9 Pentecost Proper C12
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 11:1-13 Sermon
July 25, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
459 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
458 "Prayer Is The Soul's Sincere Desire"
452 "Lord Teach Us How To Pray"
193 "On What Has Now Been Sown"
A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY
TEXT (vs. 9-10): [Jesus said] "9 So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."
The year was 1930, and Molly was 8 years old. She was a happy and precocious child, and pretty much like any other 8 year old, except for one thing. Molly had developed a debilitating problem with her hip joints. The solution for this was for her to have several sessions of some rather complicated orthopaedic surgery. It would be a painful process, and recovery would be slow. There would be countless hours of difficult physical therapy before she would be able to return to a normal lifestyle. This would be a huge burden for anybody, especially for a frightened and apprehensive 8-year-old girl.
The day before her first operation, the orthopaedic surgeon came in to see her. He was a kind and caring doctor who knew just how to talk to somebody like Molly. He knew that it would help her if she had something to help her think past her pain and discomfort, and also give her something to look forward to during those long days ahead of her.
So the doctor reached into his pocket, and pulled out a brand-new 50-cent coin. He placed it into Molly's hand and said, "Whenever you are hurting or in pain, I want you to squeeze this coin and think of all the nice things you will be able to buy with it when everything is over."
Now back in 1930, 50 cents was a lot of money for anybody, especially an 8 year-old child. So when the doctor gave her the coin, her eyes lit up and she got this broad grin on her face. And to show her appreciation, she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a big kiss on his cheek.
The next day when Molly was ready to be taken into the operating room, she refused to let go of that 50-cent coin. The scrub nurse, knowing what the surgeon had done, told Molly she could keep it, but that she would fasten it to the palm of her hand with a little bit of adhesive tape so it wouldn't get lost.
Several weeks later, the surgeon came by to see how Molly was getting along with her physical therapy. He noticed that she was still holding on to that 50-cent coin. So he asked her, "Molly, have you been thinking about all of the nice things you can buy for yourself with that 50 cents once all this is over?"
And Molly replied, "Oh no sir; I haven't been thinking about that at all." And then she held up the coin, and pointed to something. "Do you see what it says right here on this coin? It says 'In God We Trust.' When I hold on to this coin, I know that I'm holding on to the hand of Jesus. I know he is right here with me. I talk to him a lot. He knows what is going on with me, and he understands what I say. And when the pain gets too bad and all I can do is cry, he knows that too, and he listens to me. When I lie awake at night, he is right here beside me. I know he is always with me, holding me in his hand; and he has promised me that he will never leave me."
This morning, our text talks about prayer. The disciples ask Jesus about how they should be praying, and Jesus gives them a concise but appropriate answer. Our Gospel lesson from Luke gives an abbreviated form of what we know as "The Lord's Prayer." The longer version we normally use is recorded in Matthew chapter 6, but Luke's summary gives us the key points.
If we look at the two illustrations that Jesus uses, we can see two very important aspects of prayer. The first one is the story about a man who goes to a friend late at night needing something. He persists in his requests, so his friend gets out of bed and gives him what he needs. This teaches us that we are to pray often, and urgently too. We have to trust that God will give us what we need. He might not always give us exactly what we want, but rather what we need. There is a huge difference between "want" and "need." We might want a brand-new Hummer, but what we need is transportation. You get the picture.
Secondly, and I think this is one of the more important things to remember; we are to approach God in much the same way that a child approaches a loving parent. A loving parent gives their child what they need out of nothing but pure love. That's the way we come to God, and that's what we can expect of him.
I find it difficult to understand some of the ways people handle prayer. It's almost like they have completely ignored what God has said in the Bible, and have replaced it with a lot of stuff that they have dreamed up themselves.
Have you ever had the occasion to witness the way people pray with their beads? They'll rattle off the same prayer over and over and over again. They'll get this monotone voice that completely lacks any expression and speak in a type of rapid auctioneer speech so they can get it over and done with as quickly as possible.
I can just picture God in heaven, sitting there, scratching his head and saying, "What in the world is wrong with you people? Do you think I actually like listening to all this? What's the point?"
It's like people have forgotten what prayer is, and they have instead replaced it with something they have dreamed up. They feel God is somehow pleased with quantity, and so quality goes out the window. But Jesus says just the opposite. In Matthew chapter 6 verses 7-8a he tells us: 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them...."
Or what about people who gather together and have those long, l-o-n-g, l---o---n---g prayer sessions? I went to a prayer service several years ago, and after about the first fifteen minutes, I was thinking to myself, "When is this guy ever going to shut up and sit down?" But then when one got done, another got up. This went on for almost two hours! I don't remember most of it, because quite frankly....well, let's just say I hope my snoring didn't disturb them too much.
Then there are those who whip themselves up into such a frenzy that they wind up jabbering in unintelligible sounds they call "spirit language." They call this emotional roller coaster confusion "prayer time," thinking that this is what God wants. It's more like the Tower of Babel all over again. I don't know what "God" they're talking about, but it can't be the God we read about in the Bible.
One of the post-graduate courses I had to complete was about prayer. In that course, they had three very easy rules to follow: short, simple, and to the point. In other words, a little certainly goes a long way.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus uses the example of a child asking a parent for something to illustrate the nature of prayer. Maybe we can think of it this way. Let's say that a teenager needs to borrow dad's car for something. Most of us would simply ask, "Hey dad, can I borrow the car tonight?" and leave it at that.
