Lectionary 17 (9th Sunday after Pentecost)
Genesis 18:20-32; Luke 11:1-13
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
I was out shopping with my girls the other night.
They each received for their birthdays a great gift, one they couldn’t quite quantify –
$50 gift cards to Target from their grandparents.
So I took them to Target, gift cards in hand, and set them loose in the toy section.
Go ahead, girls, pick out what you want.
And remember, thanks to this special gift,
you can spend more money, and get more toys,
than you ever do with Mommy and Daddy.
So they wandered up and down the aisles – looking at the Barbies and the dress up clothes,
the stuffed animals and the games.
Finally, after about ten minutes of deliberation, they came back to me, each holding one toy.
Cana had a stuff animal, for $10.
Tali had a dress-up doll, for $15.
Neither of them had a clue what $50 each in toys even looked like,
they had no idea how much they could ask for,
of what they were able to do with the potential of this gift.
When presented with a combined $100 – a truly incomprehensible sum to these kids –
they could only fathom how to spend $25.
They just didn’t know what they were given.
It’s an imperfect analogy, for sure,
but I’m about to compare the gift of two Target gift cards to the Kingdom of God.
You see, throughout the Gospel of Luke Jesus promises and proclaims the Kingdom of God,
and in today’s passage he asks that when his disciples pray,
that they ask for God’s Kingdom.
Your kingdom come, he tells them to pray.
I had a friend, once, who used to pray for parking spaces.
Jesus, here, tells us to pray for the Kingdom.
Or there’s the infamous scene from the outrageous movie Talladega Nights,
in which Ricky Bobby, a racecar driver played by Will Ferrell,
prays to Baby Jesus that he might win the next race.
Win a race? What’s a race compared to the Kingdom of God?
That’s the thing with Jesus’ teaching here …
he bids that we be bold in our prayers,
that we do not skimp in our faithful hopes and expectations,
but that we ask for God to do something big,
you know … two $50 Target gift cards big …
Actually, something much bigger – to bring us his kingdom.
Martin Luther, explaining this part of the Lord’s Prayer in his Large Catechism,
tells a parable about a wealthy, powerful, and generous king
who grants to a poor man whatever he might desire. (1)
How foolish and laughable would that poor man be, Luther says,
if he asked this wealthy, powerful, and generous King
for nothing more than a measly dish of broth.
For when God offers and pledges so many unspeakable treasures,
what dishonor do we do to Him when we fail
to have confidence in his promises,
or to pray for even a small portion of his bounty …
And more. What kinds of blessings and comfort do we miss out on
when we fail to pray as we ought?
Martin Luther, the man who coined the oft-quoted phrase, “sin boldly,”
seems here to be also saying, “pray boldly.”
In this regard, let Abraham be our guide.
In our first reading today, Abraham takes it upon himself to speak to the Lord,
to speak on behalf of Sodom, a city that God is set to destroy,
owing to its wickedness.
And, as an aside, it should be said that Sodom’s wickedness has far more to do
with violence, a failure to extend hospitality,
and its inability to honor the alien, the neighbor, in it’s midst
than it does with the violation of sexual ethics,
a point that is too often lost within our sex-obsessed culture.
But that’s an issue for a later sermon or education session …
Abraham, not wanting to see this city destroyed, appeals to God’s justice and mercy,
and asks God, “Suppose 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?”
And Abraham continues, laying on the flattery while also reminding God of his justice:
“Far 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?”
The Lord listens to Abraham, and seems to be persuaded by him.
“If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake,”
And so goes the bold dialogue –
Abraham incrementally brings down the number,
the Lord listens to Abraham and agrees to forgive the iniquity of an entire city
for the sake of a decreasing number of righteous people.
Finally, Abraham bargains God down to ten.
“For the sake of ten righteous, I will not destroy it,” the Lord says.
Abraham pleads; God relents.
If only ten righteous could be found, Sodom will be forgiven.
If only ten righteous could have been found …
Abraham, who acknowledges that he is nothing but dust and ashes (18:27),
is bold enough to go toe-to-toe with God,
to remind God of his justice,
and to ask God to do justice in this day.
And God listens to Abraham.
Every Sunday in the Eucharistic Prayer,
that long prayer that the presiding minister says at the Lord’s Supper,
after we sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and which includes the Words of Institution,
we do somewhat the same thing that Abraham does in today’s reading.
Take a look at the words, or listen closely during the liturgy in a few minutes,
and you’ll hear that this prayer is really nothing more
than us appealing to God’s best instincts …
reminding God of what he has done in the past,
and asking him to keep on doing it.
Like Abraham reminding God that he is a God of justice and mercy,
and pleading to God to act according to that mercy,
so too do we, in this prayer, remind God of his mercy and might,
and we ask him to bring that mercy and might to this table,
to our church and community, and to this world,
so that his will be done and his kingdom come,
so that the vision given to us by the prophets and by our Lord Jesus himself
might be fulfilled.
Your kingdom come is the prayer we drum into God’s ears,
to use Martin Luther’s famous phrase from his Large Catechism, (2)
a prayer we say in settings formal and informal,
in liturgies and at bedsides,
set to grand musical scores and uttered through weary sighs.
And not just in the Lord’s Prayer, in those particular words,
but in all our prayers – for when we pray for the sick,
when we pray for justice,
when we pray for our world’s leaders and for the church,
when we pray for creation and our society,
we pray, essentially, that they might join in
that God’s righteous and holy reign might be seen in and through them,
that God’s Kingdom, God’s ultimate rule of mercy might come to us
through works of healing and just governance,
in the awesome splendor of creation
and in the peaceful fellowship of God’s people.
Your Kingdom come, we pray,
your justice reign, your love flow, your holy presence persist among us…
This is our prayer – the prayer of the church, the prayer of the faithful,
the prayer of anyone in this world who yearns for justice, mercy, and peace.
So let us pray, dear friends. Let us drum into God’s ears our prayers.
Let us, mere dust and ashes, dare like Abraham.
to ask of God big things.
Let us persist in our prayers – like the man in Jesus’ parable,
who wakes his neighbor in the middle of the night asking for bread,
and won’t leave until his neighbor gives him some –
let us persist in prayer.
And let us pray always and expectantly,
for just as we know how to give good gifts to children,
our Father in heaven surely knows how to give
even a greater gift to his children …
the gift of the Holy Spirit.
May that Spirit lead us and guide us into lives of prayer,
into gutsy dialogue with God, trusting that our God is listening to our pleas
and eager to grant us his Kingdom.
(1) Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, pg. 447.57, in The Book of Concord, ed. Kolb/Wengert, Fortress, 2000.
(2) Large Catechism, Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, pg. 440.2, in The Book of Concord, ed. Kolb/Wengert, Fortress, 2000.