Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus is praying. I have always wondered about this. Since Jesus is the Son of God and, in fact, Jesus and God are one, then why the heck would Jesus need to pray? Is Jesus’s prayer the equivalent of talking to himself? Maybe. But I have come to the conclusion that while Jesus may not need to pray, his prayer isn’t really about conveying information or asking God for something. It’s about being in relationship. In fact, to make just that point, Jesus tells the disciples a story.
It’s a funny story. Maybe Jesus could see that the disciples were taking his instructions about prayer a little too seriously. Were they taking notes to make sure they got the prayer exactly right? Maybe they thought the power in the prayer was getting it perfect. Jesus tells a funny story about friendship, so they will see that the relationship is more important than getting the prayer just right. 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.”
Several years ago, I went to Gettysburg for a seminar. I was going to stay with my friend. We planned to have dinner together when I arrived, but I kept getting delayed. When I finally arrived, it was after 9:30 at night. I was expecting to just go to bed, but my friend had waited up for me and made me dinner, even though she was tired. That’s what friends do!
The friend in our story wants to be welcoming to their guest, just as my friend was, but when he opens the fridge, he discovers that it’s empty! So he runs out and bangs on his other friend’s door. “Hey! Help me out! A friend has come to stay and I have nothing to give him to eat.” Jesus says that the second friend may want to say “no,” but he will help his friend. He may not be happy about it, but that’s what friends do.
Friends also listen to each other. Sometimes I just need someone to talk to, and I know if I call my friend, she will listen. And if she calls, she knows I will listen. That’s the cool thing about having a good friend. They will listen to you, even if there is nothing they can really do to make it better. Just knowing someone is listening can make all the difference.
So if prayer is about having a relationship with God, I wonder, do we pray with the expectation that God is listening? As I was studying this Gospel reading,
I came across this website. It is called “The Lord's Prayer, Interrupted.” And it goes like this:
“Our Father, who art in heaven,”
“Don't interrupt me. I'm praying.”
“But – you called me.”
“Called you? No, I didn't call you. I'm praying.”
“Our Father who art in heaven,”
“There – you did it again.”
“Called me. You said, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ Well, here I am. What’s on your mind?”
“But, I didn't mean anything by it. I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day. I always say the Lord's Prayer. It makes me feel good, kind of like fulfilling a duty.”
The story is funny because we would never expect God to actually respond to our prayers out loud would we? But wait a minute. What did Jesus say? “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. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’ ”
Now we are on dangerous territory. Because we all have asked for something in prayer and not gotten it, haven’t we? What child has not prayed for something like a new bicycle or a pony – fervently, faithfully, endlessly? But no pony arrives. And as we’ve grown, who among us has not prayed – for something or someone; for healing, or success, or whatever – and not received an answer?
I once asked my pastor, “Why didn’t God answer my prayer?” He said, “God always answers prayer, but sometimes the answer is ‘no.’ ” I nodded as if I understood, but what I was thinking was, “Well that sucks! What happened to ask and you will receive? Seek and you will find?” I think the problem was… I was praying to God expecting the kind of results I get when I put some change in a vending machine. If I put in the right change, I expect to get my Hershey bar. And if I don’t get what I was expecting, I get mad.
The prayer Jesus taught the disciples was not like that at all. This prayer is about relationship, not just between me and God, but between me and my neighbor. Notice the prayer Jesus teaches them is not a private prayer. All the pronouns are plural. “Give us our daily bread. Forgive us as we forgive. Do not bring us to trial.” This prayer, that is an imitation of Jesus’s prayer, builds our relationship with God and reminds us at the same time of our relationship with each other. How can I ask for daily bread and not be reminded that many go hungry? How can I ask for forgiveness, and forget those who I refuse to forgive? This is no routine prayer. This prayer teaches us to seek God and serve our neighbor, reminding us we are not alone. God is with us, and we are with each other. Amen.