I love the opening scene from the 1997 sci-fi movie‘contact’… with its great computer graphics The sun rises over the curve of the earth as if flying through space we draw back past the moon and out through the solar system, dodging planets: The earth and then the sun becoming a pale dot on the screen. out through the galaxy, through the pillars of creation in the eagle nebula. Past the sombrero galaxy and into the vastness of that most distant of Hubble telescope pictures ‘far fields where galaxies themselves become mere spots of light and our knowing of the universe becomes but a blur…as if to accentuate that this is as far as we can see the sequence finishes by coming back to earth through the eyes of a child.
The accompanying sound track to this flow through known space is snippets of radio and television broadcasts moving back further and further in time as we move away from the earth, starting with the rock and pop of the 90’s and 80’s, through important speeches and events and music from earlier and earlier in the twentieth century until there is only silence.. We have out distanced those sound waves… and then we come back to a room where the young Eleanor Arrowway sits at a ham radio desperately trying to contact her father who never responds.
I do wonder if prayer sometimes does not feel like that opening sequence… our voices calling out into the vast void or simply bouncing back off the ceiling to mock us. We can feel that just maybe we are all alone in a dark cold universe and the only reply is the cruel crackle of radio static.
Of course in the movie, spoiler alert, there is a reply, a contact, and its meaning and significance are discussed between a scientist and a theologian… Contact becomes a movie about faith… and that makes it a good way for us to introduce our continued look at Jesus teaching on prayer. While I’m sure you have felt prayer to be like that opening sequence … Jesus response to his disciple’s request, ‘Lord teach us to pray’ tells us a different story about prayer. It tells us that we can be hopeful, confident, that God hears our Prayers and responds.
This is the second in a series of three looking at Jesus teaching on prayer in Luke’s gospel. We are looking at prayer as communication. You may remember we used the model of communication having various parts: a transmitter, the one sending a message, a receiver, those to whom the message is sent and and a medium, the message and feedback.
Last time we looked at the receiver and what hope there is in prayer because of the one we are praying to. In his teaching, through a prayer, a parable and a principle, Jesus told us we had confidence in prayer because of the nature of God. That God was our Father, not just an earthly father with faults and foibles, but a great dad who knows how to give good gifts to his children. Who is never too busy, who does not abandon or abuse, he is not a distant disinterested deity…but he cares and loves. And if that wasn’t enough that God is like a good neighbour, who when we are in need, will respond to our request for help. Even if like in the parable Jesus told, it was in the middle of the night and our asking woke the whole household. There is hope when we pray because of the loving character of God.
This week we are going to look at what Jesus teaching on prayer says about those who pray.
If the hope of prayer is in the character of God we can be hopeful in prayer because of what that means for us. Jesus invites us to address our prayer to God as Father. At The heart of prayer is that we have been invited into a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. We are loved, we are cared for. The one teaching us to come to God in prayer is the one who has come from God to us with that revolution of God’s Grace. We hear it in Jesus affirmation from Isaiah that the Spirit of the lord was upon him to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to prisoners and the oppressed and to declare the year of God’s favour. We see it in the encounters that Jesus has in Luke’s gospel… The hand that reaches out and touches a leper and makes him clean… who dines with those considered sinners and outcasts and welcomes them back. We know it because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are loved so we may approach the one who loves us.
Jesus teaching on prayer tells us that we are God’s beloved children. Like a child is dependent on their parent, so we are dependent on God, lord give us our daily bread trusting that God knows how to give good gifts to his children. In the prayer course Pete Grieg gives a great illustration for when our prayers seem to meet with a no. He told of the time when one of his sons was a baby that he got chicken pox’s and ended up covered in spots. Grieg said there was nothing he could do but hold his little son through the night and comfort him while he cried. It wouldn’t even help that he could tell his son that having chicken pox when he was so young that they would get through it and that was a good thing and would result in his immune in later life. I could help but think of the 1994 Black Caps tour of England, which I managed to see most of as it was live on free to air TV during the night here of course. I however didn’t hear much of it mind you because Naomi was teething at the time and I had that same experience as Pete Grieg trying to console her as she yelled in pain in my ear. It got me thinking that this is a reason why the greatest gift the father gives us is the abiding presence of his Holy Spirit, both to comfort but also to lead and to guide.
