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The 7th Sunday after Pentecost; Luke 11:1-13

What is it that you most long for?

When you sit with God, and open your heart what do you long for?

When the disciples come upon Jesus in this morning’s gospel reading, they see him praying. They want what he has- that communion with God. They ask, “Please Lord, teach us to pray.”

Jesus says of course. In the words, which follow, the basic framework for what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer is shared. And after he shares this framework he insists- God wants to hear us. God wants to give us what we long for, to open the doors which are shut to us and help us find what we are looking for.

This is complicated- does god answer prayer? Most of us I imagine have had the experience of praying- perhaps even desperately for something or someone- and feel that our prayers were unanswered. How many people I have heard say, I prayed and prayed and God never came. But the opposite is also true: how many people I have heard say, I prayed and God answered my prayers- praise God.

When I was 12 and my father was dying of cancer- I prayed- please Lord save my Dad. I can’t manage without him. But my father died.

Fast forward three decades. I am the mother of a 12 year old daughter in the ICU dying of MRSA (a superbug infection)- the doctors gave no hope of survival. I prayed please God spare my daughter. She lived.

What are we, a longing praying people to make of this business of praying, and of Jesus assurance that God answers and gives?

Two Things: As we struggle with this conundrum I think there are two things we should look at in this passage: first the framework Jesus gives us for prayer, and then the final assurance Jesus gives us in verse 13- through the writer of the gospel of Luke.

Jesus taught the disciples: When you pray say, “Your kingdom come; your will be done”.

When I hear this, I see a directive which is about the orientation of a whole life: what God is offering is the in-breaking of God’s kingdom, God’s reign of love. This is a huge offer, a huge gift. When we pray as Jesus directs, we are asking that this may be so- Lord may your kingdom come. We are also asking to be partners with God in this in-breaking. This is a huge ask.

What does the Kingdom of God look like: The refrains that follow show us—it looks like everyone having enough, everyone having what they need- welcome, belonging, safety, love: Give us our daily bread.

It is grounded in forgiveness- the forgiveness God extends to us and the forgiveness we are invited to share with our neighbours. The compassion of God outpoured in love for us on a cross, a judgement of the world which is forgiveness and welcome home to the way of love and life—the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. And so we pray- forgive us our sins as we forgive others. Your kingdom come; your will be done. May it be so for us; may it be so for our neighbour.

Benedict’s Rule of Life: Writing in the 6th century a very wise theologian and church leader by the name of Benedict was working to develop a way of prayer for disciples in his time. He wrote about our life of prayer, our life in God. Reflecting on Jesus’ teaching through the Lord’s prayer he offered the following wisdom. He said: the primary question for the Christian is not whether there is life after death, but rather whether life is possible before death. This is what the Kingdom of God means- life now, in the here and now for the world God so loves. With his writing he went on to imagine how it is that we together, fragile, imperfect disciples of Jesus can nurture and support the movement into life with and for each other for the sake of the whole world.

In his view, the Kingdom of God comes in us in several ways, but he flags two key spiritual practices: COMPASSION and Companionship. The Latin meaning of the word we know in English as compassion is “with suffering”. God entered into the suffering of the world through the incarnation- Jesus. We as followers of Jesus are called to do the same- to enter into the suffering of our neighbours and the world- in a way which transfigures it and us. Our entering into the suffering of the other does not take it away- but it changes it. When we do not suffer alone everything is changed. When we are met in our suffering with the courage and love of the other- a willingness from the other to BE with us in our pain- all things become possible. In this sharing we realize COMPANIONSHIP- which in the literal Latin means “With bread”. The in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in and through us unfolds as we are bread for each other in God- Give us this day our daily bread.

So then we see- prayer is a life changing undertaking. We are asking for nothing less than the in-breaking of the reign of love- it will give so much- and it will demand so much of us. With the prayer which Jesus taught- the disciples are invited to offer themselves into the project of God’s remaking of the world- they -we-are not inactive bystanders. The prayer Jesus teaches draws us into the centre of God’s working out of the story. The inter connectedness of the whole story of creation means that our redemption, our finding the path of life in this world cannot happen apart from the redemption, the possibility of life for others. Our suffering is inter-connected. So is our healing.

Writing in the mid 20th century noted Evangelist Billy Graham wrote: “Whether prayer changes our situation or not, one things is certain: prayer changes us.”

Let’s return to the story of my 12 year old praying self. My father had been ill for about 10 months. Our parents had not told us he had cancer. I found myself impatient with his illness. Out trip to Florida had been cancelled that summer. I just wanted him to get better. Please God make my father better. I want life to go back to normal. It was a Sunday in September. My mother and I had gone to church alone that week as my Dad was too ill- at home in bed. I was serving. I was standing at the front properly waiting through the intercessions to leap into action during the offertory. And then I heard it- the person who was praying named my father. We pray for “John Fletcher”. And I. knew- in that moment I knew- though I had not before, that my father was dying. Please God save my Dad. And the tears started to flow. And before you know it I was sobbing- improperly for a server. I saw the priest coming toward me. I leaned toward him thinking he was coming to embrace me. He reached me- he said “Wendy it isn’t appropriate for you to cry in church. Please go downstairs and collect yourself.” Alone and crying I left the sanctuary- there was apparently no room there for a broken hearted 12 year-old. I went downstairs, changed out of my server’s robe and made my way to the parking lot to wait for my mother and the end of the service. My mother, also broken-hearted did not come. As I stood in the parking lot crying along, a woman who I recognized from the congregation but whom I did not know walked toward me. She put her arms around me and held me, “No one should have to cry alone. Go ahead and cry. I’m here”. It turned out that this woman had experienced the accidental death of her 17 year-old son the summer before. From her place of pain, she recognized mine; her suffering gave her compassion enough to enter mine. From that place of compassion, she became my companion- bread for my journey: Give us this day our daily bread.

God did not spare my father. God did wrap me in love and help me survive in the company of others who were no strangers to suffering. God gave me a vision of how to be in the world, of how my life could be offered into the project of the world’s broader healing which carries me to this day.

This is what I know about prayer- in the beginning and in the end it is about a deep working out of the way of God in the world- it is not about sparing us suffering or giving us everything we may want, but it is about the transfiguration of our suffering and our longing as a sign in the world that love is strong, and the way of life which the cross offers is a beacon signalling the possibility of life for all who turn toward the possibility for healing and transfiguration which gospel of new life promises.

Closing: So then also to verse 13 of today’s gospel reading. Jesus says, “God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.” Not only are we invited to be as signs of the in-breaking of the way of God with each other, in acts of compassion and mercy, but God Godself in the person of the Holy Spirit will come. We do not have to carry the weight of this world and its complex story alone. We are not alone. The in-breaking of the reign of God is coming on the wings of the Spirit. God has an intention for us and for this world- that we should live- life abundant for us and for all who journey with us is God’s intention. The Spirit of God is here with us imagining, inspiring, compelling, encouraging and sustaining us toward this future- this I know. Please God help us lean into this- help us hear the rustling of the wings of the Spirit, and in you, for the sake of the whole world, LIVE. Holy One may your kingdom come.

Copyright ©2019 by Wendy Fletcher