Ordinary XVII: Keeping the Conversation Going
Sermon delivered by Fr Greg Davies for Ordinary Sunday 17
Keeping the Conversation Going - Fr Greg Davies
Genesis 18.20-21; 23-32, Colossians 2.6–14; Luke 11.1–13
Whenever there is conflict be it at an individual, family, community or national level – one of the most important factors in bringing resolution, peace or harmony is not that the disagreement is necessarily resolved but that the conversation, the exchange, the listening, the talking continues. That there is a respectful dialogue - … not always easy to achieve and sometimes people don’t want to engage but it is critical … something that we actually are all invited to share in at present in our Parish through the Parish Support Team process.
Our scripture readings today I think affirm and indeed call us in a number of ways to first and foremost engage and maintain the dialogue with God and then of course with one another. We see this in our first reading – where Abraham and God are engaged in something of a conversation or debate about the outcry against the behavior of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is being quite bold but respectful in challenging the nature of God towards these people – and how God will deal with both evil and innocence. Irrespective of the issue at hand in the conversation and in the midst of confusion, misunderstanding or even conflict between Abraham and God over Sodom and Gomorrah – the dialogue, the argument, the conversation and thus the relationship continued. Another example would be Job who in spite of all that he was afflicted with and the injustice of it all the dialogue with God continued – even if in that dialogue Job bitterly complained against God, argued with and challenged God. Job could easily have just abandoned God and walked away but did not and let us be honest that such a choice can be so tempting in the midst of conflict because to continue the conversation – to stay in the relationship requires effort, humility, openness and listening and this is hard work.
In our second reading Paul reminds his people in Colossea and us why we are called and empowered to keep the conversation going be it with God or one another. That is because we have an extraordinary relationship with God in and through Jesus, through faith and in that relationship everything has changed, so much so that we have a direct relationship with God in Christ. In other words, the conversation and therefore the relationship can go on and on, no matter what, although Paul goes on to remind us that we are to be careful not to allow anything to prevent or inhibit that conversation and relationship. In other words, don’t take it for granted.
Our gospel then demonstrates how this conversation and relationship can in everyday life be ongoing and sustained. The disciples have seen Jesus pray. They know it is a central part of his life and relationship with God the Father. And so their desire to follow or emulate Jesus is understandable and thus the request to Jesus to teach them how to pray. The form of the prayer we have in Luke is shorter than that in Matthew, but it is essentially the same. However, in our gospel reading Jesus not only gives the disciples a form of words for prayer but goes on to give them instruction on the attitude of confidence with which as his disciples they can approach God in prayer.
Beginning with this prayer of Jesus, we learn that it comes out of the disciples’ relationship with God in Jesus as they have heard him thank the Lord of Heaven and Earth as Father and that they too can now address God as Father, having been assured of the blessedness they enjoy in their relationship with God. The prayer then follows a logical pattern of petitions, first focusing solely on God [‘Bring it about that your name is sanctified], to what God ought to achieve in the world [Make your kingdom come], to what the community needs from God – sustenance, forgiveness, rescue from overwhelming tribulation. The community that prays this prayer sees itself at the forefront of the kingdom in the present world, reclaiming it for life and humanity. It is not surprising then that this prayer given by Jesus has become the defining prayer of the Christian community. It is both a sign and expression of our unity with Christ and one another. Implicit here is an imperative for us to adopt the same approach in our prayer and relationship with God and one another – an approach that again is one of humility and openness. That openness I think is expressed physically and symbolically when as we pray the Lord’s Prayer we adopt what is known as the ‘orans’ position of prayer – open hands towards God. In this context it is also important to remember that is this a prayer that we pray not just for ourselves but indeed for our world and the whole of humanity – that it too may be fed, forgiven and protected.
What follows on from the Lord’s Prayer is a somewhat bizarre and complex parable grounded in local culture and custom. The logic of the parable depends heavily on the sense of shame. And so the story puts up a ludicrous suggestion. Is it really conceivable that a person would respond in the way described ie: unwilling to get up and help because the door had been locked and the children are in bed? Is it not certain that even if you won’t get up for friendship’s sake, you certainly will do so to avoid shame, the shame you would inevitably feel before the entire village the next day because you caused it to fail in hospitality. The chief actor is here is a kind of rogue figure – that is someone forced to do the right thing against their own personal inclination or interest. And so the logic goes that if this rogue figure will certainly act and provide what is required, how much more certainly will the God of all goodness move to hear the petitions of those who approach in prayer?
And so, the thrust of Jesus’ teaching here must surely be to persevere in prayer. In other words, to ask, search and knock – and let us be honest this can be hard at times. But the challenge and imperative here again is to keep the conversation / the relationship going especially when it is hard. For example in our relationship with God - prayer can be dry, boring, tedious, unrewarding as well as joyful, exhilarating and sustaining and all that lies between those extremes. Yet we are called to pray even when we feel we cannot – Jesus has given us the tool to pray [in the Lord’s Prayer] – or we allow ourselves to be carried by the prayers of the church – our faith community – and thus this extraordinary and wonderful relationship with our God, through our Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit is sustained and enriched beyond measure.
So, no matter where we are in our relationship with God – and indeed for that matter in all our relationships - if nothing else, keep the conversation going even if it can only be done through prayer.
As St Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians – Pray without ceasing … for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.