July 28, 2013

10th Week after Pentecost

Perhaps we imagine God as a harried bureaucrat who returns from lunch to a desk covered with pink slips titled WHILE YOU WERE OUT. On one of them he notices our name as the party to call back, but only snorts to himself, crumples the paper, and throws it away.

Today's Scripture readings tell us stories in an effort to help us realize that God is not like that.

Jesus tells a story about a neighbor that I will call "The Midnight Nuisance." Remember that back then nobody had cable TV, the internet, or even electricity. So when it got dark, most people went to bed, because there was nothing else to do.

And, when people made bread, they made enough for that day. When Jesus mentions "our daily bread" in the prayer he teaches his disciples, he means daily and they know what he means.

So what happens when some guest arrives on your doorstep late in the day and you feel a sacred obligation to practice hospitality, but the bread you baked that morning is all gone? Well, you might go over to your neighbor's house. This is a culture that practices solidarity, and your neighbor might feel as obliged to provide your guest with something to eat as you do. "One for all, all for one," that sort of thing.

On the other hand, maybe this neighbor is already in bed. She has several small kids, and they've finally fallen asleep in her bed. She doesn't want to get up and wake them when you call. Will she answer the door?

Jesus says she will, and maybe she gets up without awakening a single kid. She does this out of a sense of duty perhaps, maybe also to get you to go away. Perhaps she sees that another time the roles could be reversed. She might even like to be helpful. And she hopes she can get back into her house without anybody crying.

In any case, she puts into your hands the bread she has left, enough to feed your guest. You tell her "Thanks!" and then return home through the blackness of night.

Jesus offers this story to give us hope. If people will get out of bed in a situation like that, ordinary, tired people whose children may be light sleepers, then don't you think that the Holy One, the one Jesus calls Abba, Daddy, whose mercy endures forever –– don't you think that this Heavenly Father may be at least that approachable by those who pray? Don't you think that those who search out his house through the darkness, who knock on his door in need –– don't you think that they will have the door opened for them and have thrust into their hands something more than a few cold crusts? God is a lot better than we are even at our best.

Jesus realizes how anything this gracious is difficult for our self-obsessed minds and hard hearts to accept. So he makes the point again in different terms. He recognizes that most parents at least try to be good parents, even if they sometimes fail. If our kids ask for fish fillet for supper, we don't throw a live snake at them. If our kids ask for a hard-boiled egg as a snack, we don't hand them a scorpion.

When it comes to our kids, we usually don't act like jerks. Why should we suppose that when it comes to God’s kids, God would act like a jerk? The Lord of heaven and earth does not crumple and throw away the WHILE YOU WERE OUT slip that's marked with our name. No, far from it.

It might be easier if God did. Then we might regard ourselves as off the hook.

We try to make it complicated. God keeps it simple.

We want it our way. God has a better way.

We may be fearful. God leads us to trust.

We may be out to lunch. God's waiting for us to call.

As one of the Collects from the prayer book puts it, the Lord is "always more ready to hear than we to pray," and the Lord is ready to give us "more than we either desire or deserve." [Collect for Proper 22 in The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979), p. 234.] The language of that prayer is not meant to keep God on good behavior; it's there for us not to believe that God has either a distracted mind or a small heart.

Jesus ends today's Gospel with an attack on tunnel vision. Often what we ask of God is too small. We ask for what might be a part of our lives rather than life itself. Jesus promises that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. In other words, Jesus tells us to ask God for God, for the gift of God's own Spirit!

What bigger gift can we ask for? What better gift can be given? Ask for the Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit prevail in your life. Seek first the kingdom of God, seek to be that kingdom, that place where God is fully present and God reigns.

God bestows the Spirit for the asking. In the light of that Holy Spirit everything starts to look different.

It is astounding to realize that God gives himself away in response to our prayers.

It's astounding to realize that the God of the universe that Jesus teaches us to call Our Father desires to make a home with us, to be our comforter, the one who comes alongside of us in every part of our lives to give us life itself, God’s very self.

May our receiving and our giving be abundant, for what we receive and give––all of it is God.