May 5, 2013
Rogation Sunday Sermon
A Surprise Ending
Psalm 65, Ezekiel 34:25, Luke 11:1-13
May 5, 2013
Most books and movies are fairly predictable. We know how they end before they even begin, but, once in a while we find one that has a surprise ending. This morning's reading from Luke 11 has a surprise ending.
It begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. At first this is appears to be an odd request. These men prayed with Christ daily. He led them in the daily liturgical prayers said by all faithful Jews. They worshiped with Him in the synagogues where He prayed the Sabbath liturgy. And they heard Him pray daily in His own, private prayers. So they knew how to pray, because they learned from His example and leadership. Still, it was common for people to ask their rabbi to write a prayer they could memorise and make part of their own daily prayers. John had done this for his followers, and the disciples wanted Jesus to do the same for them. Beyond that, they must have realised their own prayers lacked something when they heard Jesus pray. They were human, and were sometimes slothful about prayer, sometimes their minds wandered during prayer. But Jesus delighted in prayer. The liturgy was a joy to Him. Seeking fellowship with the Father was natural to Him. The disciples wanted to learn to pray like that. But there is still more to their request. They realised their prayers were prayers of anticipation of the coming Messiah. But here is the Messiah standing before them. How should they pray now that the Messiah has come?
It is interesting to note that our Lord went to the Jewish Prayer Book, called the Siddur, and took its words to form what we now call, "The Lord's Prayer." It is interesting because there has been much talk about whether this prayer is a model prayer or a liturgical prayer. In other words, did Jesus give it to be a pattern for our prayers, so that we might know what to pray for and how to avoid over emphasising our whims and temporal desires, and under emphasising our more important spiritual needs and the glory of God? Or, did Jesus give this prayer to be memorised by the disciples and passed down to the Church to be said liturgically throughout the generations as we prayed it earlier this morning? And the answer is, "yes." It is both. It is a pattern for our private prayers, and it is a liturgical prayer to be prayed in private and public worship.
As a model it encompasses all our needs. Everything we could ever pray for is in it. We can expand on it but never improve on it. When we pray, for example, "lead us not into temptation," we may expand on it by asking the Lord to keep us from the temptation of those sins to which we are personally most susceptible. So we might say something like, "'lead us not into temptation,' and especially protect me from the temptation to have a judgmental and unforgiving attitude."
I have noticed most people's prayers tend to concentrate on temporal needs, especially money and health. We do need to pray about these things, but the Lord's Prayer also teaches us to pray that God would be honoured by people, and that His will be done by people on earth as it is by saints and angels in Heaven. It especially teaches us to pray that we, I, will honour Him, and that I may do His will as it is done by those in Heaven.
As a liturgical prayer it used the words of the Jewish liturgy and applied them to the Church. In other words, it moved from the liturgy of anticipating the Messiah, and began a liturgy for use after the advent of the Messiah. It is the kind of liturgical prayer rabbis commonly wrote for their congregations to memorise and say daily and in the synagogue, and the disciples were asking Jesus, The Rabbi, to do the same for them. So Jesus gave this one to them and to the Church through them.
In verses 5-13 our Lord moves from giving the prayer to teaching about prayer, especially the relationship between faith and prayer. His point is to inspire us to trust God when we pray. Christ is not saying God is going to give us every trinket we ask for, just so we can indulge our whims and desires; and all you have to do is learn to ask for it in "faith," which they define as believing God will give it to you. That is not faith, and that is not what Jesus is teaching here, or anywhere else in the Bible. Jesus is teaching us to trust God to take care of us, and to make our prayers more about expressing our trust in Him than about asking Him for things. I notice the Lord's Prayer emphasises this. Rather than long pleadings for toys and salary raises, or even the basics of food and shelter, the Lord's prayer simply says, "give us this day our daily bread." There is great faith in this. It is a statement of faith. It is like saying, "Lord, I trust You with all my needs, and I trust You to supply them according to Your wisdom "as may be most expedient" for me."
In verses 5-8 Christ uses the example of a man who gives bread to a friend. The point being made is not that the friend does not want to get out of bed and give the bread, but will do it if you keep pounding on his door until he gives it just to get rid of you. Jesus is saying that is not what a friend does, and that is not what God does. A friend gives because he is a friend, and God gives because He is God. A friend gives because you have a need, and God gives because you have a need. He knows how to give good things, He knows how to give what we need, and He is willing to give it because He is the best real friend you have. Therefore, pray (knock) with this kind of faith.
So far everything has gone as we expected. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and He gave them a prayer and taught them about prayer. Now comes the surprise ending. Jesus says God the Father knows how to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. When did we start talking about the Holy Spirit? We started praying about the Holy Spirit from the moment we started praying. This is so because the Holy Spirit is the earnest of all God plans to give to us. He is the down payment of the inheritance God has purchased for you through Christ. It is also true because everything the Christian believer does is accomplished in and by the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that we came to know and believe in Christ. It is in the Spirit that we live the Christian life. It is in the Spirit that we have fellowship with God, and understand the Scriptures, and receive the good of the means of grace. Primarily, what Christ began to do and teach in His earthy ministry, is continued now by the Holy Spirit. So to pray for the Holy Spirit is to ask to be a part of the work of Christ. It is to ask for all of the blessings of Christ, and to be made a part of His new people in the new era of the reign of Christ. May God grant us His Holy Spirit. Amen.