Here is the text of my sermon that I preached at Messiah Lutheran Church at Eagle Creek based on the gospel reading for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. http://www.messiah-indy.org/
A few weeks back one of those survey fact boxes on the lower corner of the USA today caught my eye. It reported a result from a LG survey of smart phone users. According to the survey, 9 in 10 smart phone users panic when their phone battery level drops below 20%. Now panic is a strong word, and I am going to assume only few people genuinely panic with a low battery on their phone.
But still there is some general uneasy feeling in the pit of the stomach of 9 out of 10 people with low phone battery levels. What does that say about what is important to us? Does God cease to be our Father when the battery is below 20%? Does the independence and well being that our phones give us in some way overshadow the sense of security we have in Christ? To the point that we should have panic like feelings?
Our gospel reading today helps us to see that God is the giver of every good gift. We may love the things our phone can do and the relationships they help us maintain, but even our phones are gifts from God.
Within the gospel reading we find one of two listings of the Lord’s Prayer in the scripture. We say the Lord’s Prayer every week in worship, but it is a different thing when it is contained in our scripture reading as a topic of a sermon focus.
How do you even begin to tackle a sermon about the Lord’s Prayer? One the one hand there is so much to say about the Lord’s Prayer that it is hard to give too much attention to one dimension of teaching at the expense of leaving out other dimensions. In confirmation class or Sunday school the Lord’s Prayer is typically taught one petition at a time, for a period of a few months. How do you say a few month’s worth of teaching in one sermon?
But on the other hand it almost feels like even one fifteen minute sermon is too much of me to be analyzing and teaching about the Lord’s Prayer, when the prayer Jesus gave us is perfectly clear and profound in itself. When you hear a beautiful piece of classical music you take it in and experience it, you don’t need to analyze what it means or describe the musical theory behind it.
Yes it is a little intimidating to begin to preach over the text of the Lord’s Prayer, but on the other hand no Christian should ever be intimidated by working with God’s Word. God’s Word is written for our instruction, that by believing it we might have life in His name.
Our reading from the gospel of Luke contains the Lord’s Prayer within the context of Jesus providing a parable about asking for what we need. We hear in verses 5-8 : If you ask a friend for help late at night they have reason to deny your request based on the situation of the night- kids are in bed, lights are off- didn’t you see the sign, we are closed for business. But because someone is after all a friend and because you insist, they probably will help when you ask.
The text says that it is due to the impudence of the man that his request is met. He doesn’t back down, he insists. Another translation uses the word shameless. He is so persistent in asking that he is without any reserve, without any shame.
Likewise, because we are God’s children, the last minute circumstances of our asking, or the particulars of what we are asking for is not the issue. In our prayer to God, what is important is God’s relationship with us, and God’s position of love for us. The most important thing about our asking things of God, is that we are persistent in expecting that God is Our Father, and the giver of every good gift. We are to be shameless in our asking, as in, we feel no shame in bringing our needs to God.
We have reason to have shame because of our sin. But in Christ our sin does not stand in our way from our prayer being heard. In Jesus we come to the Father in prayer without shame. Think of how amazing that is. After the fall into sin Adam and Eve were ashamed to be in the presence of God. They covered themselves and wanted to hide. But In Christ we are not ashamed to stand before God, instead we approach God as a child approaches a loving Father.
Keep in mind how the Lord’s Prayer begins: Our Father, we begin praying with confession of our relationship with God. The Lord’s Prayer is not just about what we pray for, or how we word our prayers- what formula we use, but instead about who we pray to. We pray to the God who loves us and laid down his life to save us. We pray in love for what God has done for us.
Consider our Old Testament reading from Exodus chapter 3. God has appeared to Moses in order to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt. Our reading picks up in verse 13 where God reveals his name, I am who I am, YHWH. The God who is alive and able to save you. The same name that would be given to Jesus. In Hebrew Jesus means YHWH saves. In verse 15 God is specific about what Moses should say to the people: “YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
The Lord’s Prayer remembers God’s name. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we remember God’s name to us, given in baptism, Our Father. The God who called us into His kingdom by the waters of our baptism asks us to address us as his children. We call on our family relationship with God as the basis of our prayer.
How entirely different is the understanding of prayer to those out there who are outside of the Church of our Lord. Have you ever noticed in a movie or tv show when someone who generally would never be caught praying, finds themselves praying because of a trying desperate situation?
The general pattern is to address God not as dear Father, or my God in whom I have trusted all these years. Instead what do we hear? God, if you exist, if you can hear me up there, if you can overlook the times when I have ignored you, if you consider my needs important enough to help, please do so now.
‘If you are there’ is entirely different than “Our Father.” How sad to be at a point where prayer does not include knowledge of who you are praying to, and the certain conviction that God hears us through Jesus, and does not hold our sin against us through Jesus. We pray to the God we know is there, Our Father, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. The God who came to us in a particular way in history and died on the cross for us.
Sometimes life can be so difficult that we begin to pray for certain things to be better as a condition of our feeling that God is loving toward us and is going to come through for us. It is a problem if our prayer life or our life of worship and devotion seeks a make or break sign from God that we are really loved. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer we pray with a starting point of knowing that we are his beloved children. It is already a given for us that we are loved and that God gives us everything we need in life.
Dieterich Bonhoeffer once wrote about the contrast between praying out of the poverty of our own heart and our own wavering devotion to God, and praying out of the richness of God’s Word. What he was saying, is that we probably don’t want to put too much of ourselves into our prayer, too much of our piety, our poetic language. If we keep drawing from ourselves eventually we will be running on empty and find ourselves saying things we feel are the right things to say, without actually meaning them.
The book of Psalms as the hymn book of the Old Testament provides the model of responding to God’s work in our lives in prayer. Each Psalm is in one way or another a prayer responding to God’s work in our lives or the desire for God’s kingdom to come in the midst of hardships. The Lord’s Prayer helps us to see that our prayer starts with God’s Word and our relationship to God.
We find in God’s Word all the words we need about what it means in our prayer life to put our trust in Christ, to ask for his will to be done, to yearn for his kingdom to come. Just by reading one paragraph of scripture you can find that one verse that you want to repeat to yourself and want to use to enrich your prayer for the day ahead or the week ahead.
If you like to have the perspective of other seasoned Christian in how to pray a book like the Lutheran Study Bible provides in the notes section a prayer that responds in faith to the words of each section of scripture we read. It is a great resource if you have never seen it before or heard from anyone of what a rich resource it is, I have mine with me and would be happy to show it to you after the service.
Praying according to the pattern of God’s Word is particularly important when it comes to those times in life where we or those we love and care about are suffering. How do we pray about illnesses that just won’t go away, or about shootings and other tragedies that never should be happening in our nation?
We know God’s ultimate aim is to love us and bring us to Jesus- yet until Jesus returns too often the answer to our prayers is for us to suffer yet a little longer. For this reason our prayer must always keep in mind the ultimate good of Jesus returning and of Jesus raising us and all the faithful to everlasting life.
The well renowned spiritual growth writer Henri Nouwen once compared prayer to breathing. To pray is to breathe. The person who does not pray lives life as with shallow breaths. The person who prays has the life of Christ supplying and directing thoughts and actions. To pray is to abide in Christ, and to abide in Christ is to live life to the fullest. May the Lord bless your life of prayer and your life in Him.