“Loving God”, Pastor Paul Grossman
Luke 11:1-13 CEB
Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”
He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness. And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.
“Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you 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?”
If I asked you to tell me the Lord’s Prayer, I am sure most of you could do it without even having to look it up! What about this version from Luke that we heard this morning? The essential elements are there, but it is just different enough to be jarring and make us have to read it more carefully than the version we repeat every Sunday. We have two different versions of the Lord’s Prayer, one in Matthew and the other version here in Luke. It is a reminder for us that prayer, like any spiritual discipline can take many different forms, and these different forms keep us paying attention to the relationship that informs everything we do, our relationship with God. Last week, we talked about a number of practices or “Means of Grace” that we can engage in to have a good relationship with God, but what does it mean to incorporate these spiritual disciplines actively into our faith lives? By engaging in the means of grace of prayer and worship and communion and reading and studying the Bible and finally fasting, we will find ourselves in connection with our God, forming a channel to God’s love and grace in our own lives that will flow from us into the lives of our neighbors and into our world.
Let us start off with where our gospel reading starts today, with prayer. I love how Christ’s disciples come to him and ask him to teach them to pray. It is a wonderful reminder that Jesus serves as our model for what a healthy relationship with God looks like, and this can be seen in his life of constant prayer. Jesus teaches his followers a basic way to pray, that even when other words fail or they are uncertain, this prayer can serve as the basis of their prayer lives. Infact, in our verses this morning, Jesus goes on to say that in talking to God, we need not fear whether our prayers will be answered, and as in all things, God seeks our good and the good of all around us. Now, this does not always mean that the prayer will be answered in the way we expect, but I do believe that every prayer is answered. As Jesus even makes the point that even less than moral people can still love their children and seek their good, so how much more true must that be of God!
Prayer, like the other disciplines, is a form of communication, and while we are talking to God, we should not be surprised that God might talk back! Look to worship and communion here, as we have two acts where we open ourselves to interact with our God! However we view the purpose of worship, we enter a space ready to engage with our God, offering up song and prayer and our very presence! The same is true of communion, for when we participate in remembering the Lord’s Supper, we do more than just recall the event. Instead, we make the event present for us here and now, for even the very word used for “remembrance” in our own communion liturgy means making this meal something that happened in the past, happens now, and will happen in the future (Finely 2008, 68). We share something together that is a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet we will all share on the day when Christ comes again. In both cases, we invite God to be present with us, so we should not be surprised when God actually shows up and decides to work through these to transform us. It reminds me of a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his unfinished work about ethics where he says, “The church is not a religious community of worshippers of Christ but is Christ himself who has taken form among people.” In these acts, we open ourselves to becoming Christ to the world.
God is an active force who works through ordinary things, like scripture, to continue to talk to us! Both United Methodists and Presbyterians affirm that scripture is something for us to engage with on a daily basis, and that means more than simply reading it. Both have a long history in seeking to understand the context, the form, and the history surrounding our scripture as a means of allowing scripture to communicate to us the Word of God. To be clear though, the Word of God is not scripture, it is Jesus Christ, the very Logos of God. With his presence with us, scripture lives and breathes. It is something we wrestle with and argue about. It is something that comforts and challenges us, and ultimately, through God’s active presence, we find Christ and the grace of God communicated through its pages.
Finally, everybody’s favorite practice, fasting! Even in our Lenten Study Group, we struggled with this! Many commented that it seems too foreign to Protestants, but even so, as rusty as we might be at fasting, we noticed that as we read scripture and heard the words of many Christians over the past two millennia, it comes up a lot! Jesus uses it before he goes into ministry. We often fast from something during the season of Lent, not just food. In all things, it makes space for us to encounter the living God. We may fast in conjunction with prayer or worship. We may fast in connection with mission and ministry. We take a moment to clear out the distractions, the things that keep us from paying attention to God. It is easy enough today to find things to fill every corner of our days and every minute of our lives! Do we tell God that we might be able to squeeze in the divine for a few minutes next Tuesday? What does that say about the priority we place on this relationship?
You see my friends, in all these practices, we do not do them to satisfy some divine score sheet to verify whether we are faithful Christians or not. It is more than that. For each of us every day, Jesus is asking us a question, “Do you love me?” On our busy days, maybe we brush off Christ, or give the quick response, “You know I do,” but Jesus is asking so much more than that. Jesus wants us to pay attention and answer, “Yes, I love you, Lord,” and Jesus will ask us to follow him, to dive more deeply into our relationship with God and live out these three simple rules. Bishop Rueben Job puts it this way, “One who is deeply in love will be constantly formed and transformed by that relationship,” and this kind of relationship “will be a natural channel of God’s goodness, power, and presence in the world.” (Job 2007, 57-58). I think we have all seen this in another form. When someone is deeply in love with another, it changes them and it changes the world around them. The joy and love they feel, the renewed goodness they find in this one corner of the world, impacts and touches the rest!
My friends, if we love the Lord, we are being called into the deepest relationship yet, and the more we engage in this relationship, the more we will find ourselves transformed. If you are more loving with God, how can you not be more loving with one another? If you are finding more joy through this relationship, others will know and feel this joy! In fact, the transformation will be to give you as gracious, compassionate, merciful, patient, loving, and good of a heart as our God. Your neighbors and your world should feel this change because you are like Christ to the world just as Bonhoeffer said! You will be the good answer to a prayer. You will revel in worship and communion. Reading and studying scripture to encounter Christ again and again will be your passion. You will gladly find time to make God the core relationship of your life. Conversely, my friends, if these transformations are absent in your life, perhaps this relationship with God requires more work. In this way, things like the Lord’s prayer, worshiping with your church family, sharing in communion, picking up that Bible, and clearing out the clutter are good first steps to engage with this relationship again.
Like all relationships, this is not a one and done thing. We must wake up everyday ready to make the choice to be in love with God, and to do no harm to our neighbor and creation, and finally to do good for all. Friends, even in the midst of any given day, we might trip and fall! We might slip up! Friends, this is why we have the abundant grace of God, so we can pick ourselves up and make a different choice. We can choose this holy life of deep relationship with God and neighbor. We can choose this relationship that will not just transform us but form everything around us! My friends, do you love God? If so, go, do no harm, do good, and stay in love with the God who first loved us. Amen!
Finley, Jeanne Torrence. 2008. Three Simple Rules for Christian
Living. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Job, Rueben P. 2007. Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of
Living. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
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Pastor Paul Grossman