Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Lk. 12:49-56[1]
  Most of us have some type of blinders that keep us from seeing the real world around us.  We may not want to admit it.  We may prefer to think that we have our eyes wide open, that we have a realistic appraisal of life, and we are not hiding from any aspect of the truth.  But, truth be told, we all have on some kind of blinders.  It’s an unavoidable aspect of being human.  We interpret the world around us through the lens of our own experience.  Factors of race, gender, class, education, and even location profoundly affect the way we understand our world.  And they also determine what we see and what we don’t see.
  The problem with this arises when the majority of us look at things from a certain perspective, which means that there are aspects of life that we choose not to see.  Perhaps we choose to ignore them.  It’s incredibly difficult for those who have never had to wonder where our next meal is coming from to understand what it’s like to live in poverty.  It’s much more comfortable for us to just to close our eyes to the poverty around us.  It’s incredibly difficult for those of us who came from families where education was not optional to understand the reality that for many people who live around us, education is not an option.  And that means they have no means to lift themselves out of poverty.  But again, what we don’t understand, we prefer to just ignore.  We are comfortable with what our blinders allow us not to see.[2]
  I think this has a lot to do with our Gospel lesson for today.  It’s a text that forces us outside our comfort zones and makes us take off our blinders.  Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Lk. 12:51).  It’s a shocking statement.  We’re used to hearing the angel’s Christmas song about “peace on earth” (Lk. 2:14).  We tend to forget that at his dedication, Simeon told his parents that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” (Lk. 2:34). Our Gospel lesson for today seems to throw our views about Jesus and his mission into question.  How can Jesus be the one to bring peace and at the same time the one who brings division?
  Some will say that Jesus really didn’t come to bring peace at all.  They quote Matthew’s version of our lesson for today, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34).  And they relate that to the fact that many in Jesus’ day sought to overthrow their Roman oppressors by violence.[3]  They conclude that the “real Jesus” advocated violently overthrowing the system of injustice that oppressed so many in his day. 
That the economic, social, political, and religious system of Jesus’ day oppressed the majority of people is beyond question.  However, if Jesus advocated violent revolution, why did he enter Jerusalem humbly mounted on a donkey instead of riding a magnificent horse?  If Jesus expected his disciples to take up arms against their oppressors, why did he rebuke Peter for doing just that (Mt. 26:52)?[4]  If the “real Jesus” really wanted to overthrow the system of injustice that oppressed so many in his day, why did he allow himself to be crucified?  It doesn’t make sense.
  So what business did a Messiah who was going to sacrifice his life on the cross have talking about bringing division?  It seems to me that, while Jesus did not advocate overthrowing the unjust systems of his day, he did not shy away from exposing their injustice.  He told parables that pointed out how the religious leaders had enriched themselves at the expense of the people, in direct violation of the Torah they claimed to uphold.  He pointedly confronted them for abandoning the commandments of God when it was convenient, and yet insisting on keeping the letter of the Law when it suited them.  Jesus didn’t refrain from directly confronting the “powers that be” of his day.[5] 
  When anyone has the nerve to look at the way things are and say, “this isn’t right,” it has an unavoidable effect: it divides people.  Those who benefit from the status quo will fight tooth and nail to oppose anyone who tries to change things.  And they will adamantly keep their blinders firmly in place to avoid having to see the reality of injustice.  It seems to me that’s the kind of division Jesus was talking about.  He didn’t retreat from the Gospel of peace; he just realized that the cost of peace is justice.[6]  And he warned his disciples that they would face opposition if they followed him in advocating that kind of peace.
  So what does all this mean for us? Well, I think Jesus summed it up pretty well when he insisted that the people who gathered to hear him teach pay attention to more than just the weather.  He insisted that they take their own blinders off so they could see that things were not the way God intended.  I think that’s at least a place for us to start.  Whatever our background, whatever our place in life, Jesus challenges us all to take off our blinders and at least see the injustice, the poverty, and the suffering that is so prevalent all around us.[7]  Make no mistake: we are surrounded by hurting people.  And the first step toward doing something about it is to take a long, hard look at their suffering by removing the blinders that keep us comfortable.

