St. Matthew’s Sermon 07-24-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 07-24-2016

One, the Other, or All Three

Hosea 1:2-10, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others here today can identify with me. You see, I learned the Lord’s Prayer before I could even read. Growing up in a Church where we recited it every Sunday, like most Churches, and being an opportunity to talk during worship, something a child likes to do more than sit quietly, I grabbed on to the chance to join in with the grown-ups.

This was great! And I was praised by grownups, more than once, for being able to do so; that’s something else a child likes!

Well, it was great at the time. What wasn’t great, as life moved forward, was the reality of the fact that I could recite the words but they had no meaning to me whatsoever. Just like learning the “pledge of allegiance” to the American flag in kindergarten, I could say the words but I felt no sense of their importance much less the commitment they entail. It wasn’t until years later, when my mind matured enough to begin to question the meaning of everything and the truth of everything that I began to examine the words and consider what they meant to me and my understanding of our Christian faith. As is so often the case, I discovered that every answered question gave rise to at least one more. Let me point out some of them.

Luke’s version begins “Father”; without a determining adjective. But in other versions and in our common use we say “Our Father”. “Our” is good when we recite the prayer together, but why not say “My Father” when praying alone? Many have argued the pro’s and con’s of this: some stating that it should always be “our Father”; highlighting the unity of the community of the Church, and others saying using “my Father” helps to intensify the personal relationship available to each one of us.

Again, not seen in Luke’s version but in our common prayer is “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done; bringing up the question “is God’s Kingdom; God’s rule on earth; different than God’s will being done on earth?

And then, with the phrase, “Give us each day our daily bread”; are we asking for the basic sustenance of physical life; literal bread? Or are we asking for spiritual food; “the Bread of Life?

And, oh wow, how many ways are there to interpret the next line: sins and those who’ve sinned against us, debts and debtors, trespasses or, like in Luke, some combination of the above? And, looking at Luke’s version, are we to consider sins to incur a debt to God? And are we forgiving others of some harm they’ve caused us or of financial indebtedness?

And, finally, what trial are we asking God to not bring us to: the testing of our faith; the judgment of our lives; or temptation to turn away; or…?

Maybe you’ve asked these questions too. If not, I hope you’re pondering them now. Questioning, by the way, is not a sign of weakness of faith; it’s the way to increased understanding and strengthening of faith.

Fortunately, Jesus continues speaking about prayer to help clear thing up for us; giving us the story of a man in need, trying to borrow a few loaves of bread.

By the end of the story, we might think of it as metaphor, exemplifying the need for perseverance in prayer. In that metaphorical sense, then, the three characters are: the unexpected guest whose only function is to precipitate the event, the unprepared host being the prayer, and the man in bed being God. Persistence, then, is the means to getting God to answer your prayers. But this reading quickly falls apart.

First: Does God ever sleep? And would God tell one of his own to come back at a more convenient time if the need was so immediate?

And second: Even though the word “persistence” is used in the story as we read it, in the Greek the word actually means “shamelessness”. It seems that fitting “shamelessness” into the story was too difficult for us to understand so the translators substituted the word “persistence”.

But it’s really not that hard to understand. A man has a friend arrive late at night but he has no bread for him. Just imagine how embarrassed you would be if you had a traveling friend drop into your home and you had nothing to offer them to eat. That is how it was in Jesus’ time too; hospitality was held in high regard and you would be shamed to be caught in this predicament.

 So the man shamelessly goes to another friend in the middle of the night and asks to borrow some bread.  But he is refused because of the late hour. Likewise, the man in bed would be shamed for not helping a friend in need.

The difference is, we can’t think of the man in bed as being metaphor for God responding to our prayer.

 But, with that, more questions now come up. Like: who do the characters represent? If any of them are God, is he the late arriving traveler or the one knocking? Would you be ashamed if God came to your home and you had no bread for him? If God knocked on your door late in the night, would you tell him to come back in the morning? These are reasonable questions, important questions to ask ourselves too.

And, just to add a little more lack of clarity to the story, did you notice that Jesus begins the story with the words “”Suppose one ofyou has a friend, and you go to him at midnight…” but after that Jesus uses the ambiguous term “him” as he says’ “even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend…”, now we have to ask which he and which friend; the man knocking or the late arriving guest?

So, do I have your head spinning yet? How many more questions are you asking yourself right now? And I haven’t gotten to the end of the reading!

Jesus tells us to ask, and search, and knock and assures us that, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. But with all the ambiguity so far, we might be confused about what we’re asking for, or searching for, or what door we are to knock on.

And our understanding, or lack of it, may be even more confused as Jesus continues to speak saying “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?”

Looking a little closer we might see the similarity of fish and snakes as both have scales. Yet one is not the gift that was asked for. And the same with the egg and the scorpion that, when threatened, will curl itself into a ball that, at first glance, resembles an egg but certainly isn’t the gift asked for. But what else do these have to do with prayer?


I’ve used a lot of question marks in this sermon so far. And, again, I hope I have raised a lot of questions in your mind. And, guess what, I’m not going to give you a definitive answer to any of them.

What I have given you, so far, is the idea that there is a lot of ambiguity in this reading. And what I can tell you about that is that it is intentional. Not intended to confuse us or as some hidden code that we have to decipher, but as an open door. It’s not indented to tell us one thing, but many; not offering one thing, but many; not one option, but many.

All the way back at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer; should we use, simply “Father”, or “My Father”, or “Our Father” depends on the condition of the one praying the words in the moment.

Asking for “Daily bread” can be a request for physical sustenance or for Spiritual food.

Forgiveness can apply to sin, harm done to us… or by us… and monetary debts.

In the story of the shameless friend; we can insert God and ourselves into the roles of the various characters depending on our need in this moment.

What we’re asking for, or searching for, as well as what door we’re knocking on, a friend’s or our ultimate friend’s, is conditional, again, depending on our need in the moment. And being shameless about asking for help (from a friend or from God) is a part of finding fulfillment of our human and our spiritual needs.


The point is, the reading is not intended to point us in one direction on our entire journey of life and of faith, but to point each of us in the right direction for where each of us are, today, in those journeys.

That’s why I said “I’m not going to give you a definitive answer to any of [the questions raised]. You see, unless I know exactly where you are in your journey; unless I know your need in this moment; I cannot give you the answers.

But I can tell you where to find them!

Jesus gave us that in today’s reading too. All the way at the end; the last verse where he says, “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!”

It is the Holy Spirit that can, and will, give you the gifts you need, the answers you seek, and open the doors you need opened in this moment, at this place of your journey, to live a fulfilled life in this world and keep you on course for your arrival in the world to come.

Ask for that gift, and you will be given everything you need! Amen.


Luke 11:1-13
11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.
11:4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
11:5 And he said to them, “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;
11:6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
11:7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’
11:8 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.
11:9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?
11:12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?
11:13 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!”


Hosea 1:2-10
1:2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”
1:3 So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
1:4 And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.
1:5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
1:6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.
1:7 But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”
1:8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son.
1:9 Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”
1:10 Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him,
2:7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
2:9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
2:10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
2:11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ;
2:12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses,
2:14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.
2:15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
2:16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths.
2:17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
2:18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,
2:19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.