Sunday, May 3rd
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; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And 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.’ I 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 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!”
One of the unexpected joys in this time of being at home has been becoming acquainted with some of our neighbors. Because we moved into a relatively new subdivision, we’re all beginning the process of neighborly care. Getting outside to walk affords conversation, at a safe distance, of course. This new neighborliness has allowed for new friendships and opportunities to be good neighbors for each other – watching over homes, picking up things for each other when we go to the grocery store, and generally improving on this get-to-know-you process. Today’s parable deals with neighbors, and more importantly, caring for one another. But even more than that, it talks about the value of earnest persistence in prayer.
To understand the parable, a little background in 1st-century Palestinian living might be of help. For one thing, hospitality was expected in that day and time. If someone arrived on your doorstep, you were expected to take them in. This is what occurs in this parable. However, the host has no bread to share, so he goes to a neighbor’s home and knocks on the door. The neighbor does not want to be bothered. He’s probably been asleep and has all of his children with him. That may seem a little strange in our society, but houses in Israel, especially in rural areas, were small, consisting of one room only. You can imagine a small dark room with a raised area at the back where the family lived. In the front lower part of the house, the domestic animals (chicken, goats…) were kept. There was usually one door which was left open throughout the day. In the evening, the family would close it and slide a wooden or iron bar through rings in the door panels. It is easy to see that removing this bar in the middle of the night would be quite noisy. That is why the man inside the house said, “The door is shut.” Getting up would have wakened the children.
In such circumstances, it would have been much easier to stay in bed than to upset all the children and animals, not to mention trying to find a loaf of bread in the dark. But his neighbor was persistent. He kept knocking on the door. He kept saying, ‘Please, give me some bread, because I can’t let my friend get hungry. Could you get up?’ After a while, the father inside got up and took care of his neighbor’s need.
The parable has been given in response to the question about prayer. Jesus is talking about a loving God for whom nothing is too trivial. This God is of grace and mercy. Jesus is giving us a wonderful picture of a God who truly loves the world. Furthermore, Jesus is discipling us, because constant prayer to/with God creates residents of the Kingdom. So, no matter how shallow we think our prayers are, or even how trivial we think our requests may seem, we are called to keep in touch with the Almighty.
Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, longtime professors at the Duke Divinity School, wrote a short book together on the Lord’s Prayer that envisions that prayer as something like a shorthand primer on what it means to be a Christian. “Think of Christianity, not primarily as a set of doctrines, a volunteer organization, or a list of appropriate behaviors,” they wrote. “Think of Christianity as naming a journey of a people. . . By praying the Lord’s Prayer we are being made into a people whose journey is a sign to the world that God has not abandoned the world to its own devices but is present as a people on the move.” Praying forms us as we go. In this parable, Jesus says to stay at it. As we all know from experience, it’s not always easy.
I have a friend who practices what she preaches. Her name is Dorisanne Cooper, and she is Pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC. Dorisanne was a preschooler when I first served at 7th and James in Waco. Her parents, both former Baylor professors, are the kind of people who define the word “good.” She also has two thoughtful, inquisitive older brothers who were members of my youth group, so her family has always held a special place in my heart. A couple of years ago, Dorisanne shared at the annual convocation of North Carolina’s Baptist Women of Ministry her recent experience in dealing with cancer. She told about contracting the disease when she first arrived in Durham, but the prognosis was good, and she’s doing well today. However the treatments drained her energy and made her vulnerable to sickness, meaning she had to sequester herself from the congregation at times.
That was hardest for Dorisanne on Sunday mornings — she always loved the experience of greeting people as they were coming to worship. She didn’t want her moment in the pulpit to be the first interaction with the congregation. It was part of her practice to be in the sanctuary leading up to the start of the service to check in with people, jotting down notes about requests or needs. She loved this moment of connection, but with her treatments she needed to stand at a distance for a season, and she really had to conserve all of her energy for preaching and worship leadership.
So she began another practice. For the 15 minutes or so prior to worship, she would sit up apart from the congregation, at a distance, but where she could still see them, and she’d watch as they entered for worship. She’d see all these people coming into the sanctuary to pray, and to sing, and to worship. And as she watched, she’d pray — a prayer with her eyes open. She’d look around and she’d remember who was struggling, and who was suffering, and who was worried and who was wondering. She’d look down and see the person whom she knew was awaiting some news on their own health challenges. She’d see the child whom she had heard just had a big game at school. She’d see the teenager that she knew was asking good questions about these whole God and church things. She’d see the saint that had sent her banana bread earlier that week. Over here would be someone who was struggling with addiction, and then not far from them was the person who had recently come to talk about tension in a relationship. She’d look around, and pray for them all. And Dorisanne said she’d never before felt her preaching and ministry more connected to her congregation, because she was looking around, remembering them all, and believing again that the wideness of God’s mercy held everyone.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
Early in our lives, many of us were taught to regard prayer as talking to God. During these trying times it can be difficult to find words that express our hearts. Consider these words from Richard Rohr: “Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is rather a stance. It is a way of living in the Presence.” How does that relate to the following Scripture? “…the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.” (Romans 8:26-27 The Message)
How might you practice being present with God in this moment?
In today’s parable, Jesus assures us that the daily concerns and desires of our hearts matter to God. Can you remember a time when you felt immersed in God’s love, through prayers spoken or even unspoken? Why not revisit that time and express your gratitude for God’s presence?
Garth Brooks had a semi-whimsical song years back titled “Unanswered Prayers.” The refrain goes:
Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’
To the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
‘Cause some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers
Can you remember an “unanswered prayer” that was actually an answer in itself? Thank God for God’s care, and let it be a reminder not to hold back on opening your heart to God.
A Musical Guide for Prayer: from“The Prayer” written by David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, Alberto Testa and Tony Renis; performed by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli.
I pray you’ll be our eyes and watch us where we go.
And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer
When we lose our way
Lead us to the place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe…
I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night,
Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place,
Guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe…
We ask that life be kind…
And watch us from above…
We hope each soul will find…
Another soul to love
Let this be our prayer…
Just like every child…
Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe…