Prayer, bread, forgiveness, and Spirit: a table talk from Luke 11.1-13

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July 28, 2013 by jmar198013

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My text for today is Luke 11.1-13. It’s a passage about prayer, bread, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit. So it’s a fantastic text to ponder as we gather around the Lord’s Table. It’s a text that should make us better at sharing a table with Jesus.

Jesus was praying somewhere once. When he finished praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just like John taught his disciples.” Jesus told them, “When you pray, say this: Father, uphold the honor of your name. Establish your kingdom. Make sure we all have enough to eat. Forgive our sins, because we forgive those who owe us. Protect us from the time of testing.” Then he told them, “Imagine you come to your friend in the middle of the night. And you say to this friend, ‘Friend, someone I know is passing through town and has just arrived at my house. I need you to loan me three loaves of bread, because I have nothing to feed him.’ What if your friend wouldn’t even come to the door? What if he said, ‘Leave me alone! The door is already locked and my children and I are in bed for the night. I can’t get up and give you anything’? Even if he won’t get up to help out of friendliness, I bet he’ll get up and get whatever his friend needs so he doesn’t look like a jerk. So I tell you: Ask, and you’ll receive. Seek, and you’ll find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. For those who ask receive. Those who seek find. And the door is opened for those who knock. Let me ask you parents: would any of you give your child a snake when he asked for a fish? Or if she asked for an egg, would you give her a scorpion? Evil as you are, you know how to give what is right to your children. So don’t you think your heavenly Father will be even more likely to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

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 You’ve really got to feel for the disciples here. All they asked Jesus for was a little instruction in prayer. What he gave them was a hand-me-down prayer and a bunch of other stuff that they didn’t ask for. Like a story about a cranky friend. And that backhanded compliment: You’re pretty awful, but at least you don’t feed your children scorpions. So there’s that. And something about the Holy Spirit. Probably the disciples were secretly thinking, Um . . . that’s nice Jesus. But we didn’t ask for the Holy Spirit. We asked you to teach us to pray. Who said anything about the Holy Spirit? 

I suspect that the disciples were accusing Jesus of doing what he had just said God would not do. They had come to him asking for an omelet, and he had crammed a handful of scorpion stingers in their mouths.

 But sometimes the disciples thought they knew what to ask for when they really didn’t. We do that too. Sometimes we’re asking for a snake when we need a fish. And sometimes the disciples asked for one thing when they really wanted something else. We also do that. Sometimes we try to pretend that the scorpion we’re asking for is actually an egg. What I mean is that when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, it wasn’t an innocent request. They didn’t just say, Lord, teach us to pray, and leave it at that. They said, Lord, teach us to pray just like John taught his disciples. This is more like when Israel begged God for a king so they could be like the other nations around them. This is like when we say, “Why can’t we be more like the church uptown whose campus looks like an office park, and no one from the youth group will ever end up on Teen Mom, and the preacher has perfect teeth?” Hidden in the disciples’ request to be taught how to pray is a stinging accusation: All the cool rabbis are teaching their disciples special prayers and neat spiritual disciplines. You’re holding out on us, Jesus! The disciples wanted what we secretly desire: a shortcut to God. They wanted insider access, a simple plan for success, an easy road to victory.

Jesus refused to give them those things, and he refuses them to us, as well. Instead, he offers a second-hand prayer and the promise of the Holy Spirit. Think back to Luke 4.1-3, which tells us that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit . . . was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil.” (NET Bible) The Holy Spirit had sustained Jesus during the time of testing, and Jesus promises the same Holy Spirit to his disciples. It’s interesting to note that the devil was offering Jesus shortcuts in the wilderness. The devil wanted to give Jesus an easy road to victory. You don’t have to die on that cross, Jesus, the devil whispered. If you feed them, they will follow you. Or, You could be a king to these people. Do things my way, and you can rule the world! Or, Wow them with magic tricks! They’ll listen to someone floating down from the temple like a feather in the breeze. The devil was offering Jesus the hip uptown church with the animatronic Noah’s ark attraction and the celebrity worship leader. He was giving Jesus a chance to be that preacher with the perfect teeth. But Jesus turned it down. He chose to keep riding the wind of the Spirit—a breeze that blew him down a narrow path to the cross. But according to Paul in Romans 8.11, that same Holy Spirit also raised Jesus from the dead, and should animate the life of the church.

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Jesus didn’t give his disciples a safe, easy, manageable path—and he still doesn’t. He gives us an heirloom prayer and the Holy Spirit to sustain us during times of testing. Life with the Spirit is unpredictable, for the Spirit is ever leading us into wildernesses, towards crosses or resurrections. But Jesus would probably say that asking for any other way is like asking for a snake when you need a fish.

Prayer: Father, do what is right and just and uphold your honor. Reveal your kingdom. Make sure we all have plenty to eat. Remind us that when we pray for our daily bread, it doesn’t mean my daily bread. Teach us to share our bread, because you give us enough to share. Father, the bread we share at this table teaches us that we are forgiven people. May your Spirit gently remind us that forgiveness, like bread, is meant to be shared and not hoarded. Give us your Holy Spirit to sustain us during times of testing in the wilderness. Keep us safe from the devil and from ourselves. Deliver us from shortcuts. We pray this confessing that you alone are king, and that all authority and all honor belong to you. We pray in the name of your Son who teaches us to pray. Amen.

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