Friday, July 30, 2010

Holding God Accountable

I spent the past week high on a bluff overlooking the main portion of Bear Creek Scout Reservation. In the valley below were the program areas where the boys earned their chosen merit badges. But up on the bluff at our encampment my biggest worry was closing up tents in case of rain and whether my car would bottom out on the so-called road that led from our campsite to the main camp road and on into town where chocolate milkshakes awaited.

I came back down the mountain Saturday to resume my normal weekly routine and to see that the world hadn't changed much in a week. The Gulf Oil Spill was still there, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still on, the world was still the same contentious, seething, violent place that I had left behind.

So what do we who live in this world daily do? Wring our hands and moan? Brew a cup of tea and rail at the unjust nature of life and governments? Put on ruby slippers, click our heals together three times, while reciting, "There is no place like home"? Curl up in a fetal ball and hope that it will all go away? Yes, I suppose we could do any number of those things. But, Jesus gives us another option: in the midst of tragedy and devastation and injustice, in the midst of a murky future and a cloudy horizon and a flickering hope, Jesus gives us another option... wait for it... wait for it... Jesus teaches us to pray. (Insert the sound effect that is used when someone loses on The Price is Right).

Prayer? Did he say, "Prayer"? How lame! What good will that do? It's too weak, too passive, too otherworldly. What we need to do is strike a blow against the forces of cruel injustice. We need to write letters, set up a foundation, begin a crusade. Something. Anything. But, prayer? Come on, that's child's stuff isn't it? This is the adult world. The big show. The stakes are much higher and the the consequences more dire. The results more final. "Now I lay me down to sleep..." just doesn't cut it in the adult world of random violence, cruel injustice, and lurking death.

And that may be true. For many of us our concept of prayer has never evolved beyond the innocence of kneeling beside a child's bed, or the desperation of a student realizing at the last minute that they haven't studied enough, or the impotence of an 11th hour bargaining session as a loved one is in peril. No wonder in the face of adult reality prayer seems childish, weak, and lame. But there is much more to prayer than we may have ever dreamed possible.

Prayer is a very bold, even revolutionary act. Prayer is the tool given to us whereby we can hold God accountable to God's promises to us and to act in accordance with God's own true nature. I'm going to say that again because a.) that is one long run on sentence and hard to follow; and b.) because if you don't remember anything else from this sermon I want you to remember this. So, prayer is the tool given to us whereby we can hold God accountable to God's promises to us and to act in accordance with God's own true nature. Now let's how this unfolds.

Think back to Abraham's dialog with God in the lesson from Genesis (Gen 18:16-33). ( What is it that Abraham is doing here? "Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?" That is Abraham's question of God. What is he doing? Abraham is calling on God to act in a way consistent with God's revealed nature. Destroying the righteous along with and because of the wicked is simply not just. It is out of character for God to act in such a fashion. In all humility, yet with brazen confidence, Abraham calls upon God to be God, just and merciful and compassionate. And of course, God strikes him down dead right on the spot for his impudence. Uh, no. Well, at least God, as a consequence of his presumption, revoked a few of those cushy promises that he made to him. That would be be a no, too. Surely God was at least a little huffy and impatient with Abraham. No, not even that. Amazingly, God agrees to act in a manner consistent with God's revealed nature. As a result of Abraham's brazenness, the judge of all the earth agrees to act justly. Abraham's audacious actions not only receive airtime, but they garner results. Wow!

A fluke, you may say. An aberration because of God's special relationship with Abraham, but not a course of action available to us mere mortals of the faith. No. We don't get off the hook that easily. For you see, Jesus tells us a little story in the reading from Luke (Luke 11:1-13) (

Jesus tells a little story about a man who has this friend audacious enough to show up on his doorstep at midnight and presume upon his hospitality. And being true to the nature of a good friend, he welcomes him into his home, despite the lateness of the hour, and prepares to entertain him. But like Old Mother Hubbard, he goes to the cupboard and finds it bare.

Now he is faced with a dilemma. How can he be a true friend, showing hospitality, with a bare cupboard? Obviously, the closest Wal-Mart Supercenter was too far away. What was he to do? It occurs to him that his good friend and neighbor lives just around the block, and surely he has a loaf or two of bread to spare in the name of friendship. So he sneaks out, leaving his guest to read the coffe table books, and poke through the drawers, while he goes and starts pounding on his neighbor's door.


Now, you can just picture the neighbor, little striped nightcap, perhaps even a pair of those little eyeshade things pulled up on top of his head, peering bleary-eyed and confused through the upstairs window out into the darkness. Wondering what in the world was going on out there.


And there at street level, barely visible in the dark is his soon to be good ex-friend and neighbor pounding away at his front door and babbling something about needing a loaf or two of bread for a late night guest. He tells him to go away, and if he wakes up his children with this nonsense he'll get more than a loaf of bread for his trouble (and I don't think he was referring to a brick of cheese).

But the friend persists, audaciously knocking.


Calling upon their friendship. Boldly presuming upon their friendship.


Until the neighbor fulfills what friendship requires... even answering late night take out requests... simply in the name of friendship.

Let us be clear, the point of Jesus story is not that we can simply pester God into granting our requests in order to get us out of his face. Much like my children try to wear me down with their persistence when they think they want something. It is a shame that we have a key mistranslation in this story, which makes it seem this is the story's main point. This is not really a story about persistence. For the word translated as "persistence," actually means something more akin to "brazenness" or "shamelessness". And these translations are much more on point. It is the man's shameless presumption upon the nature and character of his friendship with his neighbor that is at issue and his brazen calling upon his friend to be a friend even at a ridiculous hour.

Do you hear echoes of Abraham's conversation with God? The punchline of the story being being that if a friend will respond out of friendship in such a situation, how much more will God do for God's own precious children when they cry out for justice freedom and peace?

And so we are called, in the midst of our adult world with its random violence, cruel injustice and lurking death... We are called to raise our cry of protest to God. Hey, this is not right. This is not just. This is not how you created the world to be. This is not who you call us to be. Come and come quickly! No holds barred. Pulling no punches.  Laying bare before our Heavenly Father the depth of our wounds and the full extent of our needs. This is not simple, passive, lame acceptance. This is active, confident, revolutionary resistance to this world's violence, injustice, and death.

And as we knock on doors, and seek out solutions, and ask the difficult questions of our life, as we seek to brazenly call upon God to be accountable to being the God revealed in and through Jesus Christ; so God also calls upon us to be God's children in the world. Children who are there to to answer the knocks of midnight questers, who are there to become part of the solutions that are so desperately sought after to our world's ills, who are there to listen when the difficult questions of life are asked. Prayer is a two way street. Prayer is the open and honest dialog between our Heavenly Father and God's own chosen, holy, and precious children. In prayer we call upon God to be God. Through prayer God responds, opening us to be the means whereby God acts as God on behalf of our neighbors and the whole broken and devastated Creation.

In this time of great emotional, environmental, economic, and spiritual turmoil: Consider this a call to arms against the forces of violence, injustice, and death. Pray. Pray like you never have prayed before. Pray boldly; pray confidently, even brazenly and shamelessly. Knock. Seek. Ask. Now is the time. Here is the place. Pray that here and now God raises us up from the depths of our despair and shapes us into the people we are called to be, the people that we boldly pray we are becoming through Jesus our Lord, our Savior, our Christ, and our God. Amen

I am the Unlikely Pastor. Welcome to my world.