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Prayer, Shoes, and Humiliation (July 28, 2019)

Luke 11:1-13

[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.” 2 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 indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And 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; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And 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.’ 8 I 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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give 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!”

When I was a much younger pastor, I knew I didn’t have a lot of experience. So like a lot of young professionals, I tried to cover it up with presenting a sense of confidence. Totally false, but I thought this façade of wisdom and knowledge made me more credible. Even though it didn’t take much to break through the thin veneer of pretending to know what I was doing.

The church I was serving at the time had just completed a successful capital campaign and a building project, so I was feeling pretty arrogant. As a result, I had managed to coerce the members of a synod committee I served on to meet in my new church building. You know, show off a little. “Oh, this little thing? Why, yes, it is new. Yeah, we just doubled our square footage. No big deal.” I especially wanted the person from the bishop’s staff who was on this committee to be impressed. Not with the building and the new ministry plans that motivated my congregation, but with me.

So the day of the meeting, I dressed in my most impressive clerical collar and suit, and put on the shoes I had so carefully shined the night before. I opened up the new part of church building, made the coffee, and set up the tables and chairs just right. I’m competent, right? I was the picture of an experienced, wise, capable pastor. Certainly the assistant to the bishop would be impressed.

The members of the committee began to arrive, including the person from the bishop’s office. They were gracious in allowing me to show them through the new part of the building, and they oooh’d and aww’d appropriately. I noticed, however, that the assistant to the bishop and most of the rest of them kept looking down—like toward the ground, and many of them were smiling, especially the assistant to the bishop.

I took a little longer impressing them with my new building than I should. And they kept smiling and looking toward the ground. Even after we moved to the new meeting room with the new chairs and the new table. Wow! I’m so impressive that they can’t help but smile.

In my memory, the meeting went well, but to be honest I can’t remember much. Because right at the end I happened to lean back and glance down at the floor and noticed that I was wearing two completely different shoes. Not even the same color. Totally different.

I had been strutting around showing off this building, trying to impress everyone with my professionalism, all the while looking like a two-year old who can’t dress himself. It was mortifying.

The bishop’s assistant and I actually became friends later on. He never said a word to me about that day. I loved him for that. Because I knew he didn’t judge me or think less of me because of it. He and I went on to do some really creative and fun ministry throughout that synod. I knew I could trust him with anything, because he met me in my humiliation and still saw me as valuable.

Who do you share your most humiliating moments with? Who do you trust with your embarrassment? Who are you confident won’t judge you, or think less of you, or ridicule you, but instead will stand with you, maybe enough just laugh with you?

That’s the relationship that’s being described in this text. A friend goes to another friend in the middle of the night and asks for three loaves of bread to feed an unexpected guest. You need to understand that hospitality to travelers was a big deal culturally. It was also required by Jewish law. So to be caught with nothing to serve a guest was desperately humiliating.

Yet the relationship with this neighbor was strong enough and trustworthy enough that he could go and ask, even if that means he reveals his humiliation. He could wake up this friend and beg for bread in the middle of the night because the relationship could endure that.

Do you have someone like that in your life? Someone you can go to when you’re in a tough spot? Someone who you can call in the night, knowing they’ll be there for you even if you wake them from a sound sleep? If so, think about them for a minute. Think about that relationship. Think about the trust that’s been built up. Think about how, even if you disappoint that person, they’ll still always be there for you.

Jesus doesn’t tell this parable to teach us about neighbors. Not this time. This isn’t a parable about what person you can trust, but about the God you can trust.

This parable is an explanation to the prayer he teaches his disciples. It’s not about the words so much as it is about knowing you can trust God with anything. Because God will always be there for you. There’s such a trusting relationship that you can begin by praying to God as a child would come to a loving parent. You can ask anything because God holds you so closely you can trust God with any request, even if you’re embarrassed to ask.

This God is always there for you. Just ask, and it you’ll receive. Just knock in the middle of the night and the door will open. God knows just what to give, just what you need. And is always there for you. Even if you ask for a snake, God knows you need a fish because it’s better. Even if you ask for a scorpion, God will give you an egg because it’s better. Just ask. God is that kind of God. Nothing can change the love God has for you.

