July 28, 2013 - Luke 11.1-13

“The Jerk”

Luke 11.1-13

July 28, 2013

 

He 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.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5And 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; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And 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.’ 8I 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. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If 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!”

 

I have some problems with this text.  But first of all, let’s just look at it for a second.  Jesus teaches his disciples to pray.  It’s the Lord’s prayer.  I got that.  But the Jesus tells this story.  What kind of crazy fool friend is this that stops by at midnight wanting food?  And why does the guy get out of bed and give him food?  Then Jesus talks about asking and receiving, and then there is this bit about giving your children food, and exactly who is it that keeps their eggs and fish next to their Snakes and Scorpions in the pantry?  Is this weird or is it just me?

 

This is a parable, and one tried and true method of understanding a parable is to ask who we are in the parable, I will try that.

 

Maybe I am the guy who answers the door.

 

We all have that friend, you know, that friend that always pokes his way into a conversation.  You gonna eat that?

 

It reminds me of that DirecTV commercial that I keep seeing. The guy comes over to his buddy’s house while his buddy is moving. “Do I still owe you that $500?”  My first thought is “who is this idiot that can’t remember whether or not he’s paid back his buddy?”  Then I think, “this idiot has waaaay better friends than I do.”

 

I think this guy is the same kind of guy that sticks his finger in your pudding and asks “you gonna eat that?” and knocks on your door at midnight and says “have you got any food?  I got friends who just dropped by and I have nothing to feed them.  Can I have your food?”

 

What a weird thing.  But we all know people like this, that can wear us down.  They constantly have need, and they always want us to help ‘em out.  It is easy to grow weary in doing good for other people.  But God wants us to do good deeds.  Faith without works is dead after all.

Most of you come to church like clockwork.  You are usually the people that do good deeds for others.  You are the ones who, conscientiously trying to do right, are those prone to becoming discouraged. The needs of the world are so vast, our resources so limited, you are the ones who are most likely to lose heart.  Don’t lose heart.

 

I tell you, that I think one of the most negative results of our Christian emphasis on social action, on addressing the larger, systemic, legislative causes of injustice, is our losing sight of the fact that Christians are not necessarily called to change the world. That is God's business. Our business is to practice charity, to do works of compassion, not to worry too much about the ultimate good that we do, the ultimate outcome, results. That is God's business - the ultimate outcome. Our business is to do what we can, where we can, when we can, to witness that God's Reign is coming, bit by bit, step by step, even in us.

 

John Trotti, longtime librarian at Union Seminary in Richmond, says that as a Boy Scout, he was told that Boy Scouts believed that they ought to do what they can to leave the world a better place. Therefore, when his Boy Scout troop went camping, they not only left their campsite clean, but they always went around the campground picking up other people's trash before they left.

Trotti carried this into adult life. When he married Joan, the two of them would wander about town, picking up aluminum cans and bottles. When their children were young, they pushed the baby stroller about town, filling up a bag attached to the back with the refuse they collected.

Even after Trotti was a distinguished member of a theological faculty, they would still bike about town, filling up bags with refuse. They found out that the city would pay .08 cents a pound for the aluminum cans. So they began collecting and selling the aluminum cans, giving the money they earned to the Center for the adult mentally disabled.

One day, picking up cans, Trotti met a man wandering the streets.

"What are you doing that for?" the man asked.

Trotti responded that he got .08 per pound for the Adult Mentally Disabled by collecting the cans.

"Do they make you prove it?" the man asked.

"Prove what?" Trotti asked.

"Do they make you prove that you are mentally disabled before they give you .08 a pound?" Sometimes people in this world do not understand what doing things for a greater cause is all about.  But sometimes we as Christians can misunderstand as well.

 

Our job is to do what we can, when we can, where we are, and to keep at it.   We must leave the big picture up to God and be obedient and not to lose heart.

“What we have lost . . . is a full sense of the power of God - to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

 

OK, so maybe I am the guy answering the door…sometimes.  But where is God in this parable?  God is almost always one of the characters in these parables.  Where is God?

