Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 24, 2022

YEAR C 2022, pentecost 7

Pentecost 7, 2022
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Man, I really love these readings today.  Well, except for that long-winded one from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  But as I already told you a couple weeks ago, I have a complicated relationship with Paul and his letters.  So let’s start with the first reading, from Genesis.

When we read from the first book of the Bible, I think it’s helpful to remember that God is actually new to being God.  We don’t know if there is life on other planets; all we know from scripture is that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The Garden of Eden is God’s first experience with having people.  Human beings are learning what it is like to be God’s people, but God is also learning what it is like to have “a people.”  Strange as it is to say, God has never done this before.  And there are plenty of times in scripture where you can sort of see God saying, “Well, it never occurred to me they’d need a rule about that!”  And then God makes a rule.

So, throughout Genesis, God is learning what it means to have a people, and people are learning what it means to be God’s people.  And that’s good to keep in mind when we hear today’s reading.  As we heard, Abraham goes before God and asks, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  And I don’t know about you, but I would expect God to respond, “Who do you think you are, talking to me like that?”  I mean, the arrogance of him!  But then Abraham starts into what sounds like a bargaining negotiation, to our ears.  

What if there are 50 righteous?  How about 45?  Or 40?  Do I hear 30?  Anyone for 20?  How about 10?  And then I’m thinking, wow, that Abraham is one clever fellow!  Got God to spare the city by chipping away at the righteousness threshold until all he needs is 10 righteous people.  Way to go Abraham!  You got God to be merciful with your shameless persistence and arrogance!

But here’s the thing.  What if this is not a story about Abraham persuading God to be merciful?  What if, instead, this is a story about God getting Abraham to understand the wideness of God’s mercy?  Not that Abraham is a super clever negotiator, but rather that God is waiting for Abraham to catch up?  Approach this reading by imagining God wondering, “How can I get Abraham to understand the breadth of my mercy?  How can I get Abraham to know that I want everyone to live?”  Well, it changes everything.

Because here’s a subtle little shift that you might not even have noticed.    Abraham is looking to convince God not to destroy the city.  He’s probing to find the minimum number of righteous people in order to save the town from destruction.  He asks, if there are fifty righteous in the city, will you spare it from destruction?  And God answers, if there are fifty righteous, “I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”  Arrogant upstart Abraham is aiming for the bare minimum of physical preservation, and God immediately goes way beyond that and announces absolute forgivenessTo everybody!  Abraham wants mere survival, and God ratchets it up to a blanket forgiveness.  God’s mercy is way beyond what Abraham could ask or imagine.

Abraham speaks to God with shameless arrogance and receives unmerited mercy and forgiveness, which connects perfectly to the reading from Luke.  But let’s start with the mini-parable that Jesus offers.  Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight asking for 3 loaves of bread to put before an unexpected guest.  And the friend answers from inside that he is already in bed, and he cannot get up and give you anything.  However, “even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”  We have to break down that sentence a little.

Essentially, the friend would not help solely on the basis of friendship.  Wow.  Some friend, right?  But then, “because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”  Now, “persistence” is a really bad choice of words here.  Because the original word means something more like shamelessness, arrogance, or impudence.  Shameless arrogance is what we’re talking about.  The friend would not help out of friendship, but because of the absolute arrogance of the request, he will give him whatever he needs.  It’s the audacity that does it, not the relationship.

Now let’s take a side road to look at the Lord’s Prayer.  We have the familiar wording from our prayer book, which we’ve all memorized long ago.  That version sort of lines up with what Jesus says in Matthew.  In today’s wording, from Luke, it’s a little different.  However, in both versions of the Lord’s Prayer, something really jumps out at me today.  Once you get past the opening bit, the petitions in this prayer are essentially demands we are making.  You could imagine them with exclamation points after them.  Give us this day our daily bread!  Forgive us our trespasses!  Lead us not into temptation!  Deliver us from evil!

What might we call the audacity of making these demands from God?  Shameless arrogance?  Impudence?  A whole lotta nerve?  If there’s one theme that connects these two readings today, it is that we should actually approach God with audacity.  Which we are completely uncomfortable doing, at least consciously.  Or, you could put it another way: we do not have because we do not ask.

In this reading, Jesus tells his disciples what they need to do is to seek, to knock, to ask.  Not to wait around to be asked to ask.  An interesting thing about the prayers we use in worship each week is that they also have this same sort of audacious tone.  If we are going to pray to the Creator of all that is, we might as well go for broke, right?  And we do!  Give us world peace.  Make our clergy preach your true and lively word.  Heal the sick.  Give us wisdom.  Protect the environment.  Give us strength.  Though we might not be conscious of it, our prayers are audacious!  Shamelessly audacious!

As Jesus said about the friend who was sleeping, “even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his "persistence" (his audacity, his shameless boldness) he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”  Whatever he needs.  My friends, we know that God knows our needs before we know to ask.  And as we saw today, it is our shameless arrogance in asking that prompts God’s response, which is always beyond what we can ask or imagine.  Go for broke in our asking.  God knows what is good for us, and God promises to respond to our prayers.  May we always remember to boldly ask of the one from whom all good things come.  And may our prayers be shameless in their audacity!


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