Teach Us to Pray l Luke 11:1-13 l Chapel Hill Church Gig Harbor
This weekend my daughter completed her first musical theater performance. She was one of the Oompa-Loompas in Peninsula High School’s production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The show was excellent and I know there were many other Chapel Hill students involved, so congratulations to all of you.
The production is based upon the 1971 film of the same title, starring Gene Wilder. I grew up watching this movie, and one character became an important anti-role-model in our home: Veruca Salt. Veruca, yes, not Veronica, but Veruca, is an impudent child who demands that her father give her everything she wants. At one point she sees a squirrel in Mr. Wonka’s factory and says, “Daddy, I want a squirrel. Get me one of those squirrels, I want one!” To which her father responds, “Veruca dear, you have many marvelous pets.” And she says, “All I’ve got at home is one pony and two dogs and four cats and six bunny rabbits and two parakeets and three canaries and a green parrot and a turtle, and a silly old hamster! I WANT A SQUIRREL!”
Like I said, in our home growing up, Veruca became an anti-role-model; that is, Veruca became someone my parents used as an example of how we shouldn’t behave. My parents would say to me and my sister repeatedly, “‘I want,’ doesn’t get!” As a parent myself, I would agree with them, and suggest that this was a great way to parent your children in a world that more often than not tells us you can have whatever you want and you can have it now. However, as we’ll see in today’s passage, Veruca’s impudent requests may actually be a lot closer to how Jesus teaches his disciples to pray. This might sound incredulous to think that we can approach God in prayer in such a rude way, but you might be surprised to see that God invites us to do just that.
My name is Ellis, and I’m one of the Pastors here. Welcome to Chapel Hill, especially if you are new to us. We’re continuing our series through the gospel of Luke—one of the four accounts we have of the life of Jesus. And one of the themes running throughout the gospel of Luke is that Jesus himself is often found in prayer. In fact, Luke records Jesus praying more than any other gospel. And today’s passage, in Luke chapter 11 (feel free to turn there now in your Bibles), begins with Jesus doing just that, and it elicits a request from his disciples. A question that would have been common among disciples of a first century Jewish Rabbi: “Teach us to Pray”. And this morning, we are going to allow Jesus to do just that, to teach us to pray. P. R. A. Y. One way to pray for each of the letters of the word “pray.” And the first of those is found in the first two verses of this chapter, so turn with me to Luke 11, beginning in verse 1.
“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father…” Luke 11:1–2
Throughout the Old Testament God was referred to as the Father of his people. In Exodus he calls his people, “my firstborn Son.” (Exodus 4:22) In Deuteronomy, Moses sings, “Is not he your father?” (Deuteronomy 32:6) And the prophet Jeremiah said, “For thus says the LORD… ‘I am a father to Israel.’” (Jeremiah 31:7, 9) For first century Jews, it was undisputed that God was their Father. But it was not customary to refer to him as Father without the qualifying use of the word “heavenly.” First century Jews would say, “Heavenly Father.” But not Jesus. Jesus just called him Father, or more likely, in Jesus’ native tongue of Aramaic, he would have said, “Abba.” No, not the Swedish pop group, but an endearing term that is more closely akin to a child today saying, “Dada.”
I sat this week with a young father who has kids almost the same age as my own—my kids are 7 and 9 years old—and he spoke about what an incredible age it is. He said, “They still give you snuggles and they still call you ‘daddy.’” And he’s right. My kids still call out to me and say, “Dada.” It’s a name I love to hear because it speaks of their intimate relationship with me. The closeness of the bond we have. It warms my heart.
Now, of course, Jesus could approach God in prayer by saying, “Dada,” since Jesus was the Son of God. But here’s what’s radical. Jesus’ disciples have just asked him to teach them to pray. And Jesus teaches his disciples to approach God in prayer exactly the same way Jesus himself does, by saying, “Abba. Father. Dada.” This is scandalous. God, the one who is all powerful, above the whole universe, should be approached by us in the most intimate way. “Dada.”