Jesus has given us this simple prayer, he goes on to explain how our praying affects the way we are to live together in Christ.
He tells a parable about the Friend at Midnight. This parable is unique to Luke’s gospel, and it contains a word that occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The Greek word, translated in verse 8 as ‘persistence’, is anaídeia – and it only occurs this one time in the entire New Testament.
Since it isn’t anywhere else in the Bible, scholars have examined other ancient literature from the first and second centuries to determine its meaning. In those other writings, anaídeia most commonly refers to a lack of sensitivity to what is proper, a lack of modesty or respect, a brazen or shameless manner of behavior. Not persistence, shamelessness.
The culture of Jesus’ day was one in which honor and shame held great importance. Last week, we saw an example of this culture as Martha scurried around to provide hospitality to Jesus. You wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared for company, for this would bring shame on both you and your guest. Likewise, your neighbor would not want to bring shame on either of you by failing to help you maintain your honor.
It’s interesting that the NRSV interprets this shameless, brazen entreaty as persistence, because the parable isn’t about repeated asking. The man seeking help asks once, just like the verbs in the disciples’ prayer.
When you think about it, those imperative verbs in the prayer Jesus gives us don’t sound very polite. They’re insistent. Give us, lead us, forgive us. The parable’s emphasis on shamelessness underscores the way we are supposed to approach God in prayer, brazenly asking for what we really need. Because this is a prayer we pray out of necessity. We don’t have time or inclination for fancy words and polite phrasing when we are desperate.
Douglas John Hall writes that the object of prayer is to recognize ourselves as dependent, guilty, lost and vulnerable. “Prayer is not a meek, contrived, and merely ‘religious’ act; it is the act of human beings who know how hard it is to be human.” (emphasis mine)
And yet, after the parable, Jesus says, ‘ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.’ And unlike those once-and-for-all verbs we find in the prayer, these verbs do mean continuous action. Keep on asking, seeking, and knocking.
When the young lawyer asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, Jesus helped the lawyer put it in a nutshell: “Love God, love neighbor.” But the lawyer needed more. He wanted a definitive answer about who qualified as a neighbor, and who didn’t. So, Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan.
When the disciples wanted a prayer that would identify them as followers of Jesus, he gave them the simplest of prayers to pray: Give glory to God’s name and God’s kingdom, ask for daily needs, forgiveness, and deliverance from being tested. But the disciples needed more. They wanted a definitive way to identify themselves with Jesus through the way they prayed.
So Jesus told the parable of the Friend at Midnight, to describe prayer as something we should do shamelessly, knowing that God’s response to our prayer will always be abundance.
David Lose writes, “We … tend to fixate on the mechanics of prayer: how, why, when. Jesus’ instructions to his followers, however, focus on a different question: who.” Jesus doesn’t begrudge us wanting to know the mechanics – he’s happy to give us a framework to use. He’s just more interested “in invitation than explanation.”
Prayer isn’t so much about how to say the right words to get what we want from God. It’s more about being invited into a close and meaningful relationship. When we know we are loved, and we love God back, all our needs and wants, our hurts and our dreams are known to God, and God’s will for us is made known to us.
That’s why this passage begins and ends by naming God as our Father. Our prayer begins with this claim, and Christ’s promise of “how much more” ends with the assurance that God our Father claims us as his own dear children.
I think that’s why Luke gives us such a short version of this model prayer of Jesus, and spends more time telling us about the way this relationship works. Like a neighbor who shamelessly asks for help in showing hospitality to a guest, we can go to God without embarrassment and ask for what we need. Like a parent who would never dream of giving a snake or a scorpion to a child instead of wholesome food, God will always provide what’s best for us.
And best of all, when we walk with God so closely that we can call him Father, all we have to do is ask, and he will bless us with an abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the whole point of prayer. Not a means to an end, not to get what we want, but to receive what we truly need – God’s Spirit living and working in us.
In us, as the Body of Christ and as beloved children of God our Heavenly Father.
So let us boldly pray, with the brazen confidence of God’s own dear children, just as our Savior taught us to pray, saying, “Our Father, …”.
 Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 440.
 Douglas John Hall, Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 3, 290.
 Richard Niell Donovan https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/luke-111-13/