Sunday, July 24, 2016
Genesis 18:20-32, Luke 11:1–13
HOW MUCH MORE
Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.
One might think that after several thousand years the people of God would have prayer all figured out. But that is not the case. Prayer, conversation with God, is so basic to the life of faith. Yet the people of God continue to struggle with a variety of questions concerning prayer: How are we to pray? What are we to pray for? How does God answer prayers? How does God speak to us in prayer? Why are some prayers answered and some prayers not? What does it say about my faith if I pray seldom or not at all?
David Lose tells the story of young boys in the first congregation he served who prayed every day for their dad to be cured of cancer. But he wasn’t cured, and after his death his sons wanted to know why.
Lose also shares a tragic account of a young woman in another congregation who was sexually abused for years by her father. She prayed and prayed for her father to stop. But it lasted a long, long time, until she was able to leave home. She wanted to know why.
As Lose explains, unanswered prayer can cause “a huge crisis of faith. It puts honest believers in a bind between wondering whether God failed or they did. Most of us, believing it unfaithful to fault God, blame ourselves instead. We must not have had enough faith, or we didn’t have a sufficient number of other Christians praying for us, or we just didn’t pray the right way.”
Jesus’ closest followers—his disciples— also struggled with prayer. They noticed how important praying was to Jesus. Jesus would engage in intense ministry, and then he would withdraw to deserted places and pray (5:16). Before significant turning points in his ministry, he would spend extensive time in prayer. According to Luke, before Jesus called his twelve disciples, he spent the whole night in prayer with God (6:12).
Seeing how important prayer was to Jesus, and seeing also that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray, the disciples wanted to learn more about prayer. One time after Jesus had finished praying in a certain place, one of the disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus responded by teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, telling them a parable on prayer, and offering them some sayings about prayer.
Martin Luther was
once asked by his barber, “Dr. Luther,
how do you pray?” Luther responded with a lengthy letter entitled
When meditating on
or listening to God’s word to us in scripture, Luther encouraged his barber to
ask questions of thanksgiving, confession, and intercession. Inspired by
Luther’s questions, Walter and Ingrid Trobisch developed the T.R.I.P. method of
prayer. For over two decades this T.R.I.P. method has been at the heart of the
prayer life of Mt. Carmel Ministries. Each year we offer a special
Answering the “who” question then clarifies or shapes how we pray and what we pray for.
The Lord’s Prayer begins with “Father.” It is an affectionate, intimate way to address God. It is the way children in the time of Jesus would have addressed a father who loves them. With this address Jesus teaches them that the God to whom we pray is like a loving parent. We pray to a God, the God of Jesus, who loves us dearly. Learning how to pray and what to pray for is important. But knowing that the One to whom we pray loves us frees us from being overly anxious about prayer methods and techniques. It frees us to share whatever is on our hearts and minds.
In our gospel reading Jesus asks his followers: “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!” Here Jesus affirms how generous, compassionate, and caring God is toward the children of God. God seeks to provide us with our daily bread, the essentials we need for life. But the finest gift God provides is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and Jesus. Only God can give the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift that no one can take from us.
Our Old Testament
reading for this morning is a lively conversation between God and Abraham — that
is, it is a prayer. . One cannot help but smile as Abraham negotiates with God
and gets God to acknowledge that God will not destroy
Being clear on who God is and on the character of God will not remove all questions about prayer. At times our prayers will not be answered in the way we might hope. In recent weeks and months we have been doing a lot of praying for the victims of terrorist attacks and for an end to terrorism. While I was writing this sermon, I was saddened to hear on the news that nine people had been killed in Münich in another horrific attack. This summer it seems like we have been praying for the victims of a new attack each week. In Habbakuk 1:2 the prophet laments: “How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! "Violence is everywhere!" I cry, but you do not come to save” (ESV). It would be a mistake to blame God for these horrific acts of violence, but at the very least we need to plead with God to transform many hearts and minds soon. Surely the God Jesus teaches us to pray to must be deeply saddened by these violent events.
As we struggle to
understand why some prayers are not answered, it is striking that even Jesus had
his most fervent prayer go unanswered. In the
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches his disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come.” Be assured that the kingdom of the God who wants “so much more” for us is a kingdom of compassion, justice, and peace. People of faith will not cease praying for this kingdom. Nor will they cease to say and do everything in their power to seek that kingdom.
In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
 Quoted in Daily Texts 2016, Mt. Carmel Ministries, 176.