Luke 11: 1 – 13_A Bridge Across the Universe_July 28, 2019

A Bridge Across the Universe

Luke 11: 1 – 13


(preached on July 28, 2019)


You and I, as followers of Jesus, know it’s important to pray.  It’s important to our spiritual lives, to open ourselves to God.  When we pray, we share with God our deepest thoughts, our dreams, our fears.  When we pray, we also listen for God’s voice, deep in our hearts, whispering of God’s loving care.  Sometimes we might feel God nudging us to reach out with a kind word or a helping hand.  You and I know it’s important to pray, to communicate with God every day.  But sometimes our prayer life seems to stagnate.  We might feel stuck in a rut, saying the same things over and over.  We might even wonder if God is listening.


Something like that may have been going on for the disciples in our gospel passage for today. They have noticed how Jesus draws strength from prayer.  They want to know the secret of his prayer life.  So, as Luke tells us, they turn to Jesus and ask, “Teach us to pray.”   Jesus responds to their request with the prayer we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer we pray every week in worship.  After he teaches them this prayer, as he often does, Jesus tells them a story.  It’s a compelling story.  But it may seem strange to us twenty-first century folks.  We might ask, what’s all this about waking up your neighbor in the middle of the night and asking to borrow some bread?  Hear the way Eugene Peterson renders the story in The Message.  Jesus says:


“Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread.  An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don’t have a thing on hand.’

“The friend answers from his bed, ‘Don’t bother me.  The door’s locked; my children are all down for the night; I can’t get up to give you anything.’

“But let me tell you,” Jesus goes on, “even if he won’t get up because he’s a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need.”  In other words, “even if he won’t get up and help because of your friendship, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your brashness.”


Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never gone knocking on my neighbor’s door in the middle of the night, asking to borrow some bread.  So the story may seem strange to us.  But the story would have struck a familiar chord with the people listening to Jesus.  In the ancient Middle East, hospitality was very important.  It was considered a sacred obligation, when a traveler showed up at your door, to provide food and drink.  Remember, supermarkets didn’t exist.  Hotels were few and far between.

For the people listening to Jesus, hospitality was a sacred obligation.  They would also have understood that, if the shoe was on the other foot, the persistent friend would have done the same.  If he had been the one roused from sleep to help his hungry friend, he would have done the same.


Jesus tells this story right after he gives the disciples the words to say when they pray.  He has given them the words.  Now he tells them the way they are to pray.  He says to be persistent – even brash.  He says, keep at it.  Ask and seek and knock on God’s door till God responds.  Don’t give up.


This kind of brash persistence is something we see in a little boy, in a story the radio personality Paul Harvey used to tell.  The little boy and his mother went to the supermarket one day to buy groceries.  The mother knew her son loved chocolate chip cookies.  She knew he could be very persistent in asking for them, so she decided to make a preemptive strike.  Outside the store, as she helped him into the child’s seat in the shopping cart, she told him, “Now you’re not going to get any chocolate chip cookies today, so don’t even ask.”


They went into the store and started up and down the aisles.  The boy was doing just fine until they came to the cookie section.  As soon as he saw the chocolate chip cookies, he said, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?”  His mother replied, “I told you not even to ask.  You’re not going to get any at all.”


They continued down the aisles of the store, but as they looked for certain things she had to back track and they ended up in the cookie aisle again.  “Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?” As the little boy spoke, he was trying to stand up in the shopping cart.  His mother said, “I told you that you can’t have any.  Now sit down and be quiet.”


Finally, they arrived at the checkout and took their place in line.  It was a busy time in the store.  All around them other shoppers leaned on their shopping carts, waiting in line.  The little boy could see that the shopping was nearly over.  This might be his last chance.  He stood up on the seat and shouted in his loudest voice, “In the name of Jesus, may I please have some chocolate chip cookies?”  All the people in the checkout lanes laughed and applauded.  Paul Harvey asks, “Do you think that little boy got his cookies? You bet he did!  The other shoppers were impressed with his daring.  They pooled their resources.  The little boy and his mother left the store with twenty-three boxes of chocolate chip cookies.”


When Jesus tells the disciples how to pray, his point is this: be like that little boy. Be persistent.  Be daring.  Don’t give up.  Ask for what you need.  Don’t be afraid to ask again and again.  That’s the way to pray.


Luke doesn’t tell us how the disciples reacted when Jesus said this, but based on what we know about prayer customs in Jesus’ time, I think they would have been surprised.  Pray brashly, persistently, even shamelessly?  Ask God over and over again?  Knock on God’s door again and again, even in the middle of the night?  The idea that God was like a friend you could bother to give you what you need: that was a new one for them.  That kind of familiarity, that closeness with God, was mostly unheard of in their time.


But they notice that with Jesus it’s different.  They notice that closeness with God when Jesus prays.  They see that prayer makes a difference in his life.  Maybe they see that he had a peace about him in the midst of chaos: calm in the midst of life’s storms.  Maybe they see his patience when they are at their wit’s end.  Maybe they see his courage when they are filled with fear.  Whatever they see Jesus getting from prayer, they want to get some of it.  So they ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And the first words of the prayer he teaches them must have really surprised them.


Jesus opens his prayer with the Aramaic word “Abba.”  In the English we speak today, the closest translation to that word is “Daddy.”  Not “Father.”  Not “Dad.”  Abba means Daddy.  Pastor Amy Elizabeth Hessel writes about the power of that word.  “With that word, Abba, Jesus builds a bridge across the universe.  With that word, he tells the disciples that the Ruler of all creation invites them to cross over that bridge and come sit on his lap.


“That invitation alone would be enough for the disciples.  To [even think about] that kind of intimacy with God was beyond their wildest dreams… But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He continues by assuring them that their Abba, their Daddy who is also Ruler of the Universe, wants to hear their requests.  He’s not too busy running the universe…to bother with the concerns that lie deep within their hearts: concerns like bread enough to live on, freedom from guilt, worries about what the future might bring.  He tells them that he doesn’t mind if they keep coming to him with the same concerns over and over again.


“Daddy may not have the answer right away, but he will eventually give them the answer.  And finally, last but not least, Jesus tells them that Daddy will always give them what they really, truly need.  God will never deliberately send harm their way” (Minister’s Annual Manual, 2016-2017).


How are you, as a follower of Jesus today, doing in your prayer life?  Do you feel like your prayer life is drawing you closer to Daddy?  Do you travel regularly, daily, maybe several times a day, across the bridge that Jesus built?  Do you travel that bridge across the universe – to find a place on Daddy’s lap?  You know, the Ruler of the Universe has a place for you there, and a place for me, and a place or everyone.  It’s a place where we will be restored, a place we will find comfort.  It’s a place where we will at times be challenged to tackle a problem with God’s help.  And when we pray, we can trust that Daddy is listening; that nothing is beyond the reach of God’s loving embrace.


Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 7