I’ve not written a sermon for a while because … well, it’s been hard to be motivated. But I’m enjoying the reflecting I’ve been doing of late on Joshua, and I thought it worthwhile to start reflecting on the weekly revised common lectionary readings. So, here goes. The gospel for this week, the tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C), is from Luke, chapter 11.
1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!” (Luke 11:1–13 ESV)
This is a hard word to hear this morning.
I have asked, and I have not received. Work, a job, something to provide for myself and my family. And nothing. I have sought, but have not found.
Perhaps I have not been impudent enough. Perhaps I have not demanded enough. Or knocked at midnight and insisted, “please, give me, because my wife and my daughter are in need. Because we are travelers, weary, tired, looking for some place we can belong and be useful. Some place, any place…”
Perhaps that is my problem. Jesus speaks of asking here, and we know that frequently in scripture, God does not deliver his people without their first asking — even if it only wordless groans and inchoate cries for help to the great beyond, or a pleading with God to “do as you see fit, only deliver us today!” Without their first pleading, begging, demanding. “Were their not enough graves in Egypt? Were we brought this far to die?”
Because it does sometimes feel that way. That we have been brought into the wilderness, only to perish — of thirst, of hunger, at the hands of our enemies.
At the hands of God.
It may be, however, that God needs our pleas, our demands, our groans given up to heaven like smoke wafting from a incense brazier. I know, I know, we all believe in an omnipotent, omniscient God who knows everything, and knew it long before he spoke the world into being. Such a God knows our hearts, knows our needs, knows our very souls!
What is the point of prayer? Of praying? Of asking? Of crying out, or demanding? Did God not know of Israel’s plight in Egypt, Israel enslavement and suffering, until the groans and cries rose to God, prompting God to remember his covenant with Israel, to see Israel, to know Israel’s plight?
Fine questions for dinner conversation, but they miss the point. We need our groans, our cries, our demands. And if we are in a relationship with this God who has called us, who yanked us out of Egypt into a seemingly unending wilderness, who walked among us as one of us, then we need to speak to that God — our wants, our needs, our pains, our sorrows, our suffering, our joy, our thanks, and our praise.
We need these things. We need the words, we need to speak to God. As Jesus points out here, we aren’t mere playthings to God — we have a relationship with him. And a relationship involves give and take, questions and answers, conversation, an exchange. And one of the reasons I have trouble with speaking of God as omniscient and omnipotent is that it is impossible to have a real relationship with someone who already knows everything about you and can learn nothing from you.
To ask of God is to prompt a response, if for nothing else it is to receive forgiveness and daily bread. A father knows much about his son, but will still respond when asked for something — and will respond with something good, something beneficial, something the will benefit and not harm.
In the end, of course, Jesus speaks here of the Holy Spirit. But even that we are to ask for. Even as we have received that Spirit — in fire and breath — with an abundance we cannot even measure.
We are to ask. We are to seek. Because … we shall find.