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/18/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Ironically, many in our day have made the accusation of “class warfare” against those who would expose injustice. Warren Buffet has said in response, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” See Ben Stein, “In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning,” The New York Times,  Nov 26, 2006; at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/ yourmoney/26every.html?_r=0.
[3] Cf. Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, 109, where he traces this view (in the context of Matthew’s version) back to Hermann Reimarus’ Fragments, published posthumously ca.. 1774-76.
[4] There Jesus says, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword,” which seems to fly in the face of  our lesson for today.  The mainstream of New Testament scholarship agrees that “Jesus did not come to bring to the earth a political rebellion against Rome” (cf. Luz, Matthew, 111).  See also J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 994-95; R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:266-67.
[5] Cf. Fred Craddock,  Luke, 166: “God is so acting toward the world in Jesus of Nazareth that a crisis is created ... . Peace in the sense of status quo is now disrupted.”  Cf. similarly Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 995; Culpepper, “Gospel of Luke,” NIB IX:266-67.   Cf. also Luz, Matthew, 112, where he says, “The message of ultimate peace, of the reversal of secular rule, and of the love of God for the underprivileged has a political dimension and evokes the resistance of all those who defend power and privileges.”
[6] Cf. Karl Barth, 3.2:60-61: “This is the division made, the fire kindled, when He comes to fulfill the Law and the prophets and to give His life for many. But the real purpose of His coming is not attained with this division. ... Human roles are radically reversed when He comes. The first shall be last and the last first. But this is not the essential aim of His coming. ... That Jesus comes to bring about the ruin of any man is a thought which is wholly foreign to the New Testament.”
[7] Cf. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 1000, where he says that Jesus calls them hypocrites because “their problem is much more an unwillingness to interpret than an inability.”  Cf. also Craddock, Luke, 166-67.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Lk. 12:32-40[1]
  We Presbyterians don’t talk much about the “second coming of Christ.”  In fact, I dare say you could find some Presbyterians who have never even heard a sermon about the “second coming of Christ.”[2]  This is a strange phenomenon, because the New Testament has a lot to say about the matter.  It is the focal point of the Christian hope.  All the hopes that the Hebrew prophets had raised about God renewing and restoring this world to the peace and justice and freedom of his merciful reign are focused on the future coming of Christ. Make no mistake about it, this is something that is central to the New Testament, and therefore central to the Christian faith.[3]
  I think there are a variety of reasons why that may make us uncomfortable.  In the first place, there are the assorted “flakes and nuts” out there who claim to be able to tell you down to the day and the hour when Christ will “return.”  And they back it up with their charts.  Surely most of us have seen them.  Hal Lindsay became famous for his book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” where he famously (or infamously) predicted that Jesus would return in 1978, or at the latest 1988.  Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA engineer, wrote a pamphlet entitled “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988” that was sent out to an estimated 300,000 pastors across the U. S.[4]  He was convinced that Christ would return on the Jewish New Year in 1988.  When that didn’t happen, he went on to predict it would occur in 1989, 1993, and 1994!  I think many of us may be reticent to discuss the return of Christ because we don’t want to be associated with people like that.
  I think another factor that inhibits our enthusiasm about the “second coming” is that those who tend to make a big deal about it seem to be using it as a “scare tactic.”  You know, Jesus could come this very day, so you better get right with God because you might be “left behind.”  Given all the hype surrounding the recent “Left Behind” series of books, I’m afraid this sentiment of using the return of Christ as a means of fear-mongering is also still very prevalent in our day.[5] It’s something most of us don’t want to be associated with. 
  Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that the future coming of Christ remains the focal point of the Christian hope in the New Testament.  And the consistent message is that since we look forward to the day when Christ will come and set things right, then it ought to make a difference in the way we live.  Time after time we are called to be “ready” for that day.  Unfortunately, I think we tend to associate that with the thinking that prescribes for us a certain ritual of conversion, or a specific set of doctrines we have to affirm, or a particular church we have to join in order to ensure that we are not “left behind.” 
