First Lesson: Hosea 1: 2-10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 85
Second Lesson: Colossians 2: 6-15, (16-19)
Gospel Lesson: Luke 11: 1-13
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story, when I was eight years old, we all gathered at my great-grandpa’s house for a family Christmas. Before we start Christmas dinner, we were all supposed to go around the table and pray for something. So I have to think about the most important thing in the world to pray for at that moment. Finally, it's my turn to pray. My prayer was that the Vikings beat the Washington Redskins to advance to playoffs all to the laughter of my family at one of my first times praying in public. The story ends in a predictable fashion perhaps so God could teach eight year old me a lesson, two days later the Vikings lost in overtime.
Now if my prayer for the Vikings to beat Washington is wrong? What can and should we pray? The following question Jesus begins to answers in our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 11.
“And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”- Luke 11:9
For what should we pray?
For some of us, this might seem like an easy and obvious question. We pray the safety prayers for the physical health of ourselves and those around us. We pray the connection prayers for either new or more meaningful relationships within our lives. We pray the well-being prayers. We pray that our dream job or dream vacation falls into our laps. We pray the think big prayers. We pray to win the lottery so that the church can buy that rocketship that I’ve always wanted. What all these prayers have in common is one thing that is an acknowledgment of the World’s brokenness at the present moment, along with a longing for its restoration.
Every day for many of us we struggle with the question of “Whether these prayers work?” When I was growing up, my best friend was named Josh. Josh was/is a pretty intense guy. Josh was an excellent cross-country runner and all-conference hockey player nicknamed “The Animal”. Josh was attending North Dakota State at the same time that I was attending Concordia. One day, we’re driving back to school after Easter break. Being Northwest Minnesota, the weather starts to turn. Some snow soon becomes heavy snow. There are hardly any cars once we approach Alexandria on the road. I was driving way too cautious in this weather for Josh’s liking. Josh offers to take the wheel. Josh starts driving down I-94 at over 70 miles an hour because there was no traffic to contend. Josh’s driving works well for about fifteen miles. The car finally hits a patch of ice and begins spinning out of control. Josh starts cussing then he starts praying. The car finally stops in the middle of a desolate road. The following result would seem to be evidence of Josh’s prayer working. What if the prayer worked the other way, what if we spun into the ditch, what if Josh, I, or my sister Anne got injured or even worse? How can we interpret all this?
One day, Homer Simpson grows jealous of his neighbor Ned Flanders’ success. Homer asks Ned “What’s his secret?” Ned replies “hard work, clean living and a little prayer.” Homer wasn’t very interested in “hard work” or “clean living” but prayer seemed easy enough. Homer can’t remote until his prayer causes him to discover it magically. Homer prays that the Lord would bring him a delicious, new snack only to witness an accident between a bacon truck and a fudge truck. Homer quickly starts praying for everything that he could think of whether appropriate or inappropriate. Why were Homer’s prayers working? There was anyone else in the town of Springfield that was a more faithful Christian than Homer Simpson. Why would God answer his prayers, but not those of the most faithful neighbors around him?
I was reading an article by a guy named Andrew Wilson, who made the point that we often get the direction of prayers backward when we pray to God as a means to put him to test. If God does this for us, only then will we believe? What we often fail to remember about Prayer is that when Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, he does so in a way where the focus is not on us but rather building God’s Kingdom. The direction of the Lord’s Prayer seeks to remind us that God is not our personal butler. God’s will is not necessarily going to be our will. What prayer is a rather a reminder of is that God has already acted in our lives, God will continue to act, and one day his kingdom shall come forth.
How does God’s will work versus our own? Such pondering raises some interesting realities.
Perhaps God answers prayers only not necessarily as we would want. In 1978, there was a famous Psychology study that measured happiness. The study compared two types of people: lottery winners and accident victims. The lottery winners all won money that in today’s terms would equate to over a million dollars, whereas accident victims all become paralyzed as a result of their accidents. They then measured everyone’s happiness around one year after the life-changing moments. What the psychologists found was surprising that the crash victims self-reported similar happiness levels to the lottery winners.
