Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Teach Us To Pray

THE HOLY Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the scribal pen of blessed Luke. Within the text we were taught by our Lord how to pray…
He (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 
 And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation." 
 And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, '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 importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 
 And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
 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!"  (Luke 11:1-13)

How Should We Pray?
As we examine this week’s lesson, the core of our Christian prayer life is revealed. We remember that Jesus regularly prayed to the Father, as recorded several times during his ministry in scripture. He prayed notably in scripture at his baptism, also when asking for divine oversight after choosing of disciples. He prayed for the plight of others, for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane, and also when asking forgiveness for us when dying upon the cross. The scriptural source for this particular instructional prayer narrative came likely from the “Q” (quelle) document source… since the elements appear in both Matthew and Luke,
 In Matthew’s account, we see that the prayer was indeed more elaborate and told as part of a highly developed teaching during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-15). Luke gives basically the same teaching. However, though simpler, the content was likely closer to the text of the actual source material. Also in Luke… as somewhat non-descript, the site of the prayer and Jesus’ discourse with his disciples was portrayed as occurring while they are all on the way to Jerusalem. We may therefore deduct that the event was reconstructed by both gospel writers, but did occur, however we note that the Lukan narrative was written far from the actual geographical scene. Luke was somewhat lacking in knowledge about the Galilean and Judea geography. Given this geographical disparity, I feel that the Matthean version is thus closest to the geographical location and sequential time frame.
 Regardless of timing and location, however, in teaching the prayer method Jesus related that his followers should pray to our Father (pater) in traditional Hebraic fashion. This meant that they not use the Father’s divine name... out of great respect. In fact, he reminds the disciples to state that “hallowed” (hagiastheio in the Greek means holy) is his name. Jesus also taught that we need to approach the seat of the throne of graceful and divine listening… rightly commending that God’s kingdom should reign.
 Jesus taught his followers, who are as we… sinful and finite, to always address the glory of the Father and give due recognition to the creative power of God. Thus only may we as sinful disciples place our request before the perfect Father, respectfully reminding our Creator of that need which is already known.
 Jesus told the disciples that daily bread as sustenance should be requested. Here we must say, that in Christ, bread is much more than bread. Indeed, our day-today life supporting requirement for both breath and bread demonstrates our total dependence, but asking for such shows awareness that both of these needs are only met through God’s power. Not only in using these words do we ask for material things, we also ask for the presence of the “living Bread of Heaven”, Jesus Christ himself.
 Today we are reminded that it is Christ Jesus who comes to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the Son of God who completed all that was needed for our eternal life. Therefore through the gift of Christ, made known by the Spirit, we are assured of forgiveness of sins or debts before the Father. These things we obtain not for our sake, but for the sake of Jesus who went to the cross for our salvation.
 However, important in our study here, we must be reminded that at the time of this teaching by Jesus, the attendance of the Holy Spirit was not asked, for the Spirit was not given until Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The Spirit, as Luke would attest was not granted until after the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus.
Why Midnight?
 Biblical criticism brings us now to consider likely that the two nested parables in the reading that come not from the “Q” source, but were exclusive to Luke. Herein we may offer that the Lukan scribe addressed some particular needs of his community through the telling of these illustrations.
 In the first portion, Jesus tells of a friend who inquired of food at midnight for the feeding of another friend. In the days of Luke’s gospel writing, feeling that persecutions and the last days (eschaton) were pressing hard upon them, the midnight hour may have had profound symbolism. Also we note that the friend asked for precisely “three loaves”. My imagination allows thoughts that this number may signify early, developing concepts of Trinitarian theology.
 We also note that in the telling is the fact that the friend had barred the door against the night’s dark foreboding? Evil critters foray within night’s darkness. Jesus related that almost begrudgingly the man arose to unbar the door and assist his neighbor. To me, this character flaw offers rejection to any interpretations stating that the sequestered neighbor represents God the Father. A question forms for me, however, as to whether the Lukan purpose for relating the parable is told to challenge his churches amid rising Roman persecutions. We need ask today whether, as followers of our Lord, we are challenged to arise in an evil world and open our securely barred church doors for inquirers who bang on the door while wading in the darkness of their lives.
 Subsequently, in the latter portion of the story, the parable points to faith freely given by the Spirit who has secured all that that we are and have. We may ask, “Are we not encouraged by that same Spirit to open up and share the never-ending Trinitarian three loaves of what has been provided? Should we not share what we know to be true with those who yet ask, seek and knock?” I believe that this is indeed the thrust of this Lukan discourse to his churches. Rather than hunkering down under the dark threat of the Roman Empire, he calls them to yet be evangelical.
 We lastly find that this gospel lesson returns us to the “Q” source, but Luke substituted elements as used in Matthew’s telling. The great threatening figures of serpent and scorpion in Matthew, become fish and egg. The latter items are found as very early Christian symbols. Consequently the discourse grabs the threat of impending danger and death… symbols representatively found on so many flags of Roman legions that were held high by the empire over against the life bearing power of the Easter message… and modifies them to focus us on the basics of faith and life.
 Faith in God’s providence is thus taught in this lesson. This reading in Luke chastises our infant house churches, pointing us to those which were pressed by synagogue community representatives.
 You see, the Jewish authorities had gone to the Romans, warning against the growing Christian community. In the face of Roman threat, Luke boldly witnessed of prayer and the resounding love of God given through the Holy Spirit. In times of uncertainty, therefore, we who would hide enclosed within the church today are also Spirit assured… we are to speak toward faith expressed through Jesus Christ alone, as told best by the Word of God alone. Thanks be to God!

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May the Peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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