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To The Top

Luke 11:1-13

The Rev. Jon Roberts

25 July

2010

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

1 He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, 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, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation.” And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him 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!”

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St. Stephen, Wallbrook, Church of England, London, UK (where puritan, Thomas Watson preached on The Lord's Prayer, 1652)

It's comprehensive. It's clear. It's complete. It's the pattern of all prayer. It's the Lord's Prayer.

It takes us along for the ride. It starts high. It goes low. It then goes back up high again. All the way to the top. Isn't it wonderful to have such an innovation which allows our soul to travel all the floors? Those many floors that we visit somewhere between heaven and earth. Sometimes such innovations don't seem like much help. When they fail us, who’s to blame?
That's what Nicholas White thought about long and hard when he was let down so far he never rose again. Elevators are supposed to be helpful. They seem to be comprehensive. You can go from the ground floor to the top. They seem to be clear. You push a button and the door opens. They seem to be complete. You push another and it takes you where you want to go. Around eleven o'clock on a Friday night in October, 1999, Nicholas would find this was not the case. He worked as a production manager in the McGraw-Hill building, an unadorned tower added to the Rockefeller Center. After working so late into the night he needed a cigarette break. He walked down the hall and pressed the button for the elevator. It took him down to the lobby, where he then processed out the front of the building to the designated smoking area. The night air helped him clear his mind. After feeling relief, he went back into the building, through the lobby and entered the elevator. His office was up pretty high and he pressed the no. 43. The car accelerated up and then there was a jolt. The lights flickered on, then off, then on again. Everything seemed fine as it remained still. He waited, and waited, and waited. Not to worry, he told himself. He pressed no. 43 again, then all the buttons, the "open door" button, the most. There was no sign of movement. He lifted the phone handset located within but no one picked up. He pulled the emergency button out and it rang loudly. After several minutes, no response, so he silenced it. He looked up and saw the surveillance camera posted in the corner and began waving emphatically. He chose to remain calm in the case that security was watching and perhaps they were choosing to get a good laugh. He would prove to be the model trapped employee. He paced around and worried a little about the stability of the car.

He didn't want to jostle it in such a way that it fell suddenly. Maybe there was a loose cable. Any movement may cause it to fall. He paused to think once more. He felt bad for not having a cell phone or watch. He came up with things to think about to distract. He thought about his work. No one was still working that late, so no one was looking for him. He thought about his friends. There were no plans made for the weekend which meant no one would suspect anything. He laid down and tried to sleep but couldn't. Looking up he saw the access panel and thought about the movie Die Hard with Bruce Willis but when he stood on the rail to reach it he discovered it was locked. The law is to keep it locked so that authorized persons could access it from the outside to get in, but they are not made for passengers to get out; in the case you were wondering.

More time passes. He now puts his fingers in the crevasse of the doors. He grunts as he pries them apart only to see a concrete wall with the number thirteen spray-painted on it. He was in the express elevator which meant it didn't open at every floor. He was stuck at the thirteenth level but he did feel the breeze from the elevator shaft. It seemed like hours had passed and now his nerves were taking a toll. He reached into his pocket and discovered he had three more cigarettes. Eventually, he would smoke them all, hoping a fire alarm would be triggered somehow. Under great fatigue he fell asleep. Much later a voice woke him up, "Is there anyone in there." "Yes!" "What are you doing in there" said the voice on the intercom. He tried to explain but the voice responded to him as if he were an intruder. Nicholas' anger rang a loud response. Soon the voice of the security guard reassured him and told him what buttons to push in a certain order for him to get out. Nicholas, wearily asked, "What day is it." The voice replied, "Sunday."[1]

Sometimes we get stuck in life. Our car doesn't go to the top like we want. We feel trapped and cramped and we feel the walls closing in. That's not in the minds of those priestly want to-bees, those disciples of Christ. Compared to the rabbinic teachers they bumped into, they wondered what made their teacher different. Where would he take them. They pressed his buttons time and time again wanting the promises of power. They wanted the power to heal and the power to teach. They wanted the respect and influence and one day to be called a rabbi and teach their pupils in the same vein. Did you hear their petition? "Lord, teach us to pray as John [the baptizer] taught his disciples."[2] The typical Jewish formula was given. There was a preface, "Father, hallowed be thy name. They kingdom come." There was a petition, "Give us each our bread” [our substance] for tomorrow. "And forgive us our sins for we forgive those who have sinned against us." "And lead us not into temptation [or testing as you did with Abraham]."

This is the Lucan Pater Noster, or Lord's Prayer but it's not like the one we all know from the gospel according to Matthew, now is it? One prefaces, "Our Father", the other, "Abba", or just "Daddy." In the end, for both, there is no doxology, "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen." This is a later, liturgical add-on by those disciples of the disciples. It is also part of the Jewish formula of prayer to always have a doxology in corporate worship, especially when it was sung. The disciples are formulated in their thoughts of success. If they learned all the right things to say and how to deliver his teachings, then they would have learned well by their rabbi. But sometimes the pupil can't listen until things don't work precisely according to plan.

We have to really consider a life that's full of setbacks. Luke leaves out what Matthew wrote down, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The plan that God has in store for His creation may not be the plan we have for ourselves. Jesus is telling us how to pray. He tells us that God is comprehensive. He intends to ride along with us from bottom to top. He tells us that God is clear. We only have to trust that when we call His name and ask for forgiveness the doors will open. He tells us that God is complete. When we are firmly exhausted on this earth He leads us to the top floor, in "heaven."

The true story of Nicholas White is a sad one, he admits, for his temptation to remain angry lingered on. He got out and never wanted to return. Don't let that happen to you. Remain faithful and trust in God to see you through. Say the Lord's Prayer in those moments when feel you aren't moving. Don't let the temptations keep you down and out. Ask God for help. Keep knocking and eventually a necessary provision is made. For in Jesus Christ we receive our daily bread. Take, eat in remembrance of Him where through our sacrifice we share and relate with what He had to go through when trapped on the cross. It was only by His death that we can rejoice in the power of the resurrection where thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.
[Amen].

[1] Nick Paumgarten, "Up then Down", The New Yorker, April 21, 2008.
[2] Luke 11:1-13

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