"It's imperative," the person says to stress the importance of something. Our text is full of imperatives. Imperatives are commands. Commands are usually law, but not always. It's imperative not only to know that but to see it.
It's imperative that you pray. When Jesus says, "Ask, seek, knock," those are all imperatives. You must ask, seek, knock. The Christian doesn't have a choice in this matter. The Christian not asking, seeking, or knocking won't be a Christian for long. As breathing is a sign of a being physically alive, so praying is a sign of being spiritually alive.
Jesus' illustration makes the imperatives an invitation. You have a Father in Christ not a mere friend. Your heavenly Father doesn't sleep and His Door, Christ, is always open to you. Your need is extreme. You don't need a few loafs of bread for a stranger on an earthly journey; you need forgiveness, life, and salvation for your journey from here to eternity.
And what's the crowning reason for you must ask, seek, knock being heard as I get to ask, seek, knock? "If you being evil know how to give good things how much more Your Father in heaven." See how Jesus argues? Not one of us earthly fathers, even though we are evil, doubts that we know how to give good things to our children. If an evil earthly father wants to bring good from his evil, how much more will a good heavenly Father bring only good?
In Matthew when Jesus says this, He says, "If you being evil know how to give good things how much more will your Father in heaven give good things." Here Jesus says, "give the Holy Spirit." It's imperative that you pray, and it's imperative that you realize that every single one of your prayers is really "Come Holy Spirit Come." Sure you pray for health, for children, for your country, for problems, challenges, pains, and gains. But what your New Man is really praying for is the Spirit.
And every single prayer of yours is answered by the Father sending you the Spirit. On the cross, Jesus dying gift was to give up the Spirit. On Pentecost, the ascended Jesus poured out His Spirit on all flesh, and from then on the Spirit has been preached into men's ears by the Gospel; poured onto their bodies by Baptism; and eaten and drank by them in Communion. But this is one of those situations when the child given the choice between a 5-dollar bill and 4 quarters takes the quarters because there are more of them. We pray for quarters and the Father answers in 5 dollar bills, and we are disappointed. It's imperative we see this.
It's imperative that you pray and see that the Father always answers and He answers better, deeper, richer than we pray, and it's imperative that you recognize what must happen. Luther's explanation, which many of you have known from childhood, is very clear on this. There are three things that must happen every time a Christian prays. These 3 things can't fail to happen. The Father's name must be holy; His kingdom must come; and His will must be done. Here when Jesus gives the Lord's Prayer He leaves the part out about His will must be done. That's only in Matthew, and that's okay. Here Jesus wants us to focus on the first two.
You know how God's name is dragged through the mud particularly in tragedy, particularly when He doesn't do what sinners think He should. "How could God let this happen?" Why doesn't God do this or that?" Fear not. God's name is holy in and of itself and it doesn't need our protection, our justification, our reasoning to make it so. God's name was holy even when His Son was hanging crucified, bloodied, and dying on the cross. God's name will be holy even when you lay suffering and dying at the end of your days. In the former, God showed that He would rather punish His only Son for the sins of the world than have the world say He didn't keep His holy word. In the latter, God shows that even in the face of ugly, muddy, stinking death, His name is still holy and saving.
It is imperative that you recognize what must happen. Look about you. As in most presidential election years, you are told it's the end of the world as you know it unless this person is elected. Look overseas. There are wars and rumors of war. Technology brings all the cares, woes, and worries of the world to your doorstep 24/7, and though we have the power to stop this, we can't seem to. Like a pool ball we are bounced by the "news" from one mounting crisis to another. One day it will be about the number of asteroids hurtling towards earth, another day it will be the Zika virus, the day after that it will be melting ice caps. I can't tell you what will happen with any of that; I can tell you what Jesus says must happen. His kingdom must come.
No matter who gets elected. God's kingdom comes indeed by itself even without our prayers. No matter if all the asteroids in the asteroid belt came towards us at once; God's kingdom would still come. No matter if every mosquito borne disease that has ever been was suddenly in the U.S., this would not stop God's kingdom from coming. Let the wars rage; let the ice caps melt or grow. God's kingdom comes. Why? Because God Himself brings it to sinners.
