Beckett: Sermon – Pray Boldly

Date: July 24, 2022
Festival: 7th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Genesis 18:20-33; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13
Sermon Hymn: LSB #773 Hear Us, Father, When We Pray

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Introduction

How often do you pray? …Once in the morning and once at night? Before every meal? Only at church when you pray the Lord’s Prayer? Never? Our Gospel lesson today begins with Jesus praying in a certain place, and after He finished, His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” We always assume they’re asking Him, “Teach us how to pray.” And maybe He does teach them how to pray, but that’s not what they ask Him. They say, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In essence, “Teach us to pray like You. Teach us to make it a priority.”

Their asking this question was inevitable. You see, Jesus is not only their Lord but also their Rabbi. Rabbis typically taught their disciples prayer, just as John the Baptiser apparently taught his disciples. Each rabbi had a prayer model that they would teach their students, so the disciples didn’t want to be left out. Their request reflects the 1st-century Judaic perspective that prayer is about the proper technique, the correct words, and maybe even the correct posture. So, Jesus teaches them a prayer model, which has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, which He more than likely taught more than once like any other rabbi would and would explain why it’s shorter in Luke’s Gospel.

But He also teaches them that the heart of prayer is not about technique, structure, terminology, or even posture. Rather, prayer is about the relationship you have with God. Not the “personal relationship you have with Jesus” that evangelicals often talk about; rather, this is the relationship as in the status you have before God, which is that between Father and child.

Friendship

There’s a reason why this account follows directly after the story of Martha and Mary, which we learnt from last Sunday. Martha, busying herself with being hospitable to her sudden guest, Jesus, doesn’t sit at His feet to learn from Him, and even dares to rebuke Him for not telling Mary to help her. But the Lord says Mary has chosen the good portion—to sit at His feet. And now, following this account is Jesus’ lesson to His disciples about prayer. They desire to kneel before Jesus’ heavenly Father in prayer and make it a priority just as Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as her priority. Perhaps we neglect prayer as a top priority because, like Martha, we’re busy.

For this reason, Jesus’ introduction to His prayer model is vital. He begins with, “Father.” There’s a lot we could say about this, but really the main lesson is that the reason you have prayer as a top priority is because God your Father has time for you in your busyness. In His own busyness in being the Creator, He hallows His name on your lips, He brings His kingdom, He gives you your daily bread, He forgives you your sins, and He guards you from temptation. And He has time to hear these prayers. It’s not that you should feel guilty about your busyness—we all have busy lives and sometimes life gets so busy that it becomes increasingly difficult to remember to pray even to come to church. But Jesus gives you the answer to your busyness, and the answer is, “Our Father,” who is holy, righteous, your Bread Provider, your Redeemer, and your Protector.

Yet there is an arrogance to busyness—a certain pride, and that is a sin. The arrogance is that we think, “I’m going to accomplish this all by myself.” And Jesus teaches a parable about this. In fact, in the parable, prayer is busyness. He says, “Which of you has a friend to whom you will go at midnight, knock on his door, and say, ‘Hey, my friend just arrived after a long journey. Open up, give us some food.’” This implies that the disciples would think, “Pfft, no, I would never do that.” Make yourself the main character in this parable. If a friend of yours or a family member finally arrives late at night after a long drive, would you wake up a friend in your neighbourhood asking for some food to give to your friend? Probably not.

Now, something needs to be said about friendship in 1st-century Palestine. Friendship was viewed much differently than we view it today. In the world that the disciples lived, a friendship typically had a certain duration “that involved mutual obligations and benefits… and for most people reciprocity was integral to a friendship, but equality was not.”[1] Having friends “in high places” with whom you could gain social, economic, or political favours was more valuable than having a friend in your own social or economic peer group who could not benefit you in those ways. Friendship was very much a quid pro quo relationship—“you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” This thinking is still around somewhat in our day, but it’s not the primary thinking of friendship as it was back then.

Pontius Pilate is actually a great example of this. He was among Caesar’s friends, which was a nebulous group of people who had the political favour—the right friendships—to gain the emperor’s ear. Even in those days, a genuine friendship depended on commitment to the truth, whether that friendship be something shallow for the purpose of selfish benefit, like in Rome, or whether that friendship is more like today’s standards that are emotionally and experientially intimate. But during Jesus’ trial, Pilate abandoned the truth because it was easier for him. During Jesus’ trial, he had to choose between friendship and truth. He even mocks the truth. When Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice,” Pilate passes this off with bitter sarcasm, “What is truth?” [John 18:38].

