Today’s gospel lesson is a bit complicated. Luke puts together four different sayings of Jesus that may or may not belong together. When faced with this kind of text, the preacher can either choose to focus on one portion of the reading, or ask the question “Why did Luke put these four sayings together? What connections might he have seen between them?”
The easy way out would be to focus on the Lord’s Prayer, but I’m going to choose the second option this time. As I looked at all four of these sayings together, I came to the conclusion that they tell us two things about the nature of the Divine that we need to hear.
The first is the good news that the One who created the universe, and exists beyond the boundaries of space and time, desires to have a relationship with us. The simplest way of saying this is that we are God’s beloved.
One of Jesus’ disciples approached him and said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus’ begins his prayer with the words “Father, hallowed be your name.” Most of us are more familiar with Matthew’s version of this prayer which begins with “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
However, I prefer Luke’s simpler version because as we make our way through the prayer, it’s very clear that the Almighty does not live exclusively in heaven as if it’s a street address we can put into our GPS. God’s will or Divine presence is revealed as much on earth as it is in heaven. It is seen in God’s provision for the things we need to get through each day. It is enacted every time we experience forgiveness, and offer this same forgiveness to others. It is experienced in God’s loving presence that is with us in times of trial and temptation. So, let’s go with Luke’s simpler version of this prayer. “Father” will do quite nicely.
Now, it’s common knowledge among Christians that Jesus used the Aramaic word “Abba” to address God. Most of us have been told all of our lives that this Aramaic word means “Daddy,” as if it were a little child speaking. However, there are a number of scholars who dispute this claim, especially among those who can read and understand Aramaic. Furthermore, in every instance where Abba appears, the New Testament writers placed the Greek word “pater” beside it for those who did not understand Aramaic. “Pater” simply means “father,” and can also be used as title of respect for religious leaders much like a priest is addressed as “Father.” So, we probably shouldn’t interpret Abba as “Daddy” and should leave it as “Father” like the NRSV translates it.
However, this is still a revolutionary way to address the Almighty who created the universe and set things into motion. It reminds us that God has paternal instincts for us. God loves and cares for us like a parents loves and cares for their child.
This is why we can “ask, seek and knock” like the text says a few verses later. We ASK like a child asks a parent, or a grandchild asks their grandparent. We SEEK answers to things we don’t understand. We KNOCK on the door of Wisdom and trust that it will open.
For example, I just spent the last few days with our granddaughter Mallory, without her parents tagging along. I can tell you she asked, seeked, and knocked, more times than I can recall. Every time she does this, she trusts that her Pap-pap knows the answer to her question, or at the very least, loves her enough to listen.
Jesus, has this same kind of relationship with the God who birthed the cosmos. What we learn from this is that God is not distant and uncaring but desires to have a relationship with us. We are God’s beloved, and this something we often forget. God cares for us like a loving parent cares for their child. God is not some angry old bearded man sitting in heaven with lighting bows in his hand, waiting to smite us every time we make a mistake. Instead, God is there to lovingly guide us. God picks us up and dusts us off every time we stumble and fall. And this, this is definitely the good news of the gospel.
The second thing we learn from this collection of sayings is that the God who desires to have a relationship with us, also desires to bless us. We see this in the other two remaining sayings in our gospel lesson. The first is the Friend at Midnight. It’s what I call an anti-parable. It’s a sermon unto itself. Unfortunately, its meaning has often been misunderstood.
The biggest mistake people make when reading this anti-parable is equating God with the friend in the story. When we do this, the lesson we learn is that if whine and complain to God long enough, the Almighty will give us whatever we need. It leaves us with the image of God as an emotionally exhausted parent who gives their whiny children whatever they want just to shut them up. I don’t think I need to tell you that this is NOT the good news of the gospel.
What I think this anti-parable is really saying is that if this friend will give you what you need, even thought the hour is late, HOW MUCH MORE will our loving parental God give us what we need to mend that which is broken in our lives and help move us toward wholeness.
We see this same wisdom being played out in the last of the four sayings in our gospel lesson. The questions Jesus asks are not really questions, because the answer to them is obvious. “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?”
The answer, naturally, is of course not! Just in case we didn’t understand what Jesus us trying to teach us, he sums everything up as follows: “If you then, who are evil, (No offense is meant to parents and grandparents. Jesus is simply saying we’re imperfect, and don’t always get it right.) If you then, who are a little rough around the edges, know how to give good gifts to your children, HOW MUCH MORE (These are the key words to understanding our gospel lesson) HOW MUCH MORE will Abba give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
It’s interesting to note that the parental gift God desires to give to us the most, is the Holy Spirit, Holy Wisdom, Sophia for the journey. So we can pray all we want for that three million dollar vacation home, or more money than we can spend in a lifetime. We can pray for an easy life, or perfect health from cradle to grave. But this sounds more like a whiny child than being God’s beloved. God’s beloved know that God will never leave them nor forsake them. God is there when the road is rough and hard. God is there when the road is smooth and easy.
The blessing lies in the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is within us and all around us. This Spirit is in constant conversation with us if we have ears to hear her. This Spirit desires that we possess the peace of Christ in any and all circumstances. If we can learn to ask, seek, and knock for this gift of gifts, we will possess the great treasure our parental God can give us.
These are some of the connections I see between the four sayings in our gospel lesson. There is a logic in the way Luke puts them together. The reason why these insights are important is because of what’s happening among some Christians these days. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but according to some of our siblings in Christ, the list of people whom God hates is getting longer and longer. They are working really, really hard to pass laws that support their hatred, all the while doing it in the name of God.
The problem I have with this is that it paints a picture of God as angry, judgmental, and punitive. Based on the sayings of Jesus we looked at this morning, I don’t know how one can arrive at this conclusion. If we expand our search to other passages in the gospels, I don’t know how one can arrive at this conclusion either.
In Jesus’ parables, he says that our parental God is like the shepherd who searches diligently, for the one lost sheep. God is like the woman who tears apart her whole house in search of the one lost coin. God is like the loving, grace-filled father who invites both of his children to join him in a celebratory feast.
God is the Good Samaritan who bandaged the wounds of the injured one who was left for dead by the side of the road. God is the sower who sows Spirit seeds all over the place, indiscriminately, knowing that some will eventually fall on good soil.
Our parental God dines with people others can only see as sinners and outcasts. And when our parental God took on human flesh in the form of Jesus, some of these same outcasts were his first worshipping community.
Friends, this is the God who is worthy of our worship. The God whom Jesus called his Abba rather than his judge and punisher. This parental God calls us beloved and desires to bless us with the Spirit’s gift of shalom. This is the God of my experience. I hope it is the God of your experience. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently! AMEN
Copyright ©2019 by David Eck