Have you seen any interesting vanity license plates recently? Many of you have been sharing some of the plates that you’ve seen out on the roads. The messages on these plates are not always easy to decipher but they’re fun to figure out what the driver is trying to convey.
During these summer Sundays, we’re following Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel of Luke and thinking about the message that he wants us convey to us. What is the vanity license plate for this Sunday?
Many of you have figured this out. It’s “Knock to open.” By the way, I have never spent more time on figuring out sermon titles than I have by doing this series on vanity license plates.
The message Jesus has for us today comes from when he was teaching the disciples about the importance of prayer. And in this scripture reading, Jesus encourages us to pray what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Now, a lot of us know the Lord’s Prayer or at least we know what somebody means when they refer to The Lord’s Prayer.
Maybe you have heard of the two Christians who were trying to outdo each other. The conversation came around to prayer. One said, “I’ll bet you $20 you can’t even say the Lord’s Prayer.”
The other replied, “It’s a bet.” And so he began. “Now I lay me down to sleep…”
The first man interrupted him and said, “OK, here’s your money. I didn’t think you could do it!”
Has this prayer become so familiar that we have forgotten its meaning?
The gospel writer, Luke is known to be interested in two things more than any of the other three Gospels and both of those two things are included in our scripture reading for today – Jesus’ prayer life and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus not only teaches about the importance of prayer in our scripture reading but he models it. Notice that the only reason the disciples asked Jesus about how to pray was because they saw him doing it.
Even better than having religious vanity license plates is when we practice our faith. When we practice our faith, people become curious. When they see us praying, they become more interested about prayer because they can see that it is a priority in our lives.
Several years ago, William Hendricks noticed that thousands of people were leaving American churches every week and never going back. And so he investigated why this was happening.
In his book entitled Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People Are Leaving Church, written back in 1993, Hendricks shares that two-thirds of people who attended church said they didn’t experience God on a regular basis in the worship experience of their church. They attended these churches hoping that somebody would teach them to pray and they left feeling very empty and disappointed.
Fifteen years after Hendricks wrote his book, Julia Duin did the same kind of research. And she discovered exactly what Hendricks had found. She found that the worshippers who had given up on attending church wanted to know how to pray and nobody was doing it in an authentic and meaningful way.
We may feel a little clumsy at prayer and that’s OK because like a lot of things in life, the more we practice it, the more natural it becomes. At first, it may feel a little counter intuitive to set aside our calendars, our cell phones, and the TV remote and pray instead.
Jesus was aware that it can be difficult for us to have prayer become part of our regular daily routine in life. And so he tells his disciples to be persistent in prayer. He tells us to ask, seek, and knock. I like it that he uses these three imperatives, these three action words to help us to start praying.
If you can ask, seek, and knock, then you can be well on your way to having a very meaningful prayer life. Sometimes, we approach prayer so passively that we never get around to praying at all.
For example, someone might reason that if God wants me to get that job, then I’ll get it and there’s really no need for me to pray. Or we might think to ourselves that the last time I prayed about getting something I really wanted, it didn’t happen and that just led to disappointment so I’m not going to pray the next time.
Jesus is saying that prayer is so much more than us snapping our fingers and hoping that God will give us what we want or think we need. Prayer is about asking, seeking, and knocking so that we can become more attentive to the direction that God is opening up for us. What we think was a prayer that landed on deaf ears was really a prayer that was beginning the process of helping us to listen for God’s voice.
It’s been said that God answers prayers in four ways which are 1) No, not yet. 2) No, I love you too much. 3) Yes, I thought you’d never ask. And 4) Yes, and here’s more.
Even the first response, “No, not yet” implies that God is listening and is responding to us. But sometimes we assume that because the answer was no that God just doesn’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth according to what Jesus is teaching us about prayer in this scripture reading.
And underneath all of what Jesus is teaching us about prayer is this basic theological truth that we find throughout all of scriptures from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation. And that truth is, God loves you and is always offering us his grace.
Jesus even uses a wild comparison to get his point across. If your child would ask for fish for dinner, what parent in their right mind would serve up snakes instead? Or what parent would give their child a scorpion when all he or she wanted was some scrambled eggs for breakfast?
Jesus is saying that it would be just as crazy and just as ludicrous if God would respond to our prayers by harming us. That’s not who God is. God is a loving parent who wants us to have everything we need.
Jesus is telling us that if we want to experience an authentic prayer life, all we need to do is ask, search, and knock and the door of God’s love and God’s grace will be opened to us. Ask, search, and knock. Be persistent.
I like it that Jesus gave us a specific prayer to pray. Not only was Jesus praying which caused the disciples to want to learn how to pray, but he gave them a sample prayer, the Lord’s Prayer.
