A sermon preached at Canterbury Place
a Senior Community and home for assisted living in Lawrenceville, Pa.
In today’s gospel Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray
Growing up in a Christian home where prayer was an everyday part of life, I took it for granted that everyone knew how to pray. It was something that came naturally. Which is why I’ll never forget when a friend of mine, new to the faith, admitted to me with great embarrassment that he wasn’t really sure how to pray. “What is the secret he asked?” His question took me off guard, “I’m not really sure there is a secret, you just open your heart to God and talk with him.”
Prayer is simple, honest, and heartfelt and an intimate relationship of trust with God is the secret to a life of prayer. When asked, Jesus gives his disciples the key: God is your Father. When you pray, look to God as your Father and yourself as the son or daughter of his love.
God is a king, our creator, he is Holy, he is infinitely greater than any created thing, and yet Jesus tells us to address him not in the groveling and indirect way that a peasant would address royalty, but as a child would address her father. Did you ever consider what a great privilege it is to have such direct access to the God and creator of the universe?
At this point it is important that I acknowledge that the idea of Father is deeply ambiguous to many and downright difficult for others. Maybe our own fathers were not always as loving as they should have been. Maybe our fathers were absent or inattentive. Although our Fathers may not have been perfect, God is the perfect Father that every heart yearns to know. This is the way we must think of God, as the one who loves us unconditionally and is always there for us.
Jesus tells the story of a man who needed to borrow some bread, but the man was reluctant to get up to help him because he had put the locks on the door, put the kids to sleep, and was comfortable in bed. “God Away!” he says. His neighbor will not take no for an answer, however, and so eventually the man gets up to give him what he wants just so he will stop bothering him.
Is God like the reluctant neighbor who needed to be pestered and begged before he got up to help? The neighbor helps not so much because the strength of his relationship to the man who asked, but because of his persistence. He says enough already, here it is, just go away!
God is different. He is our Father. Think about the little girl who wakes her father in the middle of the night to ask for a glass of water. Who else could get away with that? If you woke in the middle of the night to find a guest in your home at the foot of your bed asking for a glass of water, you would be incredibly irritated. Let’s be honest, even if your spouse woke you for a glass of water you would probably role over with a huff and say, “Get it yourself!” But your child is different! They can come to you with whatever they need at anytime because you are their parent. In fact we love to give to them!
Its true we are human, we get tired, we grumble. I’ll confess, when my one year old daughter wakes in the middle of the night crying, I don’t always leap up immediately to go to her! Although, I may elbow my wife to wake her saying “The baby is crying!” My wife might grumble too, but because she is our daughter, we can never allow her to cry for more than a few moments before we get up to attend to her. How much more God! He never tires, he is never selfish, he never grows weary of caring for us.
Jesus teaches us to ask, seek, and knock.
Our Father wants us to ask him for the things we need. He wants us to bring our longing and desires to him.
Remember though, God is our Father and not our Jeanie! He wants to see us happy, he wants to give us good gifts, but more than anything he wants what is best for us. He will never withhold from us what is necessary for us to be the people he has called us to be, but he knows better than us what we really need.
Children do not always understand what they are asking for do they? They can’t understand why their parents cannot give them the things they ask for. What is the Cliché? When asked what she would like for her birthday, a little girls says, “Daddy I want a pony!”
If you are a father that loves to see your child happy, you might very well wish that you could give her a pony! The fact is, however, you might not be able to afford it! Would it be in her best interest if you went bankrupt? It is more important that she have food and shelter than a pony. She might not understand, but it is in her best interest to say no.
We may not understand why God does not give us exactly what we ask for, but it is never because he is not generous or he does not love us.
Who knows, maybe you are wealthy and you can afford to buy your daughter a whole stable full of ponies! Is it always wise to give your children everything that they ask for? Many parents have a lot of zeal to give gifts to their children, but they don’t have wisdom. It is possible to spoil our children by giving them, indiscriminately, every thing they ask. What kind of character does that create? It can make them spoiled and entitled people who always have to have their own way. That would not be in their best interest either!
In the Letter of James we read : “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3). Because God loves us, he will not indulge of selfish inclinations.
Because God is our all wise and all loving Father, he may sometimes have to deny our request, in our best interest.
The one thing he is always ready to give to us and will never refuse us is his love. We never have to beg him to love us. There is nothing we must do to earn his affection, it is ours because we are his own children. More than anything else, he wants to give us his Holy Spirit. He wants us to know that we are his Children and that he is our Father.
If we ask God, he will send us the Holy Spirit to come and live in our heart. The Holy Spirit is the one who testifies with our spirit that we are beloved children of God and heirs of his eternal kingdom.
Saint Paul writes, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:6-7.
To be an heir means that all that God has belongs to us. There is no good thing we lack if we have God as our Father!
God’s plan was always that we would be his Children and know him as our Father. This is the blessing he gave to us by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die as one of us. The bible says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren Romans 8:29.
In Jesus Christ, God looks at humanity and says, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased!” When you come before God in prayer, do so knowing that he loves us as his very own children, and say “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name!”