Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Luke 11:1-13
Pentecost 10 – August 18, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Do you still pray? That’s kind of an intriguing question. It can imply a number of ideas. Depending on how you interpret the question it might be asking several different questions. First of all, it obviously is asking you if you pray. That’s a real basic question that’s not too unusual to ask a Christian. And most Christians are going to answer, “Certainly I pray.”
But the question, do you still pray, might also imply that a person has been having a difficult time praying and maybe has given up in frustration. So someone might ask, “Do you still pray?” in an attempt to encourage them to pray once again. Or the question could also imply that a person persists very faithfully in prayer, and then the question would imply, “Are you still praying so faithfully?”
In our text today Jesus had some very important truths to teach his disciples about prayer, and they really involve all these aspects of prayer, that we first of all simply pray regularly, that we don’t give up in our efforts to pray, and that we persist faithfully to go to God again and again in prayer.
So today we ask the question
DO YOU STILL PRAY?
Do you wish that you prayed more often, or more faithfully, or with more faith, or that you saw more answers to your prayers? I think just about all of us could say that we wish we prayed more faithfully. And if we say that, we’re in good company because the disciples of Jesus felt the same way. Jesus had been praying, and we can probably guess that when Jesus prayed he prayed for a long time and quite fervently. The disciples noticed this. And one day when Jesus had finished praying one of the disciples went to him and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
It’s always intrigued me why the disciple said, “As John taught his disciples.” Why didn’t he ask, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as you pray”? I don’t know if there’s a definite answer to that question, but it might have been that the disciples in humility acknowledged that they could never expect to pray like Jesus. That standard was just too high they thought. The next best example they could follow would be John the Baptist and his disciples. With John the Baptist they indeed would be following a good example. It was obviously well observed by people that John the Baptist fervently prayed and that he taught his disciples to do the same. Now Jesus’ disciples wanted to pray like that as well.
Jesus began teaching his disciples how to pray by giving them an example of a prayer. The words that he spoke to them have become known to us and Christians world-wide for 2000 years as the Lord’s Prayer. But you’ll first of all note that the words recorded here for us in Luke sound a bit different than the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer that we pray. We first of all need to remember that Jesus probably spoke these words to his disciples in Aramaic. Luke recorded them in Greek when he wrote down his gospel. Matthew in his gospel also wrote these words down, but with some variations. The words of this prayer finally have been translated into just about every language and dialect in the world, including a number of versions in English, traditional and contemporary.
One thing we learn from these facts is that what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer was never really intended by Jesus to be one standard prayer, always said with the same words. The fact that Matthew and Luke record variations of the prayer are an indication that Jesus likely taught this prayer on different occasions, not always with the same words. It’s not wrong to pray a contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer in English, and we shouldn’t be surprised when visiting another church that they say the prayer with some different words.
It’s not the exact words or a prescribed way of saying the prayer that’s important, it’s the content of the prayer that’s significant. In Luther’s Small Catechism he teaches that the Lord’s Prayer has an address, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and a doxology, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.” The doxology or ending of the prayer is not in the Bible. Jesus didn’t teach those words. They are actually a song of praise that were added to the English version of the prayer in the Common Book of Prayer many years ago.
But the really important part of the Lord’s Prayer is the seven petitions or seven requests. Of those seven petitions only one asks for physical blessings, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The other six petitions all ask for spiritual blessings, blessings that involve our faith, the growth of the kingdom of God, the forgiveness of our sins and our forgiveness for others who have sinned against us. Jesus wasn’t teaching a standard form or required words of prayer, but he was teaching us to address our heavenly Father and to ask him for all kinds of spiritual blessings.
Have you ever gotten a phone call in the middle of the night when you’re sound asleep, or, worse yet, had someone knock at your door at midnight? It can be frightening, not to mention a little annoying. Jesus continued to teach his disciples about prayer by telling them a parable about a man who went to his friend’s house at midnight, knocked on the door, and asked for some food to give to a visitor who had come from a rather long distance. The man inside the house, who had just been awakened, told his friend that he and his family were already in bed. What he really wanted to say to him was, “It’s late. I’m not going to get up. Go away.”
How would you react if a friend came to your door at midnight and asked for some food to serve to someone who had come a long way and was hungry? I’d think the request was a little strange and a little presumptive. Why wouldn’t the person have any food in his own house? Or why wouldn’t he just go to the grocery store. There are some open 24 hours. But on the other hand I might just get up and give the friend some food. If he was willing to knock on my door at midnight, to wake me up, he must be in a rather desperate situation. I’d probably get up and give him something to feed to his friend.
That’s what the man did in Jesus’ parable. “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” Are you bold in your prayers? It may not make a lot of sense for someone to go to a friend’s house at midnight and ask for food, but the man’s sort of nonsensical boldness got an answer.
Jesus is telling us to pray to God boldly for blessings that we may not imagine God would ever grant.
Pray for faith that’s ten time stronger than the faith you have now. Pray for strength to avoid the sinful habits that have plagued you for so long. Pray for the success of our Lutheran Elementary School for years to come in spite of declining enrollment and limited financial resources. Pray that we’ll have 100 or more in Spanish worship two years from now. Pray that your children, relatives, or friends who no longer care to worship will be moved by the Holy Spirit to repent and turn to God for forgiveness and to worship him. Pray that we might have well over 100 in worship here on Sunday mornings once again. Pray that our nation might return to some sense of godliness and moral behavior. Pray that our synod’s mission efforts in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Indonesia, and other places will literally bring thousands into the kingdom of God. What matter is really on your heart that you’ve given up on because you think it’s nonsense or God would never do that? Pray about it.
And Jesus’ parable also implies persistence in those prayers. He says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Ask, seek, and knock. Keep on. Persist even if it seems like God would never answer your prayer. Persist even though it seems as if it’s taking God a long time to answer.
And Jesus wants us to understand that God does answer our prayers and that he knows exactly what to bless us with at just the right time. He tells another parable or gives an example that we can all relate to. He speaks to fathers, fathers and mothers, parents. If a child comes to a parent and asks for something to eat, the parent isn’t going to give him something that would poison or harm him. He’s going to give him something good and nutritious. So if a parent, who is sinful and imperfect, is still good enough and has enough good sense to give good food to his child, then just imagine the amazing blessings that God, our holy and perfect Father, will give to us his children.
Some suggestions if your prayer life has become less than ideal: Make your prayer life far more extensive than just reciting prayers and the Lord’s Prayer here in church. Find a regular time to pray or at least regularly pray to God at home, while busy with some project, or at work. Make a list of people and requests to pray for on paper or in your head. Pray boldly, for things or people or mission endeavors you may think were a lost cause a long time ago. Pray persistently. Don’t give up. We Americans are so used to instant gratification. We want answers immediately. Answered prayers sometimes require years. So pray persistently until God answers your prayer or satisfies your desires or redirects you to something else.
And why can you be sure God will listen to your prayer and answer you? Because of Jesus. God the Father is the one who sent his Son Jesus to die on a cross to atone for your sin. God the Father had the power to raise him again from the dead. That kind of love and power answers prayers. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Do you still pray? You and I have every reason to. Amen.