“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.“–Luke 11:1
“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? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!“–Luke 11:11-13
Some scriptures get to you, when you’re a preacher. Sometimes they get to you because they say something so true you are moved to tears by them. Sometimes they get to you because, while the words ring true for you, they don’t ring true for all. And sometimes they get to you because they are laden with memories and when you revisit them (because of a three year lectionary cycle or because of a daily progression through the bible during devotional time or preparation for a bible lesson, or whatever reason), you greet them as you would an old friend.
The scripture for this Sunday’s sermon, Luke 11:1-13, is all of this for me. It was my very first sermon ever, in the year 1995, as I prepared to leave my home church and head out to seminary. My pastor, Dan Webster, had insisted that it would help me to have a sermon preached to our very patient and forgiving community of faith before going off to school. It took me three months to write this sermon. I laugh at that now. What a luxury! Preparing that sermon still looms large in my memory banks. I traveled to Italy that summer with my mother, and had printed out the scripture and taped it into the inside cover of my travel sketchbook. I read and and re-read it as I traveled across continents, as I visited the most beautiful places I would ever see, as I spent that important time with my mother. Aside from the words of The Lord’s Prayer woven into the story, this scripture reminded me of my loving grandfather who gave me whatever I asked for and spoiled me rotten. This scripture rang true for a girl whose parents never gave her a snake or a scorpion when she asked for fish or breakfast. And so, “How much more will your Heavenly Father give you . . . ?” I spent weeks, months, thinking about this. And when it came time for me to preach that sermon on a Sunday in July, my (also wonderful) grandmother traveled from Kansas to be in the sanctuary, bearing witness to what had become of her husband’s lavish love of a little girl, now all grown up.
As I traveled to Kentucky and seminary, I brought this sermon. I preached it only a few weeks later at First Christian Church in Carlisle–the church that would become my first pastorate. “Everyone who asks receives. For everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” After that, I discovered that delivering sermons week after week is a relentless march of effort and study and practice and prayer. Week after week, the sermon waits to be written and delivered. Week after week, you start over again and add in funerals and weddings and hospital visits that might break your heart and babies born. But still the message for Sunday waits. Not until my 2004 sabbatical did I ever again have three months to prepare a single sermon. And from the time of entering seminary, through service to multiple churches, to marriage and even through motherhood, it has been the rhythm of my life.
Today, as is always the case in Bible study, I come at the scripture from a very different perspective. I have met the children whose parents gave them snakes and scorpions, when all they wanted was bread to survive. I have encountered the people who have asked and sought and knocked and still believe they have come up empty. I hear the words of this multiple ways, now. A sermon preached by a young bright-eyed would-be seminary student cannot be the same sermon preached by the increasingly-silver-headed mom who has stood with folks at the intersection of heartbreak and hope enough times to be wary of easy answers and pat sayings. And so, after all this thought and memory and challenge, all I can do is hand it all to Jesus all over again. Like the disciples, sitting there at his feet, I can only say the words to him that someone said so long ago . . . “Lord, teach me to pray . . . ”