That’s how Jesus explains prayer to these disciples. Prayer isn’t just a wish list of things you want, like writing a letter to Santa. Prayer is an expression of the relationship with God that Jesus opens up for us. A relationship of trust, where we don’t have to be embarrassed or worry if we’re doing something wrong. God is already more than willing to pour out the Holy Spirit on you. And is doing that even now. Even if you aren’t sure. Even if you think it’s too good to be true. Even if you’re wearing two different shoes.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2019 in Sermon

 

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W-a-a-a-a-a-a-y Beyond “Being Saved” (John 14:1-14)

What are some things we know about who Jesus is? . . .

What do we know about what Jesus came to do? . . .

We can trust that Jesus reveals God to us. Many of us have operated out of an assumption that we who are Christians are “in” while others are “out,” right? We who believe in Jesus are saved, while those others may not be. Our eternity is secure, while theirs is uncertain.

That’s the way a lot of us were raised. Most adults who have grown up in the church were raised with a little bit of that attitude. We know who Jesus is, got baptized, were taught about him in Sunday School, got confirmed in this Christian faith, and now attend church and stay in good with God. “Going to church” has been for good Christian believing people. We may not be that blunt about it, but for many of us, that attitude is a little bit there. Doesn’t that strike some chord of familiarity for some of us? And so we’ve understood the church from that perspective. The church is for us, for good Jesus-loving Christian folk.

The problem is that it isn’t what Jesus is about. Therefore, it isn’t what God is about. Therefore it can’t be what the church is about. Jesus, when he expressed a preference, sided with the ones outside of the church. He saved his harshest criticisms for those who were part of the church.

There’s an expression that has stuck with me is, “Whenever you draw a line to separate people, Jesus is always found on the other side of it.” That is consistent with who Jesus is and what he came among us to accomplish. God is a very inclusive God. It is a theme repeated over and over and over throughout scripture:

  • God is the God of all; there are no other gods.
  • God’s redemptive love is for all people and all of creation.
  • God’s mandate is to take care of the poor, the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, regardless of their beliefs or anything else.
  • Jesus did not come to condemn but to forgive.
  • There is no longer insider or outsider, gay or straight, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female
  • While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
  • All people sin and fall short of the glory of God.
  • If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

God is always about reconciliation and leveling the playing field for everyone, never about division or superiority. There’s a consistent theme throughout the biblical witness that God doesn’t lift some over others, especially because of what they believe, but that all people are loved by God and equally in need of God’s grace. Those who trust in God’s grace revealed in Jesus aren’t better, but do have the responsibility of sharing that news of God’s inclusive love through their lives and their words.

If, as people of the Word, we take this most basic theme of scripture seriously–that God’s grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion are for all–what do we do with a verse like v.6? “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

With many of us having the upbringing we did, it’s easy to make that exclusive, isn’t it? To lift ourselves up over those who don’t believe in Jesus. Since we believe, we have the way to heaven, i.e., Jesus. No one outside this exclusive believers’ club can come to the Father–sorry, no heaven for you. And we hear this verse abused this way all the time. Even though that interpretation runs counter to pretty much everything else we know about Jesus (therefore God), we have found a way to use verses like this to divide humanity into the good/bad, believers/non-believers, saved/unsaved.

But what does this verse look like if we start from a deeper biblical perspective–revealed in Jesus–that God is inclusive, merciful to all, and covers everyone with grace?

If you read more than just v.6, things look a little different. This whole passage today is part of a five chapter monologue by Jesus while at the dinner table with his disciples. He’s covering a lot of ground, as this is the last meal he will share with them before he’s arrested and condemned to death later that night. But in this part he’s assuring them that since they know Jesus, they also know God. That Jesus’ relationship with the Father means that he reveals who God is. That Jesus came to bring the parent/child relationship that he has with God to them too. That God is loving, caring, and always close–today, tomorrow, even beyond death. That you can take comfort in that. Because you know me, because you’ve seen God at work through me, you already know God.

This isn’t a text about division or exclusivity. It’s a statement our identity as Christian people: that what we know about Jesus is by definition what we know about God; as we know Jesus, we do know God. Take comfort in that. Proclaim that. It’s a perspective on God that needs to be heard in the world; and needs to be heard in the church too. What we know, experience, and proclaim about Jesus is the what we know, experience, and proclaim about God.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Sermon

 

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