Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Lectionary 17), July 28, 2019
Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15[16-19], Luke 11:1-13
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Chinook and Naselle Lutheran Churches, WA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God ourFather, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel lesson is Luke’s recounting of the Lord’s Prayer. Now, we all know the Lord’s Prayer; both Matthew and Luke recount Jesus teaching it to his disciples, and the version we all know by heart is an amalgamation of the two versions. One of the interesting things about Luke’s recount of how Jesus taught this prayer, however, is how little time Jesus spends talking about the prayer, and how much time Jesus spends talking about what God is like. The prayer itself takes up three verses of our reading. The other ten verses are about God, and how God responds to prayer. To Jesus, how we pray matters less than the fact that we do pray, and that we know the God we’re praying to.
And the thing about God is that God listens and responds. God is awesome and great and mighty beyond our understanding … and God listens to us. God takes our wishes and will into account. God doesn’t always give us what we think we want, just like a good parent doesn’t always give a child what they want when the parent knows it’s not good for the child, or has some other reason. But just like a good parent always listens to their child and responds, God is always listening and responding to us.
Jesus gives an example of human behavior to show us what this is like. Humans can be pretty terrible to one another. We don’t always listen; we don’t always respond. Like someone already in bed for the night, we don’t want to respond even to emergencies when they are not convenient for us. But God is not like that. God listens. God responds. God is working in and through us even when God’s response is not what we want. Notice that in this passage, all the examples Jesus gives are examples of relationships. A friend in need, or a child and their parent. Part of a healthy relationship is communication; if you can’t be honest, and ask for help when you need it, it’s not much of a relationship, is it? But we have a relationship with God that is always open. God will welcome every call for help, every shout of joy, every question and thanksgiving and hope and fear. And we are invited to be persistent—to be shameless in our demands—even when we disagree with God.
Take the example of God and Abraham from our Gospel lesson. God had seen how much evil there was in Sodom and Gomorrah. Now, I want to caution you; modern readers hear “Sodom” and think “homosexuality,” even though the Bible itself has a different view of Sodom’s sin. It’s very convenient for heterosexual people; we can hear sermons on the Bible’s main example of sin all day and never wonder about our own sins. But the various Biblical texts that mention Sodom don’t focus on the sex at all. The clearest and most concise summation of Sodom’s sin comes from Ezekiel 16:49: “This was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” The people of Sodom, the Bible tells us, worshipped power for the sake of power. They believed that might made right and that people with power and wealth could take anything they wanted, heap any abuse they cared for on those who had nothing. They humiliated and degraded those beneath them for sport. And that included rape of all kinds. In the Biblical account, the sex is a manifestation of the evil of Sodom, not the cause of it. It wasn’t until the tenth century that the word “sodomy” came to mean only homosexual encounters. Before that, “sodomy” meant any great sin.
So when God comes to Abraham talking about Sodom’s sin, God is not just talking about what they do in bed. God is talking about the whole shebang: how their society is structured, how they treat one another, what character traits they value and what they treat as trash. And the thing is, God doesn’t have to ask Abraham’s permission to smite Sodom and Gomorrah. God knows just how bad it is, just how terribly the residents treat one another, how people there prey on one another and manipulate and cheat and hurt one another. God’s judgment does not depend on what Abraham thinks of them. But still, God listens to Abraham.
And Abraham disagrees with God. Abraham thinks God is wrong, that God is being unjust in wanting to destroy Sodom. Not because Abraham thinks Sodom is such a great place; Abraham knows just how much injustice and exploitation and evil goes on in that city. No, Abraham is convinced that surely, there must be some good people there, and it’s not fair for them to be condemned along with the bad people. And if God could condemn the good along with the bad, then God would not be good.
And God lets Abraham argue with him. God doesn’t shut him up or ignore him or say “how dare you challenge me.” Most humans, when someone argues with them, respond with hostility or dismissal, especially when the person arguing with them has less power or status. But God is not like that. God takes Abraham’s concerns seriously. God says, “yeah, you’re right. Destroying good people along with bad would be wrong. How many good people do you think are enough to redeem that horrific place?” Abraham bargains, coming back shamelessly, again and again, until finally they agree on a number: ten. Ten good people, and Sodom will be saved.
Now, God knows what is in the heart of every human being. God sees all our thoughts and all our actions, the good and the bad alike. God knows that every person in Sodom has been infected with selfishness and cruelty and malice, but he still listens to Abraham’s concerns, acknowledges when Abraham has a good point, and takes his perspective into account.
This is not the only time people in the Bible argue with God. It happens all over the place. Moses argues with God multiple times, so does Job, so do most of the prophets and some of the kings. Jesus’ mother Mary argues with Jesus at Cana. The psalms are full of people arguing with God, or complaining about God, and bringing every care and concern to God—even when that means accusing God of not doing the right thing. Even when we have a bone to pick with God, God would rather we brought that concern to God than shoved it under the rug and let it fester.
This is the kind of God we have. This is what Jesus wants us to know about God when we pray. The important thing is not the formal structure of prayer, or the wording, or any of that. Sometimes having a formal structure and memorized words for prayer is helpful, sometimes it’s not. The important thing is that we know that God is listening. That God cares about us, and God cares what we think and feel, and listens whether we’re happy or sad, thankful or protesting, whether we agree or disagree, whether we are safe or in danger, whether things are going well or poorly, God is listening, and God is working to give us what we need. No matter what we are thinking or feeling, God loves us, and God desires an open and honest relationship with us.
That’s why God sent Jesus to us. Why God became human and lived among us, to know us more intimately. God joined us to God’s own self through baptism, through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. We worship a God who would literally rather die than be separated from us, or abandon us. Thanks be to God.