"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

10 Pentecost Proper C12
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 11:1-13 Sermon
July 28, 2013

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
459 "Come My Soul Thy Suit Prepare"
454 "Prayer Is The Soul's Sincere Desire"
457 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
473 "The Church's One Foundation"

THE POPULARITY OF PRAYER

TEXT (vs. 9-10):  [Jesus said] “9 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

            Prayer is a popular thing.  For those of you who are members, regular attenders, or regular viewers of our worship services, you probably note that we pray numerous times during worship.  Let’s count them up:  Going through the bulletin, our service begins with a prayer consisting of several parts surrounding confession and absolution; and that prayer ends with “grant this, Lord, unto us all.  Amen.”  Okay, that’s one.

            Next we have a very short prayer we sing known in Latin as the Kyrie:  “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.”   We want our Lord to be with us, and deal with us according to his mercy and grace.  We want him to hear and answer our prayers.

            Then we have a short prayer known as “The Collect,” sometimes called “The Prayer of the Day.”  This changes from week to week and is intended to be a collection of the thoughts surrounding the theme of the day, which will be reflected in the appointed Scripture readings.  

            When I began my sermon, I will often (but not always) start out with a very short prayer.  This type of prayer is called in theological terms an “ex corde” prayer, which is a Latin term meaning “from the heart.”  This is a prayer I will do right on the spot with nothing written out, and I do this as sort of a meditative reflection upon that which is to follow.  I always ask you to pray with me, because our worship involves participation of everybody, and should not be a spectator sport.

            When the sermon ends, you all stand up and I say what we call the “Pax Deus,” which is Latin for “The Peace of God.”  That’s my prayer for you that the Lord will enrich your life and keep you strong in your faith in his peace, which passes all understanding.

            And what’s your response to this?  It’s a prayer of your own using the words of King David in Psalm 51“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me….”

            Okay, so have you been counting?  That’s six so far, if I’ve been counting right, and we’re not even close to the end of the service!  So let’s continue.

            Before the offering, I have an offertory prayer.  Not all pastors will do this, but I have been doing it ever since I was an intern back in Minnesota.  The prayers I use here are hymn verses, and there are three different ones I use routinely:  hymn 442, verse 2; hymn 438, verses 4 and 5; and hymn 403, verse 1.  During Lent, I’ll often add hymn 175, verse 4 to the mix.  I have no particular order in doing these; I just do whichever one the Spirit moves me to do.

            Then it’s time for the Prayer of the Church, or the General Prayer as it’s sometimes called.  Most of the time, the prayers we use here come from a book entitled, Prayers for the Worship Service from Concordia Publishing House.  Sometimes they have to be slightly modified; and because the appointed lessons have been subject to some modification over the years, we sometimes have to go to other sources. 

            If you look at page 13 in the front of the hymnal, you’ll see a rather lengthy “General Prayer” printed there.  We seldom use this because of the availability of prayers specifically geared toward the theme of the service.  But if you read through this prayer, you can see how this covers a wide variety of topics, suitable for almost any occasion.  You could almost call this a “one size fits all” sort of prayer.

            This is then followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus gives us in our Gospel lesson for today.  This is not only a fabulous prayer in its own right, but it serves to be a great blueprint for other prayers we say on our own.  When you follow the example Jesus gives, you really can’t go wrong. 

            Then following our Hymn of the Day, we have another short prayer before the service ends.  This is also called a collect, because it is a collective prayer based upon a certain theme.  The Page 5 liturgy actually has two different ones, namely the Collect for the Church, and the Collect for the Word.  I rotate between these two, plus I’ve added a third one into the mix, which is called the Collect for Grace.  This isn’t part of the Page 5 liturgy, but is part of the historic Matins service.  You can find this prayer printed on page 40 in the front of the hymnal.

            Okay, now if you’ve been counting, I believe that the number of prayers in a normal non-communion worship service is 11.  And I’d be willing to bet that this is a higher number than what you thought.  

            Prayer is popular.  When you come through our church doors on Sunday Morning, you come fully expecting to pray.  You now that a good portion of our worship is dedicated to prayer, even though you might not have stopped to count the actual number of times.

            As we look at our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is in prayer.  It doesn’t say where or when this was, just that he was in prayer.  When he had finished, one of his disciples approached him with a very legitimate and heart-felt question:  “Lord, teach us to pray.”

            We might wonder about that.  What’s so difficult about praying anyway?  All we have to do is just talk to God; and as Christians, we know that he will hear us.  We know that this is the pathway to God that he opened up wide for us.  Through faith in Jesus, all of our prayers are heard and acceptable by our Heavenly Father.  So all we have to do is speak with the knowledge that he hears us and will answer us.  That’s not complicated at all.

            But you’d be surprised at how people react to this, and what goes through people’s minds.  And the excuse most often given for someone who doesn’t pray is simply, “I just don’t know what to say.”

            A story that I heard a long time ago was about a man who was a very successful businessman.  He was the guest of honor at a very large banquet.  Just before the meal started, the master of ceremonies turned to this man and asked him, “Would you begin this banquet with prayer?”  The man sort of hesitated a bit, and then he got up and went to the lectern.  He cleared his throat and said, “Let us pray.  Now I lay me down to sleep….” 

            That was the only prayer he had ever learned, so that’s what he offered at this banquet.  Of course there’s nothing wrong at all with this prayer.  I learned it as a child.  In fact, John Adams, the second president of the United States would say this prayer every night before bed.  But a person’s prayer life certainly needs to go much further than that.

