7 Pentecost, Proper 12 – July 24, 2022
Our passage from Luke’s gospel today begins with Jesus “praying in a certain place.” When he has finished praying, one of his disciples asks, “Lord, teach us to pray…” . In response, Jesus offers a three-part teaching, including a model prayer, a parable about prayer, and some sayings about prayer.
But isn’t it interesting that one of Jesus’ disciples asks about how to pray? The disciples weren’t ignorant or inexperienced in prayer. They most likely grew up attending Sabbath services, lifting their hands upward in worship, or lying prone on the ground to make their confessions. They knew how to pray. So, what they sought was not a better technique. But what was it? What did they observe in Jesus when he prayed?
We can’t know for sure, but they likely saw a sense of: Intimacy. Of Belonging. Of Trust. Of Peace. A closeness that was transformative and nourishing. “Lord, teach us to pray.” In other words, teach us to attain what you have attained. Teach us to be with God as you are with God. To commune as you commune. To communicate as you communicate.
Jesus is essentially telling us that prayer is about a relationship with God. It seems that when we think of prayer, we often think of it as a passive activity. Not passive in the sense that we don’t believe what we pray or don’t care deeply about what we’re praying about. What I mean is that it can be passive in the sense that we might assume prayer is all about praying – you know, praying and then waiting around until God answers or doesn’t answer.
But what if that’s not the case at all? What if prayer isn’t simply a petition I send to God but rather is part of a more active and full relationship with God. A relationship with a God whose mercy cannot be exhausted.
Prayer, from this point of view, is less like putting a message in a bottle and setting it adrift in the sea and more like the regular conversation we have with others with whom we are in relationship.
Think, in particular, about Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to “pray without ceasing.” I don’t think Paul meant spending all day sitting with your hands folded and your eyes closed. Instead, I think Paul imagined our whole lives – our thinking and acting and very being – offered to God as a prayer.
And, that would look like the persistence or shamelessness in the parable of the friend at midnight. It is a relationship. God is always present for us, always ready to hear. Ask, and the door will be opened.
I was once told that the saying, “prayer changes things” was not accurate – what really happens is that “prayer changes people”. Prayer changes people.
Read carefully today, and you will find that there is only one promise in this entire Gospel lesson. Jesus concludes his teaching on prayer with a striking sentence: “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!” What Jesus promises us in answer to our prayers is the Holy Spirit.
Here’s the actual promise: when we pray, when we persist in prayer, when we name our longings in prayer without fear or compromise, God will never fail to give us God’s own, abundant, indwelling and overflowing Self as the answer we actually need. God will not withhold God’s loving, consoling, healing, transforming, and empowering Spirit from us.
Maybe this is what the disciples sensed in Jesus when they watched him pray. Maybe the presence of the Spirit radiating through Jesus is what compelled them to go deeper in their own prayer lives. Whatever the “yes” was, it suffused Jesus’s whole being. However the Spirit manifested herself in Jesus’s life, it was so beautiful and so compelling, the disciples wanted to experience her, too.
So here’s the question for us: do we consider the “yes” of God’s Spirit a sufficient response to our prayers? If God’s guaranteed answer to our petitions is God’s own self, can we live with that?
Perhaps, then, I wouldn’t just sit back and wait for God to answer but would start moving, get to work, actually start living into the reality of what I’ve prayed for. Jesus urges his followers, us, to persist in prayer. This doesn’t necessarily mean we need to increase the volume and pray the same things over and over all day. It means that with a God like this the door is always open. An occasion for relationship always exists.
Let’s face it, don’t we often want God to sweep in and fix everything much more than we want God’s Spirit to fill and accompany us so that we can do our part to heal the world. Resting in God’s yes requires vulnerability, patience, courage, discipline and trust — traits we can only cultivate in prayer.
So we pray. We pray because Jesus wants us to. We pray because it’s what God’s children do. We pray because we yearn and our yearning is precious to God. And we pray because what we need most — whether we recognize it or not — is God’s own Spirit pouring God’s self into us. With words, without words, through laughter, through tears, in hope, and in despair, our prayers usher in God’s Spirit, and remind us that we are not alone in this broken, aching world. God’s Spirit is our Yes.
In the words of Ann Lamott: Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence … Prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold.
Jesus is saying…don’t walk past an opportunity for intimacy with the Divine. Ask for the Holy Spirit. Knock and the door will be opened. Prayer changes people. Lord, teach us to pray. Amen.