Bible Reading Luke 18:10-14,1-8
Reader 1: “One day there was a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both went to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee
stood alone, away from the tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he said,
Reader 2: ‘God, I thank you that I am not as bad as other people. I am not like men who steal, cheat, or take part
in adultery. I thank you that I am better than this tax collector. I give up eating twice a week, and I give
one-tenth of everything I earn!’
Reader 1: “The tax collector stood at a distance. When he prayed, he would not even look up to heaven. He beat on
his chest because he was so sad. He said,
Reader 2: ‘God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner!’
Reader 1: I tell you, when this man went home, he was right with God. But the Pharisee was not right with God.
Everyone who makes himself great will be made humble. But everyone who makes himself humble will
be made great.” (ICB)
Then Jesus used this story to teach his followers that they should always pray and never lose hope. “Once there was a judge in a town. He did not care about God. He also did not care what people thought about him. In that same town there was a widow who kept coming to this judge. She said, ‘There is a man who is not being fair to me. Give me my rights!’ But the judge did not want to help the widow. After a long time, he thought to himself, ‘I don’t care about God. And I don’t care about what people think. But this widow is bothering me. I will see that she gets her rights, or she will bother me until I am worn out!’” The Lord said, “Listen to what the bad judge said. God’s people cry to him night and day. God will always give them what is right, and he will not be slow to answer them. I tell you, God will help his people quickly! But when the Son of Man comes again, will he find those on earth who believe in him?” (ICB)
Message “The Heavenly Father”
Some things are meant to be known, but not automatic
A man said to his friend, "I'll bet you can't recite the Lord's Prayer." "Yes, I can! 'Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep ..."' "Wow!" said the first man. "I was sure you wouldn't know it!"
Many of us are amused by those stories by the innocent mistakes that young ones make, Our Father does art in heaven, Howard is his name… in general, it is not “not knowing the words” that is the problem for most of us – it is over-familiarity.
There are some things in life that we learn to do automatically, and once they become automatic; thinking about them actually gets in the way. I think about tying shoelaces. Once I learned it, I could do it quickly, easily and almost never got it wrong (not to say they didn’t come untied when I walked around later), but it always worked and it was easy. But if you haven’t had to teach a child for a while, and started thinking about each motion, it can slow you down and may even get confusing.
Habits formed for sports are the same – how many times do we hear a slumping athlete being told: “Stop overthinking it – trust your instincts and do what comes natural…” Some habits become so engrained that we aren’t always even aware that we are doing them. Many years ago, one of my professors admitted that one morning he had gotten in his car, backed out of his driveway, and was three blocks away from home when he suddenly became aware that he was driving his car. Some parts of our lives (such as driving to work) are important and so often repeated that they become habitual and automatic – but are never meant to be done in auto-pilot. No matter how often we do it, we are meant to do it with full awareness and attentive focus.
The challenge is, the more important something is, the more often we do it, the more automatic it becomes; the more easily it is done without thinking. Such is the danger of our Lord’s prayer. In one of the Bible’s ironies, we hear Jesus teach the Lord’s prayer as a means of avoiding the prayers for public show or mindless prattle that was being uttered in His day. And yet today there is a constant threat of loving its elegant form and practiced ritual while forgetting to think about the substantial-ness of its content.
One day a boy was watching a holy man praying on the banks of a river in India. When the holy man completed his prayer, the boy went to him and asked, "Will you teach me to pray?" The holy man studied the boy's face. He said, "Imagine your face below the water, struggling for air, but you cannot break the surface. You struggle frantically but some force is holding you down. . . When you long to pray as much as you long to breathe when you are underwater, then, you can be taught to pray…
L: Jesus taught us to pray P: Our Father who art in heaven.
Theologian Thomas Watson said that praying Father denotes reverence (honor your parents), while praying Our Father denotes faith (that we are his and he gives himself to us). He goes on to say that praying without faith is speaking, not praying. Faith is the breath of prayer. Prayer is dead unless faith breathes in and through it. Prayer is the key of heaven, faith is the hand than turns the handle.
