Bible Reading Colossians 2:11a,c -14, 17,19b, 6-7
As we resume our series in Covenant Living, Paul describes what Christ did to allow us to enter into and maintain that covenant. He wrote,
When you came to Christ, ... Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins || and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross... For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is [the source and substance of] that reality. Christ [is] the head of the body (NLT) and his life supplies vitality into every part of his body through the joining ligaments connecting us all as one. He is the divine Head who guides his body and causes it to grow by the supernatural power of God.
[Therefore] In the same way you received Jesus our Lord and Messiah by faith, continue your journey of faith, progressing further into your union with him! Your spiritual roots go deeply into his life as you are continually infused with strength, encouraged in every way. For you are established in the faith you have absorbed and enriched by your devotion to him! … (TPT)
Message Covenant Communication Luke 11:1-13
INTRO: What you just read was Paul describing the great lengths to which Jesus went to make it possible for us to enter and maintain a mutually committed relationship (a covenant relationship) with God. Relationships require communication. Jesus was quite consistent about it.
“Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1b)
One day after Jesus finished praying, a disciple references the common practice that spiritual leaders taught their followers how to pray and asks Jesus to teach them. Jesus gives this shorter version than the liturgical form he taught during the sermon on the mount in the book of Matthew which is the one we recite at the end of our prayers in the worship service. The question often arises whether the prayer is to be prayed word for word or whether it is an example prayer in which the principles of prayer are taught. Some suggest the prayer in Matthew is a general pattern for praying because Jesus introduces it by saying, “this is how you should pray” (so it is an example), while in Mark, the intent is word for word repetition, for Jesus introduces the prayer by saying,
“When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:2b-4 (NIV) emphasis added)))
I think before a gracious God who looks at our heart’s intent, there is danger in enforcing any outward form or words too legalistically. But whether you see the prayer as a model, an example to follow; or as specific words to be repeated, or both; prayers are never to be repeated with pompous ceremony, (Jesus made a big deal about this in Matthew 6:5 ff), nor as a magical incantation as if it were a verbal rabbit’s foot bringing us protection and prosperity, or the biggest danger - because of its repetitious familiarity -- as a thoughtless, empty “mechanicalism”, where we just go through it without ever thinking about what we said.
I remember a seminary professor telling us that he got up one morning and was a mile and a half from home before he realized he was driving his car. Some habitual routines become so familiar to us we don't even realize we are doing them. Going into auto pilot mode is great for tying your shoes and brushing your teeth -- but not so much for things like driving and praying.
Pray from the heart
Your spouse or close friend can tell the difference between an automatic, distracted, rote "love you.", or especially if it is said to receive a favor”; and the "I love you" where you are expressing your current undivided attention and awareness of your deep-felt devotion and desire to serve. Spouses, is that true? Can you tell when they are just saying the words to say the words? And if that is true of each other, then how well do you think God, who sees the heart, understands what we mean -- or fail to mean -- as we utter our prayers and other acts of private or public worship or service? The Lord’s prayer and all prayers and service should be filled with heartfelt, sincere thoughtfulness and application to daily living.
Today’s emphasis is not going to be on the prayer itself, but I’ll give a quick comment on each phrase.
He begins - “Father”. I think I said this just recently, but I’ll say it again. Traditional prayers used a formal version of “father” that tended to create distance between the pray-er and the pray-ee, distance between God and themselves; while Jesus uses the Aramaic Abba, (which is still used in family relationships today) the intimate address of a child to a parent. The prayer is meant for those who have been lovingly adopted as children of God.
Reverenced by us and spreading out
“hallowed (reverenced) be your name”. In those days, a person’s name indicated their essential character. (It is why sometimes people of the Bible were renamed as they changed their life’s course). This phrase means we recognize who God is, and we have a hope that motivates us to put to feet (that we will act on) that he will be recognized this holy, this hallowed, this reverenced way throughout all his creation by all people.
Kingdom - authority
“your kingdom come” conjures up for us the idea of geographical boundaries, sometimes complete with palaces and castles, but a better sense of the phrase is that God’s authority is exercised and recognized not only in our hearts but more and more in his fallen world until it finds its complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ when he returns again.
