September 6, 2020
Luke 11: 1-4
Over the years, Donna and I have bought a lot of assemble-it-yourself furniture.
Sometimes it was the price that made the difference … other times, it was because it’s easier fitting a few boxes in the back of the car than it is trying to squeeze an entertainment unit behind the backseat.
Of course, once you’ve unloaded and opened the boxes, you need to find the instructions and even then you could still spend a few hours … or even days … assembling the piece.
A lot depends on the instructions you find in the box.
Some are overly detailed … cramming as much information into as little space as possible … even describing the screws needed and how much of a turn you need to give them … was that a half a turn or three-quarters of a turn? … before you move on to the next step.
Others are just drawings of the pieces and how they should fit together.
And sometimes … in the heat of frustration … you find yourself throwing away the instructions and just winging it.
In today’s passage from Luke, the disciples are looking for the instructions when it comes to prayer. The disciples know that Jesus frequently goes off and prays, so one disciple figures that he can teach them the proper way to pray.
The disciple tells Jesus that John the Baptist offered prayer instructions to his followers, so he should do the same.
The disciples probably witnessed John … out in the wilderness … perhaps standing on the shores of the Jordan … wearing his camel-hair clothing and leather belt … looking upward … offering a dynamic, animated prayer before the gathered crowd.
Perhaps, the prayer called for people’s hearts to change and for their repentance … and their salvation. Maybe, the disciple was taken with the strength and vigour that John displayed in his act of praying.
If this is the case, then Jesus’ instructions must have taken them by surprise.
It’s not bombastic or dynamic … there are no grand gestures … the volume of Jesus’ voice likely never raised a single decibel.
It’s easy when you hear this short passage to believe that, for this disciple, following the proper … the correct … form makes the prayer more effective. That John’s way is the proper way.
Perhaps, in the disciple’s mind, form was more important than content. That following the instructions is what’s important when you communicate with God.
But this means also that there is a wrong way to pray.
Of course, a lot depends in how we read this passage and what lens we look through when we do.
At a time when we readily offer “thoughts and prayers” whenever we hear of a tragedy … and perhaps too little of each … or when we pray the Lord’s Prayer and say the words without considering the level faith and power that lies within them, wanting proper instructions seems desirable.
Maybe, it would be better to view the disciple’s request as a desire to understand the proper function of prayer rather than to receive instruction in the proper performance of one.
Lutheran scholar Matt Skinner once wrote that the disciple’s request is the same as asking Jesus to show them his heart… to show what love looks like.
Jesus gives them the nuts and bolts of prayer … which lie at the heart of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.
Jesus never tells them how to pray … he doesn’t tell them the proper way to clasp their hands … or whether kneeling, sitting or standing is the preferred posture for an effective prayer. There is no step A, B, C to follow in this regard.
Jesus tosses away that page of the supposed prayer instruction sheet.
Instead, Jesus tells them what to pray and invites them to turn to God … and recognize that God is fully present in the daily matters of life … those essential moments that feed us.
“Give us this day our daily bread…”
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains that bread goes beyond food on the table.
“Everything that nourishes our body and meets its needs, such as: Food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, yard, fields, cattle, money, possessions, a devout spouse, devout children, devout employees, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honour, good friends, faithful neighbours and other things like these,” are what compose our daily bread Luther wrote.
Jesus’s brief instructions show the disciples … and reminds us … that God is present in the basic parts of our lives and serves as a reminder of potential that a relationship with God offers.
In writing about today’s passage, Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman once said …. “we pray, not because we are at wits end, but because You are the centre of our lives.”
The brief prayer that Jesus shares with the disciples not only affirms God’s presence in the life of the person praying … and in the life of the world … but also serves as a reminder of the freeing aspect of love … a love that is at the heart of forgiveness.
The words that Jesus shares underscores that love is found in our concern for the needs of our neighbours. Prayer calls us into the life of the community … asking everyone to be fed and everyone to be forgiven and to have the capacity to forgive.
And grace is found within that capacity.
In his work on the Gospel of Luke, David Nickle said that “prayer is attitude molded by conviction.”
Prayer is attitude molded by conviction …
There is no proper posture for prayer … throw that part of the instruction sheet away … allow experience … what we have witnessed and how we view the world … for form the content of your conversation with God.
… and to allow the prayer to give voice to the love we have received … a love we are called to share … a love that is our daily bread.