The point of God taking on flesh and blood in the Virgin's womb was to bring the kingdom to flesh and blood men, to win the kingdom for flesh and blood men. Do you think God can be stopped, frustrated, defeated? Do you think God is only as powerful as you believe Him to be? No one believed on Him when He hung dead on the cross. It looked like your sins, your death, and our devils had defeated Him. The kingdom had come no farther than 1st century Palestine. That's how things looked.
But that's not how things were. Your sins, your death, our devils hadn't swallowed Jesus, but Jesus allowed Himself to be swallowed by them in your place. They could swallow the Man Jesus alright but they couldn't keep down God, and since humanity was joined to deity, when these spit back up deity our humanity came with. And wherever the resurrected Jesus is, there the kingdom comes. Whenever He covers a child in Baptism, there the kingdom comes. Whenever His Gospel is preached, there the kingdom comes. Wherever the Body and Blood of Jesus are, there the kingdom must come whether in church, home, or hospital.
It's imperative that you pray; that you recognize what must happen, and that you command God. The first two "our" petitions are imperatives too. You must give us bread for today and for tomorrow. You must forgive my sins. When a child orders an adult around, the adult is quick to point out that this is not proper. How much more improper for sinful man to order the Holy God, but it's imperative that you see this is what Jesus commands us to do. Parents or others in authority sometimes do this. In order to convince someone under them that they really want to do what is best for them they say, "You tell me what to do." Here's the rub. Jesus knows that as Paul says "we don't know how to pray as we ought." Here Jesus tells us not only "you tell Me what to do" but what exactly we are to command.
We are to command the Father to give us all that we need for this life and for the next. The word daily' means both for today and tomorrow. That's what His Son bought and paid for by a holy life and a guilty death. You know how in the Depression or even in hard times today a parent will go without for the sake of a child? Well Jesus hungered and thirsted so that we sinners might be filled. Jesus was declared unworthy of heaven, so it might be given to us. We all, sinfully so, think or feel that God is holding out on us, we're not getting all that we need. That can't be. He taught us to pray, commanded us to pray, "You must give me all that I need for today and all that I need for an eternity of tomorrows." We are to live our life and die our death not in empty, aching need, but knowing that the Father must give us the bread we need day to day.
If this wasn't enough, Jesus tells us we are to command the Father to forgive us our sins. "And you must forgive to us the sins of us," is the literal translation. Who dare say that to God? Only One whom God Himself has commanded to. Only one who God Himself has paid for the sins of. Only one who God Himself wants to make absolutely sure of the fact that their sins have been forgiven.
The "for" here rather than the "as" in Matthew bothers some. Matthew has "forgive us our sins as we forgive others." Luke has "You must forgive us our sins for we also forgive all debtors of us." As long as you don't make that for' causal, you're alright. One sinner forgiving another doesn't, can't cause God to do anything, and it's imperative you see this. The for' isn't causal but evidential.' It's the same thing we had weeks ago. "I know it rained last night for/ because the sidewalk is wet" doesn't mean the wet sidewalk caused it to rain but is the evidence that proves it did.
So here the fact that you can forgive is evidence that the Father must forgive your sins. This is the Parable of the Unforgiving Sinner; the proof that he hadn't received the king's forgiveness of a huge debt was that he immediately went out and refused to forgive the debt of someone who owed him a pittance. The proof that God must have forgiven all your sins is the fact that forgiveness of those who have wronged you wells up in your heart. People long for the feeling that God has really forgiven them. Word and Sacraments are objective proofs but Jesus also gives a subjective feeling. Forgiveness of others not just loved ones or loveable ones- welling up in fallen, sinful hearts is not natural. Only God for Jesus' sake can put that there. That feeling indicates you must be forgiven.
In this matter of prayer, we on earth speak to our Father in heaven about temporal and eternal things. Our 14-hundred-year-old Collect expresses Jesus' endgame: that "we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not things eternal." It's imperative that we see all our prayers are answered with this end in view. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20160724); Luke 11: 1-13