A sermon on Luke 11:1-13
(with many thanks to Karoline Lewis at workingpreacher.org for showing me the way into the gospel this week.)
[Jesus] 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.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5 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; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And 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.’ 8 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.
9 “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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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!”
“How much more?”
It’s a frequent question this summer. I can’t remember a time in my life when there was so much violence going on in the world—“How much more?” I ask in prayer. How much more death, violence, and fear will we endure?
How much more? We are in the midst of national political conventions this week, and of course there is craziness all over the news related to that. How much more mudslinging, how much more negativity, how much more divided will we as a nation become?
How much more? This can be a personal question, too. How much more pain do I have to endure? How much more sorrow do I have to see in my lifetime? How much more suffering can one body stand?
When we ask – “How much more” – we are usually speaking from a place where hope is lost. We don’t know how we can possibly move forward, and relief is nowhere in sight.
This is a question Jesus could’ve asked, too – Jesus who spent most of his time ministering to people who were suffering, Jesus who has powerful men on his trail breathing death, Jesus who says “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” How much more sadness and sickness will I see? How much more must I fear violent death? Praying on the Mount of Olives, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” “How much more?”, Jesus prays – remove this cup if you are willing.
But in today’s Gospel reading Jesus says, “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!”
And again in the very ext chapter of Luke’s gospel – “Consider the ravens… of how much more value are you than the birds” … “Consider the lilies… if God so clothes the grass of the field, how much more will he clothe you?”
When we ask the question “How much more” it’s a question of desperation—how much more can we take? How much more must I endure? But when Jesus asks “how much more,” he is speaking of the immeasurable and unending mercy and abundance of God’s Spirit and love for us.
The word for prayer in this passage is proseuchomai – “pros” means to turn toward or exchange, and “euchomai” means to wish or pray. So when Jesus prays, when he teaches the disciples to pray, the word literally means to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes or ideas for God’s goodness, even as God blesses us with greater faith.
We come to God in prayer asking, “How much more, God? How much more hurt does our world have to endure? How much more do I have to suffer? How much more must I take – I’m at the end of my rope!”
And it’s okay to ask that question.
It’s necessary to bring our doubt, our pain, our real gut-level cry to God.
In Psalm 13, David asks:
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”
The prophets ask, “How much more?” Isaiah asks, “How long, O Lord?” Jeremiah asks, “How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither?” Habakkuk asks, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?”
“How much more?” we cry out to God, our own voices added to the great cloud of witnesses who have cried out to God over the ages.
But when Jesus teaches us to pray like he prays, he teaches us to proseuchomai – to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes or ideas for God’s wishes, even as God blesses us with greater faith.
In prayer we give God our question, our cry – “How much more?” and we receive God’s – “How much more.”
How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
How much more will I care for you, my precious children – look to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field!
How much more have I called you very good from the beginning of creation, how much more in baptism have I called you my child, sealed you by the Holy Spirit, and marked you with the cross of Christ forever, how much more have I promised to be with you always, even to the end of the age.
“How much more?” we cry.
And God answers, “How much more.”
Let us pray.
O Father in Heaven, may your name always be holy on our lips and in our world.
May your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread – you provide all we need, and we pray that you would meet our needs and the needs of all people who cry out to you.
Forgive us our sins. Where we fall short, where we sin against one another, forgive us, and teach us to forgive all who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial.
How much more?
Heal our world, our nation, our community, our hurting bodies and spirits.
Let us receive the abundance of your goodness and mercy, the Holy Spirit moving through each breath.
How much more will you care and provide for and love us, how much more do we receive from your abundance, a fountain that never runs dry, how much more is your compassion and love than our ability to see them?
May your name always be holy on our lips and in our world. Amen.”