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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 12C
Genesis 18:20-33
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

Persistence. My brothers and sisters, that seems to be the point. If there’s a big theme that is present in today’s readings, anything that brings them together, a unifying theme of any sort, I think this is it.

We hear it first in the Old Testament, in Abraham’s talk with God about the impending destruction of Sodom. Over and over again, Abraham appeals to God, asking for mercy, and forgiveness in God’s justice. He whittles God down, steadily decreasing the number of righteous people that must be present in the city for impending doom to be averted, for forgiveness to be given.

This is another one of those stories that reminds me that I am glad God is in charge, and not me. I have seen the Boss’ job, and I do not want it-- and this story is one reason why. My patience would have worn thin long before this conversation was over. It sounds way too much like the kind of incessant pestering that many kids try to do, when they want permission for something. “Can I go?” “Can I?” “Just this once?” “Please?” I say many kids here, rather than my kids, because our children have learned that my tolerance level for pestering is very nearly nil-- and that I am quite likely to spit out an automatic “No” if they don’t back off. It just makes me crazy, that sort of relentless wearing down. In this morning's lesson, it’s entirely possible that old Abe would have got halfway through his dickering, and I’d have snapped, and wiped him out right along with the rest. So much for “the father of many nations.”

Fortunately, God is in charge, and much more patient than I am. He not only listens to Abraham’s repeated pleas, but considers them anew each time, and gives an answer that reflects his ongoing desire for forgiveness and mercy; his intention, as the psalmist asks, not to abandon the works of his hands.

I hear the same message in the gospel this morning, as Jesus is teaching his followers the same lesson: not only is God patient with our repeated prayers, and questions, and requests, He actively encourages them. God wants us to persist, to keep trying -- turning to him, and re-turning, continuing to bring our problems, our questions, our repeated needs and desires-- all of it, over and over again. We are to persist in asking, in knocking, in seeking God, and knowledge of God’s will for our lives, as well as for the gifts of the Holy Spirit-- the skills we need to live out the lives of decipleship to which God calls all of us.

You know, I’m going to let you in on something I’ve learned about preaching. More than once, I’ve discovered that the message that I find to proclaim in a sermon, the Word that I have to share with you, is one that is intended just as much for me to hear, and to learn (or relearn) as for anyone else. And this is one of those.

The other day I had a meeting with a small group of friends. We got together to discuss a project we’re working on together, as well as to do some of what you might term “team-building” work: looking at strengths and weaknesses that we each have, and how those affect our dealings with one another.

Like many things in this life, that sort of endeavor sounds simple enough; and it was. But simple does not always mean easy. And having one’s faults and foibles pointed out, however well-intentioned and necessary it may be, is a difficult thing-- and even more so when others see weaknesses or lacks in areas where I had thought I had some skill. A couple of those really hit home, hard. By the end of the afternoon, I was exhausted with the effort, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a corner somewhere. I managed to wait until I was in my car and alone before the tears finally overflowed, working their way out as I made the long drive home, wondering how qualified I was for this work I was trying to do.

But then, eventually, I remembered these lessons we’re hearing this morning, and the message of persistence and encouragement they carry. “Ask,” Jesus says. “Seek.” Don’t give up. Keep trying. God knows it’s hard; make the effort anyway. None of us is perfect, and we all need help. Keep knocking on that door, brothers and sisters. God will answer, and we will be given what we need. We have Jesus’ promise on that. And I’m here to tell you, that’s good news worth hearing, and worth sharing.

Thanks be to God.


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