Proper 12, Year C
Preached at St. John’s Episcopal Church
July 24, 2022
In today’s gospel, when the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, he gives them the prayer that we now know as the “Our Father”. Then he goes on to illustrate the prayer with a Palestinian folk tale, a story concerned with human need.
It’s late at night, midnight. The house is locked up, the family inside is tucked in, and drifting off . . .
Suddenly, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! “Friend!” BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! “Hey, friend! Lend me three loaves of bread! A friend of mine has arrived and I have nothing for him!”
The sleeping neighbor, the one who has the bread to give, yells from within, “Do not bother me. . .” But his neighbor persists.
“Leave me alone…the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.”
There’s a modern expression used to set boundaries with disorganized people. The saying goes, “You’re poor planning is not my emergency.”
But the neighbor outside the door with his bread emergency does not give up. He has tradition on his side–the practice of hospitality was sacred–for some of us it still is–a “highly esteemed virtue in Jewish tradition.”https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hospitality
Finally, the roused neighbor throws off the blankets, trudges to the kitchen, grabs the bread, unlocks the door and hands over what is asked of him.
Jesus says, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.”
Persistence is the theme of this snug domestic scene. The Greek word for persistence here is ἀναίδεια (anaideia) ‘shamelessness’, impudence, boldness, without regard to time, place, or person.https://www.stepbible.org/?q=reference=Luke.11|version=ESV&options=VNHUG
This illustration of how we are to pray is based on an image of home, neighborliness, and hospitality: responsiveness to another’s basic needs, the desire to feed, to provide comfort, to welcome and care for the other.
Our embodied needs for well being, rest, water and food matter to God. That we care for one another matters to God. We are allowed to pester God and for that matter to persist in our pestering, to persist even for things that seem relatively inconsequential and at the most inopportune times.
This, friends, is how Jesus says we are to pray, vintage, bespoke, grass fed prayer bottled the source.
It bears little resemblance to our fancy liturgies. I am not minimizing liturgy’s beauty. Liturgy reflects that “tangible and finite things may reveal divine grace and glory.”Armentrout, Don S. and Slocum, Roger Boak, Eds. An Epsicopal Dictionary of the Church, 2000, p. 307.
Liturgy played a role in my own conversion to Christianity. When I felt called to be a Christian, I was living in Moscow, Russia as my search for a faith community was winding down. I attended a Protestant Bible church service one Sunday at the American Embassy.
The blank room had the aesthetic of an airline terminal, where we read the Bible. The people were KIND! They noticed me, a lonely student; they gave me their phone numbers, invited me to dinner.
The following Sunday I attended a different service, a liturgical service, containing scripture AND the pious bustle of bread and a golden chalice full of wine, standing and sitting in communal prayer, a liturgy I did not understand–I did not even know the word liturgy.
At this second service, not one person noticed me, let alone spoke to me. Not even the priest. Nevertheless, the liturgy moved me and directed my spirit to our Eternal God. I wanted to be a part of this. I approached the priest after the Mass and asked to be baptized.
The definition of liturgy continues, it “engages our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and needs–especially our need for salvation in Christ. Liturgy includes actions and words, symbols and ritual, scripture and liturgical texts, gestures and vestments, PRAYERS that are spoken or sung.”Ibid
The Our Father prayer is integral to most of our Anglican liturgies: MP, EP, Noonday Prayer, Compline, Baptism and Eucharist, the Ministration at the Time of Death. The Our Father is to us as breathing, a part of liturgy which “expresses what we believe and know about God,” so ubiquitous we likely pray it without thinking.
The risk with liturgy is that it becomes rote. When we pray the Our Father let us try to remember what Jesus has taught us: that we can cross the yard in the dark at an unreasonable hour, asking for whatever we need.
That there is scriptural precedent for us to be shameless and bold in our requests. That we may shout through the door for smaller things, like feeding our guests, or asking that our maple tree doesn’t die, or that we can afford to repair the roof before winter.
And we can stand in the night air shouting through the door for the larger things, that our children remain healthy, that the poor find justice, that racism be eradicated, that the unhoused find homes, that there is an end to gun violence and war.
And the inverse of this is also true. For those of us metaphorically snug and comfortable, lights out for the night, when we hear banging on the door for racial justice, for wage equality, for climate justice, are we willing to throw back the blankets and unlock the door,
even if we don’t quite understand what’s being asked of us, even if the demands seem too loud or unreasonable, or challenge our understanding of the world, or rouse us from our comfort?
Let us pray: Father, your kingdom come.