One of the ways that I like to relax is by cooking. It’s something that I have always enjoyed. I learned to cook as a child by spending time watching my mother in the kitchen. She let me have a go, and gradually, over time, my skills and experience developed. One of the main ways that we learn as human beings is by observation and imitation: someone shows us how to do something, we copy them and learn to do it ourselves. It is how we learn to walk and talk, and many other things besides.
This morning’s Gospel describes a similar learning experience. Jesus has been praying, spending time close to God the Father, possibly praying for His disciples and about His mission. One of Jesus’ disciples comes up to Him and asks,
“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11:1)
Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins. They both preached the need for repentance and belief in the Good News, and they both taught their disciples how to pray. Prayer is something of a paradox, being at the same time quite straightforward and also a mystery. We pray to God, but prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us. Pagans in Greece and Rome would bargain with their gods: if you do this, I’ll give you that. Jews and Christians are profoundly different. We don’t bargain with God, and we don’t need to because we are in a covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father who loves us.
Virtually all Christian prayer can be described by one or more of four phrases: ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘I’m sorry’, and ‘I love you’. God does not need our prayers, we do. This is because praying allows us to open our hearts and lives to God, allowing Him to change us. Jesus answers His disciple’s request to teach them how to pray as follows:
And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Lk 11:2-4)
The version of Jesus’ words we are most familiar with is that found in Matthew’s Gospel, which is slightly longer than Luke’s prayer. But both contain the same elements. The prayer begins by us calling God, ‘Abba’ ‘Father’ ‘Tâd’. Such a term expresses our close relationship with God. The idea that God’s name should be kept holy goes hand in hand with the desire that God’s Kingdom may come. Christianity is all about the establishment of the Kingdom of God: that God may rule over our hearts and our lives.
Next we ask God to feed us, to forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us, and to free us from temptation. It is important to note that every celebration of the Eucharist begins with us all acknowledging our shortcomings and asking God’s forgiveness. Saying sorry to God is important, because it keeps us humble, and helps to maintain our relationship with God, and with each other. We all make mistakes, you do, I do. Recognising this is the start of a process which allows us to grow in virtue and holiness, through God’s love. The high point of the Eucharist is when God feeds us with His Body and Blood, providing us with spiritual food to nourish our souls. All our food is a gift from God, and being thankful for it, just like being humble, helps to keep us close to God. If you don’t already do so, try saying a few words of thanks to God before you eat a meal.
There are good reasons why Christians pray this prayer regularly. Jesus has told us how to pray, and gave us these words. We celebrate the Eucharist because Jesus told us to ‘do this in memory of Him’ and we do. We use the Lord’s Prayer (Y Gweddi’r Arglwydd) when we pray, because it honours God, and it forms us as Christians. We will pray it together today before Communion, so that God can continue the process of transforming us day by day into His image and likeness.
In the Gospel reading Jesus continues to teach His disciples using parables. This time there is a late-night hospitality emergency. A friend is on a journey (like Jesus and His disciples), and arrives at your home (just like Mary and Martha last week). Naturally you want to be hospitable as a sign of your friendship. So, you pop round to a neighbour, and ask to borrow some food. However, the initial response you receive is not very positive:
“‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.” (Lk 11:7-8)
Jesus shows that, despite the neighbour not wanting to get up and be bothered with the request for food, because the person is persistent and stays there, disregarding the initial reluctance, his request is granted. Perseverance is rewarded. The point Our Lord is making is that God hears our prayers, and answers our requests. We might need to ask more than once, and commit time to prayer, but we will not be ignored.
‘And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.’ (Lk 11:9-10)
The phrase ‘knock, and it will be opened to you’ reinforces the teaching in the parable. The neighbour opens the door and gives the requested provisions. Jesus then develops His teaching, by drawing a comparison between the lesser and the greater, a rabbinic practice:
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!” (Lk 11:11-13)
The Good News of the Kingdom is that God answers prayer. Not only that, He will also give us the Holy Spirit. This is an important concept in the wider narrative of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, where the Church is filled with God’s Spirit.
God answers prayer because He is our creator and we are in a covenant relationship with Him. In the Old Testament reading God listens to Abraham’s pleas for mercy and grants them. In St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, Paul can proclaim baptism as the way to salvation, because this enables us to share in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, and the forgiveness of our sins:
‘This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.’ (Col 2:14)
God cancels our debt by paying it Himself, overcoming evil and sin through an outpouring of healing love. This is the demonstration that God loves us and hears our prayers, and so we continue to remember the Passion through our celebration of the Eucharist. God forgives our sins, and gave His life for us, nailing our sins to the Cross. He suffered in His flesh so that we who have died with Christ in our baptism may also share His risen life. That is why Jesus can assure us that God listens to our prayers and answers them, giving us the good things we need. Christ desires a community of love and reconciliation, and we are here make that a reality, being transformed, so that we may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.