Ninth Sunday after Trinity
Genesis 18: 20 - 32
Luke 11: 1-13
We live in an age of communication. There are modes of communication available that were unimaginable a century ago. They are not always successful however!
If you have email? Then you know what it's like to struggle with spam. You send the email, and no response comes. Did they get it and are not answering – or is it somewhere in the ether?
If you have an answering machine? Then you will be frustrated with the silent messages or garbled incomprehensible words.
If you have tried to leave a phone message, and it gets lost. Or the person you're trying to contact is "in a meeting," or "away from her desk," or "on another line."
If you have sat in a restaurant ready to order, and start to wonder whether you have become invisible – especially if you are a woman.
If you have waited for the Postman to bring you something worthwhile, it will be outnumbered by bills and junk mail.
For all these reasons and others, it seems like “communication" is a contradiction in terms. And there is a danger that we can assume that communication with God––what religious tradition call prayer is plagued with the same problems that cause us so much disappointment and frustration.
We often hear people say ‘We can’t do anything to help you, only pray’.
Only pray – it sounds so second rate, so pathetic.
How little we know of the momentous amount of activity, the critical mass of energy that is true intercession: that act of moving and being moved.
Look at Abraham in our Genesis reading – what a risk taker he was in prayer. Abraham dared to take on God. He went to that place between a holy God and an unholy city to plead.
But I believe God is waiting in the wings for an Abraham – one with compassion and passion. For an Abraham to care enough. For you, for me to care enough. Abraham prevailed he challenged God and his family was spared.
Abraham, intercessor, moved into that pregnant place between Holy God and unholy city.
Like Moses before him, he cared for the faithless people. He prayed ‘Forgive their sin. Lord - but if not, blot me out of the book you have written.’ Moses cared enough to plead with God.
Moses, intercessor, moved into that pregnant place between Holy God and promiscuous people.
Jesus, God’s Son, who was tempted as we are, yet without sin, cared enough to pour out his life for us, for the whole unrighteous world.
Now Jesus, intercessor, has moved into that pregnant place between Holy God and us, pleading on our behalf.
In response to his disciple’s request, “ Lord teach us to pray,” he tells a story about a friend at midnight.
We have to remember in those days when it got dark, people went to bed, because it was very dark indeed, just small oil lamps for light, no TV or books. Also when people made bread, they made enough for that day, as it would go off in the heat if left. When Jesus mentions "our daily bread" in the prayer he teaches his disciples, he means daily and they understand immediately.
So what happens when a friend arrives on your doorstep late in the day and you feel an obligation to offer hospitality, but the bread you baked that morning is all gone? You do the obvious, knock on your neighbour’s door.
‘Go away I‘m asleep.’
But I’m your friend.
Like you this neighbour is already in bed. She doesn't want to get up Will she answer the door? Finally she staggers up with half a stale loaf, maybe out of a sense of duty perhaps, maybe also to get you to go away.
Jesus tells this story to give us hope. If people will get out of bed in a situation like that, ordinary, tired people, don't you think that God, whose mercy endures forever –– our God may be at least as approachable by those who pray? He is saying: Don't you think that those who search out his house through the darkness, who knock on his door in need –– don't you think that they will have the door opened for them and have thrust into their hands something more than a few cold crusts? God is a lot better than we are, even at our most generous.
A friend of your son - Jesus.
Welcome ...what can I do for you?
He taught us to pray –give us this day our daily bread.
Does that mean at midnight as well?
Of course, whatever you need, whenever you need it.
Only ask and you will receive (not always the thing you asked for, but you will always get an answer)
Only seek, and you will find (not always the thing you thought you were seeking, but you will always find the wisdom of God)
Only knock and the door will be opened (not always the door to health, wealth or instant happiness, but always the door to the kingdom of heaven)
Jesus knows we find it difficult for our small minds and hard hearts to accept this kind of gracious response. So he makes the point again in a different way. He recognises that most parents at least try to be good parents, even if they sometimes fail. If your child asks for fish fingers for supper, we don't throw a live snake at him. If your child asks for a boiled egg we would never give a scorpion. Both snakes and scorpion would be in abundance in the Middle East. We are sensible parents and of course God will act in the same way. When we his children pray for something sensible he will not give us a poisonous answer. This is summed up in Collect Proper 22:
‘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.”
Jesus ends today's Gospel with an attack on tunnel vision. Often what we ask of God is too small. 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. Ask every day. Paul says ‘Be filled with the Spirit. It is a present continuous verb – be being filled and keep on being filled.
It is astounding to realise that God gives himself away in response to our prayers. It's astounding to realise that God then expects the same generosity from us.
When you say we can only pray, we should then be prepared to care enough, to wrestle, plead, engage, struggle, argue, agonise, remonstrate, and weep, moving into that pregnant place between Holy God and a broken world.
It is for times like these that we were given all we need. The Lord ’s Prayer says everything we need to say and brings us into God’s presence, if we pray the words, believing.