How do we know our prayers aren’t just words that bounce back off the ceiling and are truly words of our personal faith?
True prayer is humble, persistent, trusting
Among other things, we heard in the pre-sermon readings that Jesus tells us that true prayer is humble and true prayer is persistent. And true prayer trusts in the one we are praying too. When my kids were young I remember trying to help them wash their hair. They weren’t ready for showers and we didn’t have fancy sprayers in those days, (or at least we couldn’t afford them). We used a big plastic cup. We would start in the bath and fill it with water and pour it over their heads and it would roll down through the hair and over their faces. No problem. Then we would put in the shampoo and lather it up. No problem. Then came the rinsing. Problem. I would tell them, hold your head back high, and I would put my hand on their forehead to shield their eyes and begin pouring the cup’s water so it would flow back away from their faces. But as soon as they felt the water touch their hair, they would jerk their head down, away from my protecting hand, and the shampoo went straight for their eyes.
Then I tried theory two. I would give them a wash cloth and tell them to cover their face with it, eyes, nose, mouth, and to press tight and to close their eyes tight too -- shut it all tight. But again, as soon as the water hit their hair they would jerk their hands and loosen their grip, coughing and sputtering in fearful anticipation – and as soon as they let go, the shampoo got into their eyes.
Our relationship with God is sometimes like that. We know He is our Father, we know that He loves us. We believe that we trust Him. We know what he is telling us to do is right. But in difficult situations, sometimes we panic and turn our eyes away from God and right into the situation which causes us to sputter and blinds us to his beauty and his power and his care... and when we fail to trust, it grieves the Father, but it hurts us more. James tells us that we need to believe completely, or we won’t get what God wants to give us. (James 1:6)
We need to trust as a young child trusts a parent, (though I just gave an example that isn’t very fitting for that! :) ) And let’s face it, even the best parents are not perfect, and as we look across our society, we discover that many parents fall very short of that mark. So much so that some people suggest that we shouldn’t characterize God as “father” anymore because it puts the wrong images in the heads of people who haven’t had good parents.
My response to that, at least for now, is: By reputation, the king of the jungle in the lion. Does that mean that the consistently horrible play of the Detroit Lions – does that mean that the lion is no longer king of the jungle? No. Even though they are called the same thing, one has nothing to do with the other. God is Spirit, and far beyond our human understanding. He tries to describe himself for us in various simple ways that help us try to understand a little bit what He is like. And so when He describes Himself as a Father, and at times, as a mother; it doesn't mean we should look at mom or dad, necessarily. But we should think about the best things of what a mom or dad is supposed to be and do; and doing that gives us a small glimpse into what God is like.
Our heavenly Father is always trustworthy, always faithful, always loving, always teaching, always leading, always available, we can always count on him. He will never pour shampoo into our eyes. And to take it a step further, if he is our father, if he is that kind of a father; then we who are his children will crave his presence.
True prayer is craving his presence
There is a story about a daughter in the hospital. Both of her parents were extremely busy and were running from one meeting to the next. The mother would buy elaborate presents and drop them into her room between meetings. On one of these stops, the child cried out in exasperation. "But Mommy, I want YOU!
As children of God, sick in sin; do we want his gifts, his resources, his power over problems, his riches -- (not that those things are necessarily wrong) or do we want God Himself? A true child of God doesn’t fear the loss of anything as much as the loss of his presence. Hold on as children of God – I’ll come back to it in a minute.
Praying “Our Father” teaches us that we can experience God's intimacy and availability, (his presence with us) … that we so strongly crave (even if we don’t realize it yet). Praying “who art in heaven” recognizes his ability and his power.