            If we look at the two illustrations that Jesus uses, we can see two very important aspects of prayer.  The first one is the story about a man who goes to a friend late at night needing something.  He persists in his requests, so his friend gets out of bed and gives him what he needs.  This teaches us that we are to pray often, and urgently too.  We have to trust that God will give us what we need.  He might not always give us exactly what we want, but rather what we need.  There is a huge difference between "want" and "need."  We might want a brand-new Lexus, but what we need is transportation.  You get the picture.

            Secondly, and I think this is one of the more important things to remember; we are to approach God in much the same way that a child approaches a loving parent.  A loving parent gives their child what they need out of nothing but pure love.  I think that’s why it is so important that children learn how to pray at an early age, especially a prayer like “Now I lay me, down to sleep.”  When we come to God out of child-like trust, we can expect him to deal with us lovingly and graciously.  He wants us to come to him.

            I find it difficult to understand some of the ways people handle prayer.  It's almost like they have completely ignored what God has said in the Bible, and have replaced it with a lot of stuff that they have dreamed up themselves.

            If we think about it, virtually all religions have prayer of some description.  Christians aren’t the only ones to pray.  Buddhists pray, Muslims pray, Hindus pray, and the various Native American religions pray as well.  They all want to communicate with whatever god they have contrived, and they do this through their own versions of prayer.

            Muslims are required to have five prayers a day.  They face Mecca to the east, spread out their prayer mat, use their prayer beads, and do their thing wherever they might happen to be.  And if you’re ever in a hotel room in a Muslim country, you’ll see a red arrow painted on the wall.  This is there to show the Muslims which direction to face when praying.  It’s both a complicated and a demanding process.  Thankfully God hasn’t given us a checklist we have to follow just to talk to him.

            Have you ever had the occasion to witness the way people pray with their beads?  They'll rattle off the same prayer over and over and over again.  They'll get this monotone voice that completely lacks any expression and speak in a type of rapid auctioneer speech so they can get it over and done with as quickly as possible. 

            I can just picture God in heaven, sitting there, scratching his head and saying, "What in the world is wrong with you people?  Do you think I actually like listening to all this?  What's the point?"

            It's like people have forgotten what prayer is, and they have instead replaced it with something they have dreamed up.  They feel God is somehow pleased with quantity, and so quality goes out the window.  But Jesus says just the opposite.  In Matthew chapter 6 verses 7-8a he tells us: 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them...." 

            Or what about people who gather together and have those long, l-o-n-g, l---o---n---g prayer sessions?  This is a story I’ve often told because I think it illustrates this very well.  I went to a prayer service some years ago; and after about the first fifteen minutes, I was thinking to myself, "When is this guy ever going to shut up and sit down?"  But then when one got done, another got up.  This went on for almost two hours!  I don't remember most of it, because quite frankly....well, let's just say I hope my snoring didn't disturb them too much.

            One of the post-graduate courses I had to complete for my doctorate was about prayer.  In that course, they had three very easy rules to follow:  short, simple, and to the point.  In other words, a little certainly goes a long way.

            Direct and honest communication with God is the important thing, and not how flowery the words are, or how many of them we can rattle off in a minute's time, or how many hours we can sit before we either fall asleep or succumb to the natural function of our kidneys.

            Last week, we talked about Mary and Martha.  Mary was forming that relationship by sitting at Jesus' feet and keeping in the Word.  She was very attentive to what he was telling her.  But you see, that's only half of a relationship. 

            A relationship requires there to be a two-way street.  There has to be communication both ways.  God speaks to us through his Word, namely the Bible.  That's were we go to hear God speaking to us.  That's where we go for comfort, strength, and direction for our lives.  That's where we go to meet our Saviour Jesus Christ.  And we know that God himself works faith in our hearts through that Word.  That's how God communicates to us.

            Faith in Jesus is the foundation of our relationship with him.  We come to him as sinful human beings with no hope of God even hearing our cries for mercy without him.  But when Jesus our Saviour comes into our lives through faith alone, we not only have our sins forgiven and our sin-stained lives washed clean, but we have that open path of communication directly to our Father's throne in heaven.  We can't construct that road to God on our own by anything we have done, but only through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  We can't come to God through religion, but only through a faith relationship with Jesus Christ our Saviour.

            The way we communicate to God is through prayer.  Matthew chapter 6 verse 8b says:  "...your Father knows what you need before you ask him."  But that should never be an excuse to not communicate with him.  God wants this two-way communication between him and us to be strong and frequent.  We do it for our benefit, and not because we're somehow earning his favor by doing it.

            I think that our sermon hymn this morning is one of the best ones I know that describes what prayer is.  Hymn 454 verse 2 says:  "Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near."  And then verse 3 says, "Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try; prayer the sublimest strains that reach, the Majesty on high."  It's not complicated, it's not burdensome, and it doesn't need fancy articulate language.  A sigh, a glance, a tear, an infant's simple speech--now that describes the type of communication God wants with his children.

            The disciples ask Jesus about prayer, because they know how instrumental Jesus is in their communication with God.  It's only through faith in Jesus that our prayers are heard and answered.  The prayers of non-Christians do no good.  God tells us in Isaiah chapter 1 verse 15:  "When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen...." That's why Jesus tells us in John chapter 14 verse 6:  "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

            This morning, let’s remember that Jesus has given us a guarantee.  He tells us that through faith in him, our prayers are heard by God and are acceptable to him.  And he will answer them too!  It will be yes, or no, or something better!  That’s why we leave things in God’s hands and ask that his will be done, and not ours.

            Today as we come to God in prayer, we do so out of a thankful heart, trusting that he will always do what is best for us, whatever the circumstances may be.

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