Ask, Search, Knock
Based on Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-15, Luke 11:1-13
This week’s Gospel lesson contains this most oft recited prayer in all of Christianity… the “Lord’s Prayer” aka the “Our Father”. First written down and taught by the Church following the Council of Laodecia in the late 300’s, this prayer has been memorized by all Christians thereafter. Differing versions of this prayer are contained in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, with Matthew’s version being slightly longer with more petitions. Matthew’s comes as part of the “Sermon on the Mount” by Jesus, whereas Luke’s version (which we have heard today) comes as the third part of the trilogy of teachings of Jesus about how a disciple should focus themselves. The first part of the trilogy is to focus on neighbor more than self (The Good Samaritan), the second is to focus on Jesus (Martha and Mary), and today’s reading teaches us to focus on God. This is where we will spend the rest of our time today as we seek to live as disciples in our time.
You may have heard last month that Pope Francis recommended that part of the Lord’s Prayer be changed. This follows 16 years of study by the papal committee tasked with this assessment. Pope Francis has recommended that the words, “do not let us fall into temptation” replace the more common “and lead us not into temptation”. The rationale is that God does not lead us to sin, rather we choose to do that all on our own (see the Bible from the third chapter of Genesis onward). The Pope is on record as feeling that the English translation was faulty. How did we get to this place? It all comes from how many times the original words of the Bible have been translated. You see, the people in first century Palestine spoke Hebrew and Aramaic. Writings were in a common form of Greek known as “koine” – we refer to this form of Greek as “biblical Greek”. When the Gospels were written in the period after 70 CE and the destruction of the Second Temple, they were written in this form of Greek. The first English translation came around 650 CE and it was almost 1000 years later (1622) that the King James Version brought the prayer into its current form. Translations are complex due to the need to understand the context of the times as well as the words. There is a current translator who suggests that the sentence the Pope changed in koine Greek really asks for mercy away from tribulation (the end of times battle). It is quite likely that we will never know exactly what Jesus intended and exactly what was heard, but it is good for disciples to continue to ask and to persistently search for a better understanding. Let us now focus ourselves on God in prayer…
Our scripture readings today are all pointing us in the same direction – towards God, Creator of all things and redeemer of all of us human sinners. Psalm 85 is petitioning God for a return of God’s favor to the people who had committed sins against God. The writer begs God for restoration and salvation; longs to hear God’s words of peace and forgiveness. The song ends with the reminder that God will always be merciful and righteous – giving to God’s people what is good.
Paul writes to the believers in Colossae exhorting them to “continue to live your lives” rooted and built up in Jesus. He notes that God has forgiven the people all of their “trespasses” from before they were believers. He has nailed all transgressions to the cross of Jesus and has thus set them aside. Therefore, the believers can move forward in the sure and certain knowledge that they are above human tradition and deceit and should focus all their attention on God through Jesus.
A disciple of Jesus, observing Him praying, asks to be taught how to pray. Jesus gives him a short prayer that covers all the bases and which directs the pray-er to be bold in coming to God with issues and concerns. Jesus follows the prayer lesson with a parable – these two things are related. Jesus wants all of His disciples to be fervent pray-ers, ones who expect a lot from their prayers to God. He tells them to ask for what they need, and it will be given; to search for answers to questions and to raise those questions to God seeking divine will and wisdom; and he says to be persistent in all these things…to keep knocking until we receive what we are needing.
A quick Amazon search query with the terms “Christian prayer” yielded a listing of more than 30,000 book titles! Learning how to pray, especially when we seek to learn something different than the prayers of our childhood, is a very popular topic. As an adult in my late 30’s, I had never prayed for anyone, nor had I ever prayed in public. It was the thing that made me most anxious when I was training to become a Stephen Minister. One thing that I have learned is that it really doesn’t matter what words you use in your prayer. It really doesn’t matter if it is long or short, eloquent or hesitant – some spiritual teachers suggest that the only prayer we need when we are in distress is, “Lord Jesus, help me!”. Those in the Eastern Orthodox tradition suggest the following, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. No matter what, no prayer is better than the prayer that is contained in our reading from Luke today. It has been added to over the years, and now the Pope has changed the wording once again, but it is still the prayer to go to whenever we seek God’s face and favor, and as a reminder of what we are to do as disciples here on earth.
Jesus teaches, “…Ask, and it will be given to you;…” What are we asking for in the prayer that Jesus taught? We are asking for God’s kingdom to come – to come now before it is too late for all of us as our sins lead us ever closer to our destruction. We are asking that God’s will be done here and now as well. We are asking that manna be given to us daily as it was to our spiritual ancestors in the Exodus. That is, we’re asking for God to look favorably on each of us and to provide us with just enough to get us through each day. We are most pointedly asking God to forgive our sins – the ones we know about and the ones that go unnoticed. We also ask that we be spared the times of trial and tribulation AND be delivered from evil (or the evil one). This is not the personal kind of difficulties, but the kind promised in the Bible at the end of times.
This is a prayer that calls for us to search for God – for our heavenly parent who is holy and righteous, reigning over us with benevolence and grace. It calls us to search ourselves and to acknowledge that we sin and that those sins need to be forgiven by God each day. It also calls us to search our souls for the ability to forgive others as we expect God to forgive us. It calls us to search our hearts through repeated praying of these words for the realization that prayers may not be answered in the way we originally hoped for, but that our consistent prayers do in fact change us for the better.
Finally, Jesus tells us to continue to knock on God’s door at all times of the day or night. To be persistent in prayer because God is good all the time and will give us what we need. Jesus reminds us that we all know what is good, and we make choices to be good to those who we love – won’t our unconditionally loving God do the same? Continuing to knock at God’s door through prayer will lead us to understand that only through God can we be made more perfect and holy, more humble and willing to acknowledge that God alone is sovereign – we are just mortals made in God’s image…not God-like in any other way. Through persistent prayer we find that we do come to accept something greater than ourselves is in control of our lives, calling us to our better selves. We come to know that “…the kingdom, power and glory…” do belong to God from the past, to the present and on into the future.
This week I call on you to pray the Lord’s Prayer, in whatever form seems best to you – using the words that seem right. I call on you to pray this prayer in all of its different wordings, searching for insight that the different words bring. I call on you to ask, search and continue to knock on God’s door through this and other prayers, until you realize that the kingdom of God is indeed near at hand, and that there is nothing that our gracious God would not give to you, God’s beloved child. Amen and amen!