A sermon, based on Luke 11.1-13, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 28, 2019


Jesus prayed. His life and ministry pulsed with the rhythm of public engagement with people and retreat into the privacy of prayer.

At every significant moment, Jesus prayed…

praying hands - sculpture.png

At his baptism, Jesus prayed.(1)

As word spread about his healing power and crowds gathered to be cured of their diseases, Jesus prayed.(2)

Before calling his disciples, Jesus prayed.(3)

Before asking his disciples the crucial question, “Who do you say I am?” which compelled Peter’s confession, “The Messiah of God,” Jesus prayed.(4)

Before the moment of his mountaintop transfiguration when he revealed his divine glory to three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, still not quite sure of his identity, Jesus prayed.(5)
Lord, teach us to pray, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus, again praying, is approached by his disciples. Inspired by his devotion and knowing that John the baptizer taught his followers to pray, they plead, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus answers with what we, for generations, call the Lord’s Prayer, for the Lord gave it us. Nevertheless, as the Lord gave it to us, it is the Disciples’ Prayer, our prayer.

Jesus continues with a parable about prayer, followed by additional counsel, “Ask, seek, knock.” Seemingly, prayer demands our persistence in asking, seeking, knocking, begging, badgering, banging heaven’s gates to awaken and alert a distant, disinterested God of our wants and needs, our hurts and hopes.

Maybe! Especially given the fundamental human frustration, confusion, at times, desolation with the practice of prayer. We don’t always receive that for which we ask, even when, as far as we know, we pray in keeping with God’s will. For the end of wars and the restoration of peace. Surely, this is in God’s will! For the end of bigotry against peoples and races, the end of abuses of women and children, the end of hunger and homelessness. Surely, all this is in God’s will! And even when we lend our hands and hearts, energy and money to affect that for which we pray.

So, is there something wrong with our praying? If so, how should we pray? In any case, how does God answer our prayers and why, at times, does God seem to ignore our prayers?

I have no ready answers. Nevertheless, I bid that we look again at Jesus’ teaching. Not from the perspective of the operation, the how of prayer, but at the object, the who of prayer. For Jesus teaches us less about how to pray and more about to whom we pray.

“When you pray, say, ‘Father’” or, in the Aramaic, “Abba.” God’s Name is hallowed, yet not so holy that we can’t say it. God is our divine Parent to whom we, with confidence, with boldness, with the heart of our hopes in our hands, can appeal for the coming of God’s kingdom, and, until that kingdom come, daily bread for life’s journey, forgiveness, and respite from trial and test.

The heart of prayer, then, is not about getting what we want from God, but about our relationship with God, who, Jesus tells us, gives us the Holy Spirit, the presence and power of God’s very Self.

So, Jesus, near the end of his life and ministry, the cross of his crucifixion and death overshadowing him, prayed, “Abba, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.”(6)

So, Jesus, at the end of his life, prayed, “Abba, into your hands I commend my spirit” and breathed his last.”(7)

So, Jesus invites us, his followers, to pray, giving voice to our wants and needs, our hurts and hopes with the confidence that our relationship with our Father, our Abba will abide and sustain us whatever may come.

(1) Luke 3.21
(2) Luke 5.16
(3) Luke 6.12
(4) Luke 9.18
(5) Luke 9.28
(6) Luke 22.42 (my emphasis)
(7) Luke 23.46 (my emphasis)

Illustration: “Lord, teach us to pray,” James Tissot (1836-1902)

4 thoughts on ““Abba!”

  1. Paul,

    So much of what I’ve learned about prayer I’ve learned from you. And continue to learn from you with this sermon!!

    Here’s what I will focus on this week…”Not from the perspective of the operation, the how of prayer, but at the object, the who of prayer. For Jesus teaches us less about how to pray and more about to whom we pray.”

    Like many people I’ve been disappointed when I didn’t get what I wanted when I prayed to God… but I realized that it’s not whether I got what I wanted, the important thing is that I continue the practice of prayer. For me, especially over the last three years, it was of critical importance to me to deepen my relationship with God.

    As painful as some of the things I’ve been through this year have been, I’ve never walked away from prayer. I’m stronger, and hopefully wiser, but even if those two things weren’t true, I’d still know how deep God’s love for me is.

    So I “thank you Father” for Paul Roberts Abernathy and his powerful words that have helped me to find new meaning and comfort in the power of prayer! Amen!

    Much love!


  2. Oh, my dearest Loretta, your words of thanksgiving for me both honor and humble me. Thank you. As I’ve said and more than once that I can write or say and share something that is helpful to you matters greatly to me. Again, you have my thanks.

    And, know this… As I’m wont to say (of the myriad things I’m wont to say!), preachers always first preach to themselves. Hence, this idea or, better, more truly, realization that in this gospel text Jesus teaches more about to whom we pray that how to pray was, I pray, that to which the Spirit of truth pointed to me. I am not sure I was aware of that (or, rather, I am sure that I wasn’t aware of it!). And, now, knowing it, it reorients my practice of prayer.

    As I’ve said many times to you, carry on! Now, I say, pray on!



  3. Johnsie H. Canny October 10, 2019 — 9:38 pm

    Am just seeing your post on prayer; A forward Day by Day writer recently wrote”prayer begins when words end.” affirming truly it is Giver of blessings we seek, not the gifts.. thank you for your continued ministry/service to Laurens and especially to those of us on Facebook! Johnsie Canny, St, Chris


    1. Thank you, Johnsie. “…it is the Giver of blessings we seek, not the gifts…” Amen, amen, and amen! Love, Paul


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