Sounds good, doesn’t it? Ask and you shall receive? Knock and the door shall be answered? Well, I want me some of that!
But not so fast, we have to take this into context. What happens around this statement? Well, we start this story with the disciples asking for Jesus to tell them how to pray. Sounds simple enough. But let’s think about the source. These are the disciples. These are the people who argue about which of them is going to sit at Jesus’ right hand in heaven. They are the ones who hack off Centurion ears and want to know when Jesus is going to overthrow the Roman Empire. They usually have something more in their questions and thoughts.
What they’re really asking is for Jesus to give them the special super-secret Jesus prayer. The one that God hears and says, “Ooooo some of Jesus’ people! I better listen up.” And Jesus, being our loving and parable saying God, does not answer as simply as it seems at first.
The prayer Jesus taught them, the Lord’s prayer, is about forming the one who prays closer to God and closer in the likeness and image of Christ. Even more than that, this passage of scripture is clearly the work of the first century Mediterranean world.
The Lord’s Prayer is not an American prayer. We Americans are individualistic , pull-ourselves-up-by-our-bootstraps people. If we want something done, then we get it done. That’s not this prayer.
For one thing, it’s not my or me, it’s us, us, us. The Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer. The focus on the prayer is not individual needs. What are the foci of the prayer? Well the main focus is the first line: that God will be venerated and everything after that is how God will be venerated. God is venerated when we work to make the Kingdom of God an earthly reality, that our needs, EVERYONE’S needs, are satisfied in order for us to keep working for that reality, that our relationship with God and with each other be right and just, and that we not come into hard times.
The Lord’s Prayer is about growing closer to God and we do that through praying it over and over and OVER again. Until the words reverberate in our minds and our hearts until they become embedded in our very souls. We pray it until we go through our days with the gauze of the Lord’s Prayer wrapped around our eyes, seeing the world through the film of “How can I venerate God through this? How can I help the Kingdom of God become a reality today? How can I make sure Jane gets her daily bread? How can I make my relationship with God closer? How can I help my relationship with my husband, wife, father, mother, sister, brother?”
Wait? What’s that? Oh I hear you out there! I hear it! I hear you saying, “Alright, that all sounds good but what about that part about not coming into hard times? What about getting what I pray for? That part about knocking and asking and opening and receiving?”
It’s a hard question. No doubt about it. We’ve all had those prayers at the midnight hour when we have nothing but the salt of our tears on our lips to console us. At places like Yale, we give it big names and call it theodicy or the problem of evil. We read books, articles, and sermons about it. People spend their whole lives on that one question . And you know what? None of those answers will fully satisfy why your loved one died, that hurricane hit, or that bomb went off.
This is one of those places when the rubber meets the road of faith. When we believe beyond all evidence to the contrary. When we believe beyond all our understanding. However, in this passage, Jesus does provide us with tools to help our faith.
Notice in the very first line of the prayer it says “Father.” Not God. Not YHWH. Father. We are to have a relationship with God like that of a child to a parent. We address our prayers like a child speaking to a parent. A parent is one who cares for and provides for his or her child beyond that child’s means or ability. In effect Jesus says to his disciples, “Look, you care for your children, right? God cares for you! God’s not going to give you poison after you ask for food!”
But you know, it also means that God isn’t going to give you something that harms you. Now, be honest, we’ve all prayed for some pretty foolish things. When we look back and think, “Well if I had gotten that, it would have been terrible! Nothing good would have come out of that!
That’s one reason that we don’t get what we ask for in our prayers. Another is that God DOES answer our prayers, just not in the way we expect them to be answered. That’s what happens to Abraham in our reading this morning. God agrees to every one of Abraham’s petitions, and Abraham expects that Sodom and Gomorrah will be saved as a result. But that’s not what happens. The cities are razed regardless.
But neither of these answers fully satisfy our hunger to know why bad things happen. We want to know why God doesn’t swoop in and save the day. We want to know why God doesn’t put a stop to human wickedness. And we don’t know. This is our faith. That we believe in spite of it all. We believe in spite of the evil and hurt that we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell. We believe.
We may not know why these things happen, but we do know that God hears our prayers. That God is with us in the suffering. God sits with us beside that hospital bed and loves us through it all. God shares our suffering.
Now, I don’t want you leaving here thinking that you shouldn’t pray about something or that you should closely regulate your prayers because Jesus says that is not what we are to do. The friend keeps knocking and we are to keep praying.
I have to tell you that I hate the way the eighth verse is translated in our passage. Persist is such a terrible translation of that word. Persist gives you a technical definition while missing the essence of it. Like having Coca-Cola described to you as being fizzy, cold, and sweet without feeling it in your mouth and tasting it.
The word being translated here is αναδειαν which means a “lack of sensitivity to what is proper, carelessness about the good opinion of others.” In other words, shamelessness. Sure, the man persists in knocking on the door asking for the bread, but the point is that he’s shameless about it. It doesn’t matter to him that his friend thinks he’s being rude. He keeps asking anyway.
We are to be shameless in our prayers. We pray, and pray, and pray some more and we are definitely not to be self-conscious about our prayers. You don’t think you should pray about that? Pray about it anyway. And when you have, pray on it again.
Pray to God our parent. Pray that God’s kingdom be established on Earth. Pray that all of our daily needs be met. Pray for right relations with God and our neighbors. Pray that we do not come into those hard times. Pray about the weather, pray about the economy, pray about our world. And when you do pray. May your prayers be shameless.