Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Lord, teach us to pray. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 12C, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich, on Sunday, July 24, 2016.

          We all know prayer is important.  It’s necessary for our Christian lives.  God has commanded us to pray and we want to obey this command.  All of us want a rich prayer life, to always come before God with our petitions and supplications.  But we don’t always do this, because prayer is difficult for us.  It’s not natural, it’s not something we automatically do.  Prayer is something we must learn, something that our Lord must teach us. 
          The disciples knew this.  They came to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1).  The Twelve saw John the Baptist teach his followers to pray, and they saw Jesus praying all the time.  Obviously, prayer was a good thing, and they wanted to do it, but they didn’t know how.  They needed Jesus to teach them, and so do we.  We need to be taught, we need to be taught what to say, what to pray for. 
It’s a familiar scene.  We’re in a group of people and someone asks for a volunteer to pray.  What usually follows is a brief period of awkward silence that seems to last an eternity.  Everyone looks at each other wondering who’s going to speak up first.  No one wants to volunteer because they're afraid they don’t know how to pray.  They’re at a loss for words, worried about what to say.  We become speechless.  This sudden muteness is understandable though.  Prayer is a big thing.  In prayer we come before and petition the Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  What can we say before Him? 
We say the words that He gives us.  Just as Jesus opened the closed mouth of a demon possessed man in the next few verses of Luke 11, Jesus opens your mouth, and what comes out is His prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer specifically given to His disciples, given to you. 
When you pray you 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 who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation” (Lk 11:2-4). 
This prayer encompasses everything we could possibly pray for.  In just these few petitions, we ask for all we need, both for this life and the life to come.  When we pray “hallowed be Your name,” we ask God to preserve His Word among us.  We ask Him to protect us from false teaching.  When we petition for the coming of His kingdom, we pray that He would rule our lives, that He would send His Holy Spirit to lead us into lives of godliness.  We pray for daily bread, for sustenance, the things needed for life.  We ask Him to provide us with food to nourish our bodies and food to nourish our souls.  When we say, “forgive us our sins,” we confess our sinfulness to Him and we beg Him to remove it, to not look at our transgressions for Christ’s sake.  And we ask Him to lead us away from all sorts of temptations, to protect us from the traps of Satan, the world, and our sinful nature.  All of this is needful for life; all of this is according to God’s will.  These are good things and God wants to give us these good things.  This is why Jesus tells us to pray for them, and we do.  When we don’t know what to pray for, we pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer, and as we pray these words, the Holy Spirit will lead us to continue in prayer with words of our own. 
          But the words we pray are only one part of prayer.  The other part is how we pray, the attitude with which we pray.  Praying isn’t unique to Christianity.  People from all religions and faith traditions pray.  However, the attitude with which we pray is different.  When non-Christians pray, they pray with uncertainty and wishes.  They don’t know if their prayers will be answered.  They don’t even know if their prayers will be heard.  This isn’t the case for you.  When you pray, you pray with certainty and confidence, knowing that your prayers are heard and answered because you pray to the one true God, and He promises to hear and answer you. 
          Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9).  In these words is the promise that God hears us when we pray and that when we pray according to His will, He will give us our prayer. 
          To illustrate this Jesus tells two stories.  First, He tells the story of a man who knocks on his neighbor’s door late at night requesting bread to feed a friend who’s came to visit.  If this happened to us, how many of us would get up out of bed, go to the kitchen, and then give our neighbor the bread?  Probably none of us, and neither would this man, even though they were friends.  But because of the persistent asking and the expectation to help show hospitality to travelers, the neighbor will get up and give the bread, albeit, probably begrudgingly. 
          The second story is that of a father and son.  Jesus rhetorically asks the question “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”  (Lk 11:11-12).  Obviously no father would do this.  As parents, we only want to give good things to our children.  We’d never purposefully give them bad and harmful things. 
