The Two Hands of God

On a Bike

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost  |  Luke 11:1-13

The Two Hands of God

Maybe there are secrets in it, this prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples when they asked him how to pray. Maybe it is just that we find what we seek. Maybe it is that simple, and it has less to do with the nature of God than with the nature of the universe, and with our own natures.

It is the Lord’s Prayer this Gospel gives us, but not as we learn it, not the version Matthew gives us with the verses added at the end. The Lord’s Prayer is short, direct, but it is even shorter here, as Luke records it, given to a group of disciples when they ask and not as part of the Sermon on the Mount.

The disciples claim that John the Baptist taught a prayer to his followers. If so, we do not have it. It is difficult to imagine John, that great shaggy loudmouthed prophet out in the wilderness, pausing to teach people how to pray. Still, it is one more place in the gospels where John is mentioned, one more indication of interaction between the cousins, Jesus and John.OnBike2

So Jesus gives them a prayer, but he isn’t teaching them how to pray. He is teaching them about the nature of God. On the one hand, it sounds as though Jesus is comparing God to a lazy friend or an evil parent. On the other hand, if even a lazy man will eventually get up, and if even an evil father may feed a child, how much more will God respond? The God whom Jesus is revealing is not a God with evil in one hand and good in the other, punishments and rewards, judgment and mercy. We are not the toys of a manipulative puppet master. In this Gospel we hear that we are children, and children with a good and benevolent parent.

In the prayer he gives his lack wit followers, Jesus asks for bread. In the illustrations that follow, he speaks of bread again, and fish, and eggs–good simple food for good simple people. In the end, the final point, Jesus doesn’t compare God to the lazy friend and the poor parent, he shows how they are different.

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?

There it is, if we are paying attention, the thing that we are to ask, the point of our prayer—the Holy Spirit. Surely God already knows that we need food, clothes, means to make our lives endure in a challenging world? Reminding God of those things is akin to reminding gravity to hold us down. There is no need.

And we note the conclusion, the great gift that God waits to share, and it is not bread, not the kind that we eat. Or maybe that is why Jesus uses such a peculiar word, επιούσιος, a word for which we in translation settle upon “daily”, though we do not know just what it means. It does not occur anywhere else in ancient literature but in the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe it is daily, or needed, or necessary, this sort of bread for which we are to pray.

Does Jesus mean for us to identify the bread as the Holy Spirit? Or, to cast the idea in different words, the opportunity to merge with and to become aligned with the Divine? Perhaps for that gift, God waits until we recognize our need and ask.

BikeHelmetWe may prepare wonderful things for our children, hoping that they will grow to recognize their need, grow to ask for the gifts we have prepared. A bicycle for a two year old? Maybe not. We can put the bicycle aside, though, and one day, when her legs are long enough to reach the pedals and her courage has grown to join her curiosity, she will ask for it. And that is how we know she is ready. Then, unsteadily at first but with growing grace, she will begin to ride out into her world.

That is what awaits us, when we know our own need for something more, something that transcends our humanity, something divine. And so we ask, praying yet again the Lord’s Prayer, but finally understanding that it isn’t about bread, not really. It is about something harder to touch but longer lasting.

All that is eternal, all that is divine, has been waiting for us to know our need. Ask, and it will be given you…

On a Bike


Fifth Sunday of Easter  |  John 14:1-14

We think we are working magic. You can hear it in our prayers: “In the name of Jesus we pray.”

The online Oxford Dictionary defines magic this way: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. Christians ask things of God in the name of Jesus, based in large part on John 14:13-14, “And whatsoever you may ask in my name I will do, in order that the Father might be glorified in the son. If you ask of me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Moonlight pine and planetAnd so we use the magic words, believing that if we say them, if we truly mean them, then God will respond. Such is the power of a name.

The ancient world commonly held that knowing the name of a thing gave one power over it. To the Hebrews (and to some modern day Jews), the name of God is so holy that it cannot be spoken. That, by the way, is why we have the word LORD, usually printed in all capitals or a mix of large and small capitals, in our Old Testaments—it is a placeholder for the name of God.

Names are powerful. Speaking someone’s name asserts a claim. If you think it does not, the next time you hear your own name shouted in an airport or spoken on a city street or called out deep in a forest, see if you can resist the urge to turn and find out who is calling.

There is power in a name, but surely that isn’t what Jesus is talking about. He is not suggesting that we practice magic. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray in the person, true purpose and being of Jesus. God responds to the prayers of our hearts because we speak them from within the heart of God.

In the house of my Father are many rooms, Jesus tells us. He doesn’t mean it is the Hyatt, and before you say that we do not think of heaven as a hotel, may I ask what we do think? We might envision huts, or houses, or tents, or some other personally designated spiritual space, but that is really just a hotel in disguise. Dwelling in the house of God has nothing to do with space and time. Asking in the name of Jesus and dwelling in the Father’s house are the same thing: to do the one is to do the other.

Luke’s gospel put it this way: the kingdom of God is within you.†

In this passage we also hear Philip asking simply to see the Father. “And we will be satisfied,” he says. It is a simple request. Jesus responds that Philip has already seen everything he needs to see, but I don’t think those words were meant for Philip. Those words were meant for us. Don’t we have the same request, that the heavens open and give us some irrefutable sign, so that we can rely upon our senses and our reason and our memory rather than faith?

We have already seen everything that we need to see of God. God is beside us on a train, in a hallway, in a field, on a street, the face of a stranger, the call of a mockingbird. Why would we believe in God more for having seen God? We explain away all sorts of things. Given time and perhaps some therapy or medication, I imagine that we could tell ourselves that a vision of God was only a mental phenomenon, some sort of hallucination.

Having knowledge of a thing is not the same as having faith in it.

One of the most famous verses in scripture is John 14:6. “And Jesus said to him, I myself am the way and the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me.” Many Christians have used these words to tell people of other faiths that they were outside of God’s grace—if you do not believe in our Jesus, then God will not have you. I think that once again we have managed not to hear what Jesus is saying. Jesus is saying that God is the one who determines who comes to God.

We don’t get to turn people away from the door to the heaven, whatever heaven may really look like. We are permitted to invite them inside. And when we find ourselves dwelling in the heart of God, we may find that our prayers are already answered, and that many whom we did not expect to see were already waiting there for us.

† Luke 17:21