The Shameless Audacity of Prayer

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church

Aug 28, 2016

Luke 11:1-13

We’re back with Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer this week. And where Matthew’s version had Jesus say “give us this day our daily bread”, in Luke’s version, Jesus says “give us each day our daily bread”.

I don’t want to overplay the difference in the phrasing. Luke’s version is an ongoing prayer—give us daily bread today, tomorrow, next Thursday, and in 2047. Matthew, the most Jewish of the gospel writers, has us going to God every day for just what we need that day, like manna in the wilderness.

And while bread remains a big part of our diet in this culture, it was a very important staple in Jesus’ day.

And you couldn’t just go buy a nice loaf at Zeppole or Albertsons.
And bread had to be made every day. And that involved much more labor than was involved with putting the mix in this bread maker and pushing start.

Making bread is labor and time intensive, grinding wheat to flour, adding yeast, kneading the dough, giving the dough time to rise, time to rest, and time to bake.

Daily Bread is important and took a lot of time and planning to make sure it was going to be ready when you needed it.

When I think about how much preparation is involved in daily bread, I’m reminded that to pray for our daily bread, each day, it isn’t a prayer for easy provision. On one level, it is a reminder that the gift of daily bread is a gift that is free to us but required someone else’s labor.

I think it is also a reminder to be grateful for the gift of hands that can knead bread, and the abundance of flour, and the gift of time to watch the dough rise, and the gift of hearts that are led to share bread with neighbors.

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There is nothing in the Lord’s Prayer about stockpiling huge piles of bread, more than we need. It is a prayer for what we need each day. And if we have an abundance of it, it is a call to share it, so that others may have their daily bread too.

It’s human nature, perhaps, to doubt that tomorrow’s daily bread will arrive. The stories of the Bible, and the stories of our lives, are full of times when we forget to trust in tomorrow’s daily bread, and so we hang on to more of today’s than we need.

It leads us to pretend that only our needs matter and that the needs of others are unconnected to our own.

And so our prayers are fervent and fierce, for our own daily provision, and for the benefit of our community.

Let’s look at the illustration Jesus gives after the Lord’s prayer.

‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.’

So, a guest has arrived at one of our friend’s house, apparently unexpectedly and late at night, and our friend was not ready for company.

I certainly understand that anxiety. You can show up unannounced at my house. I would love to see you. But I make no promises for how my house will look.

The friend goes to another friend’s house to get some help because grocery stores, somehow, weren’t open 24 hours a day in Jesus’ day.

“Dude. Sorry. I know it is late. But i need to borrow some bread.”

There is so much wrong in this scenario.

First, you don’t run out of bread when it is your main food staple. What was the friend going to eat for breakfast even if his guest hadn’t randomly shown up late that night?

Next, you didn’t knock on people’s doors at midnight. When people lived in such small homes, the whole family would be asleep on the living room floor. “My children are with me in bed” is not an excuse to not come to the door. It’s a reminder to quiet down or you’re going to wake my entire family.

Jesus then says, ‘he won’t give him the bread because they are friends. But he’ll give him the bread because he’s persistent’. The word in Greek for “persistent” has the root of the word “shame”. It is a “shameless audacity”.

Jesus’ culture was a culture of honor and shame. Honor was everything. And dishonorable behavior would bring shame. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt leads to the expectation of punishment. Shame leads you to the fear of ostracism, and removal from society.

So for this person to be ‘persistent’ to the point of shame—how does that change the game? Why does Jesus tell us to have shameless audacity when we pray?

This friend is sacrificing his honor, and willing to take on shame, because of the importance of hospitality. He’s willing to take on shame to get what he needs.

We aren’t as connected to the Honor/Shame culture as Jesus’ first audience would have been. We reward shameless behavior all the time in our culture. Alas.

But I still think we often go to God in prayer with our honor in mind more than the needs that are facing us.

Because often, I think our prayers are polite. And timid. And reveal what we think we should be praying for, instead of really being vulnerable, going deep, and risking something big for something good.

Or our prayers may often be instead for our own prosperity or for what we want. The Lord’s Prayer is not talking about praying for big screen TVs or millions of dollars. It calls us to look deeply into our hearts, to seek out what is deeply buried and silenced there, and bring it to the light, with audacious shamelessness before God, to name what we need, not just what we want.

I majored in 17th and 18th Century French and English History in college, which comes in handy when doing crossword puzzles, playing trivial pursuit, and, surprisingly, for today’s sermon.

Because in college, we read folktales from the 17th and 18th Centuries. Folktales, unlike official court documents and narratives, reveal the values of a culture in honest ways. They aren’t written so history will remember us well. They are written to tell the stories of a people. And they can change over time. (You can read all about the archetypes of folktales here.)

One kind of folktale is about the “magic mill”, some kind of object that can provide flour, or a pot that can make porridge as the Grimm Brothers told it. It’s a daily bread sort of tale. There are instructions to make the object work. And instructions to have it stop working when you’ve gotten what you need for the day.

Usually, in the tale, someone other than the person who first received the object, decides that if they got their hands on it, they could get rich by having it grind lots of flour, or make lots of food, so they could turn around and then sell it.

The person who steals the item, of course, doesn’t know how to make it stop, so they get buried under tons of food, flour, or salt, whatever the item had been making.

Give us each day, our daily bread.

If folktales were being written today, we would see a change in the magic mill kind of story, I think. If people wanted a magical machine today that could produce unlimited quantities of any item, we would not ask it to make porridge. Or flour.

We would not ask for what we need. We would ask for what would make us rich. Gold coins. Diamonds. Lamborghinis. Chocolate.

Jesus finishes the story by saying:

‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

What is it you really need? What is the daily bread that your soul hungers for? Is it restored relationship? Or honest conversations with the ones you love? Your daily bread may actually be a physical need—food, security, safety.

It is difficult, in a culture of wants, to get in touch with our needs.

I invite us, as we pray, and as we pray this Lord’s Prayer in particular, to ask until we lose our voices, so we will be given what we need; to search until we find, even if that searching takes us into corners of our hearts we haven’t explored in a long time. May this prayer lead us to knock on the door of our own souls until our knuckles are raw so that the needs of our souls will be open unto us.

If we do that, so we can truly ask for our daily bread, with shameless audacity, vulnerable before God, our prayer will be heard.

May it be so. Amen.

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