Preached: August 1, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which Jesus teaches us to pray is Luke 11.
And it happened when Jesus was in a place praying, after he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Keep giving us our daily bread day by day. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive all who owe us. And lead us not into temptation.”
In addition he said to them, “Who of you would have a friend and go to him in the middle of the night and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three pieces of bread, since my friend has come to me on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'? And the one inside replies, 'Stop troubling me. The door is already locked, and my children are in bed like me. I can't get up and give it to you.' I say to you, even though he will not get up and give it to him because he is his friend, rather because of his boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
“Now I myself say to you, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives. Whoever seeks finds. And to the one who knocks, it will be opened.
“Now what father among you, if your son asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead of a fish? Or also, if he asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion? Therefore if you, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father from heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:1-13)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Praying. In some ways it's one of the easiest things for a Christian to do. Even a little child prays. It's as natural for a child of God to speak to our heavenly Father as for an earthly child to run to Daddy.
Praying. I struggle with it. It's one of the hardest parts of my Christian life. Why pray? God already knows what he's going to do. Shouldn't I be busy doing stuff? Why pray? God wouldn't listen to someone like me, would he? Why pray? See how my rationalizing and doubting make it such a struggle.
And I don't think that I'm alone in this struggle to pray. Even a great church leader like Martin Luther has said this about prayer, “At times I, who teach this and prescribe it to others, have learned from my own example that praying comes close to being the most difficult of all works” (Plass,Ewald M. What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian. p. 1081, par. 3451. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1959.)
So is it any wonder, dear friends, that a disciple comes to Jesus and asks, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1 NIV)? Jesus answers by first of all giving a short version of what we have come to call the Lord's Prayer.
Now as we look at this prayer, what are we to say as we come before the Almighty, the God of heaven and earth, Creator of all, Ruler of the universe, infinite in majesty, unbounded in glory, unapproachable in holiness? We are to call him, “Father.” How astounding, considering that we are but dust and ashes, sinful mortals! How astonishing! But with the Lord's Prayer and the illustrations that follow Jesus teaches us to come before our God in prayer as dear children going to their dear father. So fellow Christian, pray as a child. That's the theme to take to heart. Pray as a child, calling out to your dear Father.
But what does that mean? Jesus uses two illustrations in the text to give us some insights. How do you feel about having to go and ask your neighbor for something that you should have had on hand? For example, shortly after we moved here, Mary was making pancakes or something like that. She was short an egg. She felt embarrassed when she called a neighbor to borrow one. And since she was busy preparing dinner, she sent me to go get it. Now I felt embarrassed, too.
Maybe you're thinking, “Well, that's nothing to be embarrassed about. It's just what neighbors do for each other. ” You're right. But would you go to your neighbor's house in the middle of the night, not because of any big emergency, but because you needed a few slices of bread? Would you get him out of bed, disturbing his whole family for that? No matter how good a friend this neighbor was, I think all of us would be too embarrassed to do something like that. It would feel rather shameful, and rightly so.
But the man in Jesus' illustrations feels no shame. He's not embarrassed to get his friend out of bed at midnight for three small cakes of bread. He's not ashamed to disturb his friend's children, nestled under the covers. And it's not because of their friendship that he gets the bread, but because of his boldness, his shamelessness that's not afraid to ask.
Jesus wants you,dear Christian, to pray with that same boldness and shamelessness. He himself says to you, “Ask. Seek. Knock.” Don't be embarrassed. You have an open invitation. Pray without embarrassment, like a little child who is not afraid to ask for anything no matter how big or small. Oh, parents may cringe at what their child may ask of others, but the child doesn't. Pray as a child. Pray without embarrassment. Call out to your dear Father shamelessly.
But how can you, sinner, pray without shame? Does not God's law expose our sins? And isn't it the hardened conscience that refuses to confess sin's shamefulness? Aren't the dirty rags of our attempted righteousness stripped off, leaving us naked? How shameful that is! How can we pray without shame?
Well, dear Christian, even as you call out that word, “Father!” remember that a father is a father when he has a son. And God is first and foremost Father because from all eternity he has begotten the Son. Without the Son, he is not the Father. So even as you call out “Father,” ponder what God the Son has done to make you a child of God.