“Give us each day our daily bread”, bread being the staple food and metaphor for everything we need for earthly existence and living within his will. It is the provision to do those two things. The challenge is that we have a hard time distinguishing between what is bread and what is bread pudding -- between what we need and what we think we need but really is just a want. The verb form is in a continuous present tense… Keep on giving, and when combined with “each day” and “daily”, it means we don’t say New Year’s Day resolution prayers on January 1st, and then we forget about God until our January 1st next year when we do it again. It is meant to be a continual, daily reliance and connection with God.
Forgive – receive and give mercy
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” At first hearing it may sound like if we forgive others, the God has to forgive us, as if we earned it. But no human effort of any kind ever earns forgiveness -- it is always grounded in God mercy -- his undeserved but freely given love. There are two senses to this phrase. (1) The first is that if sinful people like us can forgive each other, then how much more will the merciful God forgive us if we ask (therefore, we can approach him for mercy confidently). (2) The second sense is that if we are sincerely asking for forgiveness, we are recognizing that we have done something wrong, that we have fallen short of God’s glory, that we are guilty of sin and in need of forgiveness. And if that is true, how can we want forgiveness for ourselves and then, when the sandal is on the other foot, not be willing to offer it to someone who needs our forgiveness? If we want to receive forgiveness, we should be willing to give forgiveness.
Temptation – act on desire to sin no more
Forgiveness, then, naturally flows into the final phrase in Luke’s prayer, “And lead us not into temptation” for the person who sin-cerely wants to be forgiven will sincerely want to sin no more. They won’t want to do it again. The phrase is not implying that God leads us into temptation, James says do not be deceived, God is not tempted, nor does he tempt anyone. He only gives good and perfect gifts (See James 1:12-17).
We know we are forgiven sinners, and we are asking God to lead us away from those circumstances that will expose us to those things in which we are vulnerable. We all have weaknesses, temptations that we are not good at resisting. And so we are asking God to lead us away from those things, or if unable to avoid the situation, at least to keep us alert and on guard so he can empower us to stand up against it.
And then on the heels of this prayer Jesus then gets to the heart of this covenant communication by telling them a parable.
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. (Luke 11:5-8 (NIV))
The story is easily misunderstood. It could sound like even if you don’t plan ahead, but if you are loud enough and persistent enough and obnoxious enough and manipulative enough, and you can stir up enough trouble; God, or others, will give you what you want anyway. It is kind of like the wolf saying, if you don’t give me your bread, I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down and take the bread for myself. That is not what Jesus is trying to say in this story. Let’s get into the culture and listen to what Jesus is really trying to say.
Starting with the travelers, (1) Late arrivals were not uncommon because people were not riding around in air-conditioned cars. They avoided the heat of the day because they had to walk, or at best, ride animals. (You know it is beautiful when the atmosphere of the building (hot and sticky) just ties you right into the climate of the story). Because they avoided the heat of the day they often arrived late at night. (2) When we arrive late at night, the first thing most of us want to do is find a bed and plop into it as quick as we can because we are exhausted. But in their difficult travels, because they we so physically drained from the journey, bread was more than just a selfish whim for a casual mid-night snack. The bread and water were a legitimate need to give their body the opportunity to restore itself during the night. (3) Further, they couldn’t text ahead and say, “I’m going to be there at such and such a time so be ready for me.” Even if the host knew they were coming, they might not know the exact time for sure, and may not even be sure of the day; so they could easily be surprised and unprepared.
Moving to the host, then: (4) people weren’t able to add preservatives to their bread, and they didn’t have cooling systems to help keep it, so bread was made daily or it would just go to waste, so it would not be unusual to have out on any given night. (5) There are no 24-hour marketplaces you could run to in order to get a fresh supply. (6) And yet, hospitality was a sacred duty.
Enter the host’s friend: (7) and this is critical -- these two neighbors are friends, they were friends. (8) The assumption is that they were both on the lower side of the economy (another reason they wouldn’t have extra bread laying around to go to waste). Probably living in one room homes. The set up, then, would be that the whole family would sleep on a raised platform in the back part of the house, their animals brought in to protect them from nighttime predators, so they were in the front part of the house. To get up to help his friend, then, would be a disruptive force that would rouse the whole household and maybe even the whole neighborhood.
