Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 28th, 2019

Text: Luke 11:1-13  Revised Standard Version (RSV)

He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread;[a] and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.”

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for[b] a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

I need to start this sermon by telling a story on myself. Maybe you didn’t notice it, but the header of last week’s sermon stated “Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 17 July 2016.” Obviously wrong – well, what I do a lot when starting the weekly sermon is to look back at what I wrote the last time that Gospel lesson rolled around. Then I rip the sermon apart, change things around, add news things that occur to me, throw away things that no longer seem relevant, and then deliver it on Sunday.

It turns out that this was kind of a lucky accident, because it sort of mirrors in many ways the process of how the Evangelists wrote their Gospels. Biblical scholars have traditionally theorized that at least Mark, Matthew, and Luke drew on a now-lost proto-Gospel they call the “Q document” – “Q” standing for the German word “Quelle,” which means “source.” Each one of them had a particular theological point of view, and each of them took the Q document and adapted it for their specific audiences at a specific time in history. Additionally, each of the Gospels builds on the last, except for the Gospel of Mark, which is the oldest and shortest of the Gospels. Mark’s prose is terse, to the point, and unvarnished. Mark is followed by Matthew, which is longer. It contains much of the material in Mark’s Gospel, but adds to it, as well as rearranging some of the scenes. Then comes Luke, which is longer yet; Luke also adds and rearranges episodes of Jesus’ life and ministry.  With each new iteration, the Gospel story is expanded and the various theological points of view of the Evangelists become more pronounced. And yet, through it all, it is one of the wonders of the Gospel that, even in doing what they do, these inspired men nonetheless captured a Truth that is eternal. You see, the Gospel doesn’t change; but we do.

Anyway, the goof of the date on last week’s sermon made my brain travel down a slightly different path this week – it made me think, not just about how things like attitudes, assumptions, and even one’s world view can change in a relatively short amount of time, in the face of new insights or just additional life experience, but it also made me wonder whether we sometimes make things more complicated than we need to. The Gospels, again, are a case in point.  Have you ever asked yourself “shouldn’t faith be simple?” Doesn’t Jesus himself say, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of God”? And then he goes on to say that those who do not have faith like a child are not going to enter the Kingdom of Heaven! (Theologians, take note!)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before the famous quote from the great German theologian Karl Barth. Toward the end of his life, an interviewer asked him, “Dr. Barth, after all these decades of teaching and writing, what is your conclusion regarding Christianity?” (or words to that effect.) The great man answered, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

A simple affirmation of faith. And there are so many other places in the Bible where we read things like: “Be still and know that I am God,” or that wonderful verse from the Prophet Micah: “The Lord has shown you, O man, what is good. Is it not to love justice, desire mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” And, of course, there is this admonition of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus, as a Jewish Rabbi, would certainly have been familiar with the teachings of the great Rabbi, Hillel the Elder, who lived back in the days of the Babylonian Captivity, who taught: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah [i.e., the Law]; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”If our Golden Rule sounds very much like what Rabbi Hillel said, it is no accident. And remember, finally, that the oldest Christian creed is the terse three-word statement “Jesus is Lord.”

All very simple and straightforward. So why is it so difficult for us to get a bead on this thing called Christian faith? Why is it so elusive? Why do we seem to complicate it so much? It kind of reminds me of when I was in high school and kept failing the driver’s license – maybe test. Everybody else I knew just went in, took the test, and ten minutes later, walked out with a license, while I agonized over every question, playing out various hypothetical situations in my head, and then flunking the test. It wasn’t until I just stopped doing that that I, too, walked out with my license – but not before setting a record for the number of tries and failures! Maybe that’s a clue – maybe we sometimes “overthink” it all, we make faith a kind of graduate course and not something that we can live day by day.

Oddly enough, though I just mentioned how Luke’s Gospel is longer than Matthew’s, note that Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which we just heard, is much shorter than the version we find in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s version is much more familiar to us:

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread;
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
13 And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

And, of course, some ancient authorities also added the last line we know and love: “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”

Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is exactly three short sentences. Matthew’s version is two sentences, or three, if you add that last line “For Thine is the kingdom…” In any case, each version is very short – not as short as “Jesus is Lord,” but certainly not exhaustively long, either.

It seems to me that if we focus on these short sentences, as well as the Golden Rule, we would go a long way toward unraveling the Gordian Knot that we make of our life of faith.

The disciples themselves needed to some help in this regard, too: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Barclay tells us “It was the regular custom for a Rabbi to teach his disciples a simple prayer which they might habitually use. John had done that for his disciples, and now Jesus’ disciples came asking him to do the same for them. This is Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. It is shorter than Matthew’s, but it will teach us all we need to know about how to pray and what to pray for.

“(1) It begins by calling God Father. That was the characteristic Christian address to God (cf. Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15; I Peter 1:17). The very first word tells us that in prayer we are not coming to someone out of whom gifts have to be unwillingly extracted, but to a father who delights to supply his children’s needs.

“(2) In Hebrew the name means much more than merely the name by which a person is called. The name means the whole character of the person as it is revealed and known to us. Psalm 9:10 says, ‘Those who know your name put their trust in you.’ That means far more than knowing that God’s name is Yahweh. It means that those who know the whole character and mind and heart of God will gladly put their trust in him.

“(3) We must note particularly the order of the Lord’s Prayer. Before anything is asked for ourselves, God and his glory, and the reverence due to him, come first. Only when we give God his place will other things take their proper place.

“(4) The prayer covers all life.

  • It covers present need. It tells us to prayer for our daily bread; but it is bread for the day for which we pray. This goes back to the old story of the manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:11-21). Only enough for the needs of the day might be gathered. We are not to worry about the unknown future, but to live a day at a time….
  • It covers past sin. When we pray we cannot do other than pray for forgiveness, for even the best of us is a sinner coming before the purity of God.
  • It covers future trials. Temptation means any testing situation…it covers every situation which is a challenge to and a test of a person’s humanity and integrity and fidelity. We cannot escape it, but we can meet it with God.

Someone has said that the Lord’s Prayer has two great uses in our private prayers. If we use it at the beginning of our devotions it awakens all kinds of holy desires which lead us into the right pathways of prayer. If we use it at the end of our devotions it sums up all that we ought to pray for in the presence of God.”[1]

Then Jesus tells his disciples the story about the man who shows up at the door of a friend of his late one night asking for bread to share with a traveler who’s just arrived – his friend doesn’t want to get up, but the man persists until he gets his bread. Jesus makes the point that God will bless with the Holy Spirit all who ask him.

And maybe this is how we untangle that Gordian Knot which we make of our faith. All that is required is to pray more often and more intensely when we do pray. Maybe simply stepping back a bit and allowing God’s peace to wash over us rather than working overtime trying to figure it all out is what will make the difference.

Let’s give that a try!

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] Barclay, William, The Gospel of Luke, The New Daily Study Bible, © The William Barclay Estate, 1975, 2001, Louisville, Kentucky, Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 170-171