Sunday, July 24, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 11:1-13 & Genesis 18:20-32
Several years ago, a book entitled “Prayer-Does It Make A Difference”, by Philip Yancey grabbed my attention and I just had to read it. It’s a great book and if you’d like to read it, it will be in the library in the parlor. The book addresses the question, “Does praying make a difference? It’s a question that I’m certain has crossed everyone’s mind at one time or another. It’s easy to say, “What’s the point?” especially when bad news continues to pour into your life. Each one of us has challenges we face. Family and friends who are experiencing some kind of trouble – some of them sick or dying, chronic illnesses that we have to deal with, job situations that are shaky or lacking, financial worries, relationships in turmoil, and a long list of things I could add to the list. We pray for an end to the pain and suffering. We pray for answers, but often the answers don’t come. In fact, often things continue to get worse. The temptation is to ask, “Does prayer make any difference?”
We ask the question because evil does seem to be triumphing. I know I’m not the only one who is more and more discouraged and sickened every time I hear from the news about another racially motivated murder, or another mass shooting. Every day brings the story of another tragedy. And while we may not know these people on the news, what happens to them should matter to us because we are all connected. We are all God’s children. Violence against any person is violence against us all. Our hearts are heavy with the daily unfolding of these stories, and we can be tempted to give in to despair or worse yet, apathy, that this is just the way things are. The temptation is to ask, “Does prayer make any difference?”
Our first reading from Genesis is a perfect example of this kind of situation. If we had a news camera on the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, we would see similar images of what is happening today – people who are hurting one another, theft, violence, and murders. When we think of Sodom and Gomorrah today we tend to think of particular crimes, but the sin of those cities was the sin of every place even today. It all boils down to one thing – a lack of love, a lack of compassion, a lack of mercy, and a lack of hospitality. They weren’t treating each other with the love of God. The outcry in these cities was great, and some most likely began to ask if their prayers made any difference. In situations when evil seems to be winning, it’s easy to think this way. It’s tempting to think that God either isn’t listening or doesn’t care.
But our story in Genesis shows that God does care, and cares deeply. And it shows the nature and power of prayer. Abraham had a direct and open dialogue with God on behalf of the people of those cities. He asked God not to let them be destroyed even for the sake of 50 righteous people, and God agreed. But Abraham was persistence, bold even when he continued to plead for the people. What if there were only 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally ten. Abraham was bold in his conversation with God. It took courage because Abraham admitted that he was “but dust and ashes.” In comparison to God, Abraham knew his place. He knew that he didn’t have all the answers, and he was really taking a chance in repeatedly going back to God. So why did Abraham keep at it? Why did he keep pleading with God? Because he truly cared about the people of those cities. He wanted justice for them, and so he advocated to God on their behalf. That’s what real prayer is all about. It’s not about what is best for us, but it is thinking of what is best for everyone. It’s not praying for our will, but God’s will to be done. And God’s will is always for justice, mercy, and love.
Growing up, my parents had a record by Tennessee Ernie Ford (I know I’m dating myself by saying that) with a song on it entitled “Others.” The lyrics began: “Lord help me live from day to day in such a self forgetful way, that even when I kneel to pray, my prayers may be for others. Others, Lord, yes others, let this my motto be. Help me to live for others that I may live like thee.” The song was a beautiful prayer asking God to help us live for others. This is mission of every Christian, to live a life not just for ourselves, but for others. Abraham’s prayer was for others, and Jesus’ prayer that he taught his disciples – and that includes us – is for others.
In the Lord’s prayer that Jesus taught us we pray “give us each day our daily bread.” We are not asking for the things we need individually each day in order to live, but we are also advocating on behalf of others that God will give them what they need to live each day. When we pray “forgive us our sins” we are praying that God will not only forgive our sins, but the sins of those who have hurt us as well. When we pray, “do not bring us to the time of trial” we are asking God to preserve all of us from any situation that would cause us to lose our faith. The Lord’s prayer is not just a prayer that God will provide for our daily needs, but that God will provide for the daily needs of all people. This prayer says, that praying makes a difference.
Jesus certainly believed that. The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus prayed all the time. Luke chapter 5 says Jesus, “would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” In chapter six we read that “he went out to the mountains to pray” and he “prayed before he chose his apostles.” In chapter nine we read that Jesus prayed when he fed the crowd of 5000. He prayed alone and with only the disciples with him. He prayed the night before he died and he even prayed from the cross. Jesus’ whole life was a life of prayer. This is the example Jesus expects of us as well.
Living a life of prayer helps us to see that prayer is not always for asking for what we want. It’s not always about trying to change God’s mind, or changing a particular situation. Prayer is about having a relationship with God and the result is that prayer changes us. Prayer helps us to find ourselves, to become – as far as it possible – who we really are. For example, when we pray the Lord’s prayer, and we ask God to give us our daily bread, we are admitting that we are dependent on God for what we need. When we ask God to forgive us, we are admitting that we are guilty and in need of being healed. When we ask God to lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, we are admitting that we are lost and vulnerable and in need of a savior. Living a life of prayer as Jesus did shows us that we need God power through the Holy Spirit to be who God created us to be and do what God asks of us to do. Prayer makes a difference because prayer is not a passive act. The more we pray, the more prayer changes us – for the better.
In our gospel story today, Jesus tells a parable of someone who goes to a friend in need and says that even though his friend may not want to get up and help him – which is absurd because a friend will always help – he will help because of the person’s persistence. The Greek word is actually best translated not as persistence, but as shamelessness. In other words, Jesus is telling us we must be shameless, or bold in our prayers just like Abraham was in the reading from Genesis. We have to speak up, tell God what we need and expect that God will not only hear but answer. Jesus gives us that assurance.
“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!” How much more – those are the key words. God gives to us abundantly and pours out abundantly the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude (strength), and the fear of the Lord, which is wonder or awe. And the fruits of the Spirit are reflected in our lives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These fruits of the Spirit are summed up in love. So if we pray for the Holy Spirit, we receive an abundance. How much more could we possible want? How much more is needed? Prayer opens up a floodgate of blessings if we pray as Jesus taught us – from the heart and out of love for God and others.
Does prayer make a difference? It most definitely does. It makes a difference in that in stops us from thinking only of ourselves, and turns us toward God. Prayer keeps our focus on God and when we do that we see that evil only seems to be winning. Jesus has already triumphed over evil. Jesus has already triumphed over death. Jesus has already saved us by his grace. Now as disciples we are to tell others of what God has already done. And God’s prayer is answered through us.
This week, pray with boldness. Don’t hold back. Pray for each other, pray for this congregation, and pray for all God’s children. Tell God how you feel and thank God for always being with us to listen. When evil seems to be winning, when life seems to be overwhelming, remember Jesus is risen. Death and evil have already lost. It’s up to us to spread the love and light of Christ. That’s how the news reports will improve. We need to pray for an abundance of love. Be bold in your prayer and ask God to let you shine God’s love brightly for others. Amen.