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Luke 11.1-13

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

   Your kingdom come. 

Give us each day our daily bread. 

And forgive us our sins,

     for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

   And do not bring us to the time of trial.’


And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.


‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 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!’


We read the Bible like children, and because we have not understood its context, we certainly have not understood its meaning. ‘When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, but when I became an adult I put away childish things, yet still there is much to learn. For now we see through glass, frosted by our own perspective and understanding. Only when we see God face to face will we truly understand, even as we are already fully understood.’ These were Paul’s words to the arrogant, Charismatic, contemporary Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:11-13), and we ignore them at our peril.  There are some that place scripture, with all its human imperfections, as the final statement on truth, while there are others that recognise its humanity, its flaws, and see scripture itself as flawed, imperfect glass, through which we get an imperfect glance. Perhaps it is time to put the side of our face to the glass, and listen carefully. Then you will get a deeper impression of who God is because only then will you be able to hear his heartbeat. Perhaps that is not exactly orthodox, but it is certainly more tangible and real. In this frighteningly flawed and complex world, it is time for us, who believe in Jesus Christ to get real with the world, and with God.


Now we are passed the preamble, what do we see when we look at a profoundly familiar reading like this one? 


It is a prayer, a powerful prayer that does not sit easily with the evangelical culture of speaking loudly from the heart. Perhaps it would be good to read Matthew’s version of this which pulls no punches over the nature of Christian prayer. In my ministry as a Church Army Evangelist, as an Anglican priest, and in six years involvement in Christian training communities, I have become painfully aware of the dangers of breaching confidentiality in loud community prayers, and also preaching mini-explanatory sermons in prayer, and leads me to ask the question; ‘Who exactly are we talking to when we do this?’ One can safely assume that God, to whom we pray, needs none of this information, and without express permission, the people we are sat round a table with do not deserve that information; ‘But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.’ (Matthew 6:6)


Praying together in community is important, but for the right reasons. It is breaking bread (or a chocolate digestive) in faith, it is allowing for the presence of the risen Christ, the Spirit of God to be amongst us, but it is not the religious answer to social media; It must not be used to criticise, to humiliate, to isolate or to gossip about those who are not present. Every thought, every word, every share, and every care must be motivated by and governed by love, and if anybody loses dignity as a consequence of what is said, then this activity is the antithesis of prayer.


So now the context;


Each one of the four gospels is written with a different structure, a different emphasis, a different order to the others, and the details of the words/narratives are also different. Luke chapter 10 and 11 has a very odd series of stories that seem, on the surface to be unrelated. One needs to ask what governs the structure of Luke’s Gospel, why it was written, and who the author is directing his message to. 


Luke’s Gospel is directed at somebody called Theophilus (Θεόφιλος) (Luke chapter 1, and Acts chapter 1), and we do not know who this person was. The name Theophilus, however, means ‘beloved of God.’  The historical context (about 30 years after the crucifixion!) was a church that was experiencing immense suffering and persecution, in the context of a grossly unjust political system. The evidence for this lies in the third Gospel’s focus on justice for poorest in society (Luke 1:46-55, 6:17-26; 16:19-31). A focus on the needs of the poor is significantly more prominent in Luke’s Gospel than anywhere else in the other Gospels.


Prior to our passage on prayer we have two apparently disconnected readings. The First is the Good Samaritan, where Jesus speaks to a Jewish Law-maker about the importance of neighbourliness. It is a critique of religiosity because in agreeing to the religious summary of the Torah, ‘You should love God, and love your neighbour as yourself,’ the religious person, in his/her desire for religious purity, was doing precisely the opposite of what the law commands by avoiding contact with their neighbour, by lowering their eyes and walking past their neighbour. The one individual who fulfilled the law, was the outsider (The Samaritan) who bent down, healed, fed, rescued and secured the wellbeing of his neighbour. It is not the religious person who reflected the love of God, but rather the one who functions like a compassionate human being,


‘Religion,’ Jesus was saying to the Lawyer, ‘will never get you into heaven, but rather a simple demonstration of compassion.’


Should we then just wear ourselves out with compassion? The third Gospel follows with the answer. It ells us the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was running round the house trying to work her way into Jesus’ favour, while Mary sits at his feet and listens. 


We have no capacity to love as Jesus loves, or even as the Samaritan loves. We will simply over occupy ourselves with busyness, like Martha is busy, and fail to love those whose real need is to draw water from the well (John 4:4-26). We have no water to give to the thirsty, unless we are prepared to sit and drink ourselves, to let him serve us (John 13:1-17), but where do we get this water?


Here we have it in this week’s reading. The answer is a simple, humble prayer. We know it, and we say it so many times in church that we completely lose sense of its meaning; Let there be forgiveness, but let that forgiveness begin with me, Give us what we need and no more, let your will be done, and let your Kingdom come.


Then Luke sums up his three stories; God loves you, and everything you need he will give you. Just trust in him. Make love your priority, but recognise your own limitations, so spend time in prayer. By faith he will back-fill your limitations.

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