Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ask, Seek, Knock

Right now, I'm preparing for the last half of Licensing School, a five day stint-in-residency at Texas Wesleyan.  A time of intense and practical study with some new and old friends.  Part of the deal is to prepare a sermon of 10 minutes or less to preach in front of my fellow students, with this charge from our LS leader - consider your congregation in this place.

So, I'm not supposed to preach something simply generic.  I can't recycle and cut down a previous message.  Not that I could really do that anyway.

But, I am preparing a message for next Sunday, a particularly relevant reading to Christians for the last 2,000 years, and preserved for teaching through the lectionary:

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.’ He 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 he 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 him.” And he answers from within, “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.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 
 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches 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 a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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!’

To say this reading from the 11th chapter of Luke is familiar would be an understatement.  The Lord's Prayer and following parable are both iconic passages in the Christian faith.

As I break this down for my congregation, I feel convicted that it's an important passage to dwell on together with my peers heading into Licensed Local Pastor territory.  But what do we need to learn from Christ here?

Discipline and persistence in prayer?
Directness and simplicity in prayer?
The familial relationship that Christ is us to in giving us permission to call God "Father" as he does?

Yes, all of these things are important.

But also there's the contrast that the Lord is drawing between the hospitality of humans and God.  A human being, even in Jewish society with it's strict code of hospitality, might tend to not open the door.  The Lord is not saying here that God won't open the door and listen to our needs - but that God will open that door so much quicker than a person would.

Even so, we're called to be persistent in our prayers.  Are all pastors persistent in their prayers?  I would say no.  It's time to change that.

But on the flip side, while the Lord seems to be more clear in this parable than many others, what if Jesus is trying to say something different to us with the neighbor knocking at the door?  What if the person at the door is, in fact, God, and we're the ones that are too busy with the stuff of life to let God in?

To take things bigger - are our churches to busy with stuff that we call ministry to let the Lord in?

Discipline.  Simplicity.  Persistence.

Ask.  Seek.  Knock.