“Bothering God”

Lk 11.1-13

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Years ago, I was working in my first church job. I was living in an apartment building, and I had a neighbor who was always knocking on my door and asking to borrow something.

She would need some sugar for a recipe she was making. Or her hair dryer was broken and she wanted to use my late wife’s.

The neighbor wasn’t unpleasant—indeed, she was a friend or ours; I still get emails from her, once in a while. But her interruptions could be irritating. I couldn’t help noticing that our neighbor borrowed far more things from us than she ever lent in return.

I remembered an old saying that I heard from my grandmother: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” I didn’t want to borrow from my neighbor, and I certainly didn’t want to lend things to her!

Yet none of us has everything. Most of us sometime will need to get something from somebody. And in today’s Second Lesson Jesus uses this basic fact about the way we human beings depend upon each other to reveal an important truth about God.

In the reading, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and he tells them a parable: “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’”

Then your neighbor replies without opening the door: “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked; I cannot get up and give you anything.” In the end, however, your friend relents. He gives you what you need.

Jesus notes that the neighbor would grant your request not really out of friendship but “because of persistence.” You have waked him up and gotten him up out of bed. Now he’ll give you what you want so you’ll leave and he can go back to sleep!!

We don’t always recognize the human side of this parable. Even if we borrow more than we lend, we don’t think of ourselves as leaning on others. Hearing Christ’s parable, we would identify not with the intrusive neighbor but with the one who is rudely awakened.

In reality, we are more dependent upon others than we think. We’re more likely to remember being bothered than we are to recall those times when we asked favors of others!

But the real twist to the story is at the end of the parable where Jesus suggests that we imagine that the neighbor we are borrowing from is God. Even if we never borrow from others and therefore give more than we receive–in the case of our relationship with God, we are always on an unequal footing.

God has nothing to gain from us. On the other hand, we can in theory gain whatever could benefit us. As Jesus says in the lesson, “Ask and you shall receive.”

Asking is always part of the human condition. We always want more of what we have or something we don’t have.

Then, too, it is worth pondering whether some of our wants are really worth satisfying.

Jesus mentions ordinary foods. The neighbor wants three loaves of bread; the child asks for a fish or an egg. There’s no question we have need food to survive; that particular human desire is worthy.

But Jesus recognizes deeper wishes beyond the bare necessities. After urging the disciples, “Ask and you shall receive,” Christ tells them: “Seek, and you will find. Knock and it will be opened unto you.”

In other words, Jesus seems to be saying: Don’t be afraid to request whatever you want from God. Don’t hold back; go ahead and ask. Look for whatever you need to fulfill your heart’s desire. “Seek and you will find.” Commit yourself to a spiritual quest.

But if we take Christ’s words to heart, we will have to do some soul-searching. Literally: we’ll have to search the deep recesses of our souls to see what we really want.

Like the man in another parable of Jesus who desired a pearl of great price and sold all that he had in order to get the pearl – so we need to ask what will give us what we really want.

Praying for necessities is fine—bread, eggs, fish as in the parable; “our daily bread,” as in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught his disciples. No wonder that churches have always had feeding programs. Even in our affluent neighborhood, there are seniors who need the food collected in the HONEY program that Incarnation supports.

And, in the spirit of today’s parable, I would note that “HONEY” stands for Help Our Neighbors Eat Year-round. We want to save our neighbors the trouble of banging on our doors in the middle of the night!

Beyond the basics, though, our asking gets complicated. Are we sure, for example, that what we are asking for is what is best for us? Someone prays for a promotion at work and then finds that she hates the new job and wishes she had the old one back.

This even happens in the church. Priests pray to be elected bishop; but after they are elected, they find that the isolation and the demands of that position make them wish they were back in a parish.

Whatever we decide to ask for, it is permissible , according to Jesus, to keep asking – day in and day out, year in and year out. As far back as I can remember, I have been praying for two things. Every day I ask for patience and humility – and I have yet to obtain either one!

But I keep praying. If God were human, I might expect God to be annoyed at my failures to live up to the values I have adopted.

Fortunately, though, God expects us to depend on him. God expects us to need him. God expects us to keep asking him for what our hearts desire.

We know that we won’t succeed by ourselves. As the parable teaches us, God waits to hear our lists of petitions because He knows that we need his help.

And unlike the awakened man in Christ’s story, God doesn’t mind being called upon. God doesn’t mind being bothered, because he loves us.

Amen.


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