the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 11. 1-13
Prayer – like everything else – revolves around two things: god’s grace and jesus christ!

“[Jesus] 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 ….’” Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples ….” With a verse like that, you’d be expecting a sermon you could sink your teeth into! A real-world sermon, not an ivory tower one! Practical! Down-to-earth! A hands-folded-fingers-interlocked kind of sermon. Or maybe a fingers-straight-palms-together one. Heads down? Eyes closed? Kneeling? Standing? What to say? How to say it? You know the kind I’m talking about. We’ve all heard them sometime during our life here in the church. And these dozen-or-so verses become the basis of that kind of conversation. After all, this is – pretty much – the only place where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, like John taught his! And that’s important. How does the song go? “They will know we are Christians … by our prayers!”

Of course, that’s not the way the song goes. And that’s not the way people know we’re Christians. It’s by the love! By the love! And that’s important to remember, especially at times like this! During conversations like this one! Being the church, being god’s very own, isn’t about what we do or how we do it! It’s, simply, by the love! God loving! And us, as a result, loving the same way! God loves us! And that love informs our thoughts! That love inspires our actions and our words! And we become an echo, a reflection, of everything god has done! An echo and a reflection of everything god continues doing! Prayer included! Prayer included!

Now, I have to admit, I’m not sure what the disciple meant when he asked Jesus to teach them, like John. Did he just want Jesus to teach them, like John taught his? Or did he want Jesus to teach what John taught … about prayer? Ax at the roots? Winnowing fork in hand? And the fire? That never went out? That never got enough? Because, you see, it’s that basic, fundamental understanding – not about prayer – but about god, that determines how we do it! That determines what we believe! What we stake our lives on! If we believe god loves us! Loves us with all god’s heart, mind, body, and soul, we pray one way.! But if we believe – like John – that god sits back. Watching. Waiting. For us to make the first move, to make the right move. Well, that’s something else entirely! How we pray tells people more about what we believe about god than it does about prayer!

And, well, unfortunately, most of us – me included – have done better at learning what John taught than what Jesus teaches. About prayer. About life. About god. And the truth is, love doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it!

“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”
“Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.”
“If you only pray when you’re in trouble, you’re in trouble.”
“Don’t forget to pray today, because God didn’t forget to wake you up this morning.”

I spent a half an hour, earlier this week, just looking at quotes. Corrie ten Boom. George Herbert. Anonymous. Looking for what others said about prayer. I thought about all the sermons I’ve heard. All the classes I’ve sat through. All the retreats. All the discussions. And I realized something. There was never anything about love! Never anything about Jesus! We’d talk about formal versus informal. Structured versus freewheeling. From the heart or from the book. You’ve seen it all before. You’ve heard it. But more often than not, there was never anything about god’s grace! Never anything about Jesus!

And, truth be told, this parable was never much help. The man. The guest. The friend. What it says is that Jesus wants us to be a pest! Obnoxious! Intolerable! Persistence, he calls it! Because of persistence, god will respond! God will react! That’s the ethos of the church? Our spirit? Our culture? Be persistent? Wear god down? Wear god out? Ask and keep on asking? Search and keep on searching? Knock and keep on knocking? If you can’t get it by yourself, find someone else to help? If two can’t get it down, get two more? If your prayer is, still, no answered, go online? Get hundreds? Thousands? Then god will have to answer? Not because god cares, but just to shut us up? And there is nothing! Nothing about Jesus! Nothing about love! Except, of course, for the incantation at the end of it all. “In Jesus’ name we pray.”

As a pastor, however … As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ … I have to tell you … I don’t care if you know how to pray or not! I don’t care if you’re good at it or not! I don’t care about your technique. I don’t care if you’re comfortable or confident when you pray before others. I don’t care if you use your own words or if you beg them, borrow then, or steal them from someone else. That’s not why I’m here. That’s not what I’m about. I’m here for one reason and for one reason alone. To tell you and to teach you that god loves you! God loves you and your prayers have nothing to do with it! God couldn’t love you any more than god loves you at this very moment! And god, certainly, will never love you any less! God loves you and god knows what’s happening in your life! God loves you and god knows what you need, even before you do! And god is doing something about it before you ask!

That’s what Dr. Luther is telling us in the Catechism when he explains the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. “God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer,” he writes. “God’s good and gracious will comes about without our prayer!” “God gives daily bread without our prayer!” To everyone! To everything! Everywhere! Because that’s what love does! Love doesn’t wait! Love doesn’t delay! Love doesn’t hold back! Love doesn’t hold it! Love gives what needs given! Does what needs doing! And love does it all when and where it needs given and done! And god doesn’t wait! God doesn’t determine whether we deserve it or not! And god, certainly, doesn’t discern if we’ve said please and thank you in just the right way! What kind of god would god be if god did that? What kind of parent? What kind of father, heavenly or otherwise?

God loves us! God loves all of us! Loves us with everything god is! Loves us with everything god has! And if you have any doubts? Well, just take a look at Jesus! Not at what he “would” do, but at what he has already done! Jesus Christ, the love of god incarnate! Jesus Christ, god’s love in flesh and blood! That’s what, that’s who, we believe in! That what, who, we stake our lives on! But even more, that’s who holds us fast, in his heart and mind! Who holds us fast, in his arms forever, and never, ever lets us go! So, the request that takes center stage, this morning, is one we’ve heard before. Maybe, even, one we ourselves have made. Lord, teach us to pray. But before we can learn, we – first – have to know how much god loves us. How much god cares. For that, my friends, is where faith begins! And that … that is where life is born!

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