          These two examples are illustrations from least to greatest.  If we who are evil, that is, if we who are sinners know how to give good things to our neighbors and to our children, “how much more will our heavenly Father give us the good thing of the Holy Spirit?” (Lk 11:13)  God will most certainly give us the good things, He’ll give us the Holy Spirit because He is our gracious Father. 
We’re God’s children.  That’s our identity in Christ alone, given to us in our baptism.  In those waters, you’re connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Your sin was crucified with Him on the cross and you’re made a new creation, adopted by God and brought into His eternal family.  That’s what happened to Hannah just moments ago.  She began the day as a sinner to her core.  That’s who she was.  But God has claimed her as His very own and made her His forgiven child, just as He has claimed each and every one of us, making us His forgiven children.
And because of this, He answers our petitions.  He has hallowed His name by preserving His Word and keeping His Church so that we might know Him and our Savior, Christ Jesus.  His kingdom has come and He has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit who creates faith within us, leading us to live out our identity in Christ as God’s children.  Our Father answers our prayers for daily bread.  He gives us food on our tables and the food of Jesus’ body and blood on the table of His altar.  And He most certainly has forgiven us our sins.  With the blood of Christ’s cross our heavenly Father wipes away our sin.  He cancels our debt. 
You’re children of God, and as such, your Father has given you the privilege to come to Him in prayer, asking of Him just as a child asks of their father.  He commands you to pray because He promises to hear you, to answer your prayers.  So you pray to your heavenly Father in faith, with all confidence and certainty, knowing that He hears you and answers you.  You’re assured that He’ll always give you the good things, because He already has.  He’s given you forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ.  He’s adopted you in your baptism and made you His child through His Son Jesus.  In His name...Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was startled to read, “how much more will our heavenly Father give us the good thing of the Holy Spirit?” (Lk 11:13) , because all of the English translations I have seen, and my Greek NT, all have the equivalent of, “give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.” My hope was buoyed by the thought that at last someone has discovered that this passage cannot be used to argue repeated receiving of the Holy Spirit. I would appreciate knowing, which English translation was used in this case; I was unable to find it in my limited search.
The fact is that the Mathew 7:11 parallel passage, which without any doubt describes the same event, and the same words of our Lord, simply refers to our Father giving “good gifts” to them that ask Him.” It is impossible that our Lord said different things at the same time. The solution to the problems, I believe, lies in the translators’ choice of manuscripts. Among them are the following, with the corresponding readings:
πνευμα αγιον (Holy Spirit) – 75, א, B, C, K, W, X, Δ, Π, Ψ, f1, f13, 28
πνευμα αγαθον (a good spirit) – L 1230 1253 1646, ℓ 4, ℓ 12, ℓ 15, ℓ 19, ℓ 69, ℓ 185, ℓ 211
δοματα αγαθα (good gifts)– Θ, ℓ 32m
Quite honestly, I do not understand the designations of the manuscripts; I copied them from a web site of NT variant readings, that had no ax to grind in this matter.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no manuscripts with variant readings for the Matthew text.
But my hope was dashed by the final sentence of that paragraph: “God will most certainly give us the good things, He’ll give us the Holy Spirit because He is our gracious Father.” HE WILL NOT GIVE US THE HOLY SPIRIT, because He has given Him to us once when we were baptized, and there is not a single passage in the entire Bible that tells of anyone who has received the Holy Spirit more than once. On the contrary, Scripture teaches (and I will be happy to provide the loci; space limitations do not permit it here) that we receive Him once (as a rule, in Baptism) and that He stays with us to do the work Luther describes in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed until we go to be with our Lord.
To ask our Father to give us the Holy Spirit again and again, and to expect to receive Him again and again is to call God a liar, because we ask for what He has revealed He has already given us. It also brings doubt to the believer, who may wonder whether God has answered his prayer and has given him the Holy Spirit. This teaching takes away the objective Gospel and adds subjectivity to it; in other words, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in me depends not on God’s objective, undeserved gift, but on the efficacy of my prayer. To cast doubt into the heart of a believer is to do the work of Satan.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart