[I found this image here.]
This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Dearborn Heights, Michigan and was focused upon Luke 11:1-13. An audio recording is include above, and a manuscript is included below.
Do you remember who taught you how to pray? Do you have memories of specific people or communities that helped you memorize the Lord’s Prayer and say it aloud? Who comes to mind for you? Do you feel gratitude when you remember them?
Let’s take just a moment to think of those people. Let’s have a few seconds of silence to bring their memory to our recollection. . .
I know we’re going to say the Lord’s Prayer later in the service, but I thought we might say it together right now too, specifically remembering the people who taught us to pray. Let’s imagine them with us. Let’s imagine them saying these words alongside us as we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying,
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
If you think about it, this prayer has been transmitted and taught from one Christian to another Christian, not only across generations inside churches and households, but across millennia, reaching all the way back to Jesus himself. His disciples requested, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” In the story we heard today, Jesus teaches a version of this prayer. You’ll notice that this version is missing some clauses we typically say in worship. When we speak this prayer together, it mirrors the version from the Gospel of Matthe more closely.
Jesus cared for his disciples’ request and taught his disciples to pray. But he did more than share particular words and phrases. The words, phrases, and images of the Lord’s Prayer are beautiful and important. But more important, Jesus taught his disciples about the God to whom they pray. He taught them about a loving God who knows how to give good gifts to them, for they – and we – are children of this loving God.
Jesus shares an interesting parable. He says, “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.’”
On the other side of the door, this friend gets pretty annoyed. It’s the middle of the night! If he gets up to find some bread, all the kids will wake up. They’ll be whiny. He might stumble over something. Later, he might lie in bed awake, struggling to fall asleep again.
But eventually, with enough perseverance and continued knocking, even an irritated friend will help. Jesus wants to convey this to his disciples: If a grumpy, crabby, annoyed friend will give this good gift, how much more will God hear our prayers and care for us? How much more will God do this – one who loves us unconditionally like a parent? How much more will God show tender care – one who looks upon us with delight?
Jesus invites us to be persistent in our prayers.
It’s not that God needs us to make a case or work really hard to be convincing. God isn’t far away, ignoring us until we’re sufficiently irritating. Instead, God is profoundly and tenderly near and with us in our everyday lives. This God looks upon us with love and delight. Though there are certainly times when we struggle or experience painful moments that make no sense, we remind one another that this God is accompanying us. And we speak the truth: God’s gifts will find us because God’s presence is always with us.
Jesus says, “Ask, seek, and knock. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Ask, Seek, and Knock.
Perhaps within these words, there lies another word: Dream.
I spent some time in San Antonio last week. I traveled there to co-officiate a wedding along with another pastor that I’ve known for many years. His name is Ben Johnston-Krase. During the ceremony, he and I gave a wedding sermon together, and it started with a good question: “What is God’s fondest dream for your life?”
It’s a beautiful question.
Today, I’d like to ask it to you:
What is God’s fondest dream for your life?
I wonder what would happen if we all prayed to discover it.
When we let that question guide us, we open ourselves to new possibilities. Sometimes, they are the kinds of possibilities that we never anticipated. Sometimes, we are surprised if they come later in life, but often, they do. Sometimes, we are surprised if they invite us to chart a different course entirely.
What is God’s fondest dream for your life?
For our lives?
Ben Johnston-Krase, my mentor and co-officiant had that kind of experience.
In his case, it started with a literal dream. In the middle of the night two summers ago, Ben received one of the best ideas of his life. At the time, he was a pastor in Southeast Wisconsin, but while he slept, he dreamt he was traveling to a new church to become their pastor. Once he arrived, he was surprised to discover that the church was. . . a farm.
When he awoke, a good feeling lingered. He realized there might actually be something to this vision. At 3:17am, he was suddenly awake with a flurry of ideas: What would it be like to worship in a barn? What if Sunday School involved children caring for chickens? What if all resources on a farm could be leveraged to address hunger. . . in homes. . .in prisons. . . in nursing care facilities?
He wondered, Is anybody out there actually doing this? He started Googling, and he couldn’t find anything like this dream. So he went to GoDaddy.com to see if FarmChurch.org was available. It was, and after being awake for a mere twenty minutes, he bought it on the spot.
And that’s when the dream got bigger than Ben’s ideas alone.
The next day, he called Allen Brimer, a seminary classmate and close friend who had been a farmer before becoming pastor. After talking to his family, Allen responded right away, “I’m in.”
The flurry of conversations continued. A third family joined too, and soon the Johnston-Krases, Brimers, and Werts were all in agreement: They were actually going to dream, create, and launch Farm Church. They decided to take a great deal of personal risk. They quit their jobs to pursue this vision with their full attention and energy.
And that’s when the dream got bigger than their ideas alone.
The vision spread, and people around the nation began contacting them in the hopes that they might bring Farm Church to their town. The pastors, their partners, and their kids all entered a discernment process to figure out where they should move. After a lot of prayer and consideration, they decided upon Durham, North Carolina.
And that’s when the dream got bigger than their families alone.
These families made a commitment to follow every thread of conversation once they arrived in Durham. As a result, vital partnerships emerged. Within a year, they received land to farm right within the city, and SEEDS, a local non-profit, gave them space to hold worship services. Most importantly, people of all ages have caught the vision and made it theirs too. Together, they are embodying it. Together, they are embodying church.
And the dream will clearly get bigger.
I mention this story as inspiration for us today. I share it as a reminder us that God’s love and vision are calling us all the time. Will we open ourselves to recognizing it? Will we become fully alive as we follow it?
So I ask it again,
What is God’s fondest dream for your life?
What is God’s fondest dream for our lives?
Sometimes, we wonder if God has passed us by. We question if od really cares for us. We might even hold an unconscious belief that we have to pester God or build a masterful case to be heard. But God’s posture is one of love and abundant presence.
What would happen if we prayed often?
What would happen if we prayed abundantly?
Would we learn to see the gifts all around us?
Would new possibilities come into view?
Would our lives be marked for greater purpose and adventures in belonging?
Well, let’s try it.
Ask, Seek, Knock, Dream. We might just find answers in that process, but even richer, our lives themselves might be found as they are empowered with even greater meaning.
May God reveal the most beautiful, fondest dreams of all.