  But our Gospel lesson for today gives us a different perspective on all that, in my opinion.  Here, as in other places, Jesus insists that “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Lk. 12:40).  But he tells us a parable that illustrates what that looks like.  It’s a story about servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet.  I think we have to assume that this is not just a matter of a night out, but rather this wedding banquet involves a journey, and the servants cannot possibly know the exact day or hour of their master’s return. 
  Jesus says that those servants will be ready if they are found “waiting” when the master returns.  But I don’t think that means that they are just sitting around watching the gate of the estate to open.  Obviously, these servants have tasks that need to be performed on a daily basis.  And so their “waiting” and their “readiness” involves being “dressed for action” and being “alert.”[6]  I think all of this means that the servants are to continue doing their jobs, taking care of the master’s household, tending the garden, taking care of the livestock, performing any maintenance that the estate needs.  In other words, being “ready,” being “alert” means doing what they have been instructed to do as if the master were right there with them.[7]
  It seems to me that this is a perspective on what it means to be “ready” for the future coming of Christ that is much more consistent with the biblical teachings.  Despite those who revel in their charts, we really cannot know when that day will come. And contrary to the fear-mongers, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).  That doesn’t mean it will be easy.  It doesn’t mean we can sit around doing nothing.  It means that we are called to do what we’ve been instructed to do, and to live in the manner we’ve been taught to live.[8]  And we’re to do that every day, as if the master were already here with us.  If you think about it, in one sense he already is with us.  And so we can go about our business, the business of the mercy, and peace, and freedom, and compassion of God’s kingdom, in the confidence that what we do is pleasing in God’s sight.  It seems to me, that’s what it means to be ready.


[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/11/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Technically, the NT speaks of  the future “coming” of Christ as his “public, definitive, triumphal coming.” It is therefore not correct to speak of a “second coming” or a “return,” since “Christ ... remains present in the Spirit.”  See Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, 529.
[3] Cf. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 2, p. 290: “The vindication of Christ and his triumphant return is ... an expression of faith in ...the final supremacy of love over all the forces of self-love which defy, for the moment, the inclusive harmony of all things under the will of God.”  Cf. similarly, Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 280-81.
[4] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_C._Whisenant .  See also Jason Boyett, “Harold Camping and the apocalypse of my youth”, The Washington Post online Blog “Guest Voices,” May 21, 2011; accessed at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ blogs/guest-voices/post/may-21-2011-harold-camping-and-the-apocalypse-of-my-youth/2011/05/12/AFfkLNyG_blog.html
[5] See Dart, John. “‘Beam me up’ theology--The Debate Over ‘Left Behind,’”The Christian Century (Sept 25, 2002): 8-9; Nicholas D. Kristof, “Jesus And Jihad,” The New York Times, July 17, 2004; accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/17/ opinion/17KRIS.html?ex=1247803200&en=b9eee1a2743a902b&ei=5090
[6] Cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 987.  The Greek text for “be dressed for action” is to have one’s “loins girded,” which refers to tying up the long robe with a belt to ensure one is able to act freely and quickly.  One could render it as being “dressed for work.”
[7] Cf. Fred Craddock, Luke, 165: “readiness ... consists of continuing faithfulness to one’s duties.  When that is the case, uncertainties are no cause for alarm or anxiety.”  Cf. similarly, Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 985; John Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34, 705.
[8] Cf. Donald K. McKim, Introducing the Reformed Faith, 177: “If we believe the ultimate future is about God’s liberating rule, then the church and all followers of Jesus Christ will do whatever we can to point toward this future reign and to enact God’s coming kingdom in history today.”  Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2:555, where he says that Christians are those who “those who constantly stand in need of reawakening and who depend upon the fact that they are continually reawakened. They are thus those who, it is to be hoped, continually waken up.”

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry?

Eat, Drink and Be Merry?
Lk. 12:13-21[1]
  Greed is one of those words that by definition simply has no positive meaning.  Only the most callous Wall Street capitalist could say with a straight face that “greed is healthy.”[2]  Most of us will agree with that on the surface of things, but once we walk out the doors of this church, our lives betray a different creed.  I’m afraid we’re all more products of a culture of “consumptive consumerism” than we’d like to admit.  One definition of this way of living is “The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.” I’d say that pretty much sums up the way we live these days--preoccupied with the acquisition of stuff.
