Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ah, summertime and the Season of weddings! If you haven’t been in a wedding or planned a wedding, then you have certainly attended a wedding this summer. I’ve had about a half dozen weddings since May, but there is still more summer to go, so I will once again get my quota of weddings.
Everybody has a unique wedding story to tell. The bride fell down, or the best man dropped the ring, or the flower girl proclaimed her need for a potty break right in the middle of the vows. I had a wedding one time where a stray cat wandered down the center aisle during the singing of the solo, and stood right in line with the bridesmaids. When the couple kissed, and the congregation applauded, that startled cat ran down the center aisle and out of the church. Like I said, everybody has a unique wedding story to tell.
Although it is fiction, what if you witnessed the following at a wedding. The bride and groom profess their love for one another at a lively ceremony. Everybody says they make a perfect couple, and the future is very bright for them. And then, after the kiss, the groom does an amazing thing: he extends his hand to shake the hand of the bride and says “Thanks a lot. If I need anything, I’ll call you. Otherwise, see you later.” And he just walks away!
That scene is unthinkable for a bride and groom who have just made promises to spend a lifetime together. And yet it exactly describes many spiritual relationships, where people have come face to face with God. Love is ignited, promises are made, and then when the honeymoon is over, this new believer only checks in with God when there is an urgent need or a critical concert. And that is how many of us pray: we pray only when there is illness, or we pray only when there is an algebra test, or we pray only when there is a job interview. Otherwise, we handle life all by ourselves, without need of the God who has promised to go though life with us.
This is the third sermon on prayer I’ve given in less than a month; a good indication of the priority that prayer ought to be in our lives. Never mind that Jesus invited us to pray, and even commanded us to pray; when we pray, we are telling God that our lives are dependent on him. When we don’t pray, we are telling God just the opposite. So today, I’ll take one more run at the subject of prayer; this time, from an analytical point of view. And my prayer… is that you will be motivated to speak to God daily, and listen to God as He speaks to you.
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When the disciples watched Jesus praying in our gospel lesson today, one of them asked Jesus how to do that. It’s the only time in scripture that the disciples ASKED Jesus to teach them anything. “Lord, teach us how to pray.” And it was then that Jesus taught them what has come to be known as “The Lord’s Prayer”. Although we use that prayer every time we gather for worship, and at many other pivotal times in our lives, Jesus was teaching it as an outline for prayer… as a style or a form that we might use. Praise God, thank God, confess to God, make requests to God, praise God.
Funny, how most of our prayers only take on the “request” part. We forget all about praising Him for his greatness, or thanking Him for His blessings, or telling Him of our disobedience. The Lord’s Prayer has all the parts, and it was taught to us by Jesus, and that’s why this beautiful prayer has endured for 2000 years.
But that’s not what I’ve come to talk to you about this morning. Late in the gospel lesson today, Jesus offers another outline when it comes to prayer. “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Ask ad it will be given to you; for whoever seeks finds, and whoever knocks the door is opened and whoever asks receives.” I want to spend the remainder of our time together this morning centering around those three words: Seek, knock, and ask.
The word “seek” is one that has gained prominence in the church in about the last decade. Actually, the word “seeker” has defined a whole new style of worship planning; seeker services — worship gatherings designed to meet the needs of those who are investigating the Christian faith.
Whether you know it or not, we live in a world of seekers. People all around us, including most of us are seeking fulfillment in our lives. More than ever before, we are looking high and low for the thing or the things that make life meaningful. People – especially young people – have become disillusioned to every turn. Financial success didn’t bring happiness to our parents. Academic success didn’t do it for them. Relationships have crashed. People have let them down. Technology. Popularity. Physical beauty. Sooner or later, it hits a wall. So now, many are seeking religion as a possible answer.
In today’s gospel lesson. Jesus makes a promise to all those who are seeking: you will find. It may not be the exact answer you were looking for, but it very well may be God’s answer for you. When we seek God’s guidance in prayer, we must be open to the fact that our will may not be his will. But ultimately, that’s what prayer is, isn’t it? Seeking God’s answers for the struggles of our lives?
Next, Jesus says to “Knock and the door will be opened.” Another promise. He uses the illustration of a neighbor knocking on our door because he has an urgent need. That neighbor will not go away until tie request is granted. In this illustration by Jesus, persistence is encouraged. Pestering is given the green light. Even when it comes to prayer.
But not all prayer is about conversation. Sometimes prayer is about being quiet. In a television interview several years ago, Dan Rather was asking Mother Teresa about her prayer life. “When you pray to God what do you say?” Rather asked. “I listen” she replied. “Okay” Rather said, tongue in cheek. “What does God say?” “He listens” was her reply.
You see, sometimes prayer is not an urgent knocking and clamoring at the door of God. Sometimes, it’s about listening to what God has to say to us. I love the words of songwriter Scott Krippayne. “Sometimes he calms the storm, other times, he calms his child.” You see, that’s the other thing about prayer. Sometimes prayer changes our circumstance, but sometimes prayer changes us.
Finally, Jesus says that it’s okay to ask. “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened, ask and it will be given.” Jesus uses the illustration of a human father, who would not give his child a snake when they ask for a fish. When a child asks for an egg, no human father would give his daughter a spider. But allow me to turn that sentence around; what if the child asks for a spider? I mean, what if the child asks for something that the father knows would he dangerous for the child to have? Does the father oblige the child, just because the child asked? Absolutely not!
In two weeks, out preacher will be Steve Wohlfeil, from Pentecost Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. Let me tell you how Steve Wohlfeil and I became friends. In 1984, 1 was a getting restless in the church I was serving in Sioux Falls, but I didn’t want to move my family. Right across the street, the position of Campus Pastor of Augustana College opened up. The process lasted for months, and in the end, there were two finalists: Steve Wohlfeil and me. They chose Wohlfeil, and I was devastated. For about two days, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and then I just bucked up. In two months, Steve and I began our friendship, and through him, I discovered that the job wasn’t at all what I had imagined. And six months later, I received a call to be senior pastor at a church in Salem, Oregon. If I had gotten my way, if God had answered the prayer the way I wanted him to, I would have missed a wonderful journey of ministry. I asked. God answered. And it was good.
The book that has taken America by storm, The Prayer of Jabaz contains a touching illustration. A man named Jones dies and goes to heaven, and in heaven St. Peter shows him a warehouse filled with all the blessings that God wanted to give him while he was on earth – but Mr. Jones never asked. I don’t know if God withholds blessings from our lives if we fail to ask, but I do know that God invites us to ask… to pester…to persist, until God gives us an answer.
Well friends, that’s prayer. It is seeking, knowing that we have already been found. It is knocking, knowing that Jesus promises to welcome us in. It is asking, trusting that God will give us what is best. Prayer is about being in daily communication with the bride who has promised to love us forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2001, Steven Molin. Used by permission.