FIRST LESSON: Luke 11:1-13
SECOND LESSON Genesis 18:20-32
SERMON: “Prayer Persistence
Last month for our Saturday night at the movies, some of us gathered to watch Sister Act. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it is the story of a casino singer who is an eye witness to a murder and is then hidden in an inner-city convent, as a nun – Sister Mary Clarence – to keep her safe until the trial. The only people who know that is why she is there are the police and the Mother Superior, who introduces her to the other nuns in the convent at lunch.
An overly cheerful Sister welcomes the new “nun,” saying, “On behalf of all the Sisters here at St. Katherine’s, I’d like to offer a great big “Hi there” and hello to Sister Mary Clarence. Hi. And as part of the welcome I thought that maybe ... our new sister could offer today’s blessing.”
Knowing pretty much nothing about how to pray, especially in public, but unwilling to blow her cover, Sister Mary Clarence, played by Whoopi Goldberg, responds, “That is very thoughtful of you, Mary Patrick. But I really ... Oh. Yeah. Yeah. I can ... I can do that. Uh. Sure. Oh. Fudge. Uh. Bless us, O Lord for these Thy gifts which we’re about to receive. And, Yea. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of no food, I will fear no hunger. We want you to give us this day our daily bread ... and to the republic for which it stands, and by the power invested in me, I pronounce us ready to eat. Amen.
(Others): Amen. Amen. Amen
Many of us feel similarly unprepared to offer public prayer, or even how to pray our own personal prayers. Apparently one of Jesus’ disciples felt the need to ask for instruction. The first thing I noticed when I re-read this passage is that Jesus doesn’t hesitate a moment, doesn’t belittle the disciple for asking for help with something we may think is quite basic. That is so like Jesus, just to meet the person where he is.
He gives the disciple, and us, a fairly simple pattern for prayer:
The approach: Father, remember that God loves you as a devoted parent. For twenty-first century Christians, the initial address of “Father” is not startling. But for first century Jews, the mandate to pray to God first and foremost as “Father” was astonishing. For Israel, God was Creator, Deliverer, Judge, Redeemer — but only very rarely referred to as “Father.”
The next portion of the prayer Jesus offers is “your kingdom come.” – Reveal who you are. Set the world right. This is the essence of Jesus’ own teaching, the forward looking thrust of Jesus’ divinely-entrusted mission. The prayer for God’s kingdom to be established is a now and future imperative Jesus continually preached to his followers. Jesus’ presence made the kingdom present. But Jesus’ followers needed to pray for the continual unveiling of that kingdom.
Keep us alive with three square meals. Meet our basic physical needs – elicits a memory of the Hebrew people, wandering in the wilderness receiving manna and quail each day enough sufficient for the day, not to be saved up or hoarded, for we are meant to have an on-going, daily relationship with God, our Creator, Redeemer,
Sustainer and Father.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Help us to live as forgiven and forgiving people
Luke’s text diverges from Matthew’s “Lord’s Prayer” in its length and in its vocabulary in vs. 4. Matthew’s text equated “debts” with “indebtedness” (Matthew 6:12). Luke’s text conjoins universal human sinfulness with the forgiveness of day-to-day indebtedness — e.g. small-time sins. Disciples are to pray for the forgiveness of their “sins,” but that prayer should be based upon a prior act of forgiveness by disciples of all those who might have become “indebted” to them.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” Protect us from all that would separate us from you. “Do not lead us into the time of trial” is an addendum message to a God who is “Father,” provider, forgiver.
Jesus’ prayer ends with a surprising and remarkable “cherry-on-top.” Instead of “fish” and “eggs” and “daily bread” what Jesus promises is that those who pray to God the Father as his disciples will receive nothing less than the “Holy Spirit.” To be a disciple is to be one who prays continually to God “Our Father.” To be a disciple is to be offered the gift of the “holy Spirit,” the personal presence of the Father.
Finally Jesus encourages us to be persistent in our prayers, trusting that
God will answer. As he so often does, Jesus teaches them by story giving them the image of someone who has closed up the house and retired for the night, but who will get up when a friend comes asking for bread, not because it is his friend, but because the friend is so persistent. Consider for a moment the persistence of Abraham in pleading the case of whatever righteous person might be found in Sodom. It’s startling that the record says, “but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. The Message says he stood in God’s path, blocking his way.” Really? Who can block God from moving? Then comes the challenge, “Would you destroy the whole city, even if there were 50 righteous people there?” God acknowledges he would not destroy everything if there were 50 righteous people living there. Did Abraham know something he wasn’t saying because the then bargains for 45, then for 40, then for 30, then for 20 and finally for 10. God listens and responds with grace each time.
Why is it that God’s word encourages us repeatedly to be persistent in prayer? Numbers 23:19 tells us “God is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” I Samuel affirms “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for he is not a human being that he should change his mind.” If God does not change his mind, then why should we be persistent in prayer?
Let me tell you a story.
A man was sleeping one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light, and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. So, this the man did, day after day.
For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all of his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and
worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.
He began to think to himself: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t moved.” He started to believe that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened him.
Then he thought, “Hey, why kill myself over this? I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort; and that will be good enough.” So that’s what the weary man planned to do, but first he decided to make it a Matter of Prayer and to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.
“Lord,” he prayed, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”
The Lord answered: “Wait a minute! When I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all of your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed.
Really? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back lean and tan; your hands are callused from constant pressure, your legs have become massive and hard. You have grown much, and your abilities now far surpass that which you used to have. It is true you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to have faith, to trust in my wisdom. That you have done. Now, my friend, I will move the rock.”
- When everything seems to go wrong ... just P.U.S.H.!
- When the job gets you down ... just P.U.S.H.!
- When people don’t react the way you think they should ... just P.U.S.H!
- When your money is “gone” and the bills are due ... just P.U.S.H.!
- When people just don’t understand you .... just ... P.U.S.H!
P=Pray ... U=Until ... S=Something ... H=Happens. PUSH.