Pray Shamelessly

Preached on 28 July 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, Year C (Thematic track)

Who is this God we pray to? And Why do we pray?

Let’s start there.  Why do you pray?  Of course at different times, we pray for different reasons.  Here are some I can think of.

We may pray to praise God, like the psalmist this morning.

Or to thank God or ask God for forgiveness.

We may pray for strength or fortitude to get us through trying times.

We may pray to change God’s mind, or to tell God what we want or need
or maybe it’s because we want to remind God.
Because we think God may not know or has forgotten?
Maybe it’s to let God know that we care, too, or to remind ourselves about what really matters, what’s important.

We may pray in order to Listen to God.
Or to align our heart and mind and will, with God’s.

We may pray because it gives us peace or
simply because we think God wants us to.

Who is this God we pray to?
What we pray and how we pray reveals our theology, what we truly believe deep in our souls, about the nature and character of God.

In the gospel reading, when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, they are asking him to show them God.  They are wondering how they can have the kind of relationship with God the kind of communion with God that Jesus so clearly has.

What does his prayer reveal to them?  What does it reveal to us?  Here is Matt skinner’s take on it:

  • God hears (and, I would add, God responds)
  • God provides
  • God forgives
  • God protects
  • God expects us to be generous to one another.

Jesus goes on, revealing more about God.  He tells a parable about a man who responds to his neighbor’s shameless plea for food to offer a guest.  (One commentary points out that shameless is a more accurate translation than the NRSV’s “persistent.”)

We see just how shameless the neighbor is; pounding on the man’s door after the whole family is in bed for the night, with no thought for his own honor or if he’s disturbing the whole neighborhood.  He needs help; he needs food to offer his unexpected, late-night visitor.  And the man responds, despite the neighbor’s shamelessness.

We hear Jesus compare how a parent responds to a child’s request, giving what is good, not harmful, to how God would respond. God is faithful and  good and desires our well-being.  God responds honorably and lovingly – even when we ask shamelessly.

God answers prayer, not based on how well we pray but based on God’s own goodness and love; because it is God’s nature to respond to prayer.

It’s always interesting to read the Old Testament stories where God speaks directly to individual people, like Abraham.  What does today’s story tell us that Abraham believes about God?

The story picks up almost where we left off last week; the lectionary leaves out about 10 verses, so I’ll fill you in.
The story continues about how old Abraham and Sarah are.  The text turns from the men and now it’s the Lord who speaks.  The Lord assures them that he will return next year and Sarah will have a son.

Then the men set out for Sodom, accompanied by Abraham.  We read that God wonders if he should tell Abraham of his intentions since God has chosen Abraham and his descendants to know God and to do what is right and Just.  He decides to tell him and that’s where we come in today.

The Lord has heard the outcry against Sodom and he’s going to go check it out.  They reach a spot near the city and the men go on ahead while the Lord stays behind with Abraham.  And the bargaining begins.  “Will you really destroy the upright along with the guilty?” Abraham asks.  “Is it just to slaughter innocent people because of the sin of others; even grievous sins?  Do not think of doing such a thing so that the upright and the guilty fare alike.  You are the Judge of the Universe; will you, then, act unjustly?”

And the bargaining continues.  Will God save the city for the sake of 50 innocent people?  For 45? 30? 20? Ten?  In the end, Sodom is destroyed, but the Lord does save the family of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who is living there, because he is, indeed, righteous.

In this story we hear of a God who responds to the outcry of people in distress.  We find a God who listens, engages, and is just.

Abraham believes:

  • that God will respond to his plea.
  • That God is just and righteous.
  • That God is trustworthy and faithful.

Now, here’s the thing.  And this is important.
If we can call Almighty God to account, the Creator of All Things, the Ruler of the Universe, and the countless other titles and images we have for God; if we can call even that God to account, there is no earthly power that we cannot call to account.  No matter how “high and mighty” they are perceived or think they are; no matter how revered or respected they are personally or publicly, they are not beyond challenge or critique.

That knowledge can embolden us.  To do what is right and just and to challenge that which isn’t and those who aren’t.

What do you believe about the nature and character of God?  What do your prayers reveal about that belief?
What are your prayers for yourself and your family?  Simple. Direct. Shameless – if you were to just put it out there before God.

What are your prayers for the community?
The nation?  The world?

What are your prayers at this point in the life of the parish as you embark on this journey with a new rector?  Here are my prayers for you.  They are prayers of blessing.

May you be blessed with the eager anticipation of a child waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve.

May you be blessed with a sense of Adventure and with Enthusiasm for the new; an enthusiasm that reaches beyond the sidewalk in front of the church.

May you be fully engaged in all that you undertake and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

May you be blessed with patience with one another as you get to know each other.  And may you be blessed with indulgent forgiveness because there will be missteps all around.

May you be blessed with a generosity of spirit.

And may you be filled with the peace of knowing that God is with you and all shall be well, no matter how it appears in the moment, all manner of things shall be well.

One day I stopped by to visit the parish administrator at another church where I did an interim.  She said they had come through their rookie year just fine.  They had weathered the new rector’s rookie mistakes and her rookie mistakes.  And I realized that in my job, I’m always a rookie.

So, as you go through this rookie year together, may you be carried and generously blessed with a hearty sense of humor.

And finally, I am so very grateful for my time here with you.  For the work you have done.  For your support of me and your patience with me and this community, especially when we have gone through difficult times.

For your willingness to try new things and to indulge my quirks and preferences.

For your forgiveness when I have stepped on toes and ruffled feathers or just generally messed up.

And I am grateful for all your prayers.  Thank you for a wonderful year and a half.

As we say goodbye,
May the Lord bless you and keep you and until we meet again, you are held in the palm of God’s hand.