Yesterday I had two very enjoyable meals. I had fish for dinner, and I had eggs for lunch. Never in all my wildest dreams did I worry one bit that when I bit into that piece of fish last night, I would instead be eating a filet of snake. I knew that it would be some deliciously seasoned cod or some other type of fish that would taste very good. Or never in my wildest imagination did I worry that the sausage pieces in my eggs yesterday at lunch would instead be the poisenous stingers of a harmful scorpion. I knew that the omelet in front of me would be a wonderful treat for my hungry belly. When my wife says she has made fish or eggs, I trust that there will be no snakes or scorpions.
When Jesus makes that same comparison about earthly fathers and parents that any child who asks for a piece of fish will not get a snake and that any child who asks for a simple egg will not get a scorpion, he is teaching all of us a lesson about what we can expect when we ask our heavenly Father for something. He is teaching us a lesson about prayer. And in this lesson about prayer Jesus is making it clear that for all who talk to God there will be no snakes or scorpions. Since prayer is such an important part of our lives – and since sometimes prayer can be a confusing part of our lives – my prayer for this sermon is that we will all see how great it is that we never have to worry one bit at all that we will get something bad from God when we ask for something good from God.
One way we can be sure that we will always get something good from God is to pray the way Jesus wants us to pray. St. Luke in our reading for today tells us that one of the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, and this is one of the times Jesus taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. As you noticed when Pastor Free read the words of the Gospel, on this occasion Jesus taught a little bit shorter version of it. When you think about the Lord’s Prayer, is there anything that strikes you as just plain amazing? I imagine there could be all kinds of answers to that, but I would have to think that if we all really thought about it for a bit, one of the things that would just have to strike us as amazing is the very first word of the prayer – Father – and that we can call him Our Father. Perhaps the most important thing to remember in order to really enjoy the gift of prayer is to know that we can call the one we are talking to Father – and to remember how impossible that should be to have such an honor.
God being our Father means we are responsible to him, because he is responsible for us being here, and he is responsible for us while we’re here. Did anyone here decide for himself or herself that he would like to just live on this earth for a while? Of course not. And is there anyone here who could stay alive for even one micro-second if God our Father would decide to stop his control of the world? Again, of course not, but isn’t it true that we often act just the opposite – that we act like we are responsible to no one but ourselves, and that we are responsible for our life going on day after day with all our plans and goals and dreams? God our Father in heaven scoffs at such arrogant absurdity. God our Father in heaven tells us to tell him we’re sorry for such spiritual stupidity. God our Father in heaven should only close his ears to such ridiculous blasphemy.
But God our Father tells us that we can still call him God our Father for the sake of what his Son came to do, because what his Son came to do was to take the responsibility for all that you and I are responsible for. That is why in the Lord’s Prayer we ask God’s name to be hallowed, meaning we want to believe in the name of Jesus and teach the name of Jesus and live the name of Jesus in a “hallowed” way — a holy way. That’s why we ask for God’s kingdom to come, meaning we want to keep listening to God’s Word so Jesus can keep ruling as King in our hearts. That’s why we ask God to give us our daily bread, meaning that we admit that everything we have comes from him and will be given by him in the measure that God knows is best for us. That’s why day after day we ask God to forgive us all the sins we have done against him day after day, and to help us forgive everyone around us for the much littler things they have done against us. And that’s why we ask God not to lead us into temptation and difficult circumstances, meaning that we realize that it is our fault when those things happen, and it is God’s promise that that by hanging on to him there is always a way out. These kinds of prayers will not result in the answers of snakes or scorpions, because these kinds of prayers are for the things God wants us to have and that God promises will make us truly happy. These kinds of prayers are praying the way Jesus wants us to pray.
But it still does sometimes seem like the answers to our prayers are snakes and scorpions, doesn’t it? So often what we ask for is not what we get – or not what we get right now when we think we need it most. And that can be very hard. In fact, it might just be that one of the questions God’s people ask as much – or more – than any other question is, “Why didn’t God answer my prayer?” Many of you have likely asked that question with tears streaming from your eyes. You may be tearfully asking that question right now about something in your life. Many of us have possibly challenged God, criticized God, complained to God for how unloving or uncaring he has seemed to be about your request. You may be challenging God right now about something in your life.
Jesus’ words about prayer in Luke’s Gospel also give us some more things to think about to help us understand that there are never snakes or scorpions when God gives an answer to what we ask of him. That can be our confidence when we pray the way Jesus wants us to pray, like we’ve just mentioned. It can also be our confidence when what we pray for is to receive the Holy Spirit. In that last verse of our lesson, after saying that fathers would not give snakes or scorpions to their children, Jesus also says, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
What do you think it means to pray for the Holy Spirit? One good thing to always think about first when you think about the Holy Spirit is the Word of God, because it is the Holy Spirit who told the prophets and apostles what to write in the Bible. So when we ask to receive the Holy Spirit when we pray, we are asking that God would help us understand the Bible better – and how the Bible helps us know that God’s answer to our prayers will always be good and never bad, no matter how it may truly seem to us at the time.
For example, one thing he tells us in the Bible is not to worry so much about the answer; worry more about the prayer. Just pray. That’s what Jesus is getting at when he tells the little story about the one friend trying to get his sleeping friend to come out of his house and help him so he can help another friend who has come to him. In verse 8 Jesus says that because of the man’s “boldness” in continuing to ask him for help, the guy in the house will finally help. That word boldness has the thought of being desperate and totally unashamed to ask for something. It might be like if your cell phone was dead, and you had just been in an accident, and you needed to call a parent or friend or a spouse or a child or a boss – and you needed to do it right away — and you went around pleading with that person and that person and that person and that person until you finally found a person who would help you. You would be bold and persistent and unashamed, not caring what anyone else thought, because you absolutely needed to make a phone call.
Jesus says that you never have to feel ashamed or that you are bothering Jesus, like that man sleeping in the house felt bothered. In fact, in the very next verses he says just that: “Just ask. Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” No matter how tired you feel, no matter how tired of you you may think God is, no matter how impossible the situation might seem to be, no matter how much you have failed to be the kind of person who has any right to talk to God, just bow on your knees and for the sake of Jesus your Savior, call God your Father – and ask…. seek… knock… Jesus will answer the door.
And know that whatever the answer is, it is not a bad answer. That’s the tricky part, isn’t it? But the more you ask God to give you the Holy Spirit by helping you understand his Word better, the more you and I will be able to understand that what may look like it can’t possibly be God’s will or good for us most certainly is God’s will and most definitely is good for us, even if it takes us a very long time to figure that out. Look at the one in whose name we pray – our Savior. No one in all the world could ever have figured out on their own that when Jesus was suffering at the hands of sinners and dying on the cross among sinners and then being buried in the very same earth that every sinner is buried, that that could possibly have been a good thing. But there were no snakes or scorpions when Jesus died, because by that death Jesus removed the sting of death and by his rising from the grave Jesus crushed the serpent’s head – and God’s promise is that for Jesus’ sake, that sting and that serpent cannot ever take away God’s love from you and me in any way whatsoever. That’s the thing to remember when we talk to God in prayer. And that’s the thing to thank God for as we talk to him and as we listen to him and as we live for him. Let everything around us hiss and sting. When we talk to God, we are talking to our Lord and King. And the King, our dear Father, has no time for snakes or scorpions in the lives of his dear children. Amen.