7th Sunday in Pentecost

First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32

20Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
22So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 27Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Psalm: Psalm 138

1I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with | my whole heart;
  before the gods I will sing your praise.
2I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name,   because of your steadfast love and faithfulness;
  for you have glorified your name and your word above all things. 
3When I called, you answered me;
  you increased my strength within me.
4All the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord,
  when they have heard the words of your mouth.
5They will sing of the ways of the Lord,
  that great is the glory of the Lord.
6The Lord is high, yet cares for the lowly,
  perceiving the haughty from afar. 
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;
  you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your         right hand shall save me.
8You will make good your purpose for me;
  O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the      works of your hands. 

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15 [16-19]

6As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
16Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.]

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13

.

1[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”2He said to them, “When you pray, say:
 Father, hallowed be your name.
  Your kingdom come.
  3Give us each day our daily bread.
  4And forgive us our sins,
   for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
  And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, 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.
9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If 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!”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Share with your neighbor.  If you could learn anything new at this point in your life, what would you want to be taught?

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Teach us to pray!

We ended last week’s sermon with Jesus’ affirmation of Mary’s choice to sit at his feet.  41 “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  What had Mary chosen?  Did she chose a lecture or a relationship?

         The disciples listened as Jesus affirmed Mary.  Luke then goes directly to another scenario that is our text today.  The disciples now observe Jesus praying and it seems they have also observed the disciples of John the Baptist.  I wonder what they observed that led to the thirst to be taught to pray.

“Lord, teach us to pray”   

Being a teacher myself, I find this a catching introduction to the text.  Teaching for me means not just lecturing like a professor or listening like Mary.  I can come to church every Sunday and I can walk away exactly as I entered, perhaps intellectually challenged and entertained but untouched in my soul.  I hear but it doesn’t change my life.  Sundays may not impact our lives because faith at its core is relational, not instructional. The disciples must have seen something happening in John’s disciples and in Mary and in Jesus himself.  Could it be that the disciples saw people being transformed through prayer?

         Perhaps our first challenge is to ask ourselves when we last wanted to really be taught, really be transformed?  Our culture has become so performance and entertainment focused that for many learning and teaching is thought of as an academic skill acquired at a school from someone who knows more than us.  My adult ESL students needed English to cope with life in the USA and to get citizenship.  They wanted to be taught so they could function and be successful.  I might take a cooking class to improve my entertaining skills.  I want to be taught so I can impress others. Then there are the paint classes where I can go and sip a glass of wine while learning how to reproduce a picture.  I want to learn and I feel better about myself.  These are examples of fun learning experiences but not the teaching that I suspect is being talked about in our passage.

Prayer as relationship

         Jesus answers the disciples request by presenting a pattern for prayer.  Jesus does not open a devotional book to read or a favorite prayer book.  He does not go to Scripture.  He says to pray like this, “Our Father.”  You have probably heard it said how revolutionary this opening is.  We approach the God of the universe on the basis of communal relationship, not authority.  I suspect we often think of God as having all power and so our request is a small task for him to grant…if he wishes.  Prayer subtly shifts to a power paradigm.  Likewise we read that if we have enough faith, then we have the power to move a mountain, heal a sick friend, do the miracles that Jesus did.  If the request is not granted then we feel rejected and a failure.  Prayers can be an intercession and request for God to use his power to end the war in Ukraine, to heal my friend with cancer, or to bring relief for those suffering in the heat in Europe.  These are legitimate prayers of intercession but I would like us today to look at the relational aspect of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Luke.

         We approach God as family (I would add – with all the respect due our elders) requesting his kingdom to come.  We want to be in his kingdom, a citizen, not a foreigner or refugee.  We want “daily” bread, not a monthly paycheck but a daily check in.  We want forgiveness that is two-way, that re-establishes relationship and two-way communication.  And he closes with a request for no trials, no misunderstanding and strained relationships. The Lord’s Prayer is very interactional and intimate.