He became flesh and blood coming into our dark world as a human infant, yet in that Babe of Bethlehem dwelt all the fullness of the Deity in bodily form. He came to take away your guilt, to carry your shame in your place. As he hung there on the cross, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, as he hung there covered with the shame of all the world, he hung there for you. He died and then rose from the dead, so that you may approach the Father as a dear child without any shame or embarrassment.
Yes, the hardened conscience will try to deny sin's shame, and such denial brings damnation and hell. But the forgiven conscience makes no denial but rather believes that Jesus has taken away our shame by washing us clean in his blood. That's the promise God made to you at your Baptism. That's the promise he made to Connor this morning. The righteousness of Jesus Christ, like a white baptismal gown covers your shameful nakedness. Through the water and word of Baptism, you were reborn as a child of God. As long as you continue in your baptismal faith, you stand before God without shame, clothed with Jesus, sins forgiven. So pray as a child. Pray as the forgiven child of God you are through faith in the Son, Jesus Christ. Pray without embarrassment, as you call out to your dear Father.
And pray as a child expecting the best. This the second point we want to note today.
Why can you expect the best? It's not as the commercial say, because you deserve it or because you're worth it. You're not. I'm not. No one is. A child does not expect the best because of who he or she is, but because of who Mommy and Daddy are.
Who is your God? He is the Lord who freely makes his promises and faithfully keeps them. Take to heart the promise Jesus speaks here. Expect the best not because of who you are, but because of God's promise: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9, 10 NIV). Expect the best because God has promised it.
What father would give his son a snake instead of the fish he asked for or, when he asks for an egg, would give him a scorpion? Even sinful, earthly father's give their children good gifts. How much more so your heavenly Father who himself is love and goodness! Expect the best because of who he is.
But here is one way our fallen reason can make praying such a struggle. We pray, and we look at the results, and it seems to us as if God hasn't kept his word. For instead of expecting the best, we expect what we want. Instead of letting the all-wise God determine the best and accepting his answer, we set our hearts on what we think we should have and feel disappointed if it doesn't turn out that way.
Even though we often use a child as an illustration of trusting for the best, even young children don't always trust their parent's in this way, do they? Ever see a temper tantrum in the candy aisle of a grocery store? Or another example is this: When Caleb was three or four, he was opening a Christmas present. As he looked at the picture on the box, he called out to his sister, “Abi, I got an electric knife!” Mary had put his present into that box to make it easier to wrap. Would an electric knife have been a good gift for a three-year old? In the box were pajamas with his favorite Toy Story character on them, Woody the cowboy. Yet he felt disappointed, because he had his heart set on that electric knife. But weren't the pajamas the better gift?
How often aren't we like that in our prayers? God does answer and gives us the better gift, but we wanted something else, so we feel disappointed and even neglect or refuse the gift he's given. For example, when money is tight, we might pray for more. But maybe the best answer is for God to teach us to be content with what we have. If he gives us more money, then we get use to having more, and when that's gone, we feel worse than before. But contentment brings happiness whether we have much or little. And that is only a simple example, that even our reason can comprehend. How often God's answers are far behind our ability to explain! For he sees all of time and takes into consideration every individual as he answers your prayers with the best. So pray as a child calling out to your dear Father expecting the best, not as you see it, but as your heavenly Father sees it. Trust him for it.
Jesus closes here by reminding us of what is truly best for us. “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 NIV). The Holy Spirit is the bringing of all spiritual gifts: forgiveness, eternal life, faith, hope, peace, joy, love, patience, gentleness, self-control, and the like. And if the spiritual gifts are given, won't whatever material gifts that are beneficial be given as well? Our heavenly Father answers our prayers by pouring out the Holy Spirit through his Word, through Baptism, and the through the Lord's Supper. For the Spirit does not work apart from God's Word and Sacraments. If we are expecting the best answer, if we are expecting the Holy Spirit and his gifts, we will certainly be making use of these means of grace through which alone the Spirit comes.
“Lord, teach us to pray.” When we have struggled with our prayer life, we know how much we need his help. Hear and believe the Lord's command and promise, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9 NIV). Pray as a child, calling out to your dear Father. For through faith you are clothed with Jesus. You are a child of God. Pray without embarrassment or shame. Like a child expect the best, expect the Holy Spirit. For your Father has promised, and he keeps his word. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.