What You Really Need
I can't read your hearts. I don't know what's going on in your life, but I can tell you absolutely what you must have as you pass through things temporal on the way to things eternal: the Holy Spirit. That's what Jesus says in this text about prayer. He starts by telling us what to pray. Then He looks at prayer from the standpoint of the asker, then from the viewpoint of the One asked, and He concludes with the promise that the Father will give to those who ask not money, not love, not health, not happiness, but the Holy Spirit. If you're going to pass through these temporal things so as not to lose the eternal what you really need is the Holy Spirit.
The Father wants you to have Him. That's what the parable about prayer shows. More than a reluctant friend wants to get out of bed to help, the Father wants to give you the Holy Spirit. First, He's your heavenly Father not an earthly friend. Second, He's not in bed for God never sleeps. Third, He doesn't have to be goaded into helping. He's the One who commands us pray; commands us "call upon Me in the day of trouble;" commands ask, seek, knock, and promises He will answer, you will find, and it will be opened unto you.
The Father wants to give you the Spirit more than an evil father wants to give only good gifts to his children. Though fallen, though down right evil, we fathers never, ever intentionally answer our children's "prayers" to us with what could hurt them. Sure we make mistakes; sure we answer wrongly, but in our fatherly heart we want to give only what is good. God is not evil, fallen, or even fallible. He is love, perfect, and divine. How much more does He want to give His children the Holy Spirit?
At this point, you're thinking, but what I need is money, love, health, happiness. This is our first glimpse at the often missed truth that in prayer we don't change God but He changes us. Here we have a chance to realize that we need the Holy Spirit more than anything else. If we compare Jesus' words in Matthew 7:11 to our text we see this. There Jesus says, "If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" The "good gifts" of Matthew become the Holy Spirit in Luke showing that being given the Spirit is the same as being given all good gifts.
You're not convinced. The Holy Spirit won't fix that washing machine. Being given the Holy Spirit is not going to make my job more fulfilling. Yes, and having the Spirit martyrs still died at the hands of persecutors; Paul was still beheaded, and Stephen still stoned. But remember we're talking about what we need to pass through these temporal things so we don't loose the eternal. And that takes the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit enables us to call God not just Father but Daddy. Have you ever had a hard time calling someone by a name or title they wanted you to use? Twenty years after graduating a seminary professor said I should call him by his first name. I couldn't; I didn't. You might feel funny about calling your in-laws mom or dad. The Holy Spirit enables us to call Almighty God, Ruler of the Cosmos, not just by the familiar "Father" but the intimate "Daddy."
Romans 8:15 tells us how saying, "You did not receive a Spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, Abba, Father.'" Abba is the Aramaic equivalent of "daddy." Galatians 4:6 makes the connection between being given the Holy Spirit and being empowered, emboldened, endowed with the faith, the heart, the hope to cry, "Daddy, daddy" to Almighty God. It says, "God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father.'"
But the Spirit does more than just enable us to say, "Daddy." He helps us in our praying. Romans 8:26 says, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." That word "helps" is only used twice in the Bible. Once in last week's Gospel reading and here in Romans 8. It's not the simple word for help. It means "to take hold with at the side for assistance." So Maratha asks Jesus to tell Mary to take hold with her the task of preparing the meal, and Paul promises the Holy Spirit takes hold of our feeble, faltering, flagging prayers.
The Holy Spirit is the one who empowers our prayers to escalate along the path Jesus puts before us. Asking is more than saying nothing. Seeking is much more than asking, and knocking is still more than seeking. Just as we demure sometimes from calling someone by too familiar or intimate of a name, sometimes we do the same when someone tells us to ask for whatever we want. What right have you to ask the Father anything let alone persistently seek His help, let alone knock, knock at His door? The Spirit which the Father wants to give you opens your mouth to speak, moves your feet to seek, and lifts your hand to knock.
