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“Lord, teach us to pray”
“Lord, teach us to pray” Words from the Holy Gospel according to Luke. Amen.
Prayer is not only at the heart of the Christian life; it is also at the heart of a lot of Christian frustration, misunderstanding, and even pain. How do we pray? How does God answer prayer? Why does God sometimes seem to ignore our prayers?
An immediate challenge is how much Luke packs into these thirteen verses: the Lord’s Prayer, a parable on prayer, and then several sayings about prayer. Where to start?
From 14th July over that week, the readings from New Daylight were about prayer and if you haven’t already done so, you may find them helpful, they talk about many different kinds of prayer, intercession for personal needs, or for others, thanksgiving, repentance, confession, written prayers, the liturgy in church and arrow prayers, but from my own perspective prayer is about communication, communication, communication.
Before we are born we learn to recognise and respond to voices, our mums’ in particular, but also incredibly, music. Within days babies are masters of manipulation of both parents. ‘Ask and you will receive’ fathers too begin to communicate very quickly.
Communication between people began face to face, moved on to using verbal messengers, written notes, post cards, and the telephone. Now modern mobiles, offer wots app, emails, text and many other messaging services. It is not hard to keep in touch with family and friends. Help is only a few clicks away, but what of prayer in our bible reading today?
Coming just after a visit with Mary and Martha, the scene begins with Jesus again at prayer. Luke stresses the importance of prayer in Jesus' life, and given that the disciples had been watching Jesus at prayer, and their awareness that John had taught his disciples to pray, it's only natural they would ask Jesus for instruction. Luke's version of Jesus' answer is what we call the Lord's Prayer. But it might be better named the Disciples’ Prayer – it is briefer and simpler than the one found in Matthew.
It includes down-to-earth worries, securing "bread, enough for tomorrow" and tending a community formed by shared forgiveness. Thoroughly Jewish in character Jesus invites his followers to address the Holy One of Israel as pater, “Father”, in a way more like the way a child would ask a parent for something. Perhaps like the baby asking its daddy.
In Jesus’ parable the hallmark of Christian prayer is persistence. It is worth noting that the breadless friend asks only once, making demands on his neighbour's duty of hospitality. He is in a sense “shameless,” counting on his friend's desire not fail the communities’ expectations. So Jesus shows us we can make bold petitions to God, shamelessly calling on God to keep God's promises.
We then read of some familiar commands of Jesus: ask, search, and knock, usually interpreted as a call to persistence (“ask and keep asking”). It might be more helpful, though, to read Jesus’ instructions as inviting trust - ask, search, and knock, in confidence that you will receive what you ask. Of course there is no one among us who would give a snake or a scorpion to a crying child, so how then, Jesus implies, can we not trust that God as a divine parent will give us all that we need, including and especially the Holy Spirit?
We Christians, especially when new to prayer, tend to fixate on the mechanics of prayer: how, why, when. Jesus’ instructions to his followers, however, focus on a different question: who. This is not to say that the questions we bring are in any way unworthy of being asked. Given the many challenges of daily life and acknowledging the deeply felt and all too often unmet needs we carry with us, our questions about mechanics are incredibly understandable and deserve a hearing. Yet while it is important to acknowledge the validity of our questions, it’s also important to recognize that Jesus seems more interested, at this point, in invitation than explanation. In this passage, that is, Jesus invites us into relationship with God through prayer, offering us the opportunity to approach the God whose name is too holy to speak and whose face is too fearful to look on with the familiarity, boldness, and trust of a young child running to its daddy for both provision and protection.
Prayer, according to both this passage and Luke’s larger portrait of Jesus, is not so much about getting things from God but rather about the relationship we have with God. So we are called to live a life of prayer, as Jesus did. We are invited to make all of our needs, wants, hurts, hopes, and desires known to God. While at other places in Scripture we are told that God knows our needs without being asked, here we are invited to make them known, to speak them into existence in the confidence that whatever may happen, this relationship can bear hearing these things and may actually even depend upon hearing them.
We may not be able to address all of our questions about the “hows” and “whys” of prayer, but we are invited into a deeper, more honest, and more trusting relationship with the God who desires to be known chiefly as loving parent, Abba, Father, provider of all that is good and protector of all in need. While this may not give us everything we want, it at least gives us what we most need. Heavenly Father, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. Yes Please!
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 28/07/19