Sermon for the Eight Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 12)

Text: Luke 11:1
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray".

Teach us to pray

Some of you may have seen the Walt Disney movie Snow Dogs. It tells the story of a dentist, Ted Brooks, who inherits a cabin and a dogsled team in Alaska. His efforts to master dog sledding are recorded in the film as he meets bumps, bruises and bears.

On one occasion when he is learning the ropes, the dogs suddenly go into high gear. Brooks is thrown in the deep Alaskan snow. He struggles to his feet, grumbling and brushing off the snow, suddenly a large shadow covers his own, and he realises that he is not alone. A large grizzly bear is only a few metres away. When the bear roars, displaying a full set of sharp teeth, Brooks begins to run.

Just as it appears the bear is going to win the race, Brooks falls off a cliff and lands on a precipice. As he shouts victoriously, "Iím alive! Iím alive!" the precipice gives way, dropping Brooks to a steep slope, where he rockets down the mountain like a bobsled, narrowly missing tree after tree. He screams all the way down, until he finally comes to a halt.

He smiles, but his smile quickly fades when he realises he is lying on a thin layer of ice covering a lake. As the ice begins to crack beneath him, he lunges forward, leaving a trail of ice water in his wake. He lands on what appears to be a solid piece of floating ice, and begins to sink.

So what does anyone in this kind of predicament do? He reaches for his mobile phone. He dials the emergency number, only to hear the message, "You are outside your coverage area. Should you like to expand your service, please call back during business hours".

This is not just the stuff that movies are made of. In 1983, in Naples, Italy, 45 year old Vittorio Luiseís car was blow into a river by a fierce gust of wind. He managed to break out a window, climb out and swim to shore. When he scrambled to the shore, the wind blew over a tree that fell on him and killed him.

Maybe you havenít been dumped by a dogsled team, chased by a bear, slid down a mountain, land on thin ice, dive for something that appears to be solid and secure, only to find that this gets you into deeper trouble, but Iím sure you can relate to times in your life when it seems that one disaster seems to follow after another. No sooner are you over one crisis, than another arises. Just when you think that things couldnít possibly get any worse, they do. These are times when you are at your wits end coping with the things that are happening.

The goods news is that help is just a call away. And God wonít tell you to call back in business hours. Today we hear Jesus telling us about prayer. He knew that his disciples would soon been thrown into turmoil when the events of his arrest and trial, the beatings, the laughing and mockery, and finally the crucifixion begin to unfold. And just when they thought things couldnít get any worse the first visitors to Jesusí grave report that the grave is open and Jesusí body is gone. Jesus knew that during this time they will need to be fully aware of the help that is just a prayer away.

God is waiting for us to call on his help Ė to call on him to use his power. He is waiting to help us when we need it the most. And so Jesus tells his disciples about praying.

Itís interesting to note that Jesus doesnít teach the disciples any special skills. He doesnít say if you fold your hands or hold them palms up toward heaven, or rest them on the particular person you are praying for, or kneel or stand or sit, or use a special style of language, you are more likely to have your prayers answered.

If that were the case then the answer to our prayers would be a human achievement not something that comes from the gracious and loving hand of God. Like our salvation Ė that doesnít depend on all the good things we can do and so impress God so that he will let us into heaven. God comes down to us in the form of his Son Jesus and gives us salvation through his death on the cross.

So it is with prayer - no special prayer techniques have to be applied to achieve prayer success. Half the time we donít know what to pray and when we do, we pray selfishly, without faith or conviction. Sometimes we feel that God isnít even listening.

Letís be clear about what prayer is. Prayer is not having special skills and saying the right words so that we can reach Godís ear. If that were the case, when would we sinful, weak humans ever get it right? We would never be able to say the right things to move God to answer us.

The picture that comes to mind when talking about prayer is one of a small child who wants to tell his dad something really important. What does dad do? He bends down, lovingly puts his arm around the child and lets the child whisper in his ear. In this sense then prayer is not so much us reaching up to God with special words or techniques, but it is God reaching down to us.

Even the whispers of the small child in a fatherís ear might be soft and stammering, so infant-like, but the father hears the words of his child as the most precious things he has ever heard. He hears the incomplete sentences and funny words with the love of a father. He hears the soft requests with love when the child is hurting. In the same way, God hears our prayers.

Praying then is being in presence of our heavenly Father who is ready at any moment to listen to our words, our whispers, our groans and sighs, and answer with his love.

How do we know that God will help us? Paul wrapped it up in one sentence: "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not give us all things through him?" God's great gift of the cross and the glorious resurrection put beyond all doubt how God feels about us. We know that God would not have let Jesus die on the cross if he did not have a strong burning love for each one of us. And besides Jesus promises, "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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened". Thatís a promise from God that he will listen to our prayers and respond with the most loving answer. Simple trust in God is the basis of all our prayers.

A man by the name of Hallesby wrote a book in 1948 about prayer. Itís an old book but a good one. He summarises in this way,

"Jesus comes to the sinner, awakens him from his sleep of sin, converts him, forgives him his sins, and make him his child. Then he takes the weak hand of the sinner and places it in his own strong, nail-pierced hand and says: "Come now, I am going with you all the way and will bring you safe home to heaven. If you ever get into trouble or difficulty, just tell me about it. I will give you, without reproach, everything you need, and more besides, day by day, as long as you live." (Prayer, IVP p30)

You might well ask then, "Why are there some prayers that God just doesnít answer?
The parents praying for a sick child, but the child dies.
The prayers for the healing of disease, and yet the disease continues to ravage the body.
The prayer for peace and yet war and terrorism still haunt our planet.

Life deals up to us some cruel situations at times and we wonder why God has not stepped in to help us and to show something of that power that has been so evident in times gone by. There seems to be no response from God at all. The situation continues, and we wonder what God has in store for us, in fact, we may wonder whether there is a God at all.

But it is also a fact that sometimes we don't recognise the answers that God gives to our prayers. God always richly supplies, but sometimes we don't notice what he has done because he answers in a way so different to what we had expected. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that his agony might be taken away. What was the answer he received? Was he relieved of that suffering and pain? His answer was something different to what he had requested in his prayer. He still had to face the cross with all its cruel agony.

Looking at Godís answers to our prayers in a child-parent relationship, I can recall my parents saying "no" to some of my requests. At the time I didnít understand why they said "no", I questioned their answer and even told them I didnít agree. Sometimes they said, wait a while, wait until you are older Ė again I didnít agree and couldnít see why they answered like that.

If sinful parents do this because of their love for their children, then how much more will the heavenly Father give what is good because of his never-ending, perfect love for us. At the time we may not understand why our request was knocked back. Like a child, we may not understand Godís answer but only believe that when God says "no" to us, he does so in love.

What is more, God who is all knowing and all wise can see the bigger picture much better than we can.
Even though we don't understand,
even though what is happening is painful,
even though it is not the course we desire,
even though we can't imagine what good could come from these things,
we can trust Godís love for us, especially the promise of love he made at our baptism.
We can trust him because his wisdom and power are far greater than ours. He is able to bring blessings from our adversities.

And finally, we can trust his grace and forgiveness.
There will those times when we will throw up our hands in horror and question "why".
There will be times when our faith will be tested.
There will be times when we will doubt the love and the wisdom of God.

When people donít trust us, we react negatively. But when we donít trust God, he reacts with an even greater love. He forgives us through his Son and encourages us with his Word of promise. Thank God that he doesnít leave us to simply work things out ourselves. He is there to help us. And even though we may not know how we will get through a difficult time . . . we know that with Godís love embracing us we will get through it

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th July, 2004

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