Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Hosea 1:2–10; Colossians 2:6–15 & Luke 11:1–13
I was having coffee with my son Connor last week, and he was telling me how he is finding it difficult to balance the demands of work and raising two young children, with the need for his own time and space, and the need for some quality time with his wife. I could definitely relate to what he was saying, obviously having been through the same thing myself, raising three children while holding down a demanding, full-time job, and trying to maintain a healthy relationship with my wife at the time.
I shared one of my own experiences with him, which actually concerned both he and his twin brother Lachlan. I told him how I looked forward to Sunday mornings, to sitting down in the longe room with a cup of coffee, to read the Sunday newspaper in peace and quiet. Only to have he and Lachlan, who were around four years old at the time, come and start harassing me to have a kick of the football with them. “In a minute”, I would say in frustration, “just let me finish my coffee”. And they would come back, literally one minute later, and both of them would say to me, “Have you finished your coffee Daddy? Can we go and play footy now?” They were relentless. They would not leave me alone until I got up and took them down to the local footy ground.
In a way, this is what Jesus is telling his disciples to do in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. In response to a request from one of his disciples to teach them to pray just as John the Baptist taught his disciples, Jesus teaches them the prayer we know as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’. Luke’s form of the prayer is much briefer than the version in Matthew’s Gospel, which is the more traditional version that we and Christians throughout the world are more familiar with. The setting in Luke’s Gospel, in which this teaching from Jesus takes place, is also very different from that in Matthew’s Gospel. Luke tells us that Jesus was “praying in a certain place”, whereas the incident takes place during the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matthew’s Gospel.
In Luke’s account, after giving the disciples the words of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, Jesus then tells them a rather strange parable, about a man going to his friend’s house at midnight to ask for three loaves of bread, so that he can in turn feed another friend who has arrived unexpectedly at his own door. The man’s friend responds by telling his friend to go away and stop disturbing him, because he and his family were already in bed asleep. This doesn’t seem to unreasonable, given the circumstances. However, Jesus suggests that, although the man’s friend won’t get up and give him anything just because he is his friend, he will get up and give him whatever he needs because the man has been persistent.
This was all to do with the importance of honour and hospitality in the culture of the world in which Jesus lived. Hospitality was of primary importance in a village, as was the desire to maintain honour by means of a doing good turn to a neighbour, even if it comes as an inconvenience to oneself and one’s family. So, just as the man in the parable was persistent, and was ultimately rewarded for his persistence, Jesus tells the disciples that they should be persistent in their prayer, and they too will ultimately be rewarded by God.
How many of us, I wonder, would dispute that? How many of us would say there have been times in our own lives when we’ve been persistent in prayer, but that our prayers haven’t been answered? I know I can say that. But that’s when we need to take a closer look at the words of Jesus in the last verse from today’s gospel passage: “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!” (Luke 11:13 NRSV) “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Ask (continually), and what will be given (by God) is not necessarily what is requested but what is needed: God’s own Spirit. In today’s passage, Jesus recommends a specific form of prayer to his disciples, and then provides an example of how they should put that prayer into practice. In doing so, Jesus reveals what is at the base of prayer: trust in God’s gracious provision, experienced most deeply as guidance and empowerment by God’s own Spirit.