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Through these weeks, we’re resting in the significance of “Christ is Risen.”
“He is risen indeed!”
We are considering the significance (both in our own lives and in the life our world) of this truth. We have heard about followers of Christ being the body of Christ in our world. We have heard something of what that has meant practically at Blythwood over the last 28 years. We have heard about Jesus walking along beside us, about Jesus being revealed in His word and at tables. We have heard about a higher love that Christ calls us to and enables within us. A love that is rooted and grounded in the unmerited favour and goodness that God shows to all God has made. A love that is not based on reciprocity or merit or a transaction.
We have heard about Jesus standing behind/beside/before us. This morning I want us to consider another way which the Christ-following life is described. It’s a favourite one of Paul’s expressions, and I know you’ve heard it before. As a follower of Christ, you are “In Christ.” As followers of Christ, we take part in/participate in/have a sharing in the love and communion of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, which is without beginning and without end! Let us take a moment with that.
What does this look like practically in our lives? What should it look like? As we remember Jesus’ words today from Luke 11, it looks like prayer. Jesus and his followers are on their way to Jerusalem, and it’s like a redemptive parade is going on. Forgiveness is happening. Welcomes and inclusion are happening. Healing and wholeness are happening. Luke has described Jesus being at prayer, in conversation with his Father at his baptism, before choosing twelve apostles, before his first prophecy of his death and being raised, and at his transfiguration. Prayer is central to Jesus’ mission, and it is central for us to whom Jesus entrusts his mission. Jesus has sent out 70 of his followers, instructing them to heal and proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near. Paul will speak of us as ambassadors for Christ. Paul will speak of us as living letter of Christ. How could we ever claim to be any of those things or do any of those things in our own strength?
“He 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.’” (11:1)
Prayer is not just something to do on a whim or only when we need something. Prayer is something we need to learn as students of Jesus, and it’s something we never stop learning. I learned something new about what unceasing prayer or all of life as prayer might look like the Friday before our prayer walk here at church. I walked the route on my own, and my sole intention was to pray. I was sorry I hadn’t don’t it sooner in my life. I encourage us all to do this, whether it’s on our own, in pairs or in groups. If we’re unable to walk, we could walk paths of memory. I set aside two hours, and it ended up taking about an hour and 20 minutes, with a stop for coffee. So often, we’re walking with a destination in mind. The experience opened me up to notice what was going on around me. The people out walking their dogs. Birds. An empty beer can. People gathered around tables in a restaurant. Construction workers at work. People driving. People on buses. The glory of creation in Alexander Muir Gardens. Uninterrupted time to commune with our loving Father.
Who is at the heart of it all, and with whom we start? Father. Loving parent. Jesus uses the image of the parental relationship, and we know that we get it wrong. I thank God for parents through whom we first knew unconditional love. I first learned about unconditional love from my mother, and I thank God for her. I pray that we will know unconditional love from parents and parental figures in our lives. We are invited to rest in God in childlike trust in God’s love and goodness. Father. “Abba” no doubt if Jesus taught in Aramaic. That familiar familial name. We are not to look on prayer as another task or another thing to fit into our already too-full schedule. It’s an invitation to rest in Him. It’s a recognition of our ongoing and continual need for God. What should we say?
Father. We start where we always start. The focus being on God. To call God “Father” is to remember the words of deliverance spoken to the pharaoh through Moses and Aaron when Israel was in slavery - “Israel is my son, my firstborn, so let my people go!” This is our liberating God, our delivering God who brings release to the captive, freedom for the prisoner. There are two petitions of praise. Hallowed be your name. Bring it about that your name is sanctified, that Your ways are made known. Your kingdom come. The kingdom of God is here. The kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love and grace and mercy and forgiveness and justice. The kingdom of God is here. The kingdom of God is coming. May your kingdom come, Lord, in our lives and in the life of our world. It’s a committal on our part to the kingdom of God over and above all the kingdoms of the world which would demand our allegiance.
Next, come three requests which recognize that we are people on a journey. While we are part of that redemptive parade, we need God all along the way. This is all in first-person plural because prayer is something we never do solo, even when we’re on our own. Bonhoeffer had this to say about prayer – “One who prays never prays alone . . . Always there must be a second person, another, a member of the fellowship, the Body of Christ, indeed, Jesus Christ himself, praying with him, in order that the prayer of the individual may be true prayer.”
