Sermon: Life in the Spirit – God’s Gift-Giving and Prayer, A Sermon on Luke 11.5-13
Life in the Spirit – God’s Gift-Giving and Prayer
A Sermon on Luke 11.5-13
For us as seminarians who are devoting ourselves to the task of consistent study, hard ministry, and rigorous spiritual training, it is tempting to stop the flow of this passage with the insight that we are to ask, seek, and knock. In all fairness, for many of us a certain discipline, tenacity, and plain willful stubbornness probably are part of the reason we find ourselves at PTS, and anyone who has undertaken study of, say, Greek or Hebrew, knows that asking, seeking, and in not a few cases, knocking on a hallmate’s door at two in the morning are necessary to learn these languages. Yet, much to our surprise, though our involvement is—obviously—an element in the venture of prayer, our passage does not allow us to begin with, or even stand upon, our persistence, determination, or consistency as prayer’s foundational element.
Indeed, the text sweeps us onward from discussions of late-night visitors, hospitality, and asking, seeking, and knocking, towards its final declaration of God as gift-giver. Here we find the assurance that God the heavenly Father greatly out-gives all the good, helpful, and loving gifts which any loving parent might give to her or his hungry children. This alone is the basis for prayer. When children come to their parents asking for food, parents feed their children—even if momentarily delaying that feeding with the command to “wait until dinner.” What is astonishing about Luke’s pronouncement—and where he goes beyond Matthew’s account—is in the declaration that God does not simply provide good things for God’s children, but that God abundantly gives to the point of even giving Godself in the Holy Spirit. Nothing is held back, all has been given. This gift-giving basis is further clarified by Luke when he turns into the passion narrative and finds in Christ’s life, death and resurrection the ultimate act of God’s self-giving for humanity, which then enables God’s perpetual and here-promised self-giving to continue in the Holy Spirit. Only with God’s speaking of this reality-changing gifting in Christ and re-gifting in the Holy Spirit, can the followers of Jesus come persistently and insistently, and one might add audaciously, to the task of prayer and petition. This final promise of God’s provision echoes back into the preceding verses to give proper shape and form to our Godward movement in light of God’s prior movement towards us. Though the act of prayer itself indicates dependence on God—otherwise the pray-er would have no need to pray to God, but could go elsewhere—here is found the reason for that dependence—God consistently holds nothing back.
Even more, as those seized by the Gospel we find that this prior gifting of God’s Spirit as the grounds for prayer pushes us to specify with a further degree of clarity the nature of this gifting by God. For, if God’s movement comes as that which enables prayer, we might then move into the actual act of prayer on our own steam. This is precisely what we are forbidden from doing even here. Throughout both Luke and Acts we find that it is the Spirit which impels and undergirds the act of praying—initially in Jesus’ prayers to the Father (e.g. 10.21), but eventually expanding outward to include Jesus’ followers in the movement of, and dependence on, the Spirit. Not only is God’s gifting of the Spirit that which enables prayer, but God’s gifting of the Spirit is the very means by which we actually do pray. Because our identity is now in Christ, in this gifting nothing less is declared than that we have been drawn into the eternal conversation of Son to Father, and Father to Son, impelled, enabled, and enacted by the Spirit. Here it is found that the Spirit is not only that which opens our mouths, but is the one who carries our prayers to the Father and prays for us to the Father as well.
And herein is the good news—God has acted and acts not only in God’s stead, but in ours as well. The burden of lifting our own prayers to God has been taken and is eternally carried out already before we even open our lips to speak. We have been freed to take up prayer in joyful and active passivity. Though we find ourselves in the passive role of being forever dependent on this gifting of God as the prior and inexcludable element of our praying, God’s gifting is one which shoves us out into the active and action-filled role of prayer. Because of God’s sending of the Holy Spirit we may in faith and expectation—and not in naiveté or false illusions, thoughts of grandeur or individual initiative—continually come before God, grounded by, freed by, and impelled by God in the knowledge that in this venture, though we are called to strive, dare, and act, it is not our striving and daring and acting which make prayer a possibility. This is good news indeed. Amen.