Believing God is in heaven means that
(1) when we pray, we raise our minds above the earthly things, above our current situation. We strive to see life from a different point of view, through God’s eyes, and we fix our eyes and hope on what is spiritual and eternal, and not on our temporary circumstances. (See 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
(2) Believing God is in heaven means that he is above all things (not spatially, physically – we just said he is right there with us) but that he is in control of all things. We don't have to wring our hands in worry. All things in the Universe are under his rule. He orders all occurrences that work for the good of his children. Not all things that happen are good, but he is capable of making all things work together for good, make some sort of ultimate good result out of whatever gets thrown at us in our life -- those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)
(3) Believing God is in heaven means He sees and knows all things. . . People plot and contrive in secret against each other; but God knows what is going on. As it says in Exodus, “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant…God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” (Exodus 2:24a-25) And Peter picks up on the theme when he says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:8,6-7) He watches over us in love.
We are his children on earth
Do you remember that old Sunday School song, O be careful little hands what you do; O be careful little hands what you do; for Your Father up above, is looking down in love, O be careful little hands what you do . . . Most of my life, I think I’ve told you this before – most of my life this presented a conflicting image for me. It was like, “You better watch out, Santa Claus is coming to town” and is that good or is it bad? It’s the same: [Said threateningly:] “Oh be careful little hands, because God is looking down on you! -- and then it says “in love” and how do those two concepts gel? But the conflict went away when I became a parent because I began to understand a little better that the role of a loving father is to oversee children and to love them, who looks in care and helps his children succeed -- whatever that may take . . . What a great heavenly father we have.
And if he is our father, then we are his children – and that comes with privileges – as John says” “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God,” (1 John 3:1-2a (NIV))
And it also comes with expectations – to become a child of something, in biblical terms especially, to become a child of something or someone is to take on their characteristics – and so John goes right on to say is, “and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning” (1 John 3:2b,6a (NIV) (emphasis added)) and we take off the characteristics of earthly things and put on the characteristics of heavenly things. Paul describes what that means for us as God’s children -- to take on the heavenly characteristics and to cease having the earthly (sinful nature). He says that in Colossians. Read responsively.
L: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, [focus on the heavenly Father]
P: [we will] set our hearts on things above,
L: where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you
P: and our life is now hidden with Christ in God.
L: When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
P: [We will] Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to our earthly nature:
L: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . anger, rage, malice, slander, and
filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
P: and [we] have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its
Creator. . .
L: Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against
P: [We will] Forgive as the Lord forgave us.
L: And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
P: [We will] Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,
L: since as members of one body we were called to peace. And be thankful.
ALL: And whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-5, 8b-10, 12-15, 17
(pronouns were made plural for the corporate (P) readings)
and brackets are additional phrases to amplify the text
or otherwise work the transitions in the reading (NIV))
If we receive the privilege to call God Father, if we know that His love for us is deep and changeless, if we are guided by His wisdom to be obedient in all things and know that that call to obedience is in our own best interest, then we will accept His leadership in our life. As God’s children, we will hold His honor, His character, His family, His values, His work, above any selfish sinful interests. And it will be our joy to do any act, however humble, that will further God’s cause and bring him glory -- and bring well-being to those whom Christ loves.
Closing Prayer Let’s pray… Heavenly Father, when we hear such lists as we just read about what you want to bring to life in us and what you want us to put to death in us – we are tempted to focus on what is wrong with our attitudes and actions and beat ourselves up rather than focus on what is right about our relationship with you through Christ. The last thing you want is for us to suffer under a fear of getting it wrong. You are a God who is not out to get us – except to get us in a relationship with you. Christ came and died and rose to save us and free our spirits from the fear of judgment and replace it with the love for you and a love for others… a love and peace that binds us to you and to others in harmony.
Forgive us when we do fail, and do not let us linger or wallow there, be quick to restore us from the paralysis of guilt and fear to the freedom of an ever-transforming, growing relationship with you. We are grateful that your mercy endures forever. In Jesus Christ, the old has passed away; and the new has come. From this moment on, live joyously, not as God’s perfect people, but as God's forgiven people! We die to our earthly failures and rise to fix our focus on things above. For you are always loving, always gracious, and always trustworthy… in Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Now go in the name of the God who does not withhold his love, but faithfully listens to the prayers of those who reverently worship him in awe and call out to him in praise. Go in the name of our Great Faithful God…
Closing Hymn # 140 Great is Thy Faithfulness