|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
9 Pentecost - Proper 12
July 29, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
Our Lesson begin, this week, with the second half of the story that began last week – which happens
to be my absolute favorite little tale in all of Scripture – the most delightful little yarn imaginable!
Before we get into it, though, let me impress on you the fact that this story should be seen much like
one of Jesus’ Parables. Even though it comes from the Old Testament, and is told as a story about one
of the Patriarchs of the people, it needs to be understood for its meaning, not for the supposed facts
You’ll recall from last week that Abraham and Sarah have been surprised by visitors – three men who
seemed to have happened along the road, but who have turned out to be the Lord God, himself, and
two of his angels. They are on the way to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, about which bad and
disturbing stories are being told. Their intention it to look for themselves, and if the stories are true,
the Lord will destroy the cities. Because Abraham is such a faithful servant, the Lord shares his plans
with him – and poor Abraham is shocked and dismayed at the Lord’s plans. So after the angels have
gone on their way, Abraham approaches the Lord, and asks him, “Lord, are you REALLY going to
destroy the Good people of the city along with the bad?”, and he proposes a hypothetical situation:
“Suppose,” he says to God, “Suppose there are some righteous people in the city – say… FIFTY! Won’
t you spare the city for 50 righteous people?” And he adds a little flattery: “far be it from you to do
such a thing! You are, after all, the Judge of all the earth! Surely in justice, you’ll spare them!”
And the Lord relents: “For the sake of fifty, I will spare the city!”
But Abraham won’t let it go at that. Instead, the scene becomes just like a scene you can still see,
today, in any Middle-Eastern market – or, for that matter, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Mary and I
started out our married life: a bargaining session. Abraham and the Lord haggle – just like shepherds,
haggling for a prize ram!
Abraham puts on his humble face, for the bargaining – and opens his bargaining by pulling a switch on
God!: “far be it from me to suggest such a thing, I who am but dust and ashes, but suppose FIVE of the
fifty are lacking – suppose there are only 45 righteous. Do you mean to tell me the Lord of Justice will
destroy the whole city for the lack of just FIVE righteous people?”
You see the switch? He’s taken the emphasis OFF the whole city-full of sinners, taken it off the fifty
righteous, even, and made the issue seem to be the lack of only FIVE righteous people! And so it
goes – with the Lord backing down, again, and Abraham lowering the bar…, again! From fifty, to 45, to
40, to 30, to 20… All the while CLAIMING more and more humility, while being more and more
presumptuous, as he brings the target total all the way down to TEN – such a delightful, typical scene
– arguing with the LORD, bargaining with the Lord…, and WINNING!
Abraham argues with the Lord God – and Abraham wins!
About 15 Hundred years later, a descendant of Abraham came along. He was an itinerant preacher and
teacher. A number of things, probably, set him apart, in the minds of the people, from other itinerant
preachers like him. For instance, he spoke as if he were on intimate terms with his God; and he also
spent a lot of time in prayer. It seems natural, then, that in this morning’s reading, his followers should
ask him to teach them to pray.
He gives them an example of how to pray in one version of what has come to be called the Lord’s
Prayer, but he then goes on to tell them a story – a parable, if you will. In it, he tells of a man who goes
to his neighbor in the middle of the night to borrow some bread to feed an unexpected guest. The
neighbor doesn’t want to be bothered, and tells him to go away. But the man keeps knocking, keeps
calling! And finally, FINALLY, the neighbor gets up and gives the man the bread! And NOT, the
preacher points out, because of the friendship between neighbors, but simply because the man won’t
give up his asking! The man bugs him ‘till he gives in!
It’s a rather odd little parable – the strangest one Jesus tells, I think, and not often commented on, not
often taught. Some, I know, would rather not give it too much thought, because it can be rather
disturbing. But the Church puts together its lectionary very carefully – and the Old Testament Reading
and the Gospel are usually intended to illuminate each other. And when we look at today’s story about
Abraham, along with Jesus’ Parable of the Importunate Knocker, we find an interesting result.
We find that, totally contrary to everything we were taught as children – indeed, all our lives, about
God being constant, unchanging, the same yesterday, today and forever – God CAN change his mind!
God can change his mind – and DOES!
He changes his mind because – as Abraham in his obvious attempts at flattery shows – he is a God
who cares for us; who cares for our needs. He is a God of compassion, a God of Love.
And as Jesus’ little parable shows, this God of love who cares, surely, for our needs, cares also for
our wants and our desires – our little quirks and our foibles – cares for all of us! He cares for us
because he loves us!
Our lessons, today, are profound teachings about the nature of God; teachings that run contrary to
what we have always thought, contrary to what we thought we knew. As such, raising such deeply
theological issues, they need much more exposition, much more thought, much more reflection than
we can manage, today.
But they are more even immediately, and in a way, more importantly, about PRAYER.
When you pray, pray in this way, Jesus tells his disciples: Acknowledge God as your Father and Lord,
and bless him; place your will in his will, and know that he wants for you all you could want for yourself
– your daily needs, to be sure, the forgiveness of your sins, your deliverance from all that can harm
But in your prayer, don’t just say words! Pray, rather, with passion! Pray with all your heart; pray with all
your strength! The parable of the importunate knocker is not about God giving in because we’re
obnoxious and about driving him to distraction.
It’s about us being like Abraham – Abraham, who cared, even about the people of Sodom and
Gomorrah enough to dare taking on God with all his nerve, all his verve – all his passion!
It’s about being like the man who goes out at midnight and risks embarrassment and even the anger
of his neighbor to care for his friend!
It’s about passion!
I like this version of the Lord’s Prayer better than the one in Matthew’s Gospel, because by keeping
Jesus’ words to the bare bones, as Luke does, he doesn’t give us the impression that Jesus was
teaching his followers to say memorized words! Beautiful as the Lord’s Prayer is, in the form it has
come down to us, and as important as it is in worship – it hasn’t much to do with real prayer. And
Jesus wasn’t trying to teach us to pray by recitation!
Abraham didn’t use rehearsed words as he bargained for human lives with his God; the householder
didn’t recite a memorized plea to get food for his traveling friend.
Their pleas were from the heart; words of passion.
And they succeeded. They changed God’s mind.
Prayer is a vital part of Christian life. More importantly, prayer is a vital part of the life of a Christian.
Yes, we have much to learn from Jesus’ example in the Lord’s Prayer! But more importantly, we need
to learn to pray as Jesus, himself, prayed: from the depths of our heart; from the bottom of our soul;
with our whole mind and our whole will.
We need to learn to pray with passion!
And praying with passion… God WILL listen.
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.