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The Mission

The Mission

Reading: Luke 11:1-13

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: 
”Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. Then Jesus said to them, "Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' And suppose the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“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. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:1-13)

Introduction: The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem: It’s one of those “must see” parts of a trip to Israel and the Old City in Jerusalem. It’s also a place full of tears and memories, hopes and dreams – some fulfilled, some shattered. I actually got to the Wailing Wall twice on our recent trip. In both cases, however, my time there was more about observing others than it was a time of contemplation or silence or my own heart-cries to God. I suppose it was safer that way – watching others trying to find cracks in the wall to stuff in their written prayers, watching others reading Torah, or talking with other members of their group, sitting back in cool observation that the space allotted to women was about 1/3 the size of the space given to men. All the while not being able to get out of my head all that there is to pray for if one lives in Israel these days. All there is to ask for, to seek God’s intervention, that he might bring about his kingdom and his peace, bring his healing and comfort and resolution to seemingly unsolvable human problems.

For the last three weeks, Dean has been leading us in our own reconsideration of Jesus’ teaching on prayer from these verses in Luke 11. As one writer describes it (Joel Green), Jesus is not so much presenting a new technology of prayer as he is giving us a new worldview of prayer. It’s easy enough to memorize the words, particularly in Luke’s shortened version. But more is at stake than technique or the content of the petitions. Yes, the disciples were probably asking a prayer technology question – Jesus, give us the right words and times and places of prayer like the Pharisees have their memorized prayers and times and places, like John the Baptizer taught his disciples.

The rituals of prayer abounded in the first century world, just as the rituals of prayer at the Wailing Wall continue today. To be in Jerusalem today, in fact, is to live through competing rituals. One awakens every morning to loud speaker blasts of Muslim chants calling people to prayer, and at appointed times throughout the day, the sound of Muslim calls to prayer echoes in the city. What makes this teaching time so intriguing in Luke is that the ritual itself is so short – no 18 petitions of the synagogue worship, just a series of reflections on relationship with a God who has revealed himself as Abba – as a papa longing to be in relationship with his children.

Longing for God’s kingdom to come still sends one to the wailing wall today, just as watching the Palestinian refugees flee the starvation of the Gaza strip makes us pray for an end to hunger, and the need for forgiveness in relationships is at the heart of all that we dislike about ourselves as humans. What we most long to be forgiven over has a way of making us face the fact that we’ve not yet gotten over temptation, that the reality of our humanness is that we all have addictive personalities – it’s just that some addictions are more socially or morally acceptable than others. The point of the prayer is that God is the center of attention. God is the one revealed as Abba in love with his whole creation.

Dean has led us through much of the commentary that Jesus himself offers on this new worldview. Jesus goes on to illustrate what for him are obvious reasons for believing these words. First he tells a story that would have been ludicrous and downright laughable to his hearers. In the first century world, hospitality was so closely tied to honor and identity, that being a proper host was not just about personal honor, it was about community honor. When Jesus sent out the 72 (Luke 10), remember that how they were received at a particular house was indicative of their reception in a whole town. When peace was received in a particular house, it was received in the town. If peace was refused in a particular house, that was indicative of refusal in the whole town. So if a guest comes in the middle of the night and the householder has no bread to offer, he turns to his neighbor for help in protecting his honor. Even though it is terribly inconvenient, the neighbor will rise to protect the honor and hospitality of his neighbor and the community. Surely our heavenly Father is at least that interested in us!

So, Jesus says, ask and it will be given; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Earthly fathers don’t give their children a snake when they ask for a fish. Early fathers don’t give scorpions when the child asks for an egg. These are laughable examples. Earthly fathers who are part of this world (“evil” Jesus calls it) know how to treat their children appropriately. How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

It is that last phrase that changes everything in the instructions. Given the opportunity to ask, seek and knock, our petitioning usually shifts away from Abba and onto the conditions of life immediately around us. Even in our most pious moments, when we admit that asking and seeking and knocking must not be about our own self-centered desires, we still ask for God to take care of all that’s wrong in the world around us. To go to the Wailing Wall is to seek for Creator God to put this world to rights, to clean up this mess we have made. In my own prayer life, to ask seek and knock is to have God intervene in the ambiguity and anxiety of either other peoples’ stuff or my own. God, I’m asking you to clean up this mess I’ve made of my life, to bring healing to this person I love where medical technology isn’t getting it done, to intervene in that broken relationship or this addiction. God, make me more loving and kind and patient, or more disciplined, or…..fill in the blank.

