Luke 11:1-10 | Rev. Will Conner
11 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.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father,[a] hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.[b]
3 Give us each day our daily bread.[c]
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[d]
Perseverance in Prayer5 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;6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’7 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.’ 8 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.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Do you know the story of Dick Proenneke? The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor Proenneke enlisted in the Navy and served as a carpenter. When he retired in 1968 he moved to the Twin Lakes region of Alaska and built a cabin. You might have seen the video series about him, “Alone in the Wilderness.” You see, Dick went by himself to Alaska, built a cabin by himself, and lived alone in that cabin for 30 years until his health required that he moved to live with family.
All along the way he kept a detailed journal about his life and what he experienced and he also carried film and made a video record of his solitary time. He worked long, hard days alone to make sure that he stayed on top of his chores that were needed to survive in the wilderness alone.
I remember thinking when I was younger about how wonderful it would be to do something like that. To blow off the cares of this life and to live the solitary life. The life of simple things, relying only on myself and my ingenuity. Maybe I didn’t have the skills to be able to live out of the Alaskan frontier making my own hand tools, but perhaps I could live in some remote region out of car. Depending on myself, solely on myself.
This idea of self-reliance is a very American idea. I believe that Herbert Hoover called it, “rugged individualism.” Hoover was talking about economics, but he said it was rugged individualism that makes America unique in the nations of the world.
Even today, people talk about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” It’s this idea that an individual has all the power to make her life better or to control her own destiny. It’s this idea that people have complete independence in life.
Individualism has many positive traits: it highlights the notion that all life has intrinsic value; that all life is of sacred worth; that all people should be treated fairly. Too often, though, it seems that individualism can be taken too far. When individualism is taken too far we look at life and realize that we don’t need anyone else and that everyone needs to be completely responsible for him or herself. Too often this individualism leads to people not knowing their neighbors, not feeling as if they should or even could reach out for help, to a deep sense of isolation, where each person is only looking after him or herself.
But today we are supposed to be talking about prayer. After all, our scripture lesson this morning was about prayer. So what does prayer have to do with rugged individualism.
In reading our scripture lesson, we have Jesus’ followers asking Jesus how to pray. Then Jesus gives them a way for them to pray. Then Jesus gives them two examples about prayer. In our culture that is so deeply immersed in individualism, I have a really difficult time relating to what Jesus says.
He tells this story of a friend who arrives at his neighbor’s house in the middle of the night and asking for three loaves of bread. In the first century in Galilee the homes were very simple structures, perhaps two rooms. And if someone comes to your door in the middle of the night, it’s going to be a loud affair. The entire house is going to wake up. But Jesus says that its unthinkable that the neighbor would not provide this bread in the middle of the night. And if a human being will do this, think about how much more God will do.
If someone’s coming to knock on my door in the middle of the night, I’m going to be mad. I’m going to think something is wrong. Perhaps I will grab my cell phone, ready to call 911. Quietly, I might turn on the porch light to check who is at the door. But my instinct is that no one in their right mind would show up unannounced at my door in the middle of the night. People need to mind their own business and just leave me alone.
In a world of rugged individualism; In a world where everyone takes care of him or herself; In world a where technology keeps us safe—we have little use for Jesus’ teachings on prayer. In a world where we can rely on our own abilities we don’t need God; we don’t need help from God; we don’t need prayer.
If we already have a pantry and refrigerator full food, the prayer “give us each day our daily bread” is meaningless. If we have food, we don’t really need extra daily bread. If I can run down the street to the Mexican restaurant I don’t really need God or anyone else to provide me with daily bread.
The words, “your kingdom come,” make little sense too, because we are busy building our own lives and our own kingdoms. We pledge our allegiance to so many things before God—to money, to property, to smartphones, to education, to hard work, to self-reliance, and when we do this we don’t have any need for God’s kingdom. And if we pretend that we do, then we imagine that God’s kingdom looks exactly like what we want it to.
These days when hear about prayer, often times prayer seems more like a child’s Christmas wish list. Oh, God make me feel better about myself. Oh, God help me win the lottery. Oh, God I believe that you want me to have a new car, please guide me to right car: is it a BMW? Is it a Toyota? Is it a Dodge Truck? (trust me—it’s a Dodge Truck). Lord, I just want to do your will lead me to the right vehicle and give me good financing.
I’m reminded of the prayer of Dewey Crowe in the wonderful TV series Justified about a US Marshal from Harlan County, KY. Dewey Crowe is an outlaw and he is trying to kill man named Wade, but the tables turn and it doesn’t look like Dewey is going to make it out of this situation alive. At this point, he prays the prayer of desperate man: “God, I ain’t prayed in a while, I ain’t fixin to die out here in the woods like some animal, you hear me? … Jesus, if you help me find him, once I kill him, I swear, I’ll straighten up, I’ll go to church, Sunday school, whatever you want, but … I gotta get this thing done, you understand.” Dewey’s actual prayer had a bit more colorful language, but you get gist.
