Especially in Luke's gospel, Jesus has been flummoxing preachers and pious theologians
for centuries with his wild, unpredictable images of God.
There's the shepherd who endangers the whole flock to chase one wayward sheep, paired
with the woman frantically sweeping house to find a coin.
There's the shameless old man running out to greet his sorry excuse for a son.
There's the boss who fires his business manager on a rumor and then praises him
for cheating him so cleverly.
There's the judge with no respect for anyone who is browbeaten into helping a widow.
Bible libraries are full of commentators twisting themselves into knots trying to
explain what Jesus really meant because it can't possibly be what it sounds like;
those images don't fit God at all.
Which, of course, is the point.
Jesus is at it again today, answering his disciple who looked over his shoulder at what the
other kids were doing with their teacher and asked, Lord, teach us to pray.
Jesus gives them a very brief, surprising prayer to say:
Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, give us tomorrow's bread,
forgive us because we forgive others, don't sue us.
Christians have since come along to edit, expand, and sanitize this into something that
sounds much more pious and prayerlike.
Jesus, however, keeps moving to more jarring analogies.
Suppose your friend shows up unannounced and hungry in the middle of the
night and you have nothing to feed him and Denny's is closed.
You go next door and bang on the window.
"Hey, I need some bread for my friend who just arrived!"
Your neighbor, groggy and trapped under children and pets in his bed, suggests
somewhere else you should go.
Yet because of his shamelessness (questionably translated persistence), he will get up and
give him whatever he needs.
Yours for banging on his window and waking up the house?
Or his shamelessness, avoiding the certain shame that would come upon him when the
story got out that he did not show hospitality in a crisis?
Is he reluctantly helping a friend or reluctantly covering his own social behind or just
giving in to get rid of a noisy nuisance?
Whatever the case, the grumpy neighbor delivers the goods; if you can get bread out of a
guy like that, why not ask God too?
After all, even evil people like you know how to give good gifts to your children.
How much more will the Daddy of heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask
Since God compares favorably to sleepy, grumpy neighbors and evil parents, Jesus
encourages us to ask, seek, knock, pray.
But he is doing more than making that rather pedestrian point.
He is also planting seeds, or maybe bombs, in the soil of his disciples' brains.
These seeds will expand and grow; these bombs will detonate.
God is like a grumpy neighbor?
I am evil and also good to my children?
What is this Holy Spirit that God will give instead of what I asked for?
And why all this talk with a traveling band of adult men about children?
When we pray, what, or who, are we getting ourselves into?
Jesus is stretching us beyond our mental limits to prepare us for the limitless Mystery.
He intentionally blows the lids off our neat little boxes to open us up to
He is leading us away from God, the idea in our heads, to God the reality, which is a
whole different kettle of snake.
He very intentionally paints pictures of things that we're sure God cannot be to dislodge
us from the lie that God cannot be; God can be anything God chooses to be.
If disciples pray, it will go to the living, dynamic creator and not some limited, stale
concept in their created minds.
Because what this real God constantly chooses to be is in relationship with us.
All of which leads us to the first two words of the prayer Jesus taught:
Hallowed means set apart, made holy, preserved as uniquely special, different,
strange, other, sacred, beyond the usual.
The first ask of the prayer is that the integrity of God's transcendence and uniqueness be
As Luther wrote in his Small Catechism, It is true that God's name is holy in itself, but we
ask in this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.
We pray not to change God but to change ourselves.
Hallowed moves us to a different place, which is what prayer is supposed to do.
It confronts us with the truth that God is always beyond our comprehension and control,
which positions us as helpless children, which is why we begin with Father.
In some versions, this is Abba, the sweet Aramaic word a toddler uses for Daddy.
Don't get hung up on biology; it could also be Mommy, or another nickname,
because remember, hallowed is the name our unhallowed lips are not worthy or able to say.
God is so magnificently and mind-blowingly other: God can be anything God chooses to
be, far more and far less, far bigger and far smaller than our brains can process.
And this God is our adoring parent.
Toddlers will master the nuances of personal history and household income before we understand the mind of the God as near to us as a doting parent who
listens when we ask for something and then loves us wisely and well enough to
say yes, or no, or something else entirely, and with special delight and urgency when we ask, seek, knock for others' needs instead of only for our own desires.
If you really want to learn to pray, start by looking at the wonder and trust in the eyes of
an infant being held by the someone who loves them.
If you want to catch a glimpse of God, watch the face looking back.