Proper 12 (17), Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
24 July 2022
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
There is an assumption that being a follower of Jesus makes our life easier, simpler, happier.
I am not sure that traditional Christianity has nothing to do with that assumption. After all “getting the kid done” as some kind of divine life insurance, or making sure the kids go to Sunday School and confirmation, even if we don’t, suggests that a certain amount of church is healthy for all of us, as long – of course, as it is not too much church.
That the disciples watch Jesus pray and want to learn from him is not surprising for we who know the Lord’s Prayer still want to learn how to pray, at least pray in a way that leads us deeper into communion with God and the church, and not in a way that our prayer is no more than a listing of requests, our prescription for the lives of others, or addressed more to fellow Christians than it is to God.
And so we recognize our own longing in the deep longing of the disciples, and in the deep longing for God that brought Cher into our midst.
And yet aside from teaching his disciples a prayer, the words of Jesus here have often been misunderstood. Ask and you will be given, search and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened for you (v.9) has often been taken as a manual for obtaining whatever we want, and when the formula did not seem to work, it was assumed it was due to one’s insufficient faith. As if prayer was a magic trick or an incantation that would get us what we want.
Of course, such an understanding is blind to the many for whom doors have not opened and whose hands are still empty.
But it turns out that Jesus does not suggest anything like that. You see, the short stump of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus gives us here begins with praise and adoration and then asks God for the essentials, the Kingdom of God, bread, forgiveness, and absence of persecution. This prayer does not suggest that God will give us anything we ask, turning God into a cosmic gumball machine. This prayer does not say, “O Lord, why don’t you give me a Mercedes Benz.”
To pray means to know and to learn that we are not self-sufficient but that all that we need comes from God’s gracious hand. That is important, because we tend to think we are self-sufficient, and that we have all the answers, or that at least some of us have all the answers. But praying as Jesus teaches us shows us that we depend on God in all things. And knowing that we depend on God may instill in us humility toward God and toward each other.
This is not so different from what Paul tells the Colossians. There we learn that it is all about Christ, not about philosophies or rules that we have made up, but it is all about Christ in whom dwells the fullness of God. It is through our baptism that we were buried with Christ, and it is through faith in the power of God that we were also raised with him. It is clear to Paul that such dying and rising lead to a new life and to the transformation of our desires so that our prayer would not be that we would get the stuff advertisers and corporations want us to get, for those things are only things, but that we would seek God’s reign, where the poor receive good news, the captives are released, the blind see, the oppressed go free, and the year of the Lord’s favour is here.
I remember an acquaintance in Abbotsford I bumped into on a run one day who told me that they had moved to a big new house and that “God had so wanted them to have that house.” I am not suggesting that they shouldn’t be in that house, only that it may not have been high on God’s list of priorities in a world that is warring, and starving, and over-heating, and much of that because we still conform to this world, and have yet to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect, as St Paul says in Romans. (12:2)
And if the house wasn’t high on God’s priority list, perhaps it needn’t be on ours either.
As we read the story Jesus tells, following his instructions on how to pray, we will notice that the thing that you ask from your friend in the middle of the night is not anything but is bread, which reminds us again that God supplies all our needs. It reminds us that we depend on God and praying, even with the kind of impudence shown in the story, is a remembering of that fact: Our life is in God. And so in prayer we orient our lives toward God.
When Jesus comes to the end of the story, he says to us, “If 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!”
Did you notice what Jesus says here? Jesus lets the cat out of the bag: Praying isn’t only about bread, forgiveness, and absence of persecution. But praying is about the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of God’s presence. The Holy Spirit transforms the poverty of our existence into God’s riches. The Holy Spirit is the answer to our prayer because we don’t pray so much for things as we pray to be close to God, to be transformed by God, to have the heart of God, and the wisdom of God, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
The church father Irenaeus who lived in the second century said that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Irenaeus says this about Jesus because Jesus is God, Jesus is alive, and the glory of God is the coming together of divinity and humanity in Jesus. But Irenaeus also says that when we are in communion with God, we are fully alive and that that life is to the glory of God. When we pray we seek communion with God and the transforming of our minds. When we pray, we seek for God to live in us, and when God does, that too is the glory of God.
This is a glorious day as Cher seeks to be baptized to live in the Kingdom of God, and as Kayla seeks to follow God’s call and do God’s will.
May our worship, our life together, our prayer, lead us into deeper communion with God so that our life would become our prayer and God be glorified.