Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church ● Albany, California ● July 24, 2022
Forgive me if I repeat what some of you may have heard before. About ten years ago, I found myself walking from our long-time home on the corner of Dartmouth and Stannage to St. Alban’s. My father had died a few weeks earlier in August, and I couldn’t face another fall at University Lutheran Chapel. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for all the excitement and creativity of campus ministry. I just wanted to sing some hymns and recite the creed.
So, I came to St. Alban’s for the hymns, but I’ve stayed because of the prayers.
In my early Sundays here, I was startled when during the Prayers of the People, the people actually offered intercessions – lots of them about lots of family members, friends, and events. Each intercession was followed by “Amen.”
And then, after I thought the service was over, there took place one of the wackiest activities I’ve ever seen in a church. People actually came forward and asked for personal blessings for themselves and their loved ones. Then, we enthusiastically prayed the prayers from the Prayer Book.
It’s also unbelievable to me that a half dozen of us – and there’s room for more! – have faithfully met for 20 to 30 minutes every Thursday morning for the last five years. We follow the Morning Prayer service in the Book of Common Prayer, and we pray the collect for the saint or person who is commemorated that day or week.
The disciples in today’s Gospel reading were a lot like us St. Albanites. As good Jewish men, they knew many prayers and had plenty of practice praying. Apparently, some of them had been taught to pray by John the Baptist. Over the years, they would have heard prayers in their homes, synagogues, and the Temple. Those would be prayers to God the father, and they would certainly hollow or revere the divine name: YHWH, the four letters that stood for the unspoken name of God who told Abraham, “I am who I am.” And, of course, they had the Psalms, a collection of 150 prayers.
Yet in today’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Today, we are invited to listen in on this conversation between Jesus and his disciples. The promise is that we, too, might learn how our prayers can transform our lives today.
In response to the disciples’ request, Jesus offers a few sentences we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew’s Gospel, this prayer has a few extra words and concludes with an additional petition to “rescue us from the evil one.” The Didache, a very early Christian handbook, has a version of the prayer even closer to the one we pray today, and it includes the doxology.
Unique to Luke, though, is that this prayer is followed by the parable of the friend who knocks persistently on the door of his friend to ask for bread to feed another friend who has come in the middle of the night.
To make sense of all this, we should stop and ask why, at this point in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples are asking that question.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ life was written at the end of the first century, at least 50 years after Jesus’ death. You’ll recall it is the first part of a two-part narrative, with the Acts of the Apostles being the second part.
When we read much of Acts in our Easter season, I was struck that there’s a whole lot of baptizing going on. The Ethiopian eunuch and the jailer and his family are just two of many examples. Then, as I was reading today’s verses, it occurred to me that Luke’s Gospel was written to help early Christians – who, like those in Acts, were being baptized into the faith – to live into their baptism.
In our second reading for today, from Colossians, we hear what’s at stake in our baptism: “when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God…God made you alive together with him.”
Luke’s Gospel suggests that disciples – including us today – live out our baptism when we follow Jesus on his journey. More so than in the other Gospels, Jesus is on the road traveling all over the place. He stops along the way to heal and preach, often telling parables. As we’ve noted in the past, he does a lot of eating. Often, he’s associating with women, tax collectors, and others who were on the margins of society.
The other notable activity in Luke’s Gospel is Jesus at prayer. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus prays at his baptism. Often, he goes off to pray by himself. In chapter 6, he spends the entire night in prayer. And, of course, he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion.
It’s striking, too, that Luke’s Gospel ends with the disciples in the Temple praying after Jesus’ resurrection.
Today’s Gospel reading takes on even greater significance because, just a few verses ago, at the end of chapter nine, Jesus’ journey takes an important turn. It says that “Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.” And, just to make sure the disciples understand what’s up, Jesus predicts that he will be rejected and put to death.
No wonder, then, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.
So, what is that we learn about prayer that is powerful enough to overcome rejection and death?
First, today’s reading encourages us to pray repeatedly: “When you pray – whenever you pray” this is the prayer that is the framework and model for all our prayers.
Second, this prayer is about our very existence: the bread that sustains us, the food – and everything else – that nourishes us. You’ll recall that, just before Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem, he fed the multitudes with the five loaves and two fishes. As down-to-earth as this petition is, it would have also been as reminder to Luke’s readers that their prayers are part of the messianic banquet, the Eucharist they celebrated each Sunday.
Third, we are encouraged to pray together. The “you” here is plural. Our prayers are always communal, and the most effective prayers are those offered for us by others. And that’s why we have the parable of the persistent friend.
In this little puzzle of a parable, there are so many friends; everyone is a friend of everyone else. That’s the point of friendship, isn’t it? You can’t say no.
To be sure, we often fail as friends. At times, even our friends’ persistence fails to persuade us. We can’t escape the judgment implicit in today’s reading: as parents – and as friends – we are evil. And for some of us our prayers – our knocking persistently on God’s door – takes place in the dark night of our souls. In the confusion of our daily lives or sometimes in our despair, we are tempted to give up, just as we are tempted not to respond when our friends appeal to us.
But Luke’s parable suggests that – despite these temptations, despite those dark nights, despite our fear that God is not listening – we are praying as part of an amazing friendship circle.
Finally, what makes this prayer circle so powerful is that we are praying with Jesus. Our prayers get special hearing because they are the prayers of Jesus on our behalf.
Once again, our reading from Colossians may say this best: “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Throughout his Gospel, Luke invites us to go back in time and follow Jesus during his life all those years ago. At the same time, though, Luke proclaims the good news that the Jesus who is doing all this healing, teaching, and feeding is the Risen Christ present among us right now. As was the case for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, this Risen Christ is here among us as we pray over the bread that sustains our bodies and our spirit.
Let us continue to pray with this Risen Christ and with each other. Amen.