Sermon written and delivered by Kathy Clausen
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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!”
Prayer is Everything
In the text today Jesus is asked to give a prayer for his closest followers to use. A good request for then and certainly for now. Prayer is such an integral part of my life as I am sure it is of yours, that to stop and go back to the drawing board so to speak, is useful. How should we pray? How might we approach this daily ritual? As I worked with this text over the last couple of weeks, so many ideas swirled. I will share some of them with you. You will notice, as I did, that his recounting of the giving of what we call the Lord’s Prayer differs from what we say here on Sundays, and I would venture to guess is different from what you say. Some good phrases are left out, like my favorite, “your will be done”. Nevertheless, I found it was a helpful exercise to dive into this edited version. At the beginning, dropping the “our” from Our Father immediately gave me pause to consider this anew. Father, why Father? As I pondered that word and its immense meaning I noticed something about it that I had not before. When Jesus addresses God as Father and suggests that that is the way his disciples should start this prayer, he sets Himself and us in a relationship both with God and with each other. We are all addressing this one Father and that very clearly makes us all related as brothers and sisters, unified in one family. Jesus is with us in that moment, beside us addressing God along with us. We are a family with Jesus, with those disciples then, with everyone who utters these words across the globe in their own language now. Then just after establishing that relationship in the word Father, Jesus then sets apart that name by letting us know it is a holy name. We are all the progeny of a holy parent. In one moment we are in a relationship with a vast number of people, connected for life the way siblings are connected parented by a sacred dad. Well I won’t take you through each bit of this text because we would be here all afternoon, but I want to suggest that looking at these pared down phrases shift the practice of using them in unexpected ways. Take this phrase, “Give us each day our daily bread”. I spent a long-time considering bread. What exactly do we receive each day when we receive our daily bread? Join me for a moment in the imagination of what it is we are eating when we eat that bread. We are consuming the seeds planted, the plants grown, the grain that’s harvested. Think for a moment about the machinery used and the labor hours of many people to just get to that point. From there envision in your mind’s eye the grain being ground and packaged, the transportation, the other ingredients that bring in water from wells, and on and on. When we consume that daily bread, we are taking into our bodies a kind of small universe of bits and pieces from all over the place. And this is a daily request that we make to God. Through our consuming of our daily bread, we are taking in a far-reaching, very complex substance, in a way uniting diverse elements of our world, every day, every meal.
Jesus lays out a few more phrases, and then gives some very clear coaching about our approach to prayer. He seems to answer the question “What should our attitude be?” We know it’s a daily thing by now, but what is best for our frame of mind? Clearly the story he relates of the man who had sudden guests and needed his friend to get up and loan him three loaves of bread, points to the need for persistence. Even if the friendship is not enough to get that bread, eventually the persistence of the request will get results. And so there it is; be persistent. And be active in prayer. Ask, search, knock…It’s not to be done without fervor when you are after something, when you want God to listen. So how do we pray? Actively, passionately. Jesus does not seem to be saying that we should be polite, “Oh, please Lord, hate to bother you, if you’re not too busy today, might I have a bit of your attention. I kinda would like to pray for my sick friend…” No, the picture Jesus gives is a pounding on the door, middle of the night, not taking no for an answer kind of prayer. Lord, I need help! Boldness counts here. Make it clear. I need three loaves of bread and I need them now.
Twelve years ago, now I had many months of those kinds of prayers. My sister, who was two years younger than me, was diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal cancer. She lived in northern California, and it was when I was still working full time here. She was given six months to live. Even though we had lived on opposite coasts since becoming adults we were very close, best friends, sharing everything and imagining the day when we’d both be retired and be able to spend more time together. It was a crushing diagnosis, wiping out an entire future. She was single with a 20 year old daughter who was in college. I knew I would need to be part of her final months. Fortunately, I was able to visit her over those months and to be with her in her last weeks companioning her along that last walk toward her death. My prayers were simple. How do I do this, God? The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable. The journey was terrifying, tragic and awe inspiring. Keep me strong, God. It was a sacred time. Walking in her room was like walking into a chapel. Let me just be with her, God. Love filled the space, love and a spaciousness that allowed for all that was there. The pain, the disappointment, the constant need to pray, the wild desire that it wasn’t true, it wasn’t really happening. Help me, God. We are a fortunate people, we who can pray. She and I prayed together to thank God for giving us to each other. We had both been so blessed. And then there was that peace poured out at the end, when she died. Thank you, God for this peace which truly surpasses understanding.
In that time, that dreadful, beautiful time God heard my prayers. Like a loving parent, God gave me something good, held me up with gentle solace, support for deep pain, and security in the hope of eternal life for a dear sister.
Let me come to the close of this by looking at end of this passage. What do we get for our persistence? What is the result of our knocking, searching and asking? Nothing less than everything. “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!” We get the Holy Spirit, we get God, we get it all. Wow! Which circles us back around to the first word in this prayer—Father—and the place that that relationship holds us. We are all in a relationship with each other and with God. We persist in prayer and God persists in giving. We persist in asking, searching, and knocking and can have faith that we will be heard. And we will continually receive the most dependable stream of love. Well, you might say, that’s all well and good, but how do we know that God has heard us and has provided a response? That’s akin to asking how we know God is good, that God is love. And, if we want evidence then we turn to our own lives, the only lives we truly know and pause. Take a look around.
I see my recent vacation to Maine with Rob, my husband, my daughters and partners and granddaughters, sitting at the ocean, with the waves rumbling, the little girls building a sand tower with an auntie, laughter and conversation nearby. For a long moment I sat just absorbing the utter perfection of creation and love all at once. And these moments are sprinkled throughout my life and your life. SO what do we get for our pounding on the door? What do we get in that daily ritual? We get a universe of relations and all that the Holy Spirit provides, which is just everything.