a sermon, based on Luke 11.1-13, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, July 24, 2016
Jesus is a praying man! His life and ministry pulses with the rhythm of public engagement with people, then retreat into the privacy of prayer. At every significant moment, Jesus prayed. At his baptism, Jesus prayed. As word spread of his healing power and crowds gathered to be cured of their diseases, Jesus prayed. Before calling his disciples, Jesus prayed. Before asking his disciples the critical question, “Who do you say I am?” which provoked Peter’s confession, “The Messiah of God”, Jesus prayed. Before the moment of his mountaintop transfiguration, Jesus prayed.
Jesus, once again praying, is approached by his disciples. Inspired by his devotion and knowing that John the baptizer taught his followers to pray, they plead, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus answers with what we, for generations, call the Lord’s Prayer, yet more truly, given the context in which it was given, is the disciples’ prayer, our prayer.
Jesus continues with a parable about prayer, followed by additional counsel, “ask, seek, knock.” The apparent point is that prayer requires, demands our persistence in asking, seeking, knocking, begging, badgering, banging heaven’s gates to awaken and alert a distant, diffident God of our wants and needs, our hurts and hopes.
And why couldn’t, shouldn’t Jesus’ teaching best be interpreted this way, especially in light of the fundamental human frustration, confusion, at times, desolation with the practice of prayer? We do not receive always that for which we ask, even when, as far as we can tell, we beseech the heavens in keeping with God’s will – the cessation of war and the restoration of peace, the end of bigotry against peoples and races, the end of abuses of women and children, the end of hunger and homelessness – and even when we lend our hands and hearts, energy and money to effect that for which we pray. Leading, compelling us to ask: Is there something wrong with our praying? Have we prayed hard enough? How should we pray? How does God answer our prayers? Why does God seem to ignore our prayers? Does God answer prayer? Is God truly benevolent and omnipotent, caring about us with power to affect the divine will in our lives? Is God?
I don’t have the…any answers to all of these questions. What I do think, believe I know, therefore prayerfully advise us is to look at Jesus’ instruction not from the point of view of the operation, the how of prayer, but at the object, the who of prayer. For Jesus teaches us less about how to pray and more about to whom we pray.
“When you pray, say, ‘Father…’” or, in the Aramaic, “Abba.” God is not One whose Name is too hallowed, too holy for us to speak, whose presence is too awe-filled, too awful for us to approach. God is our divine Parent to whom we, with the unabashed insouciance, the unbridled confidence of children, can appeal with the heart of our hopes in our hands for the sense of this oft random world and for sustenance spiritual and physical to live in this world.
The heart of prayer, then, is not about getting what we want and need from God, but about our relationship with God, who, Jesus tells us, gives us the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God’s very Self.
So, Jesus, near the end of his life and ministry of prayer, kneeling, the shadow of the cross of his crucifixion and death looming over him, prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.”
So, Jesus, at the end of his life, prayed, “crying with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ and breathed his last.”
So, this alway-praying Jesus invites us, his followers, to pray, though the God to whom we pray knows our needs before we ask, giving voice to our wants and needs, our hurts and hopes with the confidence that our relationship with Abba will abide and sustain us come what may, whene’er and howe’er it will.
Illustration: Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray (Jésus monte seul sur une montagne pour prier) (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902), Brooklyn Museum
 Luke 3.21
 Luke 5.16
 Luke 6.12
 Luke 9.18
 Luke 9.28
 Luke 22.42, my emphasis
 Luke 23.46, my emphasis
 See Matthew 6.8; the sense of which is expressed in the prayer: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Proper 11 for the Sunday closest to July 20, The Book of Common Prayer, page 231, my emphasis)