Sermon 24th July 2022

Readings Genesis 18,20-32, Luke 11, 1-13

How strong are your friendships I wonder? They’ll be some who you call friends but are little more than acquaintances, people you’re happy to spend time with, but perhaps have little in common with and maybe wouldn’t trust entirely to share certain things. Then there are those amongst those you spend time with because they are work colleagues or people you come into contact regularly, again, maybe not close friends, but people you trust.

Of course there are the real friends, the ones you’d trust with most things, the ones you know would be there for you and you’d be there for them, and some of those might be friends you only see every few years, but when you do, it’s as if you just pick up where you left off.. And finally, of course, there are the closest friends, the ones you love deeply, the ones you enjoy spending time with, the ones you’d do anything for.

Like giving them three loaves of bread when they come to your house at midnight? Well, would you? Jesus’ example indicates the loaves would be given not so much out of friendship, but out of the audacity that the friend had dared ask for such a thing at that time of night.

Jesus, of course was trying to illustrate that in our prayers we should ask God for what we need, or in our intercessions, for what the world needs. Of course we’re being audacious-

 God knows ours and the worlds needs far better than us and we, in our very less than perfect selves have no right to ask the Creator of the Universe even for the smallest thing.

Yet Jesus says “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”

Which seems tough when we pray and feel our prayers are not answered, especially when Jesus goes on to use the analogy of God answering our prayers of a father not giving his son a snake when he asks for a fish.

And then we have that difficult passage from Genesis, where Abraham appears to bargain with God as God reveals to him that he will destroy Sodom, Abraham pleading that if a gradually reducing number of righteous men can be found the city might be spared. And God apparently agrees. Yet later we learn, when the ugly goings on in Gomorrah come to light, that God destroys both cities. And, to be honest, if you read either side of this passage, the goings on with Abraham and Lot aren’t exactly what we would consider good moral behaviour either.

So does God pick and choose what prayers to answer, does God pick and choose which moral behaviours are acceptable or not? And did God change between the time of Abraham and that of Christ?

I’m going to say that there isn’t an easy answer to those questions, they are theological conundrums which have occupied far better preachers and theologians than myself, but I’ll offer couple of thoughts which might help your own wrestling with these issues perhaps.

I’ve said before, and it’s worth saying again- our tiny human brains can not even begin to see the edges of the mystery of God. Whether God is a God of love, of infinite mercy and grace or, as much of the Old Testament seems to indicate, also a vengeful God who exacts punishment and justice against wrong doing and enables victory for faithful armies, is something we will never know, yet we still seek to understand. Whether, for instance the likely volcanic destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was  the wrath of God or whether it did  just happen coincidentally after the dreadful behaviour of its inhabitants had come to light, and Abraham and others chose to interpret it as an “act of God”.

And in amongst the mystery of God is the central fact around which much of our theology is founded. If we are made in God’s image and the very concept of sin came about because of the gift of freewill, how much more must God also possess freewill and yet is totally free of sin Who are we to question what God therefore chooses to do or doesn’t do?

But Jesus said ask and you shall receive. Do we believe in an interventionist God who will change inevitable outcomes for our benefit or because we ask?

The question is often put to theological students as to whether we should pray for a parking space when there never seems to be one. If God truly has freewill, does praying make any difference, if God can choose who to cure and who not to, for instance, when we pray for healing.

My own understanding is that of course God can intervene, after all he created the world, but if he created the world to be as perfect as it can be ( and if it isn’ t as perfect as it can be, then is God not omnipotent?), then should he need to even choose to intervene.

But there was one intervention that we know changed the world. He sent Jesus, son of God. To show that whatever the world is, no matter how bad or good it might seem, God loves. God loves indiscriminately. All people, good or bad. And desires that they love in return. And Jesus makes that possible if humankind is willing to believe in him and all he showed us, believe in his death and resurrection, believe in the hope that is inherent in his incarnation itself.

And when Jesus, Son of God teaches his disciples how to pray and gives examples of how God might respond, he might use familiar and simple analogies, but he finishes his teaching with this sentence;

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”

God has given us Jesus and, if we ask, the gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us. If we are filled with God’s Spirit, if we deeply seek the Spirit’s guidance in our thoughts and prayers, if we live according to the Spirit’s promptings, if our lives become mirrors of Christ’s full of compassion and love, then when we pray, we will be praying with both words and insights of the Spirit.

 Thus when we pray we might be asking what God prompts us to ask, when we seek we will seek what God prompts us to seek, instead of the desires of our hearts, or the expectations of the interventions we think are right or needed.

There is no simple answer, and I, you and many others will no doubt continue to wrestle with this. But I think the key lies in that last sentence. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, we sung earlier. Maybe we still need to realign our spiritual compasses a little more in God’s direction before we come to understand more of the mysteries of prayer.