Matthew’s version of Jesus’ teaching almost seems to encourage this approach, because in Matthew 7 Jesus says, “how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask.” But here, Jesus says the Father longs to give the Holy Spirit to his children. We are thrust back into the story Luke has been telling – back to those earliest references to the Holy Spirit in the birth narrative. It was the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary and brought about her pregnancy. It was the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth that caused her own baby to leap in her womb at the sight of “the mother of my Lord.” Zechariah was mute and unable to speak until after the birth of his son. He spoke again only when he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Simeon recognized Mary and Joseph and the baby they were bringing to dedicate in the temple only because he was filled with the Holy Spirit.

More to the point, at the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and a voice from heaven announced “You are my beloved son.” To receive the Holy Spirit from Abba is to be named in relationship with Creator God as his beloved child! From that point on, it is the Holy Spirit that accompanies and even leads Jesus wherever he goes in life. It is the Holy Spirit that fills Jesus and leads him into the wilderness where there is no temptation Satan can throw at him that he cannot overcome. Jesus returns to Galilee and to Nazareth in the power of the Spirit and it is the Spirit of the Lord upon him that leads to his mission in the world: to announce good news to the poor, to preach release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, and announce the acceptable year of the Lord. Apart from God’s announcement of Sonship made whole through the reception of the Holy Spirit, Jesus doesn’t go anywhere or do anything in Luke’s account.

When Jesus prays himself in chapter 10 the words addressed to God are preceded by Luke’s description that Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants, for such is your gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and whomever the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:21-22). In other words, in the Holy Spirit the Father and his children are known to each other. So the babies see what the wise and understanding miss. The world that Jesus opens to his disciples in prayer is the world in relationship to Abba.

To ask and have it given to us, to seek and find, to knock and have the door opened – these are not invitations to petition God about our independent lives. The “how much more” that God wishes to give is the same announcement over each one of us that he announced over Jesus. He longs to give his Holy Spirit and say “You are my beloved Son. You are my beloved Daughter.” There is no greater gift than to receive the Holy Spirit and be announced in the heavens as child of Abba.

It’s a strange thing, really: Creator of the Universe waiting for us humans made in his image to ask; to seek; to knock; that we might be filled with God-presence – the Holy Spirit – in order that he might be fully known to us in relationship. In Luke’s story, you have to wait until volume two for the Spirit to be poured out on all flesh. And even though that Pentecost moment seems unique to those people in that time, we are told that the promise is to all whom the Lord our God calls to him.

Think for a moment how not just the mission of our praying but the mission of life is changed by these words. The mission of prayer never was the development of a formula to get God’s attention. It was never about learning a ritual to recite or understanding the simplicity the four petitions, or developing a vocabulary to expand the ingredients of the prayer properly. The mission is the relationship!
God longs to hear his children asking, seeking, knocking that he might pour his Holy Spirit into us just as he did into Jesus and name us as his beloved children.

Yes, the Holy Spirit can then announce God’s larger mission to the world through us. Yes, the Holy Spirit can then empower us as the conduit of God’s activity in the world. The Holy Spirit then creates unity among believers, and sends them into the world to announce good news to the poor and release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed.

In this worldview, relationship with Abba is the mission. IF we who are parents know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our Abba give his Holy Spirit to his children! So we ask this morning, believing that Creator God wants to know us as his children. We seek this morning, believing that Abba is not distracted or absent or hard to locate. We knock this morning, assured that our Papa has opened himself to us that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit – with God-presence. Earnestly praying that in the coming of his kingdom our lives may reflect the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That we might move beyond the technology of prayer to the worldview of relationship. That we might know the mission we have been graced with. That the Holy Spirit might work in us to announce God’s gift to all creation. So we pray this morning:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.” And we believe that God longs to gift us afresh with the Holy Spirit and say over us, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well-pleased!”

Delivered at Woodmont Hills, January 27, 2008.

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