Lord, teach us to pray – a sermon on Luke 11

13041435_1159982794033037_1825211134944730220_oSermon on Luke 11:1-13

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

Lord, teach us to pray.

I suspect, that when the disciples ask Jesus this question, they are asking about technique.

How to pray, the precise way in which to do it, so that their prayers can be answered.

For those of us who are conscientious, busy, detail-oriented people, the question about technique can be very appealing.

I know I should pray, but just how much should I pray?

And in what way?

And does the way I pray, or how much I pray have any bearing on how—or even whether—my prayers are answered?

We want to be able to do what is asked of us, not only for the glory of God, but for our own effectiveness as pray-ers.

We want our prayers to count for something, to matter.

And so we want to know how best to go about it, just like the disciples.

Their question is essentially our question, Lord, teach us to pray.

What I love about today’s gospel lesson is that Jesus actually, directly answers the disciples’ question.

Sure, Jesus includes a slightly enigmatic parable, but Jesus does in fact teach the disciples to pray.

And he gives them a prayer that we pray together still, every time we take Communion, the Lord’s Prayer.

There is an actual, concrete answer to the disciples’ question, but it isn’t the answer you’d expect.

Because, while the disciples want to know about technique, Jesus responds with relationship.

It is not, it seems, about how you pray, not even how often or how much or about what you say or do when you pray…

Prayer is about relationship; it is about who you pray to.

In response to the disciples’ question Jesus first answers, “When you pray, say Father.”

In other words, start with the relationship.

Start with saying just who, in love, you are praying to, on whom you can rely.

Start by calling upon God, and by calling upon God, you name your own relationship with God.

After that, specific technique doesn’t really matter very much.

Just call upon God.

Just as we name and nurture our relationships with our friends and loved ones, so we name and nurture our relationship with God.

That is what prayer essentially is.

Jesus’ parable today points this out rather humorously.

If even your friend will begrudgingly help you out in the middle of the night, just because he is your friend…

how much more will God be present to you and help you when we nurture and maintain a loving relationship with God?

Just name your relationship with God and seek ways to maintain and nurture that relationship; that is a life of prayer.

Any other form of technique really doesn’t matter to much, as long as we do that.

And as long as we do that, the benefits are enormous.

The beautiful language of “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”

Evokes for us a powerful assurance that our prayers will be answered.

I hesitate sometimes to use the word “answered” because if prayer is fundamentally about our relationship with God,

then God responding to our prayers looks a little differently than we sometimes imagine it does.

After all, what do we get from our most meaningful relationships?

Sure, sometimes our human relationships can be strictly transactional.

I will pay you this money if you do for me this service.

But our deepest, most loving relationships aren’t like that at all.

We fundamentally trust and abide with people in our most loving relationships, even when they don’t always do exactly what we want or ask them to.

At the heart of it, we love them for who they are, not solely for what they do for us.

Our relationship with God in prayer is the same way.

So that if our prayers aren’t answered in the way we would expect, it is not because we didn’t pray enough, or deserve some kind of answer, or ask in the right way.

Thinking that way fundamentally misunderstands the nature of prayer and our relationship with God.

Our prayers are always answered, because God is always in loving relationship with us.

Our prayers are just not always answered in the way we want them to be.

And our prayers are answered, not necessarily with deeds of power, with God granting our wishes like some divine genie…

Instead of God giving us stuff, God gives God’s own self.

Our prayer is relationship, our prayer is answered in relationship.

That is why when we ask it will always be given to us, when we seek we will always find, when we knock the door will always be opened…

Because God is always in relationship with us.

Nurturing and maintaining a loving relationship with God in prayer helps to remind us that God is always with us.

God never leaves our side and is always working for the benefit of God’s beloved people.

The benefit of prayer is that we come to see, to know and to feel more deeply the loving relationship that God already has with us.

And we nurture and tend that relationship through prayer so that it becomes ever more real and present to us and to the world.

What I love about the Lord’s Prayer is that it is about the basics of what we need to be sustained by God:

enough food to feed us,

God’s forgiveness,

and our ongoing preservation and blessing by God.

That’s it, that’s all we need.

And so, no matter what specific things we pray for, in this sense, our prayers are always answered.

Have we had enough to eat today?

Yes, by the grace of God, our prayers have been answered.

And the Lord’s Prayer serves to remind us, that, for those who do not have enough to eat…

we are called, imperatively, as God’s people to make sure all God’s people are fed.

Are we forgiven?

Yes, by the grace of God our sins are forgiven and we are given the power to forgive ourselves and each other.

Are we secure in God’s love and blessing?

Yes, by the grace of God, we trust that God loves and blesses us.

In this way, food, forgiveness, and blessing, our prayers are always answered.

Which is not to say that the answer is always simple or what we want to hear.

The actual Greek in which the Lord’s Prayer is written today has some important grammatical nuances.

When Jesus talks about God forgiving us our sins, he uses the aorist imperative tense, which means, essentially, that God’s forgiveness is effective and long lasting.

When Jesus talks about our forgiving those who are indebted to us, he uses the present tense.

Which, means, that while God’s forgiveness lasts forever, we need to be constantly, daily, always renewing and working on our own forgiveness of other people.

When we pray this prayer weekly, or in some cases daily,

it is not to beat ourselves up about not forgiving well enough, but to remind ourselves that because we are forgiven by God, we are called to be always forgiving.

Our prayers are answered, in relationship

And we are called to work on relationship not just with God in prayer, but in our ongoing relationships with other people in this world.

We are forgiven, and we must also be forgiving.

We are fed, and we must also feed.

We are blessed and we must also be a blessing.

Relationship is a two-way street.

And just as God is in loving relationship always with us, so we are called to love God and God’s people in return.

And prayer, whatever specific technique we use, is a place to begin.