By The Rev. Sherry Deets
10 Pentecost, Proper 12 – July 28, 2013
Our passage from Luke today begins with Jesus “praying in a certain place.” When he has finished praying, one of his disciples asks, “Lord, teach us to pray…” . In response, Jesus offers a three-part teaching, including a model prayer, a parable about prayer, and some sayings about prayer.
Jesus’ prayer and the teaching that follows are mutually illuminating. Jesus invites his disciples into a deeply personal relationship with God, encouraging them to call upon God using the same name he uses — Abba, Father. He invites his disciples to call upon God as children call upon a loving parent, trusting that they belong to God and that God wants for them what is good and life giving.
Jesus’ sayings in reinforce this invitation. If human parents, with all their faults, know how to give their children gifts that are good for them, how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to his children who ask of him, including and especially the gift the Holy Spirit!
To illustrate that God can be trusted to respond to our prayers, Jesus tells the parable of the friend who calls at midnight. Hospitality was of paramount importance in the biblical world, and when a guest arrived — even unexpected, even at midnight — there was no question that hospitality must be extended. So when the man in the story finds himself without enough bread for his guest, he goes to a friend and asks to borrow some, even though he must wake up his friend’s entire household. “Do not bother me,” the friend answers from within. “The door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything” Now, we who hear this story today might empathize with the woken-up friend and think that the midnight caller is pushing the limits of friendship. But in the culture of the biblical world, it is the woken-up friend who is behaving badly. The ability of his friend to provide hospitality, and therefore his honor, is at stake.
Jesus says that the man will eventually respond to his friend’s request, not because he is a friend, but because of his friend’s shamelessness . Shamelessnes is a better translation of the greek word than “persistence”). His friend displays no shame in asking for help to meet the requirements of hospitality. The woken-up friend would incur dishonor if he failed to help his neighbor in this essential obligation. So he will respond because of social pressure at the very least.
Jesus’ parable implies that if it is so among friends with their mixed motives and self-interest, how much more so with God who wants to give us what is good and life-giving, and who is invested in keeping God’s name holy.
Jesus continues: “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” .
This is perhaps the most difficult part of the passage because our experience contradicts Jesus’ words. So often we have asked and not received; we have searched and not found. In spite of our most fervent prayers for their health and safety, we have lost loved ones to cancer and senseless accidents. In spite of the fervent prayers of people around the world, daily we hear of tragedies of violence, hunger, disease, and natural disasters.
If God is like a loving parent who desires to give what is good and life giving, why do so many prayers seem to go unanswered?
A colleague tells a simple story of his calling as a pastor. He was getting restless in the church he was serving, but did not want to move his family. Right across the street, the position of Campus Pastor opened up. The process lasted for months, and in the end, there were two finalists: Steve and my colleague. They chose Steve, and my friend was devastated. For about two days, he couldn’t eat or sleep, and then he just bucked up. In two months, they began a friendship, and my colleague discovered that the job wasn’t at all what he had imagined. And six months later, he received a call to be senior pastor at a church. If he had gotten his way, if God had answered the prayer the way he wanted him to, he says that he would have missed a wonderful journey of ministry. He asked. God answered. And it was good.
We try to make it complicated. God keeps it simple.
We want it our way. God has a better way.
We may be fearful. God leads us to trust.
We may be out to lunch. God’s waiting by the phone.
As one old prayer puts it, the Lord is “always more ready to hear than we to pray,” and the Lord is ready to give us “more than we either desire or deserve.” (from our Book of Common Prayer )
Fred Craddock taught homiletics at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He told of two monks who attended his class. Over the weekend, they visited their Trappist Monastery in Georgia and, on their return, they told a wonderful story. At the monastery, they were served the most delicious bread. All around the table, people were eating in silence, enjoying the wonderful bread. Finally, someone broke the silence and asked a monk who lived there, “Did we make this, or did someone give it to us?” The monk responded, “Yes.”
“Did we make this, or did someone give it to us?” “Yes.” That doesn’t answer the question, does it? The question asks, “Which of these two possibilities is true?” And yet it answers the question perfectly. “Yes. We made this bread and someone gave it to us.” Both possibilities are true!
How different our lives would be if we were to think like that monk! Did you find your job yourself, or did someone find it for you? Did you make the wise investment on your own, or did someone guide you? Did you drive your car safely to your destination, or did someone help you? Did you get well on your own, or did someone assist in your healing?
To each question, the Christian answers, “Yes! Yes, I found this job myself and, yes, someone found it for me. Yes, I made the wise investment and, yes, someone guided me. Yes, I drove my car safely to my destination and, yes, someone helped me. Yes, I got well on my own and, yes, someone healed me.”
Jesus ends today’s Gospel with an attack on tunnel vision. Often what we ask of God is too small. We ask for what might be a part of our lives rather than life itself. Jesus promises––that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. In other words, Jesus tells us to ask God for God, for the gift of God’s own Spirit!
What bigger gift can we ask for? What bigger gift can be given? Ask for the Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit prevail in your life. Seek first the kingdom of God, seek to be that kingdom, that place where God is apparent and God reigns.
God bestows the Spirit for the asking. In the light of that Holy Spirit everything starts to look different.
It is astounding to realize that God gives himself away in response to our prayers. It’s astounding to realize that God then expects a like generosity from us.
May our receiving and our giving be abundant, for what we receive and give––all of it is God or comes from God. May our receiving and our giving be abundant. Amen.
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