But could you imagine, instead of that, what it would be like if your teenager comes to you with their beads in hand and begins to rattle off an almost endless number of monotone expressionless prayers with the hope that at the end you would give them permission to borrow the car? You would probably either respond with, "Hey, let's cut to the chase; what is it that you want?" Or you might walk away and say, "Well, when you're done with whatever it is you are babbling on about, you can come back to me when you can ask me a straight question." In short, if you wouldn't like this kind of scenario in your life, how could anybody think that this is the type of communication God wants from us?
I began my sermon today with the illustration of a little girl holding on to a 50-cent coin to show how simple prayer should be, and indeed how a little goes a long way. Direct and honest communication with God is the important thing, and not how flowery the words are, or how many of them we can rattle off in a minute's time, or how many hours we can sit before we either fall asleep or succumb to the natural function of our kidneys.
Last week, we began to focus upon the fact that we need a relationship with Jesus, and not just a religion. Mary was forming that relationship by sitting at Jesus' feet and keeping in the Word. She was very attentive to what he was telling her. But you see, that's only half of a relationship.
A relationship requires there to be a two-way street. There has to be communication both ways. God speaks to us through his Word, namely the Bible. That's were we go to hear God speaking to us. That's where we go for comfort, strength, and direction for our lives. That's where we go to meet our Saviour Jesus Christ. And we know that God himself works faith in our hearts through that Word. That's how God communicates to us.
The way we communicate to God is through prayer. Matthew chapter 6 verse 8b says: "...your Father knows what you need before you ask him." But that should never be an excuse to not communicate with him. God wants this two-way communication between him and us to be strong and frequent. We do it for our benefit, and not because we're somehow earning his favor by doing it.
I think that our sermon hymn this morning is one of the best ones I know that describes what prayer is. Hymn 458 verse 2 says: "Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near." And then verse 3 says, "Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try; prayer the sublimest strains that reach, the Majesty on high." It's not complicated, it's not burdensome, and it doesn't need fancy articulate language. A sigh, a glance, a tear, an infant's simple speech--now that describes the type of communication God wants with his children.
The disciples ask Jesus about prayer, because they know how instrumental Jesus is in their communication with God. It's only through faith in Jesus that our prayers are heard and answered. The prayers of non-Christians do no good. God tells us in Isaiah chapter 1 verse 15: "When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen...." That's why Jesus tells us in John chapter 14 verse 6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Faith in Jesus is the foundation of our relationship with him. We come to him as sinful human beings with no hope of God even hearing our cries for mercy without him. But when Jesus our Saviour comes into our lives through faith alone, we not only have our sins forgiven and our sin-stained lives washed clean, but we have that open path of communication directly to our Father's throne in heaven. We can't construct that road to God on our own by anything we have done, but only through faith in Jesus Christ alone. We can't come to God through religion, but only through a faith relationship with Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Little 8-year-old Molly had a relationship with Jesus. It was because of this relationship that she was able to find the strength and encouragement to continue on through some very tough struggles in her young life. Holding on to that 50-cent coin reminded her that Jesus was with her, holding on to her hand, listening to her, and being her constant friend.
Molly's pastor came into her hospital room. "What are you holding in your hand, Molly?" her pastor asked. Molly smiled. "I'm holding this," she said, as she held up that 50-cent coin. You see, Molly was now over 80 years old. She was suffering from the fourth stage of cancer. She knew her days on earth were short, and that Jesus would be taking her home very soon.
Molly told her pastor the story of how she got that 50-cent coin, and what those words "In God We Trust" meant to her throughout her life. It described her personal relationship with Jesus her Saviour, and how she was assured that he walked hand-in-hand with her through faith throughout her life. And as her body began to get more and more frail because of her cancer, and through her many chemotherapy treatments, she kept that 50-cent coin clutched in her hand. Jesus was the friend she could always talk to any time; he was always with her, and he always understood what she was going through.
Molly was holding that 50-cent coin in her hand when she breathed her last. At her funeral, that well-worn silver coin was lying on her chest just above her folded hands. Everybody wondered what it was all about as they filed past her casket.
When the pastor went to the pulpit and began his sermon, he held it up for everybody to see. Then he said, "Molly wanted me to tell you the story about this 50-cent coin you all saw." And then he told the story about this faithful Christian woman's relationship with her Saviour, and how they walked hand-in-hand together throughout her life. Through the good times and through the difficult days, Jesus was the friend she could always talk to. Jesus was the friend who always understood and always cared.
Molly knew that with prayer, a little goes a long way. She didn't need fancy words, or long drawn-out monologues. She wasn't out to impress anybody with fancy rituals. She also knew her relationship with Jesus wasn't based upon rapid-firing a lot of repetitive words. A 50-cent coin inscribed with "In God We Trust" was all she needed to remind her about her faith relationship with Jesus Christ, what he had done for her, and how much he loved her.
This morning, as you think about Molly talking to Jesus in simple prayer, clutching on to that 50-cent coin, I want you to think about the words of an old country Gospel song:
"I don't worry o'er the future, for I know what Jesus said; and today I'll walk beside him, for he knows what lies ahead. Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand; but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know who holds my hand."