Jesus encourages us to “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Jesus says if we, who are evil, give good gifts to our children, how much more will God give us good?  Ok, so just like in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer, it’s all about Abba, Father and how much more God loves us than we know.  Ok, so it is God that is answering the door.  Got it.  God is going to give us good things when we come knocking on his door.  Got it.

 

Wait a minute…

So if I am not the guy answering the door, and God is the one answering the door, and Jesus is encouraging me to knock, then does that mean that…Wait a minute…does that mean that I…am I the jerk?”

Maybe I am too hard on that guy.  Maybe…I am just searching here for a better word than jerk since I am now talking about me.  Could it be that I AM that guy you give in to just to make him go away?  Hold on a minute here…

Well Jesus encourages us to ask, seek, and to knock, so yeah, that makes me that guy at the door.  Ok…so Jesus wants us to be persistent!  Be persistent in our prayers!  Never give up!  Never give in!  Boo-yah!

 

So Jesus tells a parable about prayer and Jesus says that the most important quality in prayer is persistence, the grace just to keep at it.   OK, got it.

Wait, no I don’t. 

I really don’t having two main points in a sermon.  It would be much better if I could just combine these two tighter and just squoosh them together.   So maybe there is a way for us to be BOTH the guy answering the door AND the guy knocking at the door.  Or maybe we just are both of them all the time.

Jesus said, "In as much as you have done it unto the least of these, in the least of ways, you have done it unto me."

Elsewhere he said, "The poor you will have with you always, but you won't have me with you always." That is, you always have the poor with you, to love as you have loved me. Love the poor as you have loved me. Do for them, as you have done for me, always. Keep at it. In other words, we are to be persistent in God's work, even when we don't see results, even when it is not easy, because God has been persistent in loving us.

God commands us to do great things in God's name. Where great things are commanded of us, there is great opportunity for disappointment and failure. Yet God also gives us what we need for the task and we are to be persistent in our determination to be faithful to what is expected of us.

Tom Long told a story about the time that his church in Princeton, New Jersey became concerned about the problem of hunger in Trenton, New Jersey. A number of members from the church had worked in an intercity ministry there and made the rest of the church aware of the huge problem of hunger in Trenton. The church decided to reach out. Every Sunday, during the service, as the hymn was sung, people were invited to come up and place an offering of money into the plate, all to be used to work for the alleviation of hunger in Trenton. As the Sundays wore on, and as they learned more about the problem, the congregation became overwhelmed by the problem of hunger in Trenton. The problem was growing, and the offering could not keep up with the need. Gradually, it dawned on the congregation that they didn't have the resources to solve the problem of hunger in Trenton.

Then there came that Sunday when, as we were receiving the offering for hunger in Trenton, that an older woman, one of the town's "bag ladies," who had shown up that morning, with everything that she owned in a shopping bag, dressed in an old hand-me-down coat, came forward when the offering was received for those in need. The congregation watched her shuffle down to the front, many of them probably thinking that she was going to take something out of the offering plate rather than put it in, knowing that she had nothing to offer. When she got down to the front, the congregation watched. She put nothing in the plate. She did not file past the plate, rather, she folded her hands, knelt before the plate, and prayed.

Long says that for him, that woman became an eloquent parable of Christian compassion. We, despite our good efforts, are not going to solve the problem of hunger. But we do not lose heart. We give, and we do what we can. And then we pray. We ask God to take our meager efforts and use them. We ask God to do for us that which we cannot fully do for ourselves. Our labor is seen as a prayer that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Thy Kingdom come.

So to wrap it all up, I know where I am in this parable.

I (We) am the one who knocks on the door in need.

I (We) am also the guy that can answer the door, too.  I can meet my neighbors’ needs.

God is also the guy that answers the door.  He opens it up for us and is glad to see us.  Got it.

Oh and one more thing: That guy, that we wish would just go away, that one guy that we wish was not always in need, well, he is standing at the door, and turns out he is Jesus, too.

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