Become like Christ
Text of Alison's sermon 24 July 2016
Reading: Luke Chapter 11:1-13
11 Once Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”
2 Jesus told them, “When you pray, say this:
let your name be kept holy.
Let your kingdom come.
3 Give us our bread day by day.
4 Forgive us as we forgive everyone else.
Don’t allow us to be tempted.”
5 Jesus said to his disciples, “Suppose one of you has a friend. Suppose you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. 6 A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don’t have anything to serve him.’ 7 Your friend might answer you from inside his house, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ 8 I can guarantee that although he doesn’t want to get up to give you anything, he will get up and give you whatever you need because he is your friend and because you were so bold.
9 “So I tell you to ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 Everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find, and for the person who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “If your child asks you, his father, for a fish, would you give him a snake instead? 12 Or if your child asks you for an egg, would you give him a scorpion? 13 Even though you’re evil, you know how to give good gifts to your children. So how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
O Lord, open our eyes to see you more clearly and fill our hearts with the burning revelation of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him. Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught. And be filled with thanksgiving.
Last week, in the story of Mary and Martha, Martha was worried and distracted by many things and Jesus reminded her that there was only need of one thing which Mary had chosen; to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from him. This morning we hear Paul saying just the same thing. One thing is needed, to become like Jesus by letting our roots sink in deep and building our lives on him. Christians aren’t called to follow a certain philosophy, a particular empty set of human traditions, a specific set of religious rituals. Instead out faith is to enter into a life with Jesus, through our baptism, where we are buried with him and raise to life with Jesus, and through the forgiveness of our sins by Jesus’s death on the cross. We are called to a deep, personal, intimate relationship with the person of Jesus so that we may become more like him. It doesn’t matter if our approach differs from others because we are all held together by Christs’ headship. Christ is the head of a body made up of different parts, with different ways of functioning, but all responding to the head and held together by it.
So how do we become like Jesus? If you want to find out how to learn then you need to ask the experts in learning, you need to ask a child. How do children learn? We think we can teach children by telling them things, and of course you can. Language is a powerful method of passing on facts and information. But that isn’t how you learn to become someone. I often find myself saying to parents when they collect their child and the child is excited to see them and not listening to a word they are saying. “Don’t worry, don’t worry if your child doesn’t listen to what you are saying, worry that they are watching everything you do”. (slide 1)
You can see where I’m coming from and why I should worry. This is our oldest Rob quite some time ago and you can see how good he was at learning how to be like his dad because here he is a couple of years later.
We have just enjoyed celebrating his graduation from university and chatting with his girlfriend she said that Rob is always fixing things. I think we know where he gets it from. And where did Chris get his confidence to shimmy up rickety ladders and mend chimneys. That would be his Dad… Children immerse themselves in their study of their parents.
Within the first 20 minutes of birth a child’s vision has developed quickly enough to be able to focus on their mother as they are being fed. A young child seems never to take their eyes off their parent or carer. They are always watching, learning and ‘helping’. As they get older you see them playing out their knowledge in their role play games, and then you begin to realise just how much they have picked up as they make the drinks and food you make, copy your phrases as they play at being grown-ups. And we find it amusing when they pick up phrases, maybe not quite knowing what they mean, so I heard a two year old playing with the train set announcing “I have great pleasure in declaring this station open”. We may laugh, and we should, we are celebrating their achievements; but remember to the child this is serious this is their work. As C.S. Lewis says, “they are hardening their muscles, sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-ups helps them grow up in earnest”.
So if we want to become like Jesus we don’t need to be distracted by the trappings of philosophy of religion, we need to look at Jesus, and immerse ourselves in our study of him. This is just what one of the disciples had been doing in our gospel reading. He had noticed how Jesus made time to pray. Luke makes the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life very clear. Jesus prays frequently on his own, before each great crisis, before choosing his disciples, chapter 22:31 tells us Jesus prayed specifically for Peter, and presumably the other disciples. He invites the disciples to pray with him in Gethsemane and he teaches about prayer and tells parables about prayer. When we look at Jesus we see prayer is a huge part of Jesus’ way of life, and clearly this disciple has been watching and got it. If I want to be like Jesus, I need to pray. But what do I say?
And Jesus gives his reply in a simple structure which sum up the whole of his mission. It may be Jesus intended the disciples to use it as it stands. Verse 2 says “When you pray say this”. Or it may be that Jesus intended it to be a structure or pattern that we use to shape our prayers. Both of these are good. What it isn’t, is a string of petitions. This is a prayer for people who are following in the way of Jesus on a journey to bring in God’s kingdom.
So let’s look closely at these simple words and discover what was Jesus saying.
First of all we address God as Father. In Jesus’s time to speak of God as Father was a reminder of the God of the Exodus. When God sent Moses to speak with Pharaoh God described Israel as his first born Son. Therefore God must be Israel’s’ Father. Underpinning all of Jesus’ prayer is the Father who loves and comes to rescue his children. But the word Jesus uses is Daddy. This isn’t some great Father who sits at a distance; this is a God who is loving, intimate and close.
So we can open our prayers using the familiar word Daddy knowing we are beloved children of a God who cherishes us. When we look at the way Jesus prayed we see he is secure in his relationship with God.
This is followed by two requests of God about God.
