The Difference is You
8/8/04Times New RomanArial
Our text teaches us concerning prayer. There is the sharpest of law here, and the sweetest of Gospel. The difference is you.
The first thing I say to you on the basis of this text is, "Have you no shame?" The question, "Have you no shame?" is meant to shame a person. You might say to a child who's taking their thirds when some haven't had firsts, "Have you no shame?" You've probably seen a man or woman on a reality show doing something risque and thought, "Have you no shame?" So I ask you in regard to your prayer life, "Have you no shame?"
You don't pray, do you? Other than a Lord's Prayer muttered every now and again, you don't pray about those weighty concerns you have. Think about the problems that confront you; the situations you are in; the troubles facing your kids, yet you say nothing to the God of all grace. Maybe you're like the telephone lineman. He's fixing a pastor's phone while 3 pastors are discussing when they pray best. One says during the divine liturgy. One said in his study, and the other says on his walks. The telephone lineman says, "I pray best when hanging upside down from the top of a telephone poll." Yup, you go to God when there is some big crises, but not everyday not about ordinary things. Shame on you.
In junior confirmation, the kids do worksheets on the Lord's Prayer. One of the questions is, "Why is it a good practice to have regular times and a regular place for prayer?" The book's answer is, "Those who pray at the same time and in the same place are the ones who pray." Ouch. Shame on you! You have no time or place for regular prayer, do you?
The biggest shame of all is that you feel no shame about not praying or for only praying at those hanging-from-the-telephone-poll times. Didn't you listen to the hymn we just sung? "Prayer is the Christian's vital breath,/ The Christian's native air." A sign of physical life is breathing; a sign of spiritual life is praying. Difficulty or lack of breathing is a sign that your physical life is in danger. Difficulty or lack of praying is a sign that your spiritual life is in danger. Not only shame on you, but grave danger to you.
Quite often lack of prayer is hidden under the pious sounding excuse. "I don't want to bother God with my small problems." Shame on you! You wicked, wicked person. If God gave up His only Son, just so He could claim you, do you think there is anything about you that is insignificant to Him? We say, "We've sweat blood" when we highly value something. How much more must God value everything about us if He shed His Son's blood for us?
There's no getting around it. To those of you who don't bring your requests, needs, cares, and pleas to God, God must be less caring and weaker than a friend. The point of the parable is not that God is like a sleeping friend that has to be pestered into getting up and answering your prayers. No, the point is God is NOT like a sleeping friend. God neither slumbers or sleeps says the Psalm. God is ever watching over His children willing, eager, and able to answer their prayers. No friend of yours ever said to you, "Don't stop asking, seeking or knocking." Yet you're more likely to tell a friend what you need rather than God. Shame on you.
Actually, it's worse than that. Sometimes we don't pray because we're afraid of what God might do. This makes God worse than we are. This text is the only place I know that Jesus argues from our evilness to God's goodness. He says, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven..." When I fail to pray, I'm saying, "Though I would never give my son a snake for a fish, God might do that to me." "Though I would never give him a scorpion for an egg, God might do that to me." Shame on me!
Have you no shame for not praying? Look at what God gave up just so He can hear and answer your prayers, yet you ask for nothing, seek for nothing, knock not at His door. He put His Son under all the requirements of the law; He put His Son under all the punishments you deserve. He gave His only beloved's Son as a ransom, so you could come anytime you want, need, or will, and you sit there in silence. Have you no shame? Haven't you ever given up your time, sacrificed, and even suffered to help a child, but they sat their in silence, pouting, just daring you to try and help them? Do you recall the anger that rose in your heart? Well then, if you don't have any shame over your nonexistent prayer life, at least know you ought to be afraid.
The law condemns us for our lack of prayer leaving us no way out but to repent. The Gospel in this texts produces prayer in us. The difference, as I said at the beginning, is you. Not "you" in the sense of your person, but the word "you." This text accuses us with the words, "Have you no shame?" This text comforts us with the words, "Have no shame." Listen to what Jesus says, "Because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs." The word translated "boldness" only appears here in the New Testament. It means "shameless." The man in the next felt no shame about bothering his friend sleeping behind locked doors in the middle of the night. God wants us to feel no shame about "bothering" Him who never sleeps and who gives His Son as an ever open door to us.
Have no shame about your prayers to God be they big or small, be they the same over and over and over again or new ones each day. God commands us to pray. He doesn't just say, "Ask, seek, knock,"but "Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking." If the President of the United States told you that, then you wouldn't have to be ashamed to ask for anything. Surely, he wouldn't want you to feel any shame at all for doing what he commanded you to do, would he?
What about those times when your need is so great, so complex, that you don't know what you should pray for? Thankfully Jesus has commanded us to pray His prayer. The disciples ask Jesus, "Teach us to pray," and Jesus responds by commanding them, "Say this..." In any and every situation you find yourself in life, you can pray, "Hallowed by Thy name." When your world is coming down around, you know that it is good and godly for you to pray, "Thy kingdom come." When you need food, health, friendship, or love, you can with great boldness pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." When you're overwhelmed with your ever present sinfulness, your repeated sinning, or your general wretchedness, you are to have no shame to pray, "Forgive us our sins" because Jesus commanded you to. And when tempted, when sin is so appealing that your mouth waters, even though it's the fault of your own flesh, the devil and the world, Jesus commands you to ask without shame for God not to lead you into temptation.
Have no shame. God commands you to pray, and He promises to answer. He doesn't just say keep on asking, seeking, and knocking, but promises, "Everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened." Friend, Jesus doesn't say you go to God as a friend, but as a Father. Fathers give fish not snakes, eggs not scorpions, and this Father gives even more than His good gifts. He gives His Spirit.
This whole text begins with the disciples wanting to know how to pray, and Jesus does more than tell them. He empowers them. The only way you can pray this way, with this boldness, with this shamelessness is with God's Spirit. Much more than even an evil earthly father will give good gifts to their children, our heavenly Father will give us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what we need for praying. Isn't that what Paul is at pains to tell us in Romans 8? He says, "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words." Rather than giving us a spirit of slavery which would have to be ashamed to ask God for anything, Paul says that we "have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"
After every sermon we pray for the Holy Spirit. We sing Psalm 51, "Renew a right Spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." In the sermon we hear about God's great gifts to us: forgiveness, life, salvation, peace, joy, self-control, faith, hope, and love. These are God's gifts to us for Jesus' sake. These are the gifts Jesus won for us by His innocent, suffering and death and by His holy, precious blood. But these gifts are too large, too wonderful, too powerful for us to get our arms, heads, or hearts around much less to ask for. We need God's Spirit to dare to ask for these gifts, to get these gifts and to put these gifts to use.
And just where does God give us His Spirit? Don't look inside. Don't look at what you're feeling or thinking. Don't look at what you're able to imagine or visualize. Look to this pulpit. The words from here are Spirit and they are life because they are the words of God not man. Look to that font for those are God's waters not man's. Those waters are a washing of regeneration and a renewing by the Holy Spirit says St. Paul because those waters flow from the side of Christ the Crucified. Look to this altar because here is the Body and Blood of Jesus who alone won the right to pour out the Spirit.
The Spirit of God is not ashamed to claim all the things of Jesus: forgiveness, life, salvation, things in heaven and on earth, yesterday, today and tomorrow. By this Holy Spirit, in this Holy Spirit, you don't have to be ashamed to claim all the things of Jesus as yours and to pray like they are yours. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost X (8-8-04); Luke 11: 1-13