         Some of us have had abusive fathers or absent fathers and so approaching God as “Father” is not a very cozy idea because of our experiences.  I hear ways to get around this emotional block by addressing God as Mother or as Eternal One or Jehovah Jirah/Provider but all these variations are the cry of our heart for relationship with the One we cannot see but know is real and whom we believe cares.  Prayer is not approaching the Congress of heaven and asking for a new amendment to the constitution to protect the rights we feel are endangered by life.  Prayer is communicating with a being who cares, who relates to us individually and as a group for the good of all concerned.  It is not saying “I want” but opening a discussion with a being we want to be in relationship with.

         This week I asked my friend whom I knew came from a very abusive childhood how she navigated the Lord’s Prayer.  She replied that at first she had understood Jesus’ death as taking care of her sins, her debts, kind of like a tax write-off.  So for many years she felt God saw her as a tax write-off until she had one of those impacting dreams where she was handed a check, “Paid in full.”  Suddenly she realized she was not a write-off still on the records but a child embraced and loved.  Prayer is personal and relational, foundational to the functioning of our lives.

Prayer as Persistent Relationship

Jesus gave us a pattern in the Lord’s Prayer that followers of Jesus have prayed through the ages.  It is probably one of the first prayers we learned and in times of crisis it often comes to our hearts and lips giving words to our struggle. Jesus goes on, though, to give us not only a pattern but also a parable to flesh out the meaning of prayer.  Jesus presents two men.  One is content, in bed with his children.  The other has met with an unexpected event, a late night guest, and he is unprepared to “welcome” the guest properly.  Note we are now tied back to Martha working so hard to welcome Jesus as Mary sits devotedly at his feet.  The needy man goes to his contented neighbor, not as peasant to king but as friend to friend.  Jesus again frames prayer in the context of friendship, relationship.

         God has no need to get out of bed and help the needy person.  Prayer again is reiterated not as a power relationship but a friendship.  So what does persistence on the part of the needy friend tell us today?  I would suggest that persistence means there is no fear in the relationship.  The needy friend is not afraid of offending the contented friend by persisting in his request.  The request is open to discussion.  I think of Abraham bargaining with God in our Old Testament reading over the fate of Gomorrah.  I think of Moses responding to the burning bush about his own perceived imperfections for the task God is asking of him.  I think of the woman with the daughter with the evil spirit who was unwilling to accept a “no” from Jesus.  I think of the woman at the well.  There is a long line of Biblical heroes who were “persistent” with God and who stood on relationship, not authority.

         I suspect we think of persistence as pestering but Jesus seems to be seeing prayer as conversational.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us into relationship about the future – God’s kingdom, about our needs – daily bread, about our pains – forgiveness, and about our fears – trials.  We are invited to stay in relationship and conversation with God about the concerns of our hearts for he is our “Abba.”

Prayer as Quest

The Lord’s Prayer is a pattern for prayerful relationship.  The story is a parable about persistent prayerful relationship.  The third part of the text today presents prayer as a quest for relationship that allows us to ask, to seek, and to knock.

         When we have a need where do we turn? Who can we ask for help? 

  • Prayer is asking, turning to the God of the universe who is our father, our friend, and who is in relationship with us.  It is not standing in line to fill out a form.  It is not a legal relationship, getting good advice on how to do life right.  Prayer is conversation about anything and everything that is on our mind.  God is not tricky, giving us a snake instead of a fish.  He does not play games with us.  God invites us to ask.
  • Prayer is seeking, continuing conversation in a relationship that grows and evolves.  God is not an answering machine.  Searching requires persistence like the woman with the lost coin or the shepherd with the lost sheep.  Jesus says if we search, we will find.  I suspect we may not find the answer we are looking for but we will find peace knowing that God is working on the situation we are concerned about.  His goal is not a scorpion but an egg, the birth of something that will be worth the search.
  • Prayer is knocking on a door that appears shut.  We are free to take our doubts, our fears, and our concerns – all those things that block our relationships with God and with others – to God.  When we knock on those doors that seem to divide us from the other side, Jesus says the door will open.

So let us go back to our original question.  If we could learn anything today from God, what would we like to learn?  Learning factors me into the equation of life’s problems.  I am not asking God to solve my problem for me but asking how I can enter into a persistent, meaningful, transforming relationship with him as I face my everyday challenges.  God is longing to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us navigate life.  I don’t know about you, but I need that help.

And the people of God said, “Amen!”

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