What you really need as you pass through this temporal life if you're not going to lose eternal life is this Spirit. Jesus promises you the Father wants to give Him to you more than any earthly friend wants to help or sinful earthly father wants to give good things. How can Jesus be so certain that the Holy God wants to give me a sinful person the Holy Spirit? Because Jesus bought and paid for you to have Him.
As True God, Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity, didn't need the Holy Spirit, but at His Baptism He received Him as a Man for all mankind. Being holy the Holy Spirit could land and stay on the Man Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not stay in the heart of a sinner where sin rules. You commit adultery. You commit murder. You deny the Faith; you defend, accept your sins or anyone else's and sin is ruling your heart and the Holy Spirit is gone. Sin not only never ruled Jesus' heart it never touch or tainted it.
So the Man Jesus had the Spirit for the sake of all humanity; still how could God the Father give the Holy Spirit to such unholy people as we? By the great exchange. Jesus took our sinfulness and gave us His holiness. Indeed Jesus took the whole word's sinfulness and covered it with His holy life and innocent death. On the cross when God the Father looked at Jesus He saw only the world's sins, only your sins, and all His wrath roared to the surface and punished, and judged, and damned those sins right then and there. Now in Jesus when God the Father looks at humanity, looks at you, He sees only the holiness of Jesus. And wherever the holiness of Jesus is there most certainly belongs the Holy Spirit.
What we really need is the Holy Spirit in order to pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal. And the Good News is the Father wants to give Him; the Holy Spirit can only be good for you; the Son has bought and paid for Him already, and finally, your prayer for the Holy Spirit is answered here.
Pay attention to the liturgy. Don't just mouth the words. Get into the Spirit of the words. With David in Psalm 51 we pray for the Holy Spirit in the Offertory. In response to the Law and Gospel sermon that shows us what we can't do, what is impossible for us to do, yet what we must do, and all that God in Christ has done and will do for us, we pray the Father to renew a right spirit within us. We pray the Father not to take the Holy Spirit from us which He has a right to do because of our sins, but instead to restore to us the joy of His salvation and uphold us in it. How? by His freely given Spirit.
We come here thinking we must have this or that from God when what we need most is His Spirit. So the liturgy makes sure we pray for Him, and the Divine Service makes sure the gift is given. Jesus says His Words are Spirit and they are Life. So when He absolves us with His Word we are given the Spirit. Even before that, when we begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we go back into the font where we were baptized and the Spirit was first given. In the readings and sermon because they are God's Words and not man's they too are Spirit and life, so as sure as those words vibrate your eardrums, so sure are you given the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the answer to all our prayers. He is poured on us in Baptism, put into our ears by the Words of Jesus, and into our bodies with the Body and Blood of Jesus. If Jesus could give the Spirit by merely breathing on the apostles, how much more Spirit must be in His Body and Blood? If Scripture says Jesus received the Spirit without measure, then every drop of His Blood and every morsel of His Body must be full of Him. How Spirit-filled must we be when He gives us His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine?
But we're not done with the Spirit yet. We sing His praises in the Nunc Dimittis. Then Holy Spirit along with the Father and Son bless and keep us; makes His face to shine on us; lifts up His countenance upon us and gives us peace. And those Sundays when we pray the second Communion Collect, we especially ask God the Father not to forsake us but "evermore rule our hearts and minds by Thy Holy Spirit."
Read your Bibles. It was the Spirit who gave Samson his strength and Solomon his wisdom. It was not by man's might or power that the temple was rebuilt but by the Spirit. It wasn't by the courage of Peter or the wisdom of Paul that the Gospel went to all nations but by the Spirit. It will not be your wit, wisdom, planning, or discipline that will get you through your money, family, health, or happiness troubles; it is the Spirit you really need to get you through these temporal things in such a way that you gain things eternal. And that Holy Spirit is freely given to you by your heavenly Father right here. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20130728); Luke 11: 1-3