You have probably guessed that our gospel lesson for
the day concerns the subject of prayer. Prayer is the one word in our Christian vocabulary
that conjures up for us feelings, memories, associations and ideas. For some of us, prayer
has been a good word; it recalls memories of healing, guidance, answers, and miraculous
intervention. But for others, prayer sends up the red flag; its not been a good word
for us-prayer has been the sergeant standing over us, shouting commands at us-you must
pray, need to pray, ought to pray, good Christians pray.
a homily based on Luke 11:1-13
by the Rev. Thomas N. Hall
Have you ever wondered about the kinds of prayers that God likes to listen to?
Except maybe during the summer months, every Sunday morning from nine to noon EST, the
Christian prayerwaves are clogged with a wide variety of prayers. Among the prayers that
bombard heaven are beautifully sung prayers, written prayers, silent prayers, chanted
prayers, spontaneous prayers, memorized prayers, and prayers that are shouted to the beat
of drums, synthesizers, and harmonicas.
Yet among all of these thousands of prayers shot heavenward, we may sometimes
wonder if God has heard our little prayer. Even the youngest members of the church scratch
their heads and wonder how God can possibly sort through all the noise to pick up their
prayer. "Dear God," writes one young pray-er, "do you really hear us pray
to you? It must drive you crazy. Signed Charles." Another youngster prays, "Dear
God, Why do I have to pray when you know anyway what I want?" But sounding a bit
brash, she quickly adds, "but Ill do it if it makes you feel better. Signed
To what questions about prayer do you sign your name? The largest part of our
worship service this morning consists of some type of prayer activity. We are a praying
community. From "Our Father who art in heaven," to "Hear our prayer, O
Lord," our worship resounds with prayer. One of the favorite prayers of us pastors
comes from a 16th century nun who prayed, "From silly devotions and from sour-faced
saints, good Lord, deliver us."
But let me return to my question that I began with. What kinds of prayer does God
like to listen in on? The short answer to the question is simply, prayers of the heart.
God listens to any prayer that comes from the heart. Doesnt matter how theologically
precise we are, whether our subject and verb agree, whether written or recited, silent or
shouted. God listens to the prayers of the heart.
But there is another, more complex answer than just offering God heartfelt prayer.
Our gospel lesson today presses us to examine not just what we should pray, but how we
should approach God with our prayers.
Jesus has just finished praying when a disciple, apparently overhearing him, asks
Jesus to teach him to pray like that. What was it about the way Jesus prayed that made
this disciple so envious? Perhaps it was the sheer beauty of the prayer. This prayer has
become the most famous prayer in the entire world for two millennia because it is so
beautiful. But just a minute! Look at the prayer again. Wheres the "Our"
father? And wheres the "who art in heaven?" And what about the "thine
is the kingdom and power and the glory?" Its all missing. This is clearly not
the version of the Lords Prayer that we intone every Sunday. It lacks balance and
liturgical embellishment. Jesus prays to the point, terse and short. Personally, I
dont think the beauty of the prayer had anything at all to do with this
disciples request to pray like that. I think it had more to do with the way Jesus
prayed. The how he prayed is embedded in the story that Jesus goes on to tell us.
Suppose you went to a friends house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of
bread. You would say to him, 'A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I
have nothing for him to eat. "
He would call out from his bedroom, "Don't bother me. The door is locked for
the night, and we are all in bed. I can't help you this time. "
But I tell you this--though he won't do it as a friend if you keep knocking long
enough, he will get up and give you what you want so his reputation
won't be damaged.
And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on
looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone
who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. nd the door is opened to everyone who
A traveler, who has no doubt been walking through the night to avoid the intense
heat of the day, can go no further without food. The local bakery is closed for the night.
So this guy knocks bare-fisted on the door of a home. Everybody knows the rule of
hospitality: no one can withhold food and shelter from a traveler.
But Jesus throws a curve into the story. The man who invites the traveler in,
discovers that the cupboards are bare. So he throws his bathrobe on and scuttles next door
to his neighbor's bedroom window. (It's probably a typical one story , single-room hut,
but I like to imagine a Romeo and Juliet kind of scenario.) He throws a pebble or two to
the upper window to wake his friend. This failing, he pounds on the front door and yells
up to his friend.
Well, needless to say, all this pounding wakes the baby and the wife isn't too
happy either. "I'm calling the police!" she says. "No, don't do that, it's
only Henry. 1'll go see what he wants."
"Hark, a weary traveler has come to my home but alas, I have no bread to give
"Oh for crying out loud, Henry, cut the Romeo stuff and go to the convenience
store!" we might say, "I'm going back to bed. Night Henry."