  So when Jesus says, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Lk. 12:15)[3], I doubt that too many people in our world really believe that. We might nod our heads in assent.  And none of us would go so far as to say “greed is healthy.” But, as a people, we continue to occupy ourselves with acquiring more and more.[4]  It would seem that we really do believe that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions.[5]  It would seem that we believe that’s what it takes to be able to “eat, drink, and be merry.”
  All of that is fairly obvious to anyone who has the eyes to see it.  I don’t think belaboring it helps anybody.  I think the real issue is where this obsession comes from, and how we free ourselves from it.  It seems to me that the source of our greed is a lack of satisfaction with life.  We just don’t seem to have it in us to look at where we are today, what we have, what we’re doing, and say to ourselves that it’s just fine the way it is.[6]  There’s always something we want to change.  Always another “golden calf” out there that we imagine will make our lives complete.[7]  But no matter how much stuff we manage to acquire, it’s never enough.  There’s still an empty place inside us that won’t be filled with newer, nicer, better things.
  Others among us think that we can fill the void with activities.  If we work hard enough and long enough, we can distract ourselves from the real question that haunts us--the question of what it will take for us to be truly happy with our lives.  It’s a painful question, and one that isn’t easily resolved.  So we really rather not have to face it at all.  Instead, we run from one activity to another, immersing ourselves in busy-ness so that we won’t have to think about that emptiness that gnaws at us when we’re too still and quiet. [8]
  But the solution to the compulsion to fill our lives with something, with anything, so that we don’t have to feel that emptiness, can only be found elsewhere.  Centuries ago, St. Augustine said it this way, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”[9]  The ancient truth is that the only way to be free from the obsessions that fail to satisfy us is through the steadfast love of God.  It is a love that surrounds us constantly.[10]  It is a love that is in the very air we breathe, in the sunshine that drives the trees to produce the air we breathe, and in the chemical process in the leaves of the trees that gives off oxygen.  If God’s love can be found in something so basic to our very existence, surely it can be found in the other aspects of our lives as well, if we have the eyes to see it.[11]
  The Psalmist reminds us that it is the steadfast love of God that provides us with the very food we eat (Ps. 107:9).  And so he calls us to “give heed to these things” (Ps 107:43).  I think that means we’re supposed to catch a clue, get the hint, learn the lesson.  If God goes to such lengths to establish the very cycle of nature that supports our lives in ways we take for granted, we can surely trust God with the other aspects of our lives that we think we have to manage.  St. Paul took that one step further.  He reminded us that God also gave us what was most precious.  God gave his only Son for us all so that we might have new life.  And Paul draws the natural conclusion: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Rom. 8:32).[12]
  The real solution to seeking our lives in how much stuff we have, or in how much we can do to distract ourselves, or how well we can “eat, drink, and be merry,” is to find our lives in the new life that God offers us all.  It is a life that is truly fulfilling, a life of learning that becoming content with God’s love turns whatever we have into everything we could ever need.  It is a life of loving God in return and therefore serving those around us in love--especially by sharing what we have with them.  Jesus calls this “being rich toward God” (Lk 12:21).[13] When we find our lives in this way, then we can see the folly of thinking that anything else could possibly satisfy us.  Then we can see the truth that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/4/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Ivan Boesky made this statement at his 1986 commencement speech at The University of California at Berkeley.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Boesky.
[3] Cf. R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:255, on the dangers of wealth in Luke’s Gospel.
[4] Cf. U. S. Department of Labor, “100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending,” May 2006, accessed at http://www.bls.gov/opub/uscs/report991.pdf. In the introduction, the report says, “Mass consumption, spurred by advertising and consumer credit, has become a distinguishing characteristic of modern society. Today, consumer spending has become the largest component of U.S. gross domestic product.”
[5] Cf. Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, 1146, 1150, 1155, where he points out that Luke’s intent in conveying this parable was to warn his Christian audience against the danger of placing one’s trust in wealth.  It would seem we still need that warning!