The second thing that means we can be hopeful in prayer is what Jesus calls us to pray. It is a call to change our priorities and priority in prayer that we want to see God’s name glorified and his kingdom come. Our hope is that the God’s name would be honoured and that his reign would be established. In some ways it looks towards a future fulfilment when Christ will come again but it is a prayer that God’s mercy and God’s justice would be establish in our world today. The prayer for these things to happen is a prayer that will put right all that we are concerned about, it is the ultimate answer... Again as we look at Luke’s gospel we see what that kingdom means for the poor and the broken, the lost and the outcast. It is good news and liberty and freedom and right relationships being established. We just finished going through the sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel as we saw it was a call for us who know God’s grace to respond by showing exceptional love… no exception. To pray that prayer calls us to be people who would be about the kingdom in our lives as well. In fact Jesus shows that when he says we should pray forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us. It’s not a condition for being forgiven it is the condition of knowing what it is to be forgiven and reconciled to God a that we then live out. There is a real correlation between our prayer life then and how we live out life: The two should reflect the same priorities… When talking about economics in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus talks of not worrying about what you will wear or eat and then says put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you…
The third thing that means we can be hopeful in prayer is that wonderful word Jesus uses in the parable of the good neighbour for our offering prayer. We are used to the word confidence but In the NIV it is translated ‘shameless audacity’. Behind me is a statue from the film ‘dogma’ as the name suggests revolved around a lampooning of Catholic Dogma. The statute was called buddy Jesus and was supposedly part of a rebranding campaign to make Catholicism more accessible. It’s sort of a dig at the idea of Jesus as our friend… Know I love the idea of Jesus as friend but we can focus exclusively on the immance of God and forget the awesome truth of who God is... When we come to prayer we need to realise that we are in a prayer relationship with God and not a peer relationship with God. That God is the unique sovereign king of the whole universe, that our father is indeed holy. But Jesus says we can have shameless audacity to approach this mighty God, because of what Christ has done for us. I flew down to wellington on Tuesday and the night before I didn’t sleep that well I don’t like going through all te security stuff at the airport, it just seems a bit over the top anyway it must have been on my mind because I had this weird dream I saw the prime minister in the airport and being me I thought I know I’ll go over and say hello. But as I approached these men in black appeared and wrestled me up against the wall, they were armed and really aggressive. I don’t know if it’s really like this in New Zealand ( I like to think it isn’t) or I’ve seen too much American TV and got John Key mixed up with Barrrack Obama, ( I think John key has the same problem sometimes) but it was quite disturbing. I think in my dream I missed the flight. But we can have hope because in Jesus teaching we are invited to be bold and to approach the sovereign God with our requests and prayers, we can make that approach.
I saw a wonderful news video that I think illustrates this beautifully… Again it was set at a airport. A group of soldiers were coming home from overseas deployment and going through the formalities of one final parade and address by their commanding officer. In the distance were their families and loved ones waiting for them. Suddenly a two year old girl must have spotted her dad in the front row and she runs across the hanger. She runs right up to her dad. Who lovingly steps out of line bends down and gives his child a hug and a kiss and then she bolts back to her mother and the solider steps back into line. What Shameless audacity, met with love and kindness.
Lastly, we can have be hopefully that God answers when we pray because of what Jesus tells us about being persistent in prayer. We should not give up because we will meet with God. It is not because prayer is like the public health system and the squeaky wheel gets the oil, no. But rather because Jesus gives us the principle that if we press into God we will find God. if we ask and keep on asking he will answer, if we knock and keep on knocking the door will be opened to us. Prayer is not like a harry potter spell it’s not magic it is entering into a relationship with God and as we persist in that we find God. As we continue to pray for a need or an issue we can meet God in the midst of that and know his presence and his leading and care, and his answer. If we persist to know him more in prayer he will make his self-known to us, he will send the Holy Spirit to those who ask hm.
I had wanted to finish today with a great story about prayer but instead let me just finish by encouraging you. Can I encourage you to knock and to keep on knocking, to seek and to keep on seeking God, to ask and keep on asking, knowing that we can trust God because of his very character, knowing that we are loved and cared for, that as God’s children we are invited to come to him, that we are able to audaciously approach our God.