"Woe is me, that store isn't open 24-hours a day anymore."
"Oh, yeah, that's right."
After much rankling back and forth, the friend in the upstairs bedroom finally
gets up and begins throwing loaves of bread out the window like missiles at his ex-friend.
Anything to restore peace and quiet on Park Avenue.
This little story could be written off as a Laurel and Hardy spoof, except that
Jesus wants us to get something out of it to augment our own prayer lives. So what is the
"something" that were supposed to get?
Doesnt this story teach us about persistence? Jesus wants us to pray with
p-e-r-s-i-s-t-e-n-c-e. Were supposed to keep on keeping on when we pray. That seems
to fit in perfectly with the "ask, seek, knock" business which concludes this
passage. Thats how weve heard it - were supposed to ask and keep on
asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. Dont stop, never give up. If that
isnt a call to persistence in prayer, what is? What a great sermon on persistence -
just string a few illustrations along and that is a fine sermon.
So, with this slant to the story, I had this little pesky neighbor guy coming back
to his friends house at midnight, then again at 2:30 am and then again at 3 am - just
never giving up until the answer came. But then it suddenly dawned on me that this
neighbor whose cupboards are bare, isnt knocking continuously at all! He
doesnt come back again and again. Just a crisp, loud wrap on the front door.
The word Luke chooses, which is usually translated as persistence in our Bibles,
really means something quite different. The word walks into our text for its one and only
cameo appearance in the pages of the New Testament. Luke chooses deliberately to use this
word as a way that we are to come when we pray the Lords Prayer during worship.
Literally, the word means, shamelessness, or barefacedness. The neighbor rises
from his bed not so much out of persistence, but because of the shameless audacity of his
needy friend. This friend has the audacity to believe that even at the untimely hour of
midnight, he will be heard and answered. The man dares to hold his friend to who he is and
what the law of hospitality requires him to do.
God is not calling us to cajole, wheedle, beg, plead, coax, placate, grovel, and
mindlessly offer rote prayers up to heaven in the hope that God will finally grow bored
with our persistence and answer us to be rid of us. Hear the Good News of the Gospel: God
is calling us to be shameless saints; those who dare to stand barefaced before God, face
to face, eyeball to eyeball, as neighbor to neighbor, and to ask for help. Audacious
pray-ers actually believe that when they pray, they are working with God to determine the
outcome of events. Shameless saints are convinced that God has the ability to answer their
prayer, to respond to the full weight of their petitions.
More important than how long you stand wrapping at heavens door, is what you
do when the door opens. Pray shamelessly! Pray audaciously! Pray with passion-as if
someones life depended on your prayers.
Let me suggest two simple ways that we can begin to pray shameless, audacious
prayers: First, pray audaciously, persistently, shamelessly for Gods lost kids to
come home. When we pray for Gods lost children, its like a 911 call in heaven.
A life is on the line. We never need to wonder about what Gods will is toward the
human condition. God is not willing that any perish. When you pray for others, you are
praying Gods heart of compassion.
I remember once when I invited Willy Reyes to come to my church; as a student in
my class, I discovered that he had spent most of his life on the streets hustling drugs,
and had most recently worked off a thirteen year prison term for assault with a deadly
weapon. God transformed him-an old neighborhood man led him to Christ. So on a Sunday
morning he comes up behind the huge pulpit in my church and in his gravelly voice, he
says, "Thanks for praying for me." Now you understand, that most of us
didnt have a clue who Willy was until that morning. What was he talking about?
"Thanks for praying for me. Every Sunday morning when you prayed faithfully,
God, be with those who are in prison, you were praying for Willy Reyes. Just
had to come here to say thanks for your bold prayers." God continues to answer our
prayers for Willy. Since then, Willy has completed his BA degree and in a few weeks he
will have completed his Masters Degree in Counseling-because some audacious
congregations stood outside the door knocking bare-fisted and shamelessly for people like
Secondly, pray for spiritual awakening across our land. As I have listened to
pastors across this country, prayed and dreamed with them, I have heard their yearning for
spiritual awakening in their personal lives and in the lives of their congregations. We
can have all of these nice improvements, contemporary worship, excellent worship, but
without the fresh breeze of the Spirit in our lives and churches, were just
shuffling lawn chairs around on the deck of the Titanic. John Wesley asked his preachers
one question each year at Conference: "how is it with your soul?" Wesley knew
how important it was for his preachers to be spiritually awakened. Pray for spiritual
awakening in our congregations - not to save the denomination, but to save the lost.