[6] Cf. Pema Chödrön, Taking the Leap, 61.  She describes getting to this place as a gradual process: “I find that it’s essential during the day to actually note when I feel happiness or when something positive happens, and begin to cherish those moments as precious. Gradually we can begin to cherish the preciousness of our whole life just as it is, with its ups and downs, its failures and successes, its roughness and smoothness.”
[7] Cf. St. Paul, Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: ... greed (which is idolatry).”  Cf. also Fred Craddock, Luke, 163, where he says that the problem with the rich man in the parable is that “He lives completely for himself.”  Cf. similarly, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 972; and Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” NIB XI:257: “Until the voice of God interrupts the fool’s reverie, there is nothing in the story but the man and his possessions.”
[8] Cf. Chödrön, Taking the Leap, 15, where she uses the analogy of a young child with poison ivy who cannot resist the urge to scratch, which only makes things worse.  She says, “in the face of anything we don’t like, we automatically try to escape. In other words, scratching is our habitual way of trying to get away, trying to escape our fundamental discomfort, the fundamental itch of restlessness and insecurity.”
[9] Augustine, Confessions 1.1; accessed at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf 101.vi.I_1.I.html . On this, cf. John Caputo, On Religion, 28, where he comments that when people “go off in search of other things, ... , they are really engaged in a ... search for God, except they do not realize that it is God for whom they search.” Cf. also Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 21: “there is a space within us where God dwells and where we are invited to dwell with God.”  Cf. also G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God, 196: Man never appears as an isolated self-contained entity, or in the pure factuality of his weakness or strength or poverty or riches, but always and exclusively in that relationship which so decisively defines man in the full actuality of his existence (cf. Ps. 84:6, Luke 12:21).
[10] Cf. Nouwen, Here and Now, 20: “Jesus’ core message is that God is ... a lover, whose only desire is to give us what our hearts most desire.  To pray is to listen to that voice of love.”
[11] Cf. Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, 78: “Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of our breathing.”
[12] Cf. Nouwen, Here and Now, 136: “Wherever we are there are voices saying: ‘Go here, go there, buy this, buy that, ...,’ and so on.  These voices keep pulling us away from that soft gentle voice that speaks in the center of our being: ‘You are my beloved, on you my favor rests.’”
[13] Cf. Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” NIB IX:257: “the rich man’s vision of the future sounds uncomfortably like one that most of us have for our retirement years. Are we really planning prudently? What gives our life meaning now, and what will give it meaning then?” Cf. similarly, John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, 688.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Everyone Who Asks

Everyone Who Asks
Lk. 11:1-13[1]
  Prayer is a puzzle to most of us, I think.  I’m not sure most of us even know why it is that we pray.[2]  In this self-oriented culture of ours, many people pray as a form of sanctified wish-fulfillment.  They think they can put a prayer coin in the slot machine and have all their dreams come true--if they pray the right way.  Then there are others who reject prayer altogether as a remnant from the days when people thought God was directly responsible for things like the weather.  They tend to think it’s just a mind game we’re playing with ourselves.  I think the solution to the problem of prayer lies somewhere in the middle between self-interest and cynicism.
  Our Gospel lesson for today contains three teachings about prayer.  I think the one we hear is “Ask, and it will be given 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” (Lk. 11:9-10).  We hear it, and yet I’m not sure we know quite what to make of it.  Those who pray only for their own self-interest find in this statement a promise that their wishes will be granted.  Those who object to that kind of thinking may simply reject it.  It’s problematic at best.  After all, who of us hasn’t had the experience of praying for something that seemed right and good, only to ask and not receive?[3]  So what do we make of this?
