St. John's, Centreville
July 28, 2019
Proper 12 C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Persistence and boldness in prayer, how we are to pray and the importance of prayer are the themes of our readings this morning. In our Old Testament lesson from the Book of Genesis, Abraham is in a conversation with God, and God tells him that the three strangers that just visited Abraham and told him that he and his wife Sarah would be blessed with a son, are now on a fact-finding mission to the city of Sodom because of the grave sins of the people there. Abraham questions God about whether God really intends to destroy the city. Surely there must be some good and righteous people in Sodom. Would God destroy the righteous with the wicked?
God is known to be merciful so Abraham continues to push God, that God's actions should reflect God's character, which is goodness, justice and mercy. If fifty righteous people can be found in Sodom, would God destroy the whole city? God says, no, God would not destroy the city if fifty righteous people are found. Abraham continues to press God. How about if there are 45 or 40 or 30 or 20 or 10 righteous people in the city? Would God destroy the whole city? God replies "no", God would not destroy the city if 10 righteous people are found there.
To many of us, Abraham seems to be rather obnoxious. But he is bold in his conversation with God about justice for those who are righteous and are following God's ways. Abraham is challenging God to show God's justice and mercy. He is modeling for us persistence and boldness in his intimate communication with God.
In our gospel lesson from Luke that we just read, one of the disciples, we don't know which one, asks Jesus to teach them how to pray. Perhaps he is looking for the right words to say. Or perhaps he is longing for a closer connection to God. In any case, Jesus gives the disciples a framework and a model for prayer, that we know as the Lord's Prayer. We are more familiar with the Lord's Prayer as it is told in Matthew's gospel. This version in Luke is shorter.
After outlining what we know as the Lord's Prayer, Jesus then tells a parable about a friend coming to his neighbor's house at midnight to get some bread for a guest who has just arrived. The neighbor does not want to get up because he and his family are already in bed. Most homes at that time were one room huts and the entire family, and sometimes the livestock, all slept together. If one person got up, the whole household was disturbed.
But the friend is persistent. He cannot send his guest away because he had no food. Hospitality was a very important part of their culture. Because the friend is persistent, the man gets up and gives him what he needs.
This parable is NOT telling us that we must pound on God's door until we finally coerce God into giving us what we want. It is NOT saying that we must keep bothering an unwilling God to answer our prayers. If an unwilling neighbor can be coerced by a friend's persistence into giving him what he needs, how much MORE will God, who is a loving God, give to his children who are in need?
Jesus goes on to say, "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give 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!"
This means that we are not wringing gifts from an unwilling God, but that we are going to the One who knows our needs better than we know them ourselves and who loves us with unlimited love. We need to pray to be in communion with God, to be in relationship with God, to be one with God. We pray because we need to bring ourselves into the presence of God. We pray because it is spiritually important for us, not because we have to tell God what we need.
Just as a loving parent would not willingly give something bad or harmful to their children, so God will not do that to us. Because we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much MORE will our loving God give good gifts to us.
Author Barbara Brown says, "To say that I love God but I do not pray much is like saying I love life but I do not breathe much." Taylor found helpful advice from Brother David Steindl-Rast who told her, "Prayer is not the same thing as prayers. Prayer is waking up to the presence of God, no matter where I am or what I am doing. When I am fully alert to whatever and whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening, and it is not necessarily something that I am doing. God is happening and I am lucky enough to know that I am in the Midst."
Many of us say our prayers at specific times of the day - perhaps when you wake up in the morning, saying grace at meals, perhaps before you go to bed. Setting specific times is good so that we don't go a day without being in conversation with God. But Brother David takes it a step further. We should all realize that we are in the presence of God every day, at every moment. We need to see God in the people and places that are all around us. Being in the presence of God helps to make us more aware of God in everything around us. Taylor goes on to say, "There are real things I can do, both in my body and in my mind, to put myself in the presence of God. God is not obliged to show up, but if God does, then I will be ready. I am aware that prayer is more than something I do. The longer I practice prayer, the more I think it is something that is always happening, like a radio wave that carries music through the air, whether I tune in or not."
Prayer happens whenever you realize that you are in the presence of God, whether you are down on your knees and saying prayers, or whether you are taking in the freshness of a new spring day, or whether you are in the midst of family members who love you as you are. God's presence surrounds us, and holds onto us, and lifts us up. May we always recognize God's presence among us as we live our daily lives. Amen.