(Luke 11: 1-13)
Two of my favorite movies are For the Love of the Game and The Greatest Game Ever Played. Obviously, both are sports movies but they each have interesting human interest back stories. One is about a baseball pitcher playing his last game as a Detroit Tiger working on a shutout of the rival Yankees who really needed the win, and the other is about a young amateur golfer playing in the 1913 U.S. Open golf tournament. There is a nearly identical scene in both movies where the characters are faced with immense pressure and distractions and have to clear their minds to focus on the task at hand, to stay grounded, and rely on the fundamentals that have gotten them this far. I’ve been both a pitcher and a golfer and I can tell you it doesn’t take much to knock you off your game if you lose your focus. These movies are a great metaphor for life and in our own endeavors we are often faced with great pressures and distractions coming at us from all sides designed, if we let them, to preventing us from accomplishing what we set out to do. We have to block out these distractions, take a deep breath, and double-down on what it is that we set out to do.
And that’s what I take away from our scripture reading for this morning. I get the sense that the disciples are floundering, that they are feeling overwhelmed with all that Jesus is laying on them and are, perhaps, wondering whether or not they are cut out to be disciples. I say this because our reading starts out with Jesus being deep in prayer. The disciples were watching intently and when he had finished, one of his disciples asked: Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. They recognized that prayer played an integral part in what Jesus was trying to do and that it was obvious in how John the Baptist led his disciples in announcing the one who was to come. It’s not like they didn’t know how to pray. As young Jewish boys they were schooled extensively by their local rabbis regarding the God of Abraham and the prophets. But somehow this seemed different and the prayers they learned as boys seemed to fall short or have little effect.
Jesus sees this as a teachable moment for his disciples and realizes that he must keep it simple and to the point. Jesus tells them that when they pray to say: Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation. Notice the order in this prayer. First Jesus praises God, then he moves on to making his requests. Praising God first puts us in the right frame of mind to tell him about our needs. This is because too often our prayers are more like a shopping list than a conversation with the Father. It’s a reminder to remember who you are talking to. “Bring in your kingdom” is the mission statement of the prayer in that everything we do in Jesus’ name is geared towards bringing in the kingdom of God. Jesus then moves to the request to give us the bread we need for today which is a metaphor for meeting our daily needs and keeping us focused on what needs to be done “today” in the immediate. God’s provision for us is daily, not all at once as he brings us along slowly and in due time. It’s a reminder to us that we cannot store up what God gives us and then cut off all communication with God. It serves to remind us that we need daily nourishment and reassurance from God in order to sustain us in what we do in his name. Everything else is just stuff.
Jesus then moves into an area that he knows is problematic for most, if not all, people. Forgiveness. He says: Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. Now that’s a pretty tall order and for many of us as forgiving someone for a wrong committed against us or a loved one is hard to do. It seems much easier to carry a grudge than to unburden yourself and just let it go. It’s useless emotional baggage weighing you down. I’ve got to be honest here. There are indeed some people who I have forgiven but there are others whom I’ve just written off and that’s not right. It’s not the same thing. When we sinned against God, he didn’t just write us off as not worth the trouble. He forgave us, cleared the air, and went to work on our redemption. God’s forgiveness requires us, its recipients, to in tun take concrete actions of liberation as well, freeing not only ourselves but those who have sinned against us. The prayer Jesus was teaching his disciples, and us, serves as a reminder that we are sinners and continue to sin, although hopefully not as frequently, and also to remind us to forgive everyone who has wronged us. To remain unforgiving shows that we have not understood that we ourselves deeply need to be forgiven. For Jesus, forgiveness is the cornerstone of our relationship with God.
Jesus closes out the model prayer with: And don’t lead us into temptation. This is confusing for many of us as we ask ourselves why would a loving God, a loving Father, lead his children into temptation? One of my commentaries explains that it is not suggested that it is God who leads us into temptation. Rather, the point is that if one is to avoid sin, one must follow where God leads. In short, the petitioner asks God for the spiritual protection necessary to avoid falling into sin. We’re asking God, by the Spirt, to show us the way and to give us the discernment to know the difference between right and wrong, and the strength of conviction to do what is right and not what seems like a good idea at the moment. It’s very tempting, but no thanks.
Jesus then goes on to tell them a parable to illustrate the point he is trying to make. He tells them to imagine that they have this friend who shows up in the middle of the night asking for three loaves of bread because a friend of his just showed up unannounced and he has nothing to offer him to eat. You tell the friend it is late and everyone is asleep and to go away but the friend is persistent, so you get up and give him what he asks for and send him on his way. It’s one of those situations where you know that it’s just easier to give him what he needs because he won’t leave until he gets what he wants. He’s just that demanding. And Jesus says: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. What Jesus is saying is that God is not like the friend who refuses to get up to give a neighbor bread. Instead, Jesus is drawing attention to the boldness of the request. If, he points out, the hesitant friend eventually gets up and gives bread to a persistent neighbor, how much more will God respond to our bold requests that we earnestly make in prayer. It’s not that God is insensitive to the plight or misfortunes of others. It’s that he wants us to see it and to come to him persistently in prayer for a solution, for answers, for guidance. This practice of persistent prayer does more to change our hearts and minds than his, and it helps us understand and express the intensity of our need. We go from asking how a loving God could allow such suffering, such injustice, and such inequity, to focusing ourselves on the problem and becoming the somebodies who do something in Jesus’ name. This persistent prayer is what helps us recognize God’s work as performed by God’s people who desire to be a part of the solution that brings in his kingdom. To underscore his point, Jesus goes on to compare the heavenly Father to earthly fathers. If earthly fathers will give their children good gifts, then the heavenly Father should be expected to do so much more for his children who come to him in righteous prayer.
And the greatest gift the Father will give is the continued presence of God through the Holy Spirit who will help us to stay grounded in our faith, in what we cannot see but believe in with all our hearts, minds, and souls. So, if you feel as if you are getting weaker, losing your strength and ability to go on, that the pressure is getting to you, and you find yourself distracted and at loose ends, pray this simple prayer which will help you stay grounded in the truth of Jesus Christ and stay laser focused on the task at hand, the task of establishing the kingdom here on earth and in eternity.
Let us pray.
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Gracious and loving Father, how we praise you for steadfast love, compassion, and understanding when we fail you, when we fall short of your expectations. We thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit who leads and guides us in our daily walk helping us to stay grounded in our faith, in what we cannot see, but in what we believe with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Move us in our daily lives to uphold the holiness of your name and to do all within our power and ability to bring in your kingdom. We thank you for providing us our daily bread and for the forgiveness of our sins. Guide us through your Spirit in your ways so that we may not be led into temptation. All we have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto us. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.