Introduction and Call to Worship
We gather to worship the God who is our loving Father, our living Saviour and the Spirit of our lives. We pray with the words that Jesus taught us, “Our father who art in heaven!”
First Reading Genesis 18: 20-32
Abraham approaches God and questions if the righteous will be killed with the wicked? God hears his plea to spare the whole people, as long as they are righteous.
Second Reading Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]
God has forgiven us our trespasses on the cross and given us new life in Christ.
Gospel Luke 11:1-13
In the Lord’s Prayer we confidently ask God’s forgiveness, promising to forgive others and Jesus stresses the need to be persistent in such prayer.
HOMILY “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 11:9)
On the one hand we know God because we have God’s own revelation through the lives of many people recorded in the bible and experienced today in the life of this and many churches. We also experience God at work in our daily activities, our own lives. We use our reason and ecclesiastical tradition to develop our framework for understanding who God is and how God relates to us, through Prayer.
Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer in order that we have a structure for understanding our relationship with God. Yet, if we are honest, at some level God remains mysterious – and this is a good thing! As with all relationships we need to be careful not to try and put God in a box, this forgetting the clear biblical distinction between the Creator, God who made all things and the creatures of which we are given dominion over the world. The Lord’s Prayer helps us recognise God is God and we are human, with needs and a reliance but also a temptation to selfishness and sin.
Saint Cyprian knew all about this challenge and the need for prayer. He was born in the third century in North Africa, probably at Carthage now known to us as Tunis, Tunisia where he was blessed to receive a classical education. After converting to Christianity he became a priest and later the bishop of Carthage. Cyprian was an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are in existence today.
The same city of his possible birth, later conversion and Bishopric was to become the place of his execution, where he was martyred (put to death). It is said that he ‘prayed’ before he was executed and prayer was a central theme in his writings. He loved the Lord’s Prayer and wrote:
‘What deep mysteries, my dearest friends, are contained in the Lord’s Prayer! How many and great they are! They are expressed in a few words but they are rich in spiritual power so that nothing is left out; every petition and prayer we have to make is included. It is a compendium of heavenly doctrine.’
The words of the Lord’s Prayer are very important to us at St Mary’s. We use the traditional wording Lord’s Prayer at every service in Church and the children learn the same version at Thorpe Primary School. St Luke records a version of the Lord’s Prayer, followed by a parable about prayer which is only to be found in his Gospel; although he also records Jesus’ time of teaching or ‘guidance’ that appears almost word for word in Matthew’s Gospel too. Both urge us to ask God for ‘good things’ when we pray. Just as God made the world, as recoded in Genesis as ‘good’, even when the people are led astray – God will forgive for the sake of the righteous. Importantly, in Luke’s Spirit-filled Gospel he records Jesus as identifying such good things, or ‘good gifts’, with the Holy Spirit.
These gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St Paul (in his Letter to the Galatians 5:22-23) identifies as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, help us to relate to other people as well as to God. Think about the parable in today’s Gospel, full of clues. The visitor wasn’t banging on the door at midnight because he was hungry. No, he needed those loaves to feed someone else who was hungry.
At the heart of this is Jesus’ promise to his followers, ‘Ask and it will be given to you.’ Now there are two common misconceptions about this teaching; the first can be summed up in a familiar phrase: ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ Certainly, if the person banging on the door hadn’t asked for the loaves he wouldn’t have received them. But, how would his friend have known he needed them?
Our Father, on the other hand, knows exactly what we need and when we need it, and he gives us this day our daily bread. That being said, we should not take such blessings for granted; we still need to ask, and prayer is the right place to start, giving thanks to God for the things we already have and the blessings we enjoy, while holding before the Lord the places where we are challenged and seek his touch, his healing and his presence; the gifts of the Spirit revealed among us.
I think the second misunderstanding is that we think we can ask God for wealth or good health, rain or sunshine (and we have had lots of those recently!) and we’ll automatically get them. Really? Some may have prayed for cooler weather yesterday, indeed we may wonder what our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is praying for right now…? Perhaps something about a Brexit re-negotiation?
Jokes aside, there is a lot here to pray about, not least the very poorest in society and those struggling to make ends meet and reliant on foodbanks and handouts, even here in well-off Surrey. ‘I want’ prayers take various forms and we can all be guilty of them. ‘Lord, I would just like…’ When such prayers don’t seem to be answered, or more serious petitions perhaps to do with the health of a loved one or even ourselves, we can feel that we haven’t asked the right question in prayer or, even worse, that God may be ignoring us. This is not the case.
The parable today ends with the friend being given ‘whatever he needs’ and, in that context, Jesus encourages us to ask, to search, to knock; and to keep on asking, searching and knocking – and that’s a much better translation of the Greek verb. Just as the parable urges persistence in prayer, Jesus tells us to keep on asking for what we need. For the centre of our prayer life should be the Lord’s Prayer, given to us that we can, among other things, ask each day for our daily bread.
So, what do you really need? What is your daily need? And what about St Mary’s Church, what do we really need? Are we praying for the gifts of the Spirit to be revealed anew among us to bring new life – are we praying for other people, perhaps the various charities we support each month and so many needs? Hopefully so.
God has already given us life and a beautiful world to live in and this wonderful prayerful place to worship. We are already blessed and most of us don’t have to worry about our daily bread. We can, and should be, thankful for that too. Perhaps then, we should be praying for the Holy Spirit, for a closer relationship with our Father’s other children, each other and with the loving God who knows our spiritual need.
For Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, gave us the Lord’s Prayer and then died on the cross because God knows our need for redemption and forgiveness and God hears our prayers even if they are not answered in the ways we would hope or expect. If we, the people of God, would only communicate with one another, forgive one another, love one another without judging each other, share the blessings we have with each other, be guided by what Jesus taught us, we could be shining examples here in Thorpe and beyond of the genuine Christian call to Kingdom principles of justice and peace, the fruits of the Spirit!
Saint Cyprian understood the value of the Lord’s Prayer and its inclusive call to lives for the gifts of the Spirit. Indeed, inclusivity starts with prayer for each other and the more we pray, the more closely we enter into the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit and discover that we are loved and forgiven.
Like any other relationship, if we aren’t speaking to God (and listening for a reply!) then our relationship is in trouble. For Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer, as Saint Cyprian described it, ‘a compendium of heavenly doctrine’ that we may be heard, forgiven and loved. Amen.
1. Jesus’ teaching about prayer is central to the Christian understanding of God who longs to be in relationship with each one of us and forgive us.
2. God has already given us good things without us asking for them: life, our world and forgiveness of sins in Jesus.
3. But Jesus urges us to be persistent in prayer, asking for and receiving the closer relationship with God that we need. Knowing ourselves loved and forgiven we receive the Holy Spirit’s power to work for others and the Kingdom of God.
4. To be truly ‘inclusive of all’ we need to pray for each other and accept each other without judgement as we strive for the fruits of the Spirit and renewal of our Church life.