Asking and Listening
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 11:1–13
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 24, 2022
“Asking and Listening”
In life, when we ask something of another person, the expectation is that the other person will listen to our request. That’s how it works, right? The other person may not comply with our request, giving us what we want, but we want to know that at least we have been heard. It’s about asking and listening, and that’s what is before us in both the Old Testament lesson (Genesis 18:20-33) and the Gospel lesson (Luke 11:1-13) for today. In our faith life, when we come before the Lord in prayer, asking for many things, we do so with the confidence that the Lord not only listens to the requests that we make in prayer, but also gives us what he knows to be best for us. All of this becomes the theme for preaching today entitled “Asking and Listening.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living for Jesus’ sake.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, we see a whole lot of asking going on as Abraham seems to be in a bargaining session with the Lord. Following last Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Genesis 18:1-14), when those three mysterious visitors appeared at Abraham and Sarah’s tent, announcing that Sarah in her old age would have a son, today’s lesson is what follows. The Lord God comes down to investigate the outcry that has come before heaven against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. That is the reason for this heavenly visitation, and it is shared with Abraham. In response to what has been shared with him, there is a holy boldness on Abraham’s part as he intercedes for these two cities. We may think that’s presumptuous, maybe even shameless, on Abraham’s part, but people’s lives are at stake. Someone must intercede with the Lord in their behalf! From fifty righteous persons, to forty-five, to thirty, to twenty, to just ten, that’s how far Abraham is willing to go for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham asks, and asks, and asks some more, and each time, the Lord God listens and responds. Are we that bold in faith? Are we willing to be so audacious in our requests to the Lord? Sometimes I think we are way too timid in faith when the Lord would have his children come before him with these bold and audacious requests, interceding for ourselves, others, and all kinds of situations. And why not? As the Lord himself said to Sarah in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14a). We have a God for whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). And lest we think that God’s will is immutable, fixed and final, and what will be will be, let us bear this passage in mind. The Lord’s plans do, in fact, change according to the change, the response, the repentance, manifested in the lives of people who humble themselves before the Lord, and like Abraham, freely confess, “I am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). This is not the only passage in Scripture where the Lord’s plans are altered based on the response of people (see Number 14:12; Deuteronomy 9:14; Jonah 3:10). The appointed Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday reminds us of who the Lord is: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12-13). Following in Abraham’s footsteps, as we come before the Lord it may well be that our asking begins with listening.
In today’s Gospel lesson, we see Jesus encouraging his disciples to ask and to listen in the model prayer which he gave to them, what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Luke’s version here is shorter than what we read in Matthew’s account (Matthew 6:9-13), but the core is there. This comes at the request of unnamed disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). That must be our request as well. Left to ourselves, our own prayers would quickly become self-centered, serving our own wants and desires rather than the will of the Lord. Then as now, Jesus must teach us to pray so that our wants and desires, our own will, is in sync with the Lord. This does not happen overnight, but takes place over the course of a lifetime as we entrust ourselves more and more to the Lord who loves us and laid down his life for us. Through the Means of Grace, both Word and Sacrament, God is at work in our lives. Through these, we come to know and believe, not just in our head, but in our heart, that “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31b-32). With that as our foundation in faith and life, we are free to bring our intercessions and prayers, our joys and thanksgivings, our griefs and sorrows, before the Lord, knowing that he will graciously hear them all and give what is best for his children.
Flowing out of this relationship of grace, there is much asking on our part, not to manipulate God in order to get what we want, but trusting that the Lord God will provide. Following his teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus goes on to encourage them and us to ask, to seek, and to knock. In prayer, we become like that insistent person who comes to his friend’s door in the middle of the night because he knows his friend will help him. How many of our own prayers come in the middle of the night when we are lying awake unable to sleep because our mind and heart are troubled? It is precisely then that we can and should with all boldness and confidence come to our Friend, Jesus, who invites us to do this very thing. As our closing hymn reminds us, “O, what peace we often forfeit; O, what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” (Lutheran Service Book #770, stanza 1).
Asking and listening are both part of prayer. As with regular conversation, if prayer is all about our talking and asking with no listening, then that is a one-way conversation we are having with ourselves. It can be really hard to be around someone who just talks and talks and talks, but never listens. The good news is that the Lord is always more ready to listen than we are to pray. What is holding us back from praying? Is it our pride? Our busyness? Our heavy burdens? Prayer is not about having the right words; it is all about the relationship that the Lord has established with us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are so loved and so valued in his sight that he wants nothing more than to have that close, personal relationship with each one of us. The best thing that we can do is to come before the Lord in all our need, remembering that, like Abraham, we are but dust and ashes, but also trusting that the Lord wants to bless our lives with good things. If we as earthly parents know that it’s not good to give a child a scorpion or a snake, how much more does our heavenly Father know how to give good things to his children. Jesus closes his teaching on prayer in today’s Gospel lesson by reminding us that the best gift the Father can give his children is the Holy Spirit, the One who “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (Luther’s Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed).
May the Lord who has begun this good work among us bring it to completion in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Amen.