7th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 12) LSB # 766:1-3, 766:4-6, 766:7-9
Text – Luke 11:11
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?
FATHER & CHILD
It was not an uncommon lament, years ago, that children would seldom write home after they went off to college. One father put it into words like this, “The only way I know she’s still alive is by the bills I get from her credit cards & when she reverses charges on phone calls.” The heart of an earthly father can grieve when it’s being taken advantage of.
However, it’s rather normal that you & I ‘use’ God in a similar way. We draw on His bank account by depending on His love, forgiveness & understanding. In prayer, we seek His resolution to our private problems. To our Creator, we reverse the charges for our sins. Yet, our heavenly Father does not despair & continues to lavish His love & His gifts upon us.
Yahweh has given us life to live, & He’s given us His name in which to live, here for a time on earth, & forever in eternity. Let’s all say, “Forever!” Yahweh is the perfect father. He never fails. He never quits. He never abandons His children, & He is always listening because He longs to hear our thoughts & to know the dreams of our saintly heart.
What typically dominates our thoughts; however, are the dreams of our sinful heart. This grieves the heart of the heavenly Father so much more than that of any earthly father. Jesus knows what life is like without the heavenly Father’s blessing. The eternal Son of God experienced that on the cross at Golgotha:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV) Yahweh planned that in order to rescue you & me from ever having to experience the horror of that total abandonment. That is how much God loves us, & that He would sacrifice His own Son to win us back should give you a sense of how much His heart grieves when you or I drift away from our relationship with Him. We do not have to sever the relationship in order for our Father to grieve. Simply drifting away causes His heart to ache; because He knows the danger we put ourselves in.
So, when the disciples say to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” first Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, but then He tells a parable to explain what the heart of prayer is all about. It’s sort of like the saying, “Give a man a fish, & you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, & you feed him for a lifetime.”
We could put it this way, & apply it to the Gospel reading for today: “Give a man a prayer & you nourish him for a day. Teach a man to pray & you nourish him for a lifetime.”
The disciples had experienced the demands of ministry at the beginning of Luke 10. Seventy-two of them had been sent out two by two, lambs in the midst of wolves, without moneybag, knapsack, or sandals. Apparently this experience created the feeling that they needed to become confident prayer warriors.
Their request may reflect a perspective that prayer is about the proper technique, the correct words, even the proper posture. Too often the people trumpeting the need for prayer warriors focus far too much on the mechanics of prayer. Jesus wants His disciples to understand the heart of prayer, because if they do then the mechanics, or the how to, will follow naturally.
Two Sundays ago, the gospel reading was about the Good Samaritan. There, a lawyer had challenged Jesus on the mechanics of determining, “Who is my neighbor?” Instead, Jesus took him to the heart of being a neighbor – show mercy on anyone in need.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus points out that the heart of prayer is not technique, structure, or terminology. The heart of prayer is the relationship of God the Father to us. As chapter 10 drew to a close, Martha was busy doing all the work, & Mary was just sitting down & listening to Jesus. Martha complains & Jesus explains, “…one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42 ESV)
Martha was concerned about the mechanics of being in relationship to God, how to serve Him. Martha wanted to be the giver. Mary recognized the heart of the relationship. She understood that the heart of God’s relationship to us is that we are the receiver. Almighty God gives – you & I receive. That is where everything about our lives begins!
The Lord’s Prayer provides a framework through which we can understand prayer in the context of the Father’s relationship to you & to me. We do not begin that relationship, & God almighty never needs anything from us. Yahweh begins the relationship, & it’s always our 1st task in life to receive from Him. Otherwise, what do we have? Let’s all say, “Nothing!”
God is the Father. You & I are the children. Because of sin, on earth, the roles often reverse. The father becomes old & feeble & the children are then responsible to care for him. Yahweh never grows old & feeble, & you & I never become responsible to care for Yahweh.
In teaching them to pray, Jesus challenges the disciples to rethink the very nature of prayer. Christian prayer is not like the prayers of the people of this world. They view it as a negotiation process with a superpower. The following are not only mere mechanics of prayer, they are the wrong mechanics.
People of the world try appealing to God’s ego with flowery speech & generous portions of praise. They believe they can appeal to greed in God with their promises & pledges. They appeal to His sense of justice by offering many prayers in the hope of shaming God into action. The prayers of those who follow Jesus do none of those things.
Again, “What is the heart of Christian prayer?” The heart of it is that God’s children receive from Yahweh & He is the one who gives. So true prayer begins, or springs, not from our need but from the heavenly Father’s relationship to us & from His desire to give. But we have to admit that often our prayers do begin with our need. We frequently don’t even think to pray until we realize, “Man, I’m in trouble. I need help!”
From Luke 11:11, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” In those words, Jesus is teaching that God is our Father & we are His children. Our adoption as daughters & sons into God’s kingdom is a gift from God granted to us through the life, the death & the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The fact that God is our Father changes everything in prayer. Now, we are bold in our petitions to our Father, not because of our need, but because our Father wants to give. And, as our Father, He knows best what to give.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the true neighbor stopped & gave aid to the victim of the robbery. Our Father in heaven is our true neighbor. He will always help us even in times of no trouble, yet also as the words of Psalm 50 in today’s Introit declared, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, & you shall glorify me.” (50:15 ESV)
If God willingly made us alive when we were dead in sin, how much more will He answer our prayers. His whole desire is to be in relationship to the creatures of His creation. It’s what He created us for. Sin disrupted all of that, yet God started over again, by sending His Son to reclaim us & renew us & remake us through Baptism.
Now, He longs to hear from us in good times & in bad, because He desires to give us life each & every day. He gives life to us with meaning & purpose, though because of our sin we don’t see that clearly. Life here on earth is a walk we do by faith, but it is faith in a Father who loves us & provides for us in every need.
He even provides for the forgiveness of every time that we grieve His heart by not
seeking Him in every circumstance. In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Father, who from heaven above bids all of us to live in love as members of one family & pray to You in unity, teach us no thoughtless words to say but from our inmost hearts to pray. Your gracious will on earth be done as it is done before Your throne that patiently we may obey throughout our lives all that You say. Curb flesh & blood & every ill that sets itself against Your will. Amen, that is, so shall it be, make strong our faith in You, that we may doubt not but with trust believe that what we ask we shall receive. Thus in Your name & at Your Word we say, “Amen, O hear us, Lord!” LSB 766:1, 4, 9.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet