Pray!

Sermon 1814 Luke 11.1-13 July 24, 2022

The job before me seems to be getting harder and harder. Long ago I discarded the notion you could be won over with an elegant turn of a phrase. In despair I gave up the witty observation for a surefire closing. No hip appearances in man buns or ripped Levi’s to prove my street cred. I am even thick and thin in the wrong places. I was taught to turn down the snark and have tried to be a dutiful student. As for memes, see my comment on snark and anyway, didn’t we use to call them inspirational posters? More recently I have even lost faith in reasoned arguments. Your truths may not be the next guy’s truths. So I can only tell you what I have learned from school of hard knocks. My transcripts? Scars upon scars.

All I have is the Word and the Spirit who worked on me through that Word. I am confident the Spirit will work on you, too.

Pray!

1. It’s the least we can do (1-10).

2. It’s the most we can do (11-13).

Words are cheap. Deeds not words. This is true. Easy to tell someone you are going to do something and then, later, shrug your shoulders and walk away. Whatever. And it is fiendishly hard to put something in your own words. Easier to regurgitate someone else’s words.

Pray! It’s the least we can do. Jesus gives us a laundry list of things we can pray for.

“When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”

It’s the Lord’s Prayer! How easy can it be? Jesus gives us the very words. All we have to do is repeat them like a magic formula from Harry Potter and “abracadabra,” things happen.

Yup, that’s what the world and the devil think. Make something easy hard. Make it something you have to do. Memorize a whole long string of things to make the magic happen. Isn’t it always like that? A billion people think you have to do something five times a day, go without daytime eating for a month and make a costly trip overseas once in your life before you have a shot at Paradise. Another billion are certain through exercises, fasting and meditation you can escape all suffering. Do, do, work, work. Even if it is only words, seven of this prayer, fourteen of that prayer and you are good.

I tried it lots of times. I rehearsed and rehearsed my lines before my mom asked me what happened. Didn’t work. She knew I was lying. Because I didn’t want to run the extra road miles in track, I simply kept telling myself how fast I was. The timer didn’t agree with me. There are no magic words.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t give us magic words. He gives us a list of things to pray for. It’s as if he was saying, “When you pray, pray for stuff like this.” He even leaves out stuff like “deliver us from evil” and “your will be done.” He taught the Lord’s Prayer twice, once in Matthew and once in Luke. Our version of the Lord’s Prayer puts the two together as a compilation. There is no magic here, but there are words. That’s what prayer is--a believer talking to God.

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (5-10).”

What is the man outside the house doing? He keeps speaking, and speaking and speaking. He doesn’t burn the house down. He doesn’t organize a mob to break in. He just keeps speaking. How hard is that? It’s the least we can do.

He keeps at it and we keep doing the least of things, speaking to God in prayer because we trust we will be heard. We fervently expect to get what we are asking for. Children pester their parents until they get what they want. You keep at it. You don’t have to compromise. You don’t have to wash their hands for them to scratch your back. Keep at it. Pray!

Jesus tells a story about a man reluctant to give his friend what he is asking for. But God is not reluctant to give us what we are asking for. Our heavenly Father has our best interests at heart. The words Jesus has given us and commanded us to pray will carry the day. We are asking on the basis of what Jesus has made us—forgiven children of God.

I can’t stop the war in Ukraine. I can’t make Lake Mead fill up. I don’t know how to stop COVID. I don’t even know how to protect myself against inflation beyond buy less and cheaper stuff. I can’t do any of these hard things. But I can pray. It’s the least we can do.

I had a bad neighbor once. He had actually trained his big, fat black Lab to do his business on my yard. First thing in the morning, he opened his front door and the dog made a beeline for my yard, bypassing his own grassy front yard. What could I do? I talked to the neighbor. Nothing. I yelled at the dog. Nothing. I yelled at the neighbor. Nothing. At this rate I could get shot. I prayed.

Pray! It’s the most we can do.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him (11-13)!”

Nobody gives their children something that could harm them. We give our children what is best for them. That’s why the cotton candy stays at the baseball game and the kitchen table has peas and corn, chicken and potatoes.

