The Rev. Becky McDaniel. This sermon is based on Luke 11:1-13
Ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus invites us to ask; he instructs us to call upon God in our yearning, to express our deepest hopes, sorrows, and joys in acts of prayer. But much like the disciples, we are confused about what prayer really looks like. What are the proper words, the correct posture, the right state of mind or attention? We trip ourselves up over small things, as well as large. The placement of a candle, the order of worship, the structure of the liturgy. We find ourselves slipping into a mentality that looks at prayer as a method of functionality, setting our minds on effectiveness and results. After all, we are products of a social order that values the notions of productivity and efficiency over all else. But the social order of the Kingdom of God is not about efficiency. It is not about getting what you want when you want it. In fact, it is not about such isolated wants and desires at all. The Kingdom of God is about relationship. It is about disengaging from the isolation of the self; It is about setting oneself free from the programs of productivity, efficiency, and individualistic striving and entering a realm of co-operation with God’s timing and with a much larger web of connectivity and trust. It is about being bound in relationship to a higher realm and a deeper connection with one another. This is the realm of the Kingdom of God. The realm of relationship. And therefore prayer, too, is about relationship. In fact, prayer IS relationship. If we look at the word intercession, or “to intercede” we find that the direct meaning is “to stand between” or to “become involved.” Our intercessory prayers are exactly that: standing between a loved one and God, entering a relationship for the sake of another, becoming involved in the mystery of co-operation with God. Entering the Kingdom.
Jesus says, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?” Right away we see that this is about relationship rather than isolated or selfish asking. Jesus does not focus on what YOU are asking for, but he speaks of what is asked OF you. He shifts the lens to the child rather than the disciples themselves. So immediately we see that our focus is not inward, but outward. The focus is on the intercession, the “standing between,” the relationship. When we ask, we ask as members of the human family, God’s family, and not in a spirit of individualism. Jesus himself, when he prayed to his Father, prayed in the spirit of intercession. Jesus prayed for forgiveness for his murderers; Jesus prayed to increase Peter’s faith; Jesus prayed for the sanctification of his disciples; Jesus prayed for the unity of the church. Of course, Jesus also prayed for his own faithfulness to God’s will, but this too, was an act of entering relationship, the ultimate relationship between the Father and the Son.
In his book, True Prayer, Kenneth Leech reminds us that “intercessory prayer is not a technique for changing God’s mind, but it is a releasing of God’s power through placing ourselves in a relationship of co-operation with God. It is an act. Prayer and action should not be opposed to each other, for prayer is action.” Leech goes on to say that we must stay God-centered in our intercessions, not focusing too strongly on the persons for whom we pray, because this leads to a narrow perspective. He writes that “in order to intercede we need to be detached from persons, to abandon a narrow personal perspective, and to reorient ourselves so that we see the needs of those for whom we pray in the light of a wider vision.” A great teacher of mine once said that the most healing way to view tragic events was to “widen the lens.” When we step back from the center of the pain and see without boundaries the higher vision of the world, we begin to see the small acts of love that are taking place in every moment and across the globe to address the very tragedy that just occurred. This grander vision is the hope of true intercessory prayer, the calling beyond boundaries of the whole human family to “stand between” and enter a loving relationship that transcends the individual self. It is about an awareness that sees more fully, in a wider vision, lifting us beyond the narrow vision that holds us back, a narrowness that William Blake warned of when we see with the eye rather than through the eye.
In his poem, Pentecost, Blake declares:
Unless the eye catch fire
The God will not be seen.
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard.
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named.
Unless the heart catch fire
The God will not be loved.
Unless the mind catch fire
The God will not be known.
Ultimately, it is this fire that catapults us into true prayer, authentic intercession, and a deep, albeit mysterious, relationship. And so it is that when Jesus invites us to ask, he invites us to ask with a wider vision and a burning fire of true intercession: a relationship of co-operation with the mystery of God. In our questions about how to pray, we may release our concerns about functionality and effectiveness in order to transcend our current social order, reach for the Kingdom of God, and see through eyes that embrace a wider vision and a deeper relationship.