Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 11:1-13

The Holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

[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.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 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; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And 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.’ 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. “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. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 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!”

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)


In the face of devastating events and in our polarized political climate, “prayer” has become code for: 

  • “I don’t know what else to say.” 
  • “I want to say something neutral and inoffensive.” 
  • “I don’t want to take action.” 

So often politicians, leaders, even clergy people offer “thoughts and prayers” in response to tragedy or injustice because it is the easiest thing to do.

But Jesus didn’t teach us to pray so that we could be passive or inoffensive. In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus offers a parable about a persistent, or in other translations, “shameless” neighbor whose audacity to keep asking will eventually get him the help he needs. 

Prayer is meant to be bold, persistent, uncomfortable; it’s meant to get results. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” It may be unlikely that adding a petition to the Prayers of the Intercession is going to lead to any kind of radical, lasting change. So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”? It just doesn’t always seem true. Probably 9 times out of 10, a politician who offers to pray isn’t going to pray at all, and even if he or she does, it won’t mean anything practical in terms of policy or resources.

So, why do we pray? How does Jesus want us to pray? How can Jesus promise us that God will hear and respond to our prayers—that we will receive what we ask for, that doors once locked shut will be opened?

When Martin Luther King, Jr., was living and working in Montgomery, Alabama, he came home late one night, and the phone rang. 

He picked up and, on the line, there was an ominous voice—a man threatening to kill King and his family if he didn’t stop leading in the struggle for civil rights. It scared him. He couldn’t get back to sleep. So, he went into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and he began to pray. He describes this moment as a moment of reckoning with his faith. He had never questioned before; he had never doubted. In this moment, he knew that he would either need to put his trust in God wholeheartedly, or he would be consumed by fear and despair. If God wasn’t really with him, then how could he possibly go on? He prayed all night and eventually the spirit of God overwhelmed him, and he was filled with deep peace and conviction. Days later, his house was bombed. Years later, just months after sharing this story publicly in a sermon, he was shot and killed.


Genesis 18:20-32
Many who hear this reading from Genesis will no doubt go to what we’ve heard about Sodom and Gomorrah from generations of poor Biblical scholarship, homophobia, and the very public way these two cities are associated with all things LGBTQIA+. So I want to take a moment to clear something up.

  • First: This reading is not about homosexuality, and niether is the rest of the story after today’s.
  • Secondly: This text isn’t even about sin. Other than that opening line, sin plays a minor role in this passage, and is truly mostly just the set up for the scene to come.

So if it’s not about those, what is this passage about?

The first thing that I see in this passage is persistence. Abraham takes up the case of these cities before God, chipping away slowly, methodically, courageously at the indictment brought against them. 

Persistence is a personality trait that is underrated, especially in our world of immediacy Amazon Prime deliveries, but can be one of full-hearted good news in a season where it feels like difficult news is delivered with each morning headline.

  • Sensible gun legislation feels out of reach. 
  • Reproductive rights have been set back 50 years. 
  • Mass shootings and white supremacy are on the rise. 

What do we do? We are persistent. We are honest. We continue on, chipping away despite the obstacles, frustration, and setbacks.

The message of this story gets lost if we forget that the whole scene can be an encouraging scene highlighting not God’s wrath, but Abraham’s persistence.
In other words: keep at it.

Another thing that stands out to me is the banter between the Lord and Abraham. In short: Abraham isn’t afraid to argue with God. This is a practice commonplace in the faith and tradition of our Jewish brothers and sisters, but despite the example that Jesus sets for us (remember the Garden of Gethsemene?), Christians have historically been afraid to acknowledge their anger with God or shake a fist toward the Divine when frustrated with how things are going in the world.

Perhaps today can be a day when we can give ourselves permission to honestly grieve and argue about whatever we’re feeling or fearing. 

Do not mistake me for saying that how things are in the world is a result of God’s doing. It’s not! But hear me, and know that I’m suggesting that God can certainly handle whatever it is that we are feeling and fearing in this moment.

Luke 11:1-13

This is a wonderful “origins” text to give insight into how we arrived at one of our staple liturgical elements: The Lord’s Prayer. Though our version is an combination of the instruction Jesus provides here and centuries of historical adaptations, the bones of our prayer are found here.

One thing we must remember is, while Jesus does encourage us to ask for what we desire, prayer is not some “divine ATM machine,” spitting out our request list. We so often treat prayer as some sort of wish-list fulfillment, no matter how just the prayer might be, what this text is most about: honesty.

Jesus encourages the prayer to come honestly before God, asking for what is on their hearts and minds. This honesty is crucial for a real relationship with the Divine, because so often we ask for what is probable or even possible, rather than for what we truly desire. We nned to come honestly before God not because we think God will do what we ask, but because we need to feel the true weight of our desire in order for us to be changed by prayer.

