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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
July 28, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Luke 11:1-13
Pentecost 7C

Pastor David Fleener

Sermon: July 28, 2019—Pentecost 7C

Luke 11:1-13


God the Grumpy Friend


          There’s something odd about the parables in Luke’s Gospel.


          I mean, its not like the parables are normal stories in the first place. The whole point of parables, as Jesus puts it in Luke 8:10, is to befuddle the hearers. Presumably there’s an end point to this befuddlement, but perhaps the least it does is remind the people that God cannot be exhausted by language or human experience. God can’t be figured out.


          And if that’s the point—to remind the hearer that God can’t be defined or grasped by our language—it succeeds admirably. Jesus uses a whole cast of shady characters to talk God’s reign. There’s the fired manager who proceeds to cheat his master out of his goods. There’s a bad judge who decides to hear a widow’s case because she won’t stop bothering him. There’s a bloodthirsty king, who demands the deaths of his enemies. There’s the wasteful son and the righteous son; the hated Samaritan and the shepherd who abandons 99 sheep to save one. And in today’s Gospel, there’s a sleepy man who just wants his persistent friend to go away.


This story raises so many questions. At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus is praying. After he finishes, one of his disciples asks him to “teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus gives them the short, short version of the Lord’s Prayer! (It seems to be missing a few parts, doesn’t it?) And then he tells this story about a sleepy man, woken in the middle of the night by a friend desperate to provide hospitality for a visitor. Notice that there’s no real end to this story. The friend asks for bread, and the man inside says, in effect, “Go away.” And then Jesus makes this comment. “I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness.”


Is God really like a sleepy, grumpy man who doesn’t want to be bothered? I didn’t realize that God needed a nap from time to time! Doesn’t God already know everything we need before we ask him? Why wouldn’t God just provide what we need? And even when we do ask, it doesn’t seem like we always get what we need. Our loved ones die or move out of our lives, despite our prayers. We suffer illnesses and injuries and sometimes don’t recover fully, if at all. Or we might have problems in our marriage or finances. Believers spend countless hours on their knees praying for peace in their country or for enough to eat, or for an end to injustices they constantly suffer. Those prayers seem to fall on deaf ears sometimes. In light of this incongruence, how can we have confidence in Jesus’ words, “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.”?


Maybe we’ve been approaching prayer all wrong.


Like some of you, I have Amazon Prime. I love and hate Amazon. I love the convenience. I hate how guilty I feel about shopping there, due to their lousy treatment of warehouse workers (How self-centered am I? It’s all about me and my guilt!). And like many of you, I have a wish list. See a pair of shoes I like? Boom, on the wish list. See that fancy iPad I can’t afford yet? Boom, on the wish list. See a book a colleague recommended (that I’ll likely never read)? On the wish list it goes. All I need to do to get my wish fulfilled is to send my petition in the form of a certain number of dollars and cents, and the item is on my doorstep in two days. Prayers answered!


Is God, then, just a glorified version of Amazon Prime? On the (perhaps rare) occasions we do pray outside of worship, our prayers come as requests. As wishes. And the commodity we so graciously give to God in our prayers is our time. Or our stated belief in him. Like everything else, we tend to think of prayer in economic terms. I give God this, maybe God will give me that. And when God doesn’t answer as we want, we stop praying.


If God is glorified Amazon Prime, we will always be disappointed.


          But if God is one who constantly reaches out to us, who constantly bugs us to get out of bed and move, then that changes everything. It changes how we view prayer, how we view God, and how we view each other.


          The title of the sermon is “God the Grumpy Friend”. But what if we’re the sleepy friend who wants to be left alone? What if God is the persistent one who comes to our door in need at the most inconvenient time? In that case, God is not glorified Amazon Prime. He is more like a friend in need, of all things. A persistent friend. A friend who will not go away. A friend who keeps hammering at the door of our hearts until we arise and get about his work in the world.


          Why would God do this? Why would God so persistently ignore our noes?


          Because God has made us people who have been given every gift in Christ. God has created us to be a resurrection people; a people who don’t buy into the Amazon Prime god, but as people connected to and in relationship with the living God through the Risen Christ. The Colossians text has it perfectly: “You were buried with him through baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong…God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong. 14 He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross.”


          Prayer is about relationship. It is about connection. It is not about us changing God’s mind, but about God transforming us. And those thorny parts of our prayer life? Those prayers that never seem to be answered? Those prayers are the cornerstone of our relationship with God. They are the themes we return to over and over again in our relationship with God in Christ. If you read the psalms, you’ll see that they are a book of prayers that praise, thank, or complain—sometimes about prayers that seem to go unanswered.


          The saying “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened,” just might refer to something we wouldn’t immediately ask or seek for. A closer connection to Christ as one already raised in him. As one already given every good gift in him.


          Let us pray.


          During your earthly sojourn, Lord, you modeled prayer as a ongoing relationship between God and humanity. Let your prayer be our prayer, “Let your kingdom come”. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.