Covenant friendship / Legitimate needs
(8) And now the next critical point -- Jesus says, “Suppose the friend says, ‘No.’” Jesus and those listeners knew that because these neighbors were friends, and because of the sacredness of hospitality; this would never, or at least, should never have happened in their culture. But even if it did happen, the neighbor would still get up to give the bread to the needy host because his neighbor and friend with a legitimate need had “shameless audacity” -- which some mistakenly interpret to mean that he nagged and cajoled and knocked and banged and manipulated until he got his way. But what it really means is, he had such a shameless audacity to show up at such an late hour, which means he was boldly relying on the strength of that friendship to overcome the inconvenience. (9) And finally, the clincher – the point of the parable: if this is true of what imperfect sinfully selfish human friends do for each other, then how much more will your heavenly father be eager to come to your aid and rescue in your legitimate needs?
And lest the story is misunderstood, Jesus clarifies. First, he clarifies the asking…
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10 (NIV))
Keep on asking, seeking, knocking
While our prayers are not to be pompous or pester-some, they should be persistent. If we make no effort to consistently pray, then we must not want it very much. You ever hear a kid in the store going down the toy aisle? How often to they ask? Do they think, “Okay, I asked them once, now I’ll just sit there quietly and see what they do.”? Doesn’t work that way, does it? No, we persistently ask.
Again, the three verbs, ask, seek, and knock are also in the continuous action form. So, it means he us saying We keep on asking, (earnestly focused on the desired answer -- it is not vague or half-hearted.) We keep on seeking (we are faithful in prayer and all the other activities that may help usher in the answer), Asking for a job may be a specific and earnest desire and we may be asking, asking, asking, but we never get off the couch – while nothing is impossible for God, he is going to have a hard time answering that because he won’t be able to work with the people, or work in you. We have to do everything on our side to make that prayer come true as well. So God and work in us, and through us (e.g. to impact the potential employer), to bring about his answer for us. We have to do our part so that God can do his work in us and through us to reach that employer. And then, we keep on knocking. (that is, with sincerity and consistency, not to badger God, but to spend time with him because that is how you develop deep friendships.
I like the way Rabbi Leona Medina explained prayer. Watch a [person] on a boat that is out from shore a little bit and someone has thrown them a rope. They grab the rope and are pulling [themselves] to shore. If you were confused about [the perspectives] – if you see only the man and the rope, you might think that he is pulling the shore to him. In prayer, some people have much the same lack of perspective, the same misconception, the same confusion. Some believe [that by asking, seeking, and knocking] that they are pulling God closer to them [so they can get what they want]. But in fact, heartfelt prayer pulls you closer to God.
Finally, Jesus concludes by clarifying the giving…
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13 (NIV))
What we ask versus what is best
The implication is that we may not necessarily get what we seek. Just like some children’s requests of parents, no matter how much they repeat them in that toy aisle, the parent knows that toy isn’t going to be good for them and we deny them that request; because they don’t see the big picture like the parents (hopefully) do. And sometimes we don’t always understand – we can’t see ahead and we can’t see what is happening wide and broad, and we ask for things that we think seem good to us, but in the big picture and the long term that we cannot see, we do not realize what is best for us and/or those around us, and just as a parent sometimes says “No”, God cannot grant such wishes because as James said, every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, and he does not vary from this [just because we ask him to].
Just as the friend who gives on the basis of an imperfect human friendship, so now it is father and child. Imperfect, sinful fathers still know how to love and give to their children good gifts, not useless or dangerous ones. That there are parents who fail in this -- that is not the point of the story. How much more will God know how to give what we truly need: “good things” (is how Matthew qualifies it) while Mark goes on to the ultimate good gift of the Holy Spirit whose presence works within our lives. This is the promise of covenant friendship conversation: his presence, his peace (whether we sense it or not), and his Paraclete – the Holy Spirit. When everything is going great, or when the bottom falls out, what more or better thing can you ask of God than for God to give his very self to you? To be your friend, your neighbor, your soul mate, your strength, your confidence, your provider of every good gift that you receive.
Closing Prayer Let’s Pray: Lord encourage us to depend more fully on you, to connect our lives to you the Almighty One who is the source of our life. Teach us to live as you taught us to pray, that we are open to your love and purpose in your creation, that we are willing to be made into the likeness of Christ, who went to such great lengths to let go of our sins and offer us forgiveness, and adopt us into the family of a merciful Father. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 390 (to tune of Amazing Grace) Forgive Our Sins...
Closing Blessing Now go in the name of the one whose mighty power has raised you to new life, who has plunged your spiritual roots into the depths of his life, and establishes you in your journey of faith in union with him. Amen.