By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
July 25, 2010
Did you listen to the scripture readings this morning? Wasn’t our first reading from Hosea a little uncomfortable? God is telling a prophet, Hosea, to take a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom. What is that? Well God is comparing the people of Israel to whores….that God’s people have turned away and are worshipping idols instead of God. If we keep reading the verses following, some that are not shown in our handout today, it becomes clear that God is merciful. Hosea learns that God is merciful. We learn that God is merciful. He takes back the people, shows compassion and mercy, calling them, once again “my people” – “children of the living God.
And that’s the God who sends Jesus. And that’s the Father to whom Jesus prays. Again and again—especially in this Gospel of Luke—we discover Jesus at prayer, tending to his relationship with the Father, tapping into the source of strength for his challenging and difficult ministry.
The disciples notice this, and ask Jesus, “Teach us to pray, Jesus”. Their observation of Jesus at prayer, and of the power that resulted in his ministry, has convinced them that prayer is important. “John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray, after all! We want to have a prayer of our own, too.”
And Jesus agrees. “When you pray,” he replies. He doesn’t say “if”, he says, WHEN you pray say this.
And he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that God will put an end to all the foolishness and injustice of this world and bring the fullness of God’s kingdom now. And he tells two parables about prayer: one in which a desperate neighbor asks assistance in providing hospitality in the middle of the night, and the other in which God is compared to a parent who gives the children what the children need—only much more so!
Interesting stories, aren’t they. We read them as being about persistence in prayer, as if it’s our praying—gathering enough people, praying long and hard enough—that finally gets God’s attention so that God will give us what we want.
But what if we read these stories as being about God rather than about us? And what if we kept in the back of our minds the truth about God that Hosea discovered—that God is both just and merciful, but that God’s mercy trumps God’s justice?
How would that impact our response to Jesus’ instruction, “When you pray…”?
Knowing that God is merciful, knowing that God wants desperately to give us good things, we pray—persistently, confidently, boldly. Because prayer, above all else, is about the relationship—our relationship with the living and life-giving God who wants us to approach God as children approach a loving parent—with trust and confidence that God means us well.
Prayer is about the relationship. That’s why Jesus begins his teaching, “When you pray.”
Imagine this scenario. A man and a woman are married. They promise to live together forever, no matter what. Shortly after their honeymoon, the man goes on a long trip. He leaves town with no forwarding address, and his young wife never hears from him again.
Ten years later, the man shows up in town. He goes to his wife, and plans to resume the life they had begun together. He’s surprised to discover, though, that his wife doesn’t recognize him. And, besides that, she’s had their marriage annulled and has married someone else.
“Why don’t you love me anymore?” the man protests. “Why have you forsaken me and broken our marriage promises?”
Technically, that man was still married to his wife. But was he, really?
And isn’t it absurd for a disciple of Jesus to put no effort into nurturing our relationship with Christ, and yet claim we belong to him? That’s why Jesus says, not, “If you pray…” but “when you pray.”
It’s about the relationship—the relationship with a merciful and compassionate God, who wants us to have all that we need.
And that’s what God does—gives us what we need!
Isn’t that what Jesus tells us? “How much more will the heavenly Father give than a sinful earthly father. Why, God even gives you the Holy Spirit!”
Can you think of a better gift? Oh, there’s lots of things we think would be better—most of them having to do with our own personal happiness or our own financial well-being. But God doesn’t seem to be in that business. God isn’t in the business of making us rich as the world counts riches; God is in the business of giving us God’s riches—the ones that come when God gives the Holy Spirit. Gifts like forgiveness, and faith, and eternal life. Isn’t that what we really need?
Well, that’s what God gives! That’s what Jesus promises when he encourages us to “ask, seek, and knock” at God’s door, because God is waiting…waiting…eagerly waiting, to give us the Holy Spirit.”
In fact, when we take a closer look at the other little parable of Jesus—the one about the friend needing midnight assistance—that’s exactly what we discover!
When he tells this parable, Jesus is mindful of the strong cultural expectation around hospitality. The bottom line is that, when someone comes to town needing food and a place to stay, it was an obligation to take care of that person. If someone refused, the whole town was shamed. So, at midnight, a man knocks on his neighbor’s door, rudely awakening him. “I’m sorry to bother you, neighbor, but a friend has just arrived at my house, and I have no bread to feed him. Can you help me out?”
Jesus holds out the possibility that the neighbor would say, “No! It’s too late! And I don’t want to wake up my family! Come back in the morning!”
The story is actually one long question, and the implied answer is, “Of course not! No one in this town would act like that! Unless he wanted to be shamed, and shame the whole town, he will, indeed, get up out of bed, wake his family in the process, and give the neighbor the bread he needs.”
And this is another “how much more” story. “How much more will God do the same for us—even if we make an inappropriate request late at night. God will certainly get up and give you what you need—that Holy Spirit we’ve been talking about!”
In fact, God has gotten up and done just that! The language about the sleeping neighbor getting up—three times that phrase is used—that language is the same Greek word that’s used of Jesus when he gets up, when he rises from the sleep of death.
In his resurrection from the dead, Jesus has gotten up and poured out the Holy Spirit on us, giving us EVERYTHING we need the most—God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s power for our lives, God’s promise that we will live with God now and forever!
That’s quite a gift, isn’t it! And did you notice something? It’s given even before we ask! It is, precisely, a gift!
And that’s why we pray. We pray to stay in relationship with the God who gives such wonderful gifts—even the Holy Spirit!
What do you expect when you pray? Do you expect the Holy Spirit? Do you expect anything at all?
One fifth grade girl thought she had it figured out. Her mom sent her to bed for the night, then came up to check on her daughter a short while later. Mom found the girl kneeling beside her bed, praying. Pausing to listen in, she heard her daughter ask, “Please, dear God. Please let it be Tokyo!”
When she had finished her prayers, her mom asked, “What did you mean, ‘Let it be Tokyo’”?
“Oh,” her daughter replied. “We had our geography test today, and I was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France.”
But that’s not what prayer is about, is it? First and foremost, it’s about the relationship. And it’s about expecting God to give us what we need—not what we want, but what we need.
And prayer does change things. It doesn’t change God, and it doesn’t change the capital of France from Paris to Tokyo. What prayer does change is us.
Prayer changes us by teaching us to trust in God—and not ourselves. Prayer changes us by teaching us that God gives us what we need, not what we want. Prayer changes us. And that’s a good thing.
That’s a good thing because, when we pray, we are reminded, again and again, that God gives the best gift of all. God gives us the best gift of all when Jesus wakes up from death and pours out upon us the Holy Spirit.
And if that’s what prayer accomplishes, what are we waiting for? Let’s pray! Amen. (Sermon based on one by The Rev. Rick Thompson)
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