Pilate knew the truth; he knew Jesus is innocent, and he even repeatedly said so in public, yet the crowd said, “‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” [John 19:12]. So, he had two choices to make: the hard choice of taking the red pill that the reality and therefore the truth is that Jesus is innocent and so sacrifice his political friendship with Caesar and therefore his position; or the easier choice of taking the blue pill and therefore the lie that Jesus, King of the Jews, attempted to usurp the throne of Caesar, and so preserve his political friendship with him. As you know, Pilate took the easier option: he took the blue pill to maintain his so-called friendship with the emperor at the cost of an innocent man and perfect God.

Pray Boldly

We treat prayer in much of the same way. Some view it as a negotiation between God and man. We hear it all the time in movies, “God, I will compromise on this only if you do this for me. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch Yours.” We treat God like a vending machine and never end up following through on our end of the compromise. Or we appeal to God’s ego with flowery and eloquent speech coupled with fake humility as we lavish Him with praise, as if we can somehow fool Him with our phony words. Or we approach God in prayer like He’s a judge in a courtroom. In fact, there’s a Christian book that teaches this, called Prayer of Petition.

The author teaches his readers to approach God as a judge in a courtroom, with Scriptures as evidence as to why He should say yes to your prayer, and then He will see that He must grant you your request. Such a posture of prayer commits three errors: (1) it tries to guilt trip God into doing something for you, (2) it’s hardly any different than pagan prayers who used magical incantations—that is, the right words—to manipulate the will of their gods, and (3) Jesus teaches that we do not approach a Judge in His courtroom but rather in the lap and forbearance of our heavenly Father. When you pray, you are not a defendant on trial; you are God’s own child.

Rather than someone who tries to compromise with God, or tries to shower Him with phony praises, or tries to manipulate His will with “evidence” from Scripture, Jesus teaches the parable of the persistent neighbour who knocks on his friend’s door. Jesus essentially says, “This is exactly what God wants. That’s why you can be a person of prayer. God wants you to busy yourself with banging on His door at midnight and ask for daily bread.” Because of this knocking neighbour’s impudence—that is, his boldness—his friend gets up and gives him whatever he needs. This boldness is saying something about his trust in his friend, which you can also say of God. “I know you are someone I can depend on; I know you are someone who will get up. Nobody else will get up and help me, but I know you will.” Caesar would never do that for Pilate; no friendship with such superficiality would do something like that. But God does. You can be that knocking neighbour in prayer, much like Abraham did on behalf of the righteous [Gen. 18:20-33], and God answers you not with a baseball bat, but with morsels of bread.

You can pray boldly. You can “wake God up at midnight,” so to speak, and ask what you need; He might say yes, or He might say no, but it will always be in His good mercy. So, you can keep asking Him, and you will receive according to His good and gracious will. You can keep seeking, and you will find Him. You can keep knocking, and He will open it. Why? Because He is your Father, and He is eager to answer. Even sinful fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, Jesus says. Hollywood has a bad habit of portraying fathers as being stupid and absent fathers. But think of any of these kinds of fathers in the movies and shows they write—a father who is essentially absent from their child’s life, but he goes out of his way, even risking his own life, to get the best gift for his daughter. He doesn’t give them a poisonous creature, but he gives them what they’ve always needed. He may be a sinful father, but he knows how to give good gifts to his children.

How much more, then, will your heavenly Father, who is holy, righteous, and perfect, give you the Holy Spirit—and whatever else you need—because you boldly ask Him as His dear child, your heavenly Father who gave the life of His only-begotten Son so that you may be His child. I love how Luther explains the “Our Father” in the Large Catechism:

God takes the initiative and puts into our mouths the very words and approach we are to use. In this way, we see how deeply concerned He is about our needs… God therefore wants you to lament and express your needs and concerns, not because He is unaware of them, but in order that you may kindle your heart to stronger and greater desires and open and spread your apron wide to receive many things… For whenever a good Christian prays, “Dear Father, Your will be done,” God replies from above, “Yes, dear child, it shall be done indeed” (LC Part 3, 22, 27, 32)

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


[1] Craig R. Koester, Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community, 2nd edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 268.

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