God gives his children the best for them at that moment. Certainly that, too, gives us the confidence to pray—often! God is going to give me what I really need.

Oh, do I hear snickering from the sinful human nature and Satan? Are they really setting up another pulpit to teach God is like our parents and answers our prayer with a “yes” or a “no” or a “maybe”?

Look at Abraham praying for the sake of Sodom and Gomorrah. He was worried about his nephew, Lot, and Lot’s family. “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” he asked God. So he whittled down the number of the faithful needed to be found in those wicked cities for them to be spared. There weren’t even ten righteous among so many! Yet Abraham got what he wanted—Lot and his family were saved as the angels drove them out before the fire and brimstone fell from heaven. Just because I don’t get exactly what I ask for, does that mean God ineptly handled my prayer? I caught my young son praying for a pony one day. On our 6,000 foot lot we needed a pony like I needed a third nostril. God knew that. Within a month a new family moved in with a boy exactly the age of mine—they’ve been best friends ever since. God knew better than my son. God knew my son needed a friend, not a pony. God gave him what was best. What do we call that? An upgrade! Who turns their nose up at a complimentary upgrade? I don’t. Do you? Pray!

Pray! It’s the most we can do.

Prayer works. It doesn’t work because we are so wonderful or thoughtful or focused. If that’s what you think is the force behind prayer, then the atheists who mock “thoughts and prayer” extended to those who survive, say, a fatal shooting, then they are right. What good are your thoughts? Will they bring my son back to life? What good are your prayers filled with your own self-importance? Can they undo the laws of physics and go back in time to make that bullet fall out of the barrel of that gun? The mockers have a point. The prayers of those who only pretend to pray do nothing at all. Pretend solutions only work on pretend problems.

Prayer works. Prayer works because we call upon the Almighty God to split the heavens and move the earth to come to our aid. We ask him to reach down on high and pull up everyone, everyone, from the muck of sin and calamity. Prayer works because we are finally talking to the one who can do something about it. And he wants to hear it. Your wife doesn’t want to hear it. Your husband doesn’t want to hear it. Even your shrink doesn’t want to hear it, unless you pay him. But our Father in heaven wants to hear it. Take it to the Lord in prayer. He is honored when we pour out our hearts to him in prayer. Nobody can help us. Only God can. That’s why we are praying to him. So when we are praying, that’s the most we can do. We are asking God to use his almighty power to make changes.

So I started praying to God about my neighbor. I really didn’t know what to pray. It seemed overkill to pray that God strike my neighbor down. And it wasn’t the dog’s fault. He was just doing what he had been trained to do. “Help me with my neighbor,” I prayed. I never knew exactly what happened, but within three months he had moved. He was the shortest term neighbor we have ever had on our block. So there’s my testimony.

And here’s another one. In Sunday School I had learned the story about King Solomon. God had appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom and God granted him wisdom like no one ever had up to that time or since. So I started praying for wisdom. Well, you be the judge as to how God answered those prayers. Even if you think I am barely above average, I am a whole lot smarter than I would have been had I not prayed those prayers. And, come to think of it, when many have given up all hope of God or good or anything better in days to come, the Holy Spirit has continued to keep my faith going. Anyone with faith is wiser than the biggest atheist genius this world can put forth.

One other thing I’ve learned is you let people find out for themselves. And that’s where I am going to end up. Don’t take my word for it. You aren’t me. I’m not you. But just because you are not me, that’s no reason not to see for yourself. Pray! Anything at all. Nothing too big. Nothing too small. Pray! Not doubting, but believing God has the power to do what we ask, pray! And then, keep your eyes open. Don’t be so narrow minded as to demand God answer your prayer only in specific ways. That’s the way bratty little kids are. I wanted my peanut butter sandwich with the jelly side down! God may give you wheat bread instead of white. It’s better for you. Pray! Not just for you and yours, but for many others as well.

Pray!

1. It’s the least we can do (1-10).

2. It’s the most we can do (11-13).

Almost feel like I just attended a reverse wedding. Nothing fancy, nothing hip. Nothing handsome, and no lip. Just the truth God has told us and I, being so dense, had to find out for myself that it is true. Pray! God knows there’s a need for it.

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