A Sermon for Series C Proper 12 – 2016 “Persistent Prayer”

Old Testament Lesson:  Genesis 18:17-33

Second Lesson:  Colossians 2:6-19

Gospel Lesson: Luke 11:1-13

Grace mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [Luke 11:1-13]

Just over a month ago, we had a tremendously rare event occur during worship.  Six young children were baptized.  If you were there, you noticed that Liam, one of the six, and the last to be baptized, wasn’t very happy.

In fact, he cried; he screamed, and he did it persistently.  It got all our attention.  I spoke louder.  I prayed louder.  His dad tried all the more diligently and gently to calm Liam down.  But, he would have none of it.  He squirmed and wriggled and struggled and …. always, and persistently cried out.  And then, finally, it was Liam’s turn to come to the baptismal font; and as the water poured over him and I proclaimed to him, “Liam, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  Suddenly he became quiet.  It was the answer to his prayers.  It was God pouring out his peace on Liam; answering Liam’s persistent prayer.

God has crafted our lives, from beginning to end, as one big lesson in persistence.  Newborn babies cry when they don’t have what they need, and they keep on crying until Mom or Dad figure out what it is that they need and give it to them.

Babies struggle as they learn to walk; but they don’t give up, they persist.  They try over and over again until finally, they take their first steps; and then… they’re off, running everywhere, excited, thrilled that they’ve achieving what they’ve persistently struggled to do for so long.

As adults, we find that few things happen the way we anticipate; at least not the first time.  Something inevitably gets in the way as we head off toward our goals.  Sometimes putting those goals on hold; sometimes making us change direction, going around the obstacles, but always persistently heading toward that goal.

As we age, we find out the true meaning of persistence.  Muscles weaken, joints ache, but we persistently journey on, day after day.  At times it’s a struggle just to continue to continue, but we’ve learned the lesson of persistence and, trusting that the Lord is carrying out His plan for us, we go on; waiting patiently, persistently for the day when we’ll find true rest.

Our God, who’s made his creation to be persistent, is persistent too. And God’s message to us is persistent.  As we read God’s holy Word we find example after example of God making the same important point over and over again, often over periods of thousands of years. Did you notice the example God gave us in the Old Testament lesson today?  Abraham asked God not once, not twice, but six times to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah! The patriarchs and the prophets had a habit of being persistent; but God’s persistence makes theirs seem like a drop in the bucket.

Sometimes, in Scripture, these persistent points or events are heightened over time, starting out with something small or simple in the Old Testament that grows and becomes monumental in the New Testament; like Joseph, in Egypt, saving his people from starvation; followed by Moses, in Egypt, 450 years later saving a much larger number of God’s people from slavery; both precursors of Jesus, who over a thousand years later, saved all of mankind; this time from their sins.  God’s message was always the same, whether it was Joseph, or Moses, or Jesus, God was telling his people to trust in him to save them.

And so in the Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells us to pray with persistence.  He teaches us a prayer that challenges us to rethink the very nature of prayer; providing us with a framework to understand prayer in the context of our relationship with God, our Father; the Father we trust to save us.

Christian prayer isn’t like the prayers of the people of this world.  Most people in the world view prayer as a negotiation process with a superpower.  They appeal to their god’s ego with flowery speech and praise.  They appeal to their god’s greed with promises and pledges.  They appeal to his sense of justice by offering many, many prayers to shame their god into action.  But, Jesus’ prayer do none of these.

He teaches us to pray to God as our Father and that changes everything.  It strengthens our dependence on our God; and it keeps us focused on our God. This prayer springs not from our need, but from our relationship with our heavenly Father.  Oh, we acknowledge the omnipotent and benevolent nature of God, but we begin this prayer acknowledging that God is our Father and we are his children; recognizing that our adoption as sons and daughters into God’s kingdom is a gift from God granted to us through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because God is our Father, we can be bold, we can be persistent in our prayers to him.  Because God is our Father, we can count on him to teach us how to pray, not just what to pray; and what he teaches us is that prayer begins by listening, not by speaking.  We learn to listen to the will of God first, as His holy Word instructs us, as his holy Word leads us in the paths of righteousness.

God expects us to be persistent in prayer.  He wants us to ask for everything we need.  We may feel awkward, or unsure as we ask, but persistence fixes all that. Through persistent prayer, God shows us that not only are we totally dependent on him, but this total dependence is justified, because we can count on him to give us everything, not just the bare minimum, but everything.

Through persistent prayer, God molds us and shapes us; his Holy Spirit transforming our thoughts to be in line with the Father’s will, informing us, teaching us, directing us.  As we pray, God opens our hearts and minds to understand what our needs really are, and through him we’re able to ask for, and receive, what we truly need.

By praying persistently, we receive what we need to sustain our bodies and souls each and every day.  We’re shown the abundant grace of God as he daily forgives us all our sins; making us new each day; drawing us ever closer to him with our prayers.

By praying persistently, we receive true understanding of our place as members in the body of Christ.  We see how our prayers are crafted by God himself to prepare us to do our part, to work with, and alongside, all those other unique members of his body; as the kingdom of God grows and flourishes around us.

By praying persistently, those outside the kingdom come to know the love that Christ has for them.  This is how we genuinely love our neighbor; we pray for him.  The Holy Spirit hears our persistent prayer, and answers it, working to prepare hearts to hear the Gospel, and at just the right time, calling them through that Gospel, into the one true faith.

Sounds like I’m talking about a lot of prayer; a lot of time in prayer, a lot of time piled up on top of all the other important things we already have on our plates.  It seems impossible, counter-intuitive, but it’s not.  Luther used to say that “When I find myself thinking I can’t possibly finish all the things I have to do today; I stop what I’m doing and pray.  I increase my time in prayer … and somehow everything needful gets done.”

This is the power of prayer.  Not only does it shape us, and mold us, it builds our relationship with our heavenly Father, and it builds his kingdom.  It’s our way of asking Him.  It’s our way of seeking Him.  It’s our hand, reaching out and knocking at the door; a door behind which He’s waiting, expecting, anticipating our requests; because just as God expects us to be persistent, so is He.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle