The Lord’s Prayer shows up twice in the Gospels. The one we all know and say every week is in Matthew. It’s longer, and has more detail. The one we don’t say every week is in Luke. It is short, terse, abrupt. It doesn’t sound like a prayer; it sounds like a command: Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive our sins. And do not bring us to the time of trial.
It’s not lovely and poetic like Matthew’s version. It’s just one demand after another. Kind of like the guy who goes to his friend’s house at midnight because someone has just arrived, and he doesn’t have any food to give him. “Wake up! I need food!” And his sleepy friend says, “Go home! I’m not getting up!” And his midnight neighbor keeps pounding and asking and demanding, until the friend gets up and gets him some bread and fish or something.
I don’t like demand-y prayers. I want it NOW! I don’t like to sound like a jerk to God. I want to sort of pussy-foot up and say, “If it’s not too much of a bother… would you mind… I’d be so grateful if you could…
I don’t know God’s feelings. I don’t know if God prefers the pussy-footing over the demand. Pussy-footing may be more humble, but it can also be manipulative. Demanding may be more self-centered, but it might also be more honest. And I’m betting God prefers honesty to manipulation.
I was reading about the Sudanese people in the midst of their civil war as they slide back into tyranny after their hard-fought civil rights. What are the Sudanese Christians praying right now? “If it’s not too much a bother, Lord… Would you mind… I’d be so grateful if you’d just… overthrow these violent thugs.” My guess is they’re sounding more desperate. “Save us, Lord! Save us NOW!”
Which. oddly enough, is exactly what the crowds on Palm Sunday were yelling at Jesus 2100 years ago: “Hosanna, Lord!” which means “Save NOW!” Save us from the Roman tyrants, from the soldiers on our streets. Save us from our oppressors, who crucified 6,000 people on the road into Jerusalem to keep us from rioting! Save us NOW! Because tomorrow might be too late.
Desperate times call for desperate prayers. On the other hand, you and I aren’t usually that desperate. Give me a parking spot NOW doesn’t carry the same moral weight, you know?
“Ask and it will be given to you,” Jesus taught. “Seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
Now I have a confession to make. Sometimes I have my doubts about prayer. After a mass shooting, when people say, “I’m praying for them,” I don’t think those prayers mean a tinker’s damn. I think we say that when we don’t plan on doing a darned thing. I think what we need are for people like us to stand up for intelligent gun laws.
After the latest horrifying tale of migrant abuse, when people say, “I’m praying for them…” I think those prayers are an offense to God. I think what we need to do is repair the immigration system- hire an army of immigration judges to relieve the 20-year backlog of cases, for instance. And until we do find a way to fix the system, we have to find a way- any way- to get those people out of those camps.
I think that prayer that costs us nothing violates the Ten Commandments, because it takes God’s name in vain. If we’re not willing to act, then we’re just blowing air.
Maybe this is where the demanding prayer has its place. “Save us NOW, Lord. Save them NOW, Lord. And we will do our part to make it come true.” God’s grace in human form.
But what if we don’t know what to do? What if the system is bigger and more corrupt than we can even imagine? That’s where Jesus’ words come into play: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. Like the neighbor at midnight, Ask and keep asking, until it is given to you. Seek, and keep seeking until we find a way. Knock, and keep knocking until the door is opened.
But prayer isn’t only about demands; it can’t be, or nothing will change. Prayer is even more about listening. After we pray our ardent prayer, what is God’s reply? Could our world find justice, find wisdom, find compassion if we would only listen to what God whispers to us? Could it be that God will help us find the way… if we stop to listen to what the way is.
For if we just demand without being willing to obey, God cannot act through us to make the changes we desire. Jesus asks, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give them a snake instead? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give them a scorpion instead? 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.”
Thomas Merton, the Christian mystic, wrote in his book Thoughts From Solitude, “What is the good of prayer if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?”
We are to pray with passion; we are to listen with equal passion. Ask- Seek- Knock… and when the door is opened, Listen to what is asked of us. In the Name of the One who is listening, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture: LUKE 11:1-13
Jesus 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 the Baptist taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: 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.”
And Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before them.’ And the friend answers from within, ‘Don’t bother me! The door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed! I can’t get up and give you anything.’ “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, he will get up and give him what he needs because of the other’s persistent and shamelessness. 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 for you. For everyone who asks, receives. And everyone who seeks, finds. And for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give them a snake instead? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give them a scorpion instead? 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!
Friends, listen for what the Spirit would say to us today.