Firstly, ‘Hallowed be your name’, or ‘make your name Holy’. We have tremendous privilege that perhaps we take a little for granted, we can approach God because he makes his name known to us. We are able to communicate with God because God has chosen to tell us his name enabling us to have a personal relationship with him. That is an amazing privilege which we could easily take for granted. If you remember Moses, when he first met God he was standing barefoot in the sand in front of a burning bush and he needed to ask ‘what is your name?’ We are able to address God by name, but it is a name which is made holy by God. Only God can make his name holy yet because we are his children, he makes us holy so we can live holy lives.
Then comes the request which was central to Jesus’ mission ‘your kingdom come’. Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom was paradoxical. In some ways the kingdom is already here. Jesus has come and has died for our sins and we can see signs of the kingdom breaking out. But Jesus was also looking forward to a time when God’s kingdom would be established across the whole earth. Like Jesus we pray for God’s kingdom to break out now in our own lives together, and we look forward to the day when God will reign across the whole earth. But what is key here is what Jesus leaves out. He breaks with Jewish tradition and abandons any mention of Jerusalem or the temple. He taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come to the whole earth regardless of race or culture. If we want to be like Jesus we must become inclusive.
Then the prayer changes focus to our needs. ‘Give us today our daily bread’. There is a huge debate around what this means and what sort of bread is being referred to. The problem is the Greek word used isn’t used anywhere else, so its meaning is uncertain. There is the suggestion it could mean bread for today, the everyday needs of life, or it could mean bread for tomorrow and speak of the feast we will enjoy when God’s kingdom comes. OR does it mean the amount of bread, so please give us just enough bread to keep us alive today, or does it mean give us what we need. (sigh) I don’t know. But Kenneth Bailey is the author of a brilliant book, ‘Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes’. Having grown up in Egypt and worked in the Middle East he brings a different cultural understanding to the problem. He suggests going back to the ancient Syriac gospels which are much nearer in language to the Aramaic Jesus would have spoken. These say ‘give us today the bread that never runs out’. To have bread that never runs out takes away the fear of economic privation. Will we have enough? To worry about not having enough food is one of the most crippling fears. But I wonder how many of us have ever actually had to face it? There is a story about Mother Terrassa, one evening an elderly gentleman came to her and told her about a family of 8 children who hadn’t eaten. Immediately Mother Terrassa took them some rice. When she arrived she could see the children were hungry, yet when she gave the rice to the mother the woman divided it in 2. Then taking half went out. When she came back Mother Terrassa asked where she had been. The woman replied, “They are hungry too”. ‘They’ were the family next door. This was not my rice, it was our rice. When we pray ‘our bread’ we pray for our neighbours, whoever they may be. When Jesus fed the 5000 there was enough for everyone, so we don’t just pray for ourselves we pray for everyone in need.
Our daily life is tied together with the need for food and the need for forgiveness, and our relationship with God is deeply tied to our relationship with our neighbour. In our culture it is easy to slip into the habit assuming the person who has committed an offence or harm must ask for forgiveness before the apology can be accepted. That isn’t the way God’s grace works. God’s forgiveness is there for us before we ask. Similarly, we see Jesus forgiving the soldiers as the nail him to the cross whether they have asked for it or want it. In the same way this prayer asks us to forgive others regardless of their awareness of guilt.
Forgiving others is paramount if we are to be able to live in community. Reconciliation in South Africa after apartheid was reached because people were encouraged to tell the truth and offer forgiveness rather that insisting on criminal trials.
Again Jesus has broken with tradition. There is no prayer for vengeance on outsiders, there is no prayer for protection against suffering, there is no petition for God to fight for his people. Jesus’ prayer is looking to build communities which are inclusive, where there is no outsider and he accepts that suffering and forgiveness will be necessary parts of this.
Finally the Good New Bible say ‘don’t allow us to be tempted’ while The NIV says ‘don’t bring us to the time of trial’. The Greek word means both, and we can see how in the story of Peter in Gethsemane. Jesus tells Peter to pray so he isn’t drawn into temptation. Peter falls asleep and doesn’t pray, and then when he is tested by the servant girls he fails his trial and denies Jesus. But if we look at Jesus, Jesus does pray, he agonies through prayer and draws the strength to stand trial and win the paradoxical victory over evil through his death and resurrection.
So we have a structure of what words we can use to shape our prayer. But if we want to be like Jesus how do we say them. The rest of the gospel reading gives us some images of how to pray. The story of the man at midnight is wonderful. He is driven by the hospitality rules of the time, he simply has to have some bread to feed his guest, the Good News says because of his boldness, the NIV describes his shameless audacity. We are allowed to care so much for the needs of the world, our neighbours and ourselves that we can be shameless in our audacity in which we present our requests to God. Or if you prefer we can just be bold. Then we are given a picture of children’s pester power. Our prayers are to continually keep on asking, knocking and seeking as we look to bring about Jesus’ mission of creating God’s kingdom on earth. And when we do this we will be like Jesus empowered with his Holy Spirit so we can be more like Jesus.
If we want to become like Jesus we need to learn to pray like Jesus, with his passion, with his mission on our hearts, with the knowledge that we are praying in collaboration with others and for others not as isolated individuals, then Jesus’ Holy Spirit will come and fill us and give us the strength and wisdom to bring God’s kingdom in.