10 PENTECOST, PROPER XII - C - 16 LUKE 11. 1-13
What is God really like? I have been asked that question many times over the years, even by a number of life-long Christians and by those who know nothing about the Christian faith. Perhaps you have been asked the same question, or maybe you have asked yourself “what is God really like?”
Where does one turn for the answer? And can we really know what God is like? Holy Scripture is our source for knowing God and our knowing about God. Today’s first lesson and the gospel join forces to reveal certain characteristics of a God who is loving, kind and faithful.
In the Genesis reading Abraham persists in bargaining with God about how many or how few innocent people it would take to spare the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. We might even say Abraham was pushing the envelope in his persistence seeing just how far he could go in his asking before God would say “enough.”
In this story God is clearly shown to be patient, one who leans towards mercy. He is willing to listen, not only to the cries of the people, but to Abraham’s plea for mercy on behalf of the people. He is the judge of the whole world but for the sake of ten just people within the walls of these wicked cities he will forego their total destruction.
In today’s gospel the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray after having observed Jesus at prayer. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, as we know it, is said by some to be closer to the original than Matthew’s expanded version. Either way it helps to answer the question “what is God like?”
Jesus gives us the parable of the friend at midnight to reinforce what God is like, and to show that our asking of God, that is our petitions, especially for “daily bread” is always heard.
The laws of hospitality in the ancient Middle East were strict. If a traveler arrived needing food and shelter one was under obligation to provide it. The friend in the street knows that the friend in bed will understand, even if his asking is at an inconvenient hour; he would do the same if the roles were reversed. What counts is persistence.
Prayer is first of all about asking. What Jesus is encouraging by giving us this parable is a kind of holy boldness, a sharp knocking at the door, an insistent asking, a search that refuses to give up. That, Jesus says, is what our prayer should be like. This kind of prayer is more than a routine or formal kind of praying; it is a means of engaging in and combating spiritual warfare.
Just look at our world today, our nation, our state. There are so many things to pray for and about that are urgent, complex, and important. Liturgical prayer has it’s place in corporate worship when we gather together, as the family of God, to offer our prayers as the Body of Christ. Together we lift up our hearts to God. But each of us has to be engaged in regular and disciplined daily prayer outside the confines of these holy walls.
We are to pray out of the privileged relationship we enjoy through our adoption as God’s sons and daughters. We do that by acknowledging that relationship in the beginning of our prayers by addressing God as Father as Jesus has taught us. We pray by focusing on God’s holiness and our unworthiness and on what God ought to achieve in the world. We need to pray for the needs of the community for sustenance, forgiveness, and God’s help. And in light of the turmoil that exists in our nation today, we need to pray for peace.
Jesus teaches that prayer is indeed asking, but that our asking is subordinate to the purposes of God. It is important for us to realize this. He does not tells us that we shall get what we want when we ask; or that when we seek, that we shall find what we expect; or that when we knock at the door, that what awaits us on the other side will be altogether to our liking. Rather, it will be what God deems best for us.
The point of the parable is not that God is like a man who does not want to be bothered and answers prayers only because he is tried of listening. Rather it is the typical rabbinic argument from the lesser to the greater; if even this reluctant man responds to requests, how much more will God, who is anxious to meet our needs. The parable demonstrates God’s faithfulness to those who are in need and who pray with persistence.
Neither is the “Lord’s Prayer,” as we have come to know it, not just a loosely connected string of petitions. It is a prayer that grows out of the very mission of Jesus himself. When asked to teach his disciples to pray, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. He is going on behalf of the Father to accomplish the opening of the kingdom to all who believe in Him.
He was already offering forgiveness, and would accomplish it completely in his death. He was already demanding from his followers that they imitate the graciousness of God in forgiving their enemies as well as each other. This is the only place in the prayer that refers to Christian action. Jesus’ response to his disciples stands as a framework for wider praying. It did then, and it does now.
The gospel lesson ends today with a repetition of the theme; that we never ask, seek, or knock in vain; that we are to persist by keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking. In prayer, we can expect to be heard, to be attended to. We may not expect that all of our wants and desires will be met, but we can expect that God will give us what is best for us, our daily bread.
What is God like? God is as father and sustainer; God is friend to whom we may go, even in the dead of night, and ask without shame or embarrassment. God listens to, and is open to those who approach him. And God is the giver of all good things through the gift of the Holy Spirit; the first gift for those who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer, who is the true bread which came down from heaven and gives life to the world. AMEN+