It’s a prayer that says like the Christmas wish list, “God, let my kingdom come, my will be done, on earth, as it is in my desire. Give me this day all I want, and make me feel good about myself so that I can be happy, independent, and enjoy myself.”
In our scripture lesson, Jesus is telling his followers that God answers prayers. But I think that too often we live so comfortably that we don’t need prayer. And when we do pray we think that prayer is, as a biblical scholar wrote, more like “a blank check on which we can write anything our hearts’ desire.”
But the thing is, as long as we demand our rugged individualism. As long as we demand that we take care of ourselves. We have no real need for real prayer. As I was preparing for this message, I was really influenced by this one writer who makes it very clear that real prayer “is uttered out of a condition of real necessity” There is no more pretense, no more faking—in fact, “real prayer cannot be faked.” What real prayer requires is a recognition of the depths of our need and the humility to ask for help.
This isn’t the prayer that reveals that magical front row parking space when you travel to Chattanooga to go shopping. This isn’t the prayer that helps you pick out your next car.
Real prayer happens when one looks inside and sees real need.
Real prayer is what happens when the doctor utters that dreaded word, “cancer.” All pretense, all faking stops. At this point you know your need. At this point, you cry our “Father … get me through this day.”
This real prayer is the basis of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction or compulsion and that our lives had become unmanageable. – the need is deep, I don’t know what else to do. I can’t control my life anyone, or at least, I can’t pretend to control my life anyone.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
And Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the will of God. This is the prayer that Jesus gave us: God, your kingdom come … thy will be done. No longer is it about me, I know I need God.
Our need of God and our dependence on God is very apparent when facing a difficult diagnosis or when faced with the reality of an addiction or compulsion. But prayer is not only for when things in life go bad or when life gets difficult. If we look at Jesus’ own life, we see that he was one who was constantly in prayer. We read time and again through the stories of Jesus’ life of how he gets away to pray. In good times and bad, Jesus is one who realized that he was in constant need of God.
I began this morning by telling you about Dick Proenneke, you know the man that lived for 30 years in the Alaskan wilderness by himself. You might think that this self-reliance is an extreme example of relying only on yourself and not needing God or anyone else. You know, I don’t know what Proenneke’s religious beliefs were; I don’t know what his prayer life was like. But I do believe that he is one that would have said how much he relied on other people.
He took care of his basic needs, but he depended on mother nature to provide berries and fish. He relied on a friend to fly his mail in for him from town. He developed deep friendships with the people that he had to rely on. Yes, he was independent in a very real way, but he was also deeply dependent on a daily basis for his daily needs to be met.
I want to suggest for us to be close to God, we have to cultivate an awareness of how dependent we are on God. For us to be close to God, we have to shed these false ideas that we can make it on our own, that our individualism is the supreme goal. For us to be close to God we have to daily see how we need God.
I think this prayer that Jesus gives us is a good example that can help us do that. This prayer that is often called the Lord’s prayer can serve as a daily reminder of our need of God. Here we pray, Father, holy is your name. This petition names the fact that God is something that we are not. That God is holy that God is God. And when we claim that God is God, we are also making ourselves aware that we are not. That we are not in control. When we pray, Father, you are holy, you are God—we are also praying, God, I know I am not you.
Then Jesus says, pray, “your kingdom come.” This is prayer that recognizes that our attempts to build our own kingdoms and our own power and our own comfort are not good enough. It asks for God to bring God’s kingdom and God’s rule into our world.
Then we pray and ask for God to meet our needs. In this day and age, our needs of daily bread are most often taken care of. But there are some in the world who do not know where their next meal will come from. There are some here who aren’t sure how you will get through the next day—so we pray, God grant me the strength for today.
And because we have tried to be God ourselves, by being self-reliant pledging our allegiance to things other than God, we ask, “forgive us our sins” and promise to forgive those that have wronged us.
Then we ask God to continue to care for us.
This prayer that Jesus gives us is not a very fancy prayer. In many ways, it is the prayer of a beggar. It is a prayer that says I’ve tried everything else, but now I know I need you, God. It’s a prayer that says, Lord, I’m completely dependent on you—lead me.
You see, this prayer is so different from praying about which coffee to buy or which vehicle to purchase. But if you pray this prayer daily, you constantly will be reminded of how you desperately need God. And when we realize that we need God, we can be assured that God is already there to fill that need.
So I want to invite you to confAess your need for God. I want to invite you to spend a few moments in silent prayer contemplate on your dependence on God or to ask God to help you to be more dependent on God. Then we will say the Lord’s prayer together.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive whose who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Decatur United Methodist Church
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