Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

9th Sunday after Pentecost – July 25th, 2010

Luke 11:1-13 (Genesis 18:20-33, Colossians 2:6-15)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Lord, teach us to pray. No wonder the shelves of so-called Christian bookstore are full of books with such enticing titles as: Prayers that Bring Change, The Yada Yada Prayer Group, Becoming a Prayer Warrior: A Guide to Effective and Powerful Prayer and of course…The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.

And those are just a few of Google's 5000 top books on prayer. Not to mention prayers to St. Christopher for all of your summer vacations, prayers to St. Thomas Aquinas for all of your university and academic needs and my personal favorite – if, let's say, you have a caterpillar problem in your garden - prayers to St. Magnus of Fussen.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy (or false piety) and empty deceit according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world…and not according to Christ.

God is not your vending machine. But too often we pray as if He was… Hmm, let's see, what shall I pray for today, God…Ah, I've got it…insert Scripture passage here, press A1, eh not the Lord's Prayer again…oh, wait, no C4, yes, that's the one. Drop. Clink. And you're on your way. Vending machines are great because they give us exactly what we want (most of the time) instantly. Our old nature loves instant gratification and we're tempted to think prayer works the same way, press a button here, say a few words there and God will dispense our desired outcome. And with the Vending Machine you don't even need to say thank you. You can just keep on devouring those Funyuns, I mean praying, and have no relationship whatsoever with that vending machine, I mean God.

Prayer is not a cold transaction or some kind of bargain with God. Prayer is God talking to Himself through you. Prayer is saying back to God everything that He has already said to you in His Word. The Bible is full of prayers. John the Baptist prayed. Abraham prayed. And Jesus is always going off by Himself to a hill or the wilderness or a garden to pray. Learning to pray means learning to pray what the Lord's Prayer says. And the prayer Jesus teaches is all about Him.

Lord, teach us to pray. For we do not pray nearly as often as we ought and our Heavenly Father is always more ready to hear us than we are to petition Him. Teach us to pray – why? It doesn't come naturally, at least not anymore. Not since Adam and Eve took to thinking that God's Word wasn't true. They wanted to get the last word, unfortunately, sin and death and Satan had the last laugh. As a result, we don't make time for prayer or maybe we brush it off. And if/when our old sinful nature does pray it's a broken record: My kingdom come, my will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The problem with our prayer-life is us and our terminal case of My-arreah.

But if we just believed in the power of prayer, after all, God won't do something if we don't ask. And if we don't pray perfectly, eloquently, and really really really hard, God won't think we mean it.

You may say think you pray enough and you mostly for the right things. Repent. Our Lord commanded us to pray and yet You have not prayed without ceasing. Repent. You have not prayed for the things God has given you to pray for. Repent. …these are all symptoms of the same problem…for out of the heart come evil thoughts, false prayers, no prayers, selfish prayers.

How can such poor miserable sinners like ourselves ever be called children of God? How could we, selfish, self-serving people, ever be taught to pray to God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and call Him Father?

The answer is not in our prayer, but in Jesus prayer. The Prayer Jesus teaches is all about Him. Our selfish prayers, our sinful prayers, our lack of prayers, our prideful prayers – they're all forgiven in Christ's death on the cross as He prayed, Father forgive them for they know not what they do, as He prayed, Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit. All those times Jesus went off to the wilderness or up on a hilltop or in a garden at night – He went there for you. He prayed for you. He still prays for you. your Great High Priest.

He's the reason you start every prayer with "Our Father." For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, shared in His death and resurrection and in Christ you are sons of God through faith. You belong to Jesus. You are Christ's and if you are Christ's then you are heirs according to the promise and if you are heirs, you are blessed to call God, Father. He loves being called Father, like a proud parent. He looks at you and He sees Jesus on the cross for your sins. And when He hears your prayers He hears Jesus' prayers on your behalf.

Lord, teach us to pray. And He does. Father, Hallowed be Your Name; Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who owes us. And lead us not into temptation. The Lord's Prayer is the perfect prayer; it is shallow enough for young children to wade and play and splash in its waters and yet it is deep enough to drown an elephant. What could you possibly pray that isn't in the Lord's Prayer? It's the summary and source of all prayers.

Last week Mary and Martha taught us the proper way of worship: simply receiving. Right Worship begins and ends with God giving and you receiving all He has to give. Prayer is no different. Prayer begins and ends with the Giver and His gifts. It is the richness of the Word of God that determines our prayer, not the poverty of our heart. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.

He who gave David the Word of the Psalms; He who gave Abraham the promise; He who taught the disciples, also gives you, His beloved children His perfect prayer. In this way we are taught in the catechism that – Our Father – God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. You see, children learn after they have been spoken to. God speaks we listen. God proclaims His Word, washes us in His font, feeds us at His table and we pray on the basis of those gifts. Prayer is the voice of faith. So pray, boldly, confidently. Because you have been given a bold confident trust in Christ, by grace through faith in His death and He knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him. He who promised is faithful.

So rather than talking about the power of prayer or how prayer changes things Jesus teaches us to receive, proclaim and rejoice in all that He has done for us. To pray on the basis of who God is and what Jesus has done for us. And so Abraham stood before the Lord …suppose there are 50 righteous in the city. Will you sweep it away and not spare it? Far be it from you to put the righteous to death with the wicked…what about 45 or 40…30, or 20, or 10?"

Ever wonder why Abraham stopped there? Why didn't Abraham talk Him down to one believer? Maybe he didn't think God would go that far. But God does. Our Heavenly Father does spare the wicked for the sake of One Righteous Man – Jesus Christ. For the faithfulness of this One, God does not call down punishment on us or destroy our cities as in the days of Sodom. Instead He pours out His punishment on His Son Jesus destroys the power of death and therefore God has cancelled the record of debt that you owed Him, forgiven you your trespasses as you trespass against Him. He has set your sin aside and nailed it to the cross. And so you are free, free to ask. Free to pray. Free to knock.

For which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he will answer from within, "Do not bother me; the door is locked, my children are sleeping, I cannot give you anything? I tell you, even though he will not get up to give him anything because he is a friend, yet because of his impudence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

Most of you probably don't go running to your neighbor's for bread at midnight. You'd go to the 24 hour Ralph's down the street. But in Jesus' day, you didn't refuse your neighbor or cause him embarrassment in front of his guests no matter what time of the day it was, even if you were in your pajamas!

Maybe that kind of hospitality doesn't exist anymore, but that's how it is with God. He invites us to come to him any time, day or night, and to ask not only for daily bread, but for anything else that is on our minds. He invites us to knock at his door. It's never locked. It's never too late. He's never too busy.

His invitation is always backed with a promise. Not a limited warranty, but a promise. "Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened." We're not guaranteed we'll receive exactly what we ask for. Nor that we'll find what we are looking for. It doesn't work that way, and praying harder and believing more won't change that. God is still God. He doesn't always give what we want. That's why you have vending machines. No, God gives better. He gives what we need. For while we were still weak and at the right time Christ died for the ungodly and greater love has no man than this, that One lay down His life for His friends, better yet, His dear children.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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