Let me highlight four parts of this great prayer that Jesus has offered us. And the first part is how Jesus begins this prayer. He says, “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.”
When we knock and open the door of God’s good gifts, it’s good to begin by first acknowledging who God is. God is our loving parent who wants the Kingdom of God to be made real on this earth. What a great way to begin a prayer by reminding ourselves to whom we are praying and what the goal of our prayer should be which is for God’s kingdom to come on earth.
The second part of the Lord’s Prayer is to invite God to supply our basic needs. Give us this day our daily bread. Sometimes our focus is so much on what we want that we forget to thank God for providing for our needs.
The third part of the prayer is to ask God to forgive us our sins. This is the humble part of the prayer because we acknowledge where we have not lived in harmony with God and those around us. “Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” God wants us to live in community and you can’t have community without forgiveness.
And the fourth part of this great prayer. “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Now, we all face different trials from time to time and trials can actually strengthen us and make us better for having faced them. But there’s also a kind of trial that can defeat us. It’s the trial that would take us from our families, our jobs, our self-respect, and even our souls.
When we are persistent in praying which is what Jesus wants us to do in this scripture passage, then we will become more aware of the trials that would keep us from being the people we are called to be. Praying isn’t just about getting God to do things for us. Prayer is about reminding ourselves of what is truly important.
Jesus offers us a lot to think about in his teachings on prayer. But the main thing he wants us to know is that if we really want to be a people of prayer, then we need to remember to knock and the door will be opened to us. And by the way, you can knock anytime, day or night.
One night this past spring, I woke up around 2 in the morning. Couldn’t sleep. Went downstairs. It was quiet. Decided to check my phone. Of course, went on Facebook. And noticed that a friend of mine who is a United Methodist pastor in our conference had posted something just an hour or two earlier.
And there must be a lot of people who stay up really late at night, because already, there were about 200 responses to this pastor’s post.
So, here’s the post he put on Facebook around midnight which I then read at 2 in the morning. I’ll just read a portion of it to you.
“Dear Friends, Linda and I received some devastating news that our youngest son passed away sometime early this morning. He died in his bed. We will know more after an autopsy but what matters now is that he is gone from us and we are numb.” His son was in his late 20s.
So there I am, at 2 in the morning in my kitchen reading these heart-breaking words from a clergy colleague in our conference. And there are all of these comments under his post where people are offering him their love, support, and prayers. I also shared a message of love and support. And then I said a little prayer for him before going back up to bed.
You know, sometimes we complain about social media and how it is misused, but if it wasn’t for social media in that moment, I wouldn’t have been able to say a prayer for this heart-broken clergy family who had just received the devastating news that their son had passed away.
At 2 in the morning all alone in my kitchen, I knocked on heaven’s door and offered a prayer to the One who is more than able to comfort us in our time of need, especially when we are walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we can pray to God at any time and the Lord will hear us.
Jesus tells us to ask, search, and knock and the door will be opened for you, whether it is at 2 in the morning to pray on behalf of a friend whose son just died unexpectedly of if you are nervous about helping with a ministry in the church, or maybe you just need to offer a prayer as you are about to lead devotions in your small group, or when you are walking in for a job interview, or you are about to hear the results of your medical test.
Whatever it is you may be facing, Jesus reminds us that God has good gifts to offer us. God even offers us a sample prayer to use anytime we’d like.
Just remember. If you want the door to open, all you have to do is knock.
License Plate Sightings: NOK2OPN
Sermon Discussion Questions
July 28, 2019
The vanity license plate for this Sunday’s scripture from Luke’s Gospel is where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray the Lord’s prayer. Jesus tells them that if they knock, the door shall be openend to them. That’s why our vanity plate message is NOK2OPN.
Why do you think Jesus used the image of someone knocking at a door to teach us about prayer? What does this image of knocking on a door mean for your prayer life?
It’s been said that God answers our prayers in one of four ways. These include 1) No, not yet. 2) No, I love you too much. 3) Yes, I thought you’d never ask. 4) Yes, and here’s more!
Have you experienced any of these answers to your prayers?
There are four main sections of the Lord’s prayer. Stop and pause after each of these sections and add your own personal prayers related to that section:
“Father, hallowed be your name. Thy kingdom come.” (This opening of the prayer reminds us that we are praying to God who cares about us and is our loving parent.)
“Give us this day our daily bread.” (This gives us an opportunity to thank God for the blessings in our lives.)
“Forgive us our sins.” (This is where we acknowledge those times that we have not lived in harmony with God or with others.)
“And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (This final part of the prayer invites God to help us resist those things that do not help us to be the people we were created to be.)
Jesus teaches us to be persistent in our prayers by asking, searching, and knocking. These are active words that remind us to make prayer a priority in our lives.
Share one or two ways that you can make prayer more of a priority in your life.