Similar happiness studies have found that over the past few decades as standards of living keep increasing that people are no happier than before. What science has discovered is that months into the future, what might you think makes you happy merely disappoints.
The reason that I cite this study is that no matter how many times I read its results, I can’t believe its outcome. Life seems like it would be so much better if lottery-winning prayers were always answered according to our whims. You dig deeper under the surface though perhaps God’s plans for us are different then we can imagine.
When I graduated from seminary, I didn’t have a call for a while. I would spend nights praying for my job situation; I finally need to work a different job as a substitute teacher. The money was good, but I had never actually worked with children before. My dad before my first day questioned whether trying to manage a roomful of students with no experience would be a good idea. My first day was going to be spent working with junior-highers talk about jumping off the deep end. To be certain there was a lot of learning that needed to take place for me. Days after days of substitute teaching though gave me meaning. I’m a much better minister because of these days, so this story is perhaps another example of how God doesn’t answer prayer merely according to our terms. Maybe we can think of a thing from within our life, where we wanted one answer but got another instead. What if prayer isn’t about giving us what we want, what if prayer is rather about giving us what we need.
Soren Kirkegaard: “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
So how should prayer work? In 2010, there was a major accident at a mine in Chile. Thirty-three miners were trapped deep in the earth with seemingly impossible odds of rescue. Prayer warriors got to work. A miracle then happened. The Chilean miners bring us back to the big rub with prayer. Why a miracle in this case? Why not a miracle when a daughter prays for her mom to be healed of cancer? How can all sorts of people pray for peace on Earth with it never becoming reality? How do we deal with failed prayers? How do we deal with prayers that we shout out from the bottom of our souls that receive nothing more than silence? We take comfort in the fact that God does indeed listen to our prayers.
Pastor Steve Molin recalls the following story: Some years ago, Dan Rather was interviewing Mother Theresa. Dan Rather asked Mother Theresa? “How do you pray?”. Mother Theresa’s reply was “I listen.” Rather was confused by this answer, so he asks “Well what does God say?” To which Mother Theresa merely says “He listens.”
As Molin points out “Sometimes prayer changes our circumstances, more importantly, though prayer changes us.”
Whenever we pray, we are guided by a promise that comes from prayer. “His kingdom will come.”
For as Luther says in the Catechism: “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer; of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.”
Jesus says in our lesson for today: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the ones who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
What prayer ultimately is a confession of our inability to shape the world. Prayer within the scriptures is way more than just asking, prayer is praise, prayer is questioning, prayer is arguing, and prayer is grief. When you understand prayer as more than just asking, perhaps then prayer’s purpose makes more sense. Prayer should not be about praying to receive that which we think we need; prayer should do with expressing our longing for Resurrection and New Life. We don’t pray hoping to change God; we pray hoping that God will change us. We pray that we remain patient as we deal with the Monday through Sunday struggles that we may draw comfort from God’s promises to change the Earth forever will one day come true. Amen
 This episode of The Simpsons is entitled “Pray Anything” written by Sam O’Neal and Neal Boushell. The episode first aired on Feburary 9th, 2003.
 Wilson, Andrew. “Our Prayer Instincts Are Backwards.” Christianity Today. 31. Dec.2015. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 The study was conducted in a paper written by Phillip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff- Bulman published in the Journal of Personality and Social Physcology, Vol 36(8). Aug 1978, 917-927.
 Simenge. “Science Behind the Factoid: Lottery Winners Are No Happie than Quadriplegics.” Science Tumbled Blog. This is blog is part of the Tumblr nertwork. 7.Dec.2013. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 Steve Molin in his sermon “Knock and Open” found on Lectionary.org uses a similar example from his 2001 sermon.
 Galli, Mark. “Hopeless Prayers: What the rescue of the Chilean Miners didn’t teach me.” Christianity Today. 13.Oct.2010. Web.
 Molin, Steve. “Knock and Open”. Lectionary.org. 2001. Web. Jul.19.2016.
 Molin, Steve. “Knock and Open”.
 Luther, Martin. Small Cathecism. 1529.
 Luke 11:9-10