Along the way, we need provision and sustenance. We need to be provided for. We need to be sustained. “Give us our bread for today.” Physical bread. Spiritual bread from the Bread of Life. “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.” We are a people on the way. We haven’t arrived at the perfection of the kingdom to come. We are a people who are daily in need of forgiveness. Forgive us, Lord, and may we not block your forgiveness from flowing through us and being extended to those around us. And do not bring us to the time of trial. All too frequently, the world is a place of trial, of temptation, of persecution. “Protect us, Lord,” we pray.
Someone has said this about the prayer that Jesus teaches here - “The community that prays the Lord’s Prayer is, then, a community very conscious of its privileged closeness to God. But it prays the prayer in the world, as part of the world, on behalf of the world, to which it testifies the onset of the kingdom. It is praying for food, for reconciliation, for deliverance from evil, not just for itself but for the entire human family, whose dignity and destiny as children of God it tries to model and proclaim. In short, it prays that the entire human race may return to the hospitable home of the Father.”
What else could we do but pray this prayer together now? May God help us to hear it as if for the first time:
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.
Praise. Provision. Penitence. Protection. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good list. Teach us to pray. It’s something we are always learning. Prayer is part of being at home with God, and Jesus goes on in our passage to use a couple of images from life at home to speak of how we, as his followers, are called to pray. He’s spoken about the what, and now it’s about how. The how, however, is as much about what God is like.
God is like a friend. God is neither distant nor capricious. Jesus uses a scene from Galilean village life where it would be unthinkable for you to host visitors, even unexpected ones, without offering them bread. Imagine going to a neighbour to ask for help when an unexpected guest arrives. Sleeping situations tended to be communal, and the answer comes back, “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.” The point here is not to compare God to a sleepy neighbour or unwilling helper – we can only take interpretation so far when we’re looking at parables. The point is the persistence of the friend who is knocking. “… at least because of his persistence, he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” The word for persistence is actually shamelessness. Now there are times when shame can be a good thing. In an honour/shame culture, shame can help us to do the right thing lest we bring shame on ourselves and family or wider circle. This would be the sort of shame that the bread-holder might feel if they were to leave their needy neighbour breadless. Jesus is encouraging in us here what someone has called a “holy boldness.” Prayer-like insistent knocking. Prayer for peace; for reconciliation, prayers for deliverance from any one of the number of things from which we and the ones we love and the ones we don’t even know need deliverance. There is no end to what we need, and there is to be a shamelessness about our coming to God with our needs. In the middle of questions. In the middle of doubts. In the middle of not understanding. We are called to shameless persistence, and we are called together – even for hermit crabs. Gordon Atkinson is the author of a book called reallifepreacher.com. He tells a story about asking for prayer requests from the congregation one morning. His daughter asked for prayer for her sick hermit crab. Here’s the story - “As heads bowed, Atkinson thought about the other needs in the congregation: a man whose father just died; a woman whose father abused her for years while she prayed that God would make him stop; the family of a little girl named Julie who died, painfully, of cancer when she was five. ‘All the heads were bowed except mine. I was left standing at the front, wondering how you pray for a hermit crab in the presence of a man who prayed that his daddy would live. How do you pray for a hermit crab while looking at the bowed head of a woman who prayed that her daddy would stop? And what about Julie, God? Exactly what was going on with that situation? . . . Maybe you have complex reasons for taking a hands-off approach. But what grand scheme would have been derailed if you had let her die without pain? If letting Julie die in peace was outside your self-imposed limits, what will you do for a hermit crab that we hear is a little under the weather? . . . You know what got me started praying? The heads. Roy’s head and Chris’s head. All of them. Rows and rows of bowed heads, waiting expectantly . . . . Here were people who would pray for a crab. They loved this little girl that much, and she felt comfortable enough to share the concerns of her heart. Even in the midst of their own unanswered prayers, they were big enough and small enough to pray with their young friend. . . . I am a man who has become a child again, and I tell you, I will pray for just about anything.”
Ask continually. Seek continually. Knock continually, with confident assurance that one on whom we call is good. Consider a father. Consider a mother. Think of parental love and responsibility and care. We give and receive it imperfectly, but even we get it. 11 “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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!”
The first promise of the Holy Spirit in Luke’s Gospel. We’re moving toward May 2th – Pentecost. The day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. To have lived in this promise is to have known the goodness of God. The invitation is to follow this Christ and to live in this promise every day. May it be one we all take up. Amen