The Scripture passage for this sermon is Luke 11: 1-16 it can be found here http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=336482144
By James Chan [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
How do you feel about prayer? Do you sometimes feel like your prayers never get heard? Do you ever wonder if it does any good to pray? If you do you are not alone. Huckleberry Finn also found prayer frustrating.
Miss Watson, she took me in the closet and prayed but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it weren’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish line but no hooks. It weren’t any good to me without any hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times in prayer but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, one day I asked Miss Watson to try for me but she said I was a fool. She never told me why and I couldn’t make it out anyway. I set down one time back in the woods and had a long think about it. I said to myself if a body can get anything they pray for why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuff box that was stolen? Why can’t Miss Watson fatten up? No says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it. (Twain, Mark. Adventures of HuckleBerry Finn. Dover Publications First Edition edition (May 26, 1994).
Have you ever felt like that? Like “there ain’t nothing in it?” If you have you are not alone. Like Huck Finn it can be easy to fall into the temptation of believing that prayer is primarily about asking and getting. You ask God for something and you don’t get it, so why bother? Why bother? You ask and ask and it doesn’t work.
But, what if prayer is not first and foremost about asking and getting. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to ask, but what if asking isn’t the main thing? What if prayer is more about connection – about our relationship with God than what we get out of it? What if prayer was never intended to be a means to get God to do something? What if it was never meant to be used as just a tool – or a guaranteed formula – for getting? Just do it – or do it right – and God will deliver.
Prayer was never intended to be magic. As though God was just a giant robot programed to act if we speak the right words. Just say the right words and poof it happens.
I wonder what the disciple who asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” was looking for. Was he looking for just the right words that would guarantee God will give them what they asked for? If he was – Jesus didn’t give him what he were looking for.
The Lord’s Prayer is not a bunch of words that you say so that God will listen. The first words of the pray make that clear. The prayer begins with an acknowledgement of relationship and connection. It begins “Our Father.” The whole prayer is set within the context of a loving parental relationship. As we pray Jesus invites us to see God as a loving Father.
While no earthly image of an earthly father is adequate. There is a YouTube video that gives me an image I like. In the video there is a upset toddler that won’t settle down to sleep. At first the father tries to lay the child down, but she only becomes more upset. So he climbs in the crib with her! And almost immediately she settles down. (If you want to watch it it can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLErNXIYjMg It is a 3 minute video, but the first minute of the video is enough.)
Jesus wants us to have the confidence when we pray. I like another short, cute, YouTube video that a baby monitor captured a different toddler saying her prayers. As she lies in her bed, she thanks God for a whole list of specific things… among them doors, and mom and dad. For me it is another great image of prayer as the confident conversation. Who better to do that than a small child? (If you want to see the video, you can find it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_s-v9wIOEDk).
Jesus also knows that there will be times when we wonder if God is listening. There will be times when we do not immediately get the response we are looking for or want. There will be times when we don’t feel close to God – when we wonder if our prayers are heard – or if they are if God cares. Jesus knows that times like this are part of our human experience, so to encourage us in these times Jesus told a parable about a friend who comes knocking on the door at midnight.
A traveler has arrived and there is nothing to serve – no way to show proper hospitality, and so you go to a friend’s and ask to borrow some food. Even though he is told by his friend that he is in bed – you keeps knocking –
Jesus says that even though your friend will not get up and give you something because he is your friend, at least because of your persistence (in Greek anaedeia) he will give you what you ask for.
And here is where it becomes critical how we translate the Greek word anaedeia into Enlgish. Most translations translate it as “persistence.” (11:8). But a better translation might be “shameless.” If it is translated as shameless what Jesus says carries more the sense of asking in bold confidence. Understood this way our prayers to God are to be bold, audacious, and unfailingly confident.
How we translate this one Greek word makes a world of difference. If it is translated “persistence,’ this is seems to indicate that God somehow needs to persuaded to help or God. It seems to tip the scales back towards a sense that God somehow needs to be manipulated to give us what we need. As though we are not only annoying enough God will respond.
As though God is like a rancher in Power Bluff, Colorado who got 9,734 separate mailings informing him that his subscription to National Geographic had expired. It seems that large mailing service company used by National Geographic had a computer error.
Apparently all the mail got the rancher’s attention. He dropped everything, traveled 10 miles to the nearest post office, where he sent in money for a renewal along with a note that said, “I give up! Send me your magazine!”
I do not believe that Jesus wants to give us a portray God as only willing to respond if we are annoying enough. But, if this Greek word is translated “shameless,” that changes things. Then instead of God somehow needing to be manipulated to help us – we are invited to pray with shameless confidence in God’s care – which allows us to be persistent and keep asking. It is a persistence borne of trust – grounded in relationship – anchored in confidence.
There is an Old Testament story the illustrates this kind of shameless confidence. In Genesis 18: 16-33 ( You can find the passage here http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=336485137), Abram repeatedly, asks God to spare the people of Sodom from destruction if God can find first 50, then 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10, righteous people there. Rather, than getting angry with Abram, God responds with mercy towards the righteous in Sodom. (It should be noted that even when God could not find 10 righteous people in the city, God provides an escape for Lot and his family!)
There is much in our world to pray for: Healing, positive relationships, an end to terror, and end to racial tension, prosperity, purpose in life, sense of connection – the list goes on and on. The news is full of pain, suffering, and violence. As I write this the first reports from the shooting in Munich are filling the airwaves. The news has been full of stories of racial tension, especially among police officers and African Americans. Such stories may cause one to wonder if there can ever be peace and healing.
But, there have also been news stories and images of African Americans and police officers praying together. Just the fact that this happens is a testimony to the fact that prayer makes a difference. Today, Jesus invites us to boldly, even audaciously pray to our loving Father, trusting that our prayers are heard and that they do make a difference. Amen.