Prayer is primarily about the pray-er, after all. So often we forget this and make prayer about God. A key insight into the prayerful life, and one that the monastic tradition teaches us again and again, is that prayer changes the pray-er first and foremost, helping us to lean into Divine wisdom and the swirling life of the Trinity.


When I was 18 years old and praying the Lord’s Prayer before bed one night. My best friend who I was staying with heard me end with, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever…Amen.” He looked at me and asked, “when did you add that ending? I said “when I became Lutheran, why?” 

He said, “I just wondered because when I used to go with you on Sat night’s to St John you all didn’t say that.” First of all, my friend didn’t go to church except with me sometimes because it felt like I was always there, and the fact that he noticed kind of impressed me. That night it got me thinking about why it was said differently. I just did it because we all did.

So I asked my pastor and he told me that the Roman Catholics were being more faithful to the Bible than Lutherans–-that they only said what was in the gospels of Mathew and Luke. The “Doxology”- the kingdom and the power and the glory line -has been used in the Eastern Orthodoxy, since the second or third century; and it came into English Protestant worship through the Episcopalians (more specifically Thomas Cranmer and the first Book of Common Prayer.) I rushed home to tell my friend and in his practical nature said, “That makes sense I guess.” And that was the end of it.

I have reflected on that moment a lot this week. It has led me to think about two things. One is the power of liturgy, the strength of a prayer learned and engrained, of good and appropriate words that stay with us—sometimes even when we try to forget them or put them in our past. The second is the importance of persistence, especially when disappointed in prayer—the need to continue praying when the only true thing coming out of the abundance of our hearts is a sense of failure and futility. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is talking with his followers about prayer. First, he teaches them the very familiar words we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Then he tells them a weird story about bothering your neighbors in the middle of the night. He finishes up by urging them to keep at it with prayer; to search, to knock, to ask!

The disciples we looking for a prayer that changes things out there, in the external world which they hoped to control with God’s help; Jesus teaches them a prayer that changes things inside our hearts and minds and souls. Martin Luther once said that to be a sinner is to be bent, to be crooked, to be twisted in upon ourselves. The root of sinfulness begins in selfishness; in looking at the world as a place to get my needs met, my life straightened out, my career, my enjoyment, my fulfillment, my future, my happiness. 

But the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray is not my prayer, it is our prayer, directed to our father, and it is not a prayer aimed at getting what I want. Instead, it is designed to turn us away from our wants, and toward what God wants. It is in praying this prayer that we become the people God made us to be, wants us to be in Jesus Christ. As we pray and meditate upon this prayer throughout our lives, it gets deep under our skin, deep into the very marrow of our bones. Eventually, we discover that it constantly pulls us away from our focus upon ourselves and persistently bends us in a new direction; the direction of loving God and serving others.

The point of prayer is to talk with God, to be in relationship with God, to move your heart and mind and soul into cooperation with God in loving and serving the world. Jesus’ teaching on prayer is that we should pray so often, and so regularly, and so persistently that we become as familiar with God as we are our neighbors and friends. And it is within that relationship and familiarity that God changes our lives, unbends us from selfishness and evil and turns us in the direction of love and goodness. As a result of having our lives changed by God, we find ourselves empowered to change the world. We embrace Christ as the way of salvation for ourselves and discover that we have become a part of the way of salvation for those around us.


If we can think of an example of someone for whom prayer informed his living, Martin Luther King, Jr., is certainly among the most powerful. For him, prayer was not just a private practice of piety, it was the fuel and reassurance that inspired remarkable action in the world. It was the energy and life-force behind a movement of social change. Through bold persistence, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders—and thousands of others who didn’t make it into the history books—were able to move the needle forward on issues that had seemed immovable.

This is the kind of prayer that Jesus was talking about. Yes, prayer happens in dark, quiet, private places. Prayer happens in moments of deep fear, of yearning, of reckoning. But prayer is not meant to stay just between us and God. Our prayers need to have feet and hands. Prayer is the practice of seeking God’s presence and guidance as we work toward creating a better world. Prayer is one way we know God is with us, even when the challenges ahead seem insurmountable.

Jesus wanted our prayers to lead us to difficult places; to challenge us to do uncomfortable things in his service; to give hope. If you’re tired of hearing people offer their thoughts and prayers in the face of devastating situations because it doesn’t seem like enough, then it’s time for us to change how we think about prayer. It’s time for us to reclaim what it means to pray the way Jesus taught us. It’s time for us to be shameless—to keep asking for God’s presence in our lives and in the world, despite how daunting our challenges may seem.