Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sermon; 10 Pentecost/Proper 12C; Genesis 18:20-32, Luke 11:1-13

Content, context and connections are the framework for Ordinary Time this year.  I have been, and will continue to be, asking if you have made a connection between the first reading and the gospel.  I do this because, as I said last week, it is your responsibility to be fully engaged in worship and to think about what is going on.  It is your responsibility to be engaged during worship in heart, mind, body and soul.  Maybe what I need to do is pull a page from my Baptist friends and provide you with note pads.  But that’s a discussion for another time.

For today, though, what connections do you see between the first lesson and the gospel?  What connections can you make between Abraham haggling with God from 50 to 10 righteous men and a parable about a man pestering a neighbor for bread?  Abraham bargains God down from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10.  The man in Jesus’ parable continues to knock and plead until getting what he needs.  What connections do you see?

Let’s go with persistence.

It certainly takes persistence to stand in the presence of the Lord and continually bargain God down to a number you feel comfortable with.  I’ve always wanted to take Abraham car shopping with me.

And it certainly takes persistence to go to a friend’s house in the middle of the night to knock on the door and plead for help, waking everyone up in the process, until you get what you need. 

Persistence would seem to be the connecting theme between these two readings.  And while I did say that some connections would be easier than others, this one is just a bit too obvious.  It’s too easy to hear these stories and say, “God wants us to be persistent.”

In last week’s sermon, I talked about being four dimensional and finding ways to love God and others so completely that the entirety of our lives is a reflection of God’s love for every person.  That is why context and connections are so important.  By looking for context and connections we learn to be bible-focused, not verse-focused.  And the more time we spend looking for context and connections, the more we are likely to hear God speaking to us; and the less time we will spend trying to force God into our own image based on our own limited readings.

Let me expand on the context and connections in these readings and see if there isn’t something deeper here.

In the first lesson we hear of Abraham bargaining with God.  He does this because God has let Abraham in on his plans to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah.  We know how the story ends – angels go into the city, are threatened with gang rape by the locals, Lot saves them, he and his family escape to the hills and the cities are destroyed.  Many people use this story to condemn homosexuals.  That is a verse-focused interpretation, and an incorrect one at that.

With a bible-focused reading, we learn that God himself says Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed because they were prideful, had excess of food and prosperous ease, and refused to aid the poor and needy.

But I want to come back to today’s reading and Abraham.  God was going to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah because of sinful self-centered and self-righteous attitudes.  Abraham steps up and says, “Hold on a minute . . . you’d destroy both the righteous along with the wicked?  That’s not fair.  Aren’t 50 righteous men worth saving?  What about 45?  40?  30?  20?  10?”

It’s easy for us to hear this story and think one of two things: 1) Abraham is pleading for the lives of at least ten righteous men; and 2) Sodom was so wicked that not even ten righteous men could be found.  But there is something often overlooked here, and that is that Abraham is using those righteous men to spare the lives of many, many more people.

This is an example of loving your neighbor.  This is an example of treating others as you would want to be treated.  If I were in a city about to be destroyed by God, I would want all the help I could get to keep that from happening.  How many of us are willing to make the same plea to God on behalf of our wicked neighbors?  How many of us take a risk to save those whom we think are unsaveable?

And taking a risk to aid someone is what is happening in the gospel as well.  The friend goes to his friend’s house at midnight asking for bread so he can feed his guest.  The phrase that comes to mind for me is one I’ve used before:  Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.

Friend #2 uses this defense, as well as every other defense you hear:  It’s late; we’re in bed; the door is already locked.  But Friend #1 is persistent.  He relentlessly pounds on the door and pleads for help, probably waking the neighbors in the process.

One of my commentaries suggests that the man’s persistence should be translated as shameless.  In other words, he acts shamelessly, throwing his own personal honor out the window in order to care for his other friend.  This story becomes less about persistence and more about a willingness to risk yourself, your prestige, your security, in order to help a person in need.

These two stories are certainly connected by the theme of persistence.  But there’s also a deeper connecting theme of risk.  How much are we willing to risk in standing up for others?

Are we willing to stand up for those whom society would rather throw away?  Are we willing to help those who are in need through poor planning?  Are we willing to risk our reputation and resources?

But we must always remember that this isn’t a one and done proposition.  Risk goes hand in hand with persistence.  Things like gaining our independence, fighting to abolish slavery, working to give women and minorities the right to vote, and continually pushing for equality in all aspects of life takes a willingness to risk and the persistence to see it through.

How much are you willing to risk and how persistent are you willing to be in an effort to love your neighbor as yourself and to grant them the same rights and privilege you yourself enjoy?



Lady Anne | 7:23 PM, July 28, 2013  

I've always enjoyed your sermons, but not having been able to get to church last week and today made them especially nice.

Quinn | 10:00 PM, August 21, 2013  

This is great!

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