  I think the Gospel lesson gives us some clues.  For example, I think that it’s important to note that this passage on prayer that ends with “everyone who asks receives” begins with Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer.  In comparision with the version in Matthew’s Gospel, this one is much shorter.  And it seems to me that makes it even more clear that in this model prayer Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray for God’s Kingdom to come.   So I think the first clue to understanding “everyone who asks receives” is that all of our praying must be an expression of seeking first God’s Kingdom.[4]
  The second clue comes in the story of the friend who asks to borrow bread at midnight.  He has received unexpected guests, and not to offer them food would be a serious embarrassment.  So he asks his neighbor to borrow bread.  Of course, the neighbor objects, but Jesus said, “because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs” (Lk. 11:8).  There are a couple of things we have to understand about this.  For one thing, Luke tends to emphasize the importance of persisting in prayer and not giving up in his version of Jesus’ teachings.[5]  That is a good thing.  But the other point here is that Jesus is not saying that God gives begrudgingly when we make a nuisance of ourselves in prayer.  Sometimes, Jesus’ sayings are intended to illustrate the opposite of what is true about God.  This is certainly an example of that. The truth is that Jesus assured us we can pray knowing that God knows our needs (Matt. 6:7-8) and is already working in each of our lives for our best interest.
  I think we see this confirmed in the third clue found  when Jesus compares prayer to a child asking for something from a parent.  Jesus acknowledged that, for the most part, we human parents want what is best for our children.  So he says, “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?” (Lk 11:11-12).  Of course, the answer is emphatically “No.”  Even we who are flawed and fallible parents “know how to give good gifts to [our] children” (Lk. 11:13).  How much more can we trust that God who loves us unconditionally is constantly working in our lives with grace before we even know we have a need.  And so when we pray, we do so with assurance, not out of the fear that we somehow have to get God’s attention or twist God’s arm.[6] 
  In all of this, you may be thinking that the lesson is that we shouldn’t pray for our own desires.  I don’t think that’s the point.  What is more natural than to turn to our creator and redeemer to express the deepest desires of our hearts.  But Jesus’ approach to prayer suggests that the desires of our hearts ought to be shaped not by the values of our culture, or our own selfish interests, but by the principles of the kingdom--compassion, peace, justice, freedom, and new life.[7]  As we pray in that way, I think we can pray with the confidence that “everyone who asks receives.”[8]  And this doesn’t just relate to our spirituality--part of the “Lord’s Prayer” involves meeting our daily needs and protecting us from trials that may overwhelm us.  Jesus assured us that we can pray for all these concerns, knowing that God knows our needs and is already working in each life to bring grace and peace, and mercy and love, and new life.

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 7/28/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Barth seems overly confident when he says, “True prayer is prayer which is sure of a hearing. By 'hearing' is to be understood the reception and adoption of the human request into God’s plan and will, and therefore the divine speech and action which correspond to the human request.” cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3.4, 106
[3] Cf. Stephanie Frey, “On God’s Case,” The Christian Century (July 13, 2004):17.
[4] Cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.4.76, where he says “the whole of the Christian life is a form of this petition.”  See also N. T. Wright, “Thy Kingdom Come: Living the Lord’s Prayer,” in The Christian Century (March 12,1997) 269: “We are praying, as Jesus was praying and acting, for the redemption of the world; for the radical defeat and uprooting of evil; and for heaven and earth to be married at last, for God to be all in all. And if we pray this way, we must of course be prepared to live this way.” Contrast John Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34, 620, where he insists that the prayer is “unambiguously for the future coming of the kingdom of God.”
[5] Cf. E. Glenn Hinson, “Persistence and Prayer in Luke-Acts,” Review & Expositor 104 (Fall 2007): 721-736.
[6] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 118, where he says, “The prayer offered in the assurance that prayer will be heard therefore becomes the expression of life lived in friendship with God. God can be talked to. He listens to his friend.”
[7] It might be easy to miss, but there’s another clue here that our praying is to be informed by the principles of the Lord’s prayer, and above all is to be an expression of seeking first the Kingdom.  Matthew’s version of this saying says, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11).  But Luke’s version says, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk. 11:13).  Luke presupposes that Jesus’ disciples are praying for Kingdom matters--like peace, and justice, and compassion, and new life.  And Jesus promises that God will freely give us the Spirit so that we can not only pray for the Kingdom but also work for its realization in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Cf. Fred Craddock, Luke, 154.
[8] Cf. Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34, 632: “this extravagant sense of the accessibility of God and of his ability and willingness to respond to us as we come to him fit well with the radical simplicity of the faith of Jesus, and Luke would have us encounter this in all its starkness.”