Thursday, July 28, 2016

Getting Gutsy With God


Does it ever stop? No matter how much we pray for an end to the violence, again this week there has been more. We weep and pray with the families and friends of the officers killed in Baton Rouge, LA and of the victims of such horror in Munich, Germany. Where is God In all of this and what can we do?

Image result for ask, seek knockRemember last week’s gospel about Mary and Martha? Each represents 2 different, but equal characteristics of the Christian life. Mary faithfully listens to Jesus and Martha faithfully exercises hospitality. Mary exhibits being while Martha exhibits doing. 

The being and doing are evident in today's gospel. The first part concerns the Lord's Prayer. Because this is so familiar to us, as we pray, it is often by rote without even thinking about what we are saying. One thing I learned during my Clinical Pastoral Education in seminary, is what sticks with people, even when they are suffering from dementia. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper and the Lord's Prayer are such things. When it comes to the Lord's Prayer, people pray right along without stumbling over the words. It has gone deep into their hearts, into their spirit and is evident when there is little else. And yet we often pray this prayer without thinking.

In Luke, we frequently find Jesus at prayer. Jesus prayed at his baptism (3:21), before choosing the twelve disciples (6:12), before the first prophecy of his passion (9:18), at his transfiguration (9:28) and at other occasions. If Jesus prayed often, then how much more do we need to pray?

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray.  From the beginning, we see that this prayer comes from relationship. Jesus prayed, "Our Father..." He did not say, MY Father, but OUR Father-emphasizing the fatherly characteristics of love, nurture, mercy and delight.

"Hallowed be your name." What does that mean? Hallowed means the Father's name is kept holy. The holiness of God is a central theme in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit enables us to keep God's name holy in our lives.

"Your kingdom come." Isn't this the cry of our hearts as we see the violence, devastation and pain all over our world? This petition is for God's reign to be allowed entry into our world. It represents the hope for the full manifestation of God's promised rule. God will not act against people's will. The Holy Spirit will show us how to invite and advance God's reign in some way.

It has the two-edged focus of now and not yet. God's kingdom has a future aspect. Only he can overturn the powers at work in the world and establish his universal reign. We've tried it on our own and have failed miserably. Human efforts don't work. It has been tried in Geneva, Switzerland, the Plymouth Bay Colony and numerous Christian communes.

Forgiveness is a central theme in Luke's writing. Then and now communities and families cannot thrive unless members forgive and admit their need for forgiveness. "We ourselves" or "We are forgiving" (v. 4b) is present tense meaning continual action. Forgiving is the lifestyle of the followers of Jesus. What would our world look like if forgiveness was a continual practice? Would we see as much war? Would we see as much racism? Just imagine the possibilities if we just let God be God in our lives and if others did so as well.

The phrase "lead us not into temptation" can be confusing. It helps a bit to see how it's worded in the translation used this morning, "...do not bring us to the time of trial" (v. 4b), but it is still a bit puzzling.

I find Luther's explanation in The Small Catechism to be helpful. He wrote, "It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God will preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory."

The message of the Lord's Prayer would engrave itself into the lives of the community of faith. May it be so here in our community of faith.

In the final paragraph of today's gospel, we hear the words ask, seek, and knock, along with a promise.This has often been misunderstood as to ask for anything and God will give it to us. This has become the basis for the "name it, claim it" gospel. What Jesus is actually saying is that if we ask for and seek a relationship with him, he will gladly give it to us. In these verses God is inviting us to get gutsy with him. Is prayer supposed to be a passive experience? No. We are supposed to be fully engaged in conversation with our Heavenly Father. Notice in the verses that follow the Lord's Prayer, Jesus tells a parable that lifts up persistence, followed by Jesus spelling out very clearly that God's children are not to simply sit and pray all day. Action and prayer go together. Jesus tells his disciples to ask, search and knock.

Jesus says we need to ask and keep asking for what we need. Sometimes we may think that God cannot be bothered with our problems. Jesus assures us that we will receive if we ask. That is not a promise for any self-serving request one may have.

But what good and loving parents would be unconcerned with the concerns of their children? The reason we have the prayer list in the bulletin and the reason we keep asking for prayer is because the asking, searching and knocking Jesus is talking about are in the present tense and can be understood as “Keep on asking, searching and knocking.” This promise is for us. Jesus said, “everyone who asks receives… everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (v. 10). The caveat that is misunderstood in this passage and is clarified in the gospel of Matthew is the reason behind what we are asking God for. In the misunderstanding of this passage, God has been viewed as a big vending machine. We ask and pop--out comes what we want. But Matthew states that what we are asking for should be done so that God may be glorified.

The last illustration tells us that if evil parents give good gifts to their children, HOW MUCH MORE will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. How would our lives be different if we took God at his Word? How might it change the way we walk through each day of our lives? Think about that.

For God's people, praying and working for the fulfillment of the reign of God go together hand in hand. We do not just sit back passively and wait for God to answer, but we get to work and live into the reality of what we've prayed for. For example, we may pray for the lonely, but then go and visit the lonely. In the face of violence, we may pray, but we can also protest when police use excessive force and we can visit the police station to tell officers that we're grateful for their service and pray for their safety.

Ultimately, prayer is the presence of God. It is a relationship into which we are invited. God wants to give us life and God tirelessly continues to work for our salvation. This doesn't mean that God will always change the situation, but knowing that God is with us, that God is going through the tragedy, illness, suffering, depression or death with us should give us the confidence to pray for God's protection and to grant his will in any circumstance. That is the good news today.

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