March 6, 2022
The Spirit of God is moving in our church. I am hearing stories of the Spirit at work in your small groups and your prayer exercises, as we read the book Unbinding Your Heart. If you’re a guest today, you have come into a church that is on an exciting adventure with God. We’re spending 6 weeks together inviting God to change us in any way that God wants to.
Do you want to join us? Anyone—we invite you to join a small group. You can still sign up and pick up a book in the narthex. And hop into the on-line discussions, too!
In the last two weeks we’ve acknowledged that mainline Christians are rapidly declining in number and influence in our country. We’ve admitted our own reluctance to bring new people into Christian faith. We’ve explored why it makes a difference in our lives that we are Christians. We considered what our motivations might be for sharing the Christian faith with people who don’t have a faith.
This week, we’re going to look at what makes faith sharing effective. Spoiler alert: it isn’t hard work.
We church people work hard. We collect goods and funds for the Mission of the Month. We keep the Blessing Box stocked. We’re getting ready to open a community garden. We all pitch in for the Fall Bazaar and Grandma’s Attic. We know how to host a funeral dinner, from set up to clean up.
Then we drag ourselves home, exhausted! But we get up and do it all over again! We are church people. We’re determined, committed, hard workers for the Lord. Churches sure aren’t losing members because we’re lazy!
A few weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus climbing into Peter’s fishing boat. Peter was not a lazy fisherman, either. But when Jesus told Peter to “Put out into the deep water and let out your nets (again!),” Simon groaned, “We’ve already been fishing. We didn’t catch anything! But if you say so . . .” So they pulled up the anchor and headed back out to the deep water, this time with Jesus as a fishing partner.
Like Peter and his fishing partners, we are working hard at doing a lot of good things. But are we doing the God-things?
Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to become “fishers of people.” But before he signs them up for this new job, he wants to be sure they “get” something. He wants them to know that if they’re going to be effective in this new work, they will have to change the way they do things. They will have to stay close to him.
Luke wrote this story for a church that was working very hard to pass the gospel on to the next generation. It’s possible the church had started getting tired of all the work they were doing. Maybe their efforts weren’t producing the same results they had at the beginning. Luke reminds us that our hard work alone isn’t enough. Only trusting Christ’s guidance will produce real results for the church. And the best way to cultivate that kind of trust is through prayer.
For some of us, praying out loud in front of other people can be hard. It exposes our theological weakness and our spiritual vulnerability. We’re afraid we will embarrass ourselves.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, though, I don’t think they were worried about embarrassment. 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 like a Thanksgiving meal with the in-laws.
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 this ‘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.
Let’s take a quick look at the grammar Jesus uses to do that. 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, 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 home. 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.
Prayer is the most effective way I know to hear and pay attention to Christ’s guidance. But somehow, we find it easier to work than to pray. We might open a church meeting with prayer, but how often to meet just to pray? What could God do through us if we spent more of our meeting times in prayer?
What wouldn’t get done if we prayed more?
What could God get done through us if we prayed more?
In the book we’re reading together, Martha Grace Reese tells about a church that tried prayer as the meetings rather than just before meetings. Three high-energy, go-getter women were the new evangelism committee for Benton Street Church. They were fired up to do great things for God. They brought in Reese as a consultant to get some direction about what they could do first. A calling campaign? A bring-a-friend Sunday? Maybe direct mail marketing? No, Reese said. Not that. Not yet. She told them to pray for three months before they did a thing!!!
The evangelism committee at Benton Street was looking for activity, for hard work, for something to do! But instead, Reese told them to be still and pray. Be still for three months!!!
Prayer is a different kind of hard work, of course. Some of us think we don’t know how to do it, at least not for very- long. But this evangelism committee learned. They prayed together for one hour every week. When it was their turn to report to the church council, they would say, “We’re still praying. She’s making us do it. We’re just praying.” People giggled.
Then people started giving them prayer requests. After three months of “doing nothing but praying,” interest in evangelism had skyrocketed. By the end of the year, 65 people were helping with evangelism. New visitors came in droves. Twice as many adults were baptized as the year before, and twice as many babies.
Prayer expresses our willingness to do what Jesus wants us to do. Prayer prepares us to be effective in the work we do for Jesus. Prayer helps make room for the Holy Spirit in our lives. Take a look at the Lord’s Prayer again.
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. This is 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 for fancy words and polite phrasing when we are desperate.
And yet, 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.
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, reminding us 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, together, as the Body of Christ and as beloved children of God our Heavenly Father.
So let’s try it. Some of you already have prayer as a part of your daily life. Many of us do not. But we can all grow in prayer. And so can our church.
For the next month, let’s pray as a church like we’ve never prayed before. You are already using the “40 Days of Prayer” guide if you are in one of our small groups. And it isn’t too late to join one!
We’re also going to pray right now, as a congregation. Yes, right here in the middle of a sermon. First, find the ribbon that was tucked into your bulletin. Got it? I want you to hold it while you pray. I’m going to explain this first, then we’ll all pray together.
Hold your ribbon. Sit comfortably and breathe slowly. First, ask God for whom God wants you to pray. This is important because many of us have our own agendas when we pray. This time, ask God for whom you should pray. As soon as God gives you a person or a situation, imagine them shrunk down so they’ll fit into your hands, right in the middle of your ribbon. Hold whomever God puts into your hands and pray for them. I’ll say Amen at the end. Got it?
Okay, gently breathe and let’s start. [Pause for two minutes.] Amen.
Thank you for your willingness to try something out of the ordinary like that! Now, take a pen and write the initials of the person you were led to pray for on your ribbon. Just use initials, or maybe a first name, to keep things confidential.
You may have been wondering what this fencing is doing here this morning. We are going to use it as the framework for a prayer wall that we will continue to build throughout these weeks of Lent. In a moment, I will invite you to bring your ribbon to the front and weave it into the prayer wall.
I encourage you to keep praying for the person whose initials you wrote on your ribbon. Pray for that person every day. God has laid that person on your heart, and only you can pray the prayers God wants to hear.
Maybe you are worried that you won’t be able to follow through with this every day. Maybe you think you don’t have the time. Life is too busy. Your “to do” list is too long. Today, I’m giving you permission to let some things go.
Let’s be less responsible to the world and more responsive to God. It’s okay if All the Stuff doesn’t get done this month. Things can slide a little, as long as you spend time praying instead. You heard me. The detailed tasks, the organizational meetings, the hard work can wait.
As long as you’re praying instead, for one month, that is okay by me! Let’s agree among ourselves. We are going to make prayer our priority for four more weeks. Then we’ll see what God has done with us . . . and through us.
I believe God will start doing some amazing things during this time. I don’t know what it will be . . . Maybe new visitors . . . maybe a new unity . . . maybe old wounds healed. Most likely it will be something we never imagined. I believe making room for prayer always brings new blessing. In this next month, let’s leave our work and pray like we’ve never prayed before. Because Christ invites us to ask.
Portions of this sermon come from a sermon by Rev. Dawn Weaks, as provided through the gracenet.info website. These sermons are licensed for use, in whole or in part, by purchasers of Unbinding Your Church.
 Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 440.
Richard Niell Donovan https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/luke-111-13/