- July 28, 2019
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 28 July 2019 (Proper 12 Year C)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Genesis 18.20-32; Psalm 138; Luke 11.1-13
Title: Because of His Persistence
“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” (Luke 11.9).
What does it mean for you to ask, to seek, to knock? Where is God asking YOU to persevere, to be persistent, to not quit or give up?
We have two very distinct readings for our reflection today. The first comes from Genesis, from the earliest part of the biblical story.
Abraham and Sarah have just hosted the three travelers who are on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah. God is among this traveling party, and now Abraham speaks with God before they continue on to Sodom.
It is a very odd discussion. Consider the fact that it is not entirely clear whether or not Abraham got what he wanted out of this discussion. He argued God down to a minimum of 10 good people, 10 righteous souls, for whose sake God would not destroy the entire city of Sodom.
But Abraham stopped there. Why? No one knows. It seems that he was satisfied with that. But God knows that there are only 6 righteous people in Sodom – Lot, his wife, his two daughters and their husbands.
So the entire city is destroyed after all, though Lot and his family are spared. Kind of. You see, the sons-in-law ignore Lot’s pleading and are left behind. The wife of Lot turns back to look at the devastation of their hometown and, for this disobedience, she is turned into a pillar of salt. So three of the six are saved.
What’s more puzzling is that in the next chapter, the two daughters of Lot are distraught because their husbands are dead and there are no more available men around with whom they can create children. So they hatch a plot to get their father Lot drunk to the point of stupefaction in order to sleep with him and bear children through him – in essence, to give birth to their own siblings in order to continue the family lineage. So, wait – how righteous are these particular people after all?
An odd story indeed, but one which seemed to teach Abraham about boldness and perseverance when speaking with God.
Perseverance and persistence is what enabled humans to walk on the moon. As you all know, this month we are remembering and celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first human adventure to the moon. On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to touch our moon.
This was an enormous feat of persistence and perseverance. Incredible sacrifices were required to make this happen. And it all began with a dream, with an idea. President Kennedy knocked hard on this door, and eventually it opened – thanks to the incredible intelligence and dedication of nearly 400,000 people who worked on this task over the course of just about 8 years, attempting to do something that had never been done before.
As far as I can tell, perseverance and persistence must have been a primary goal behind one of the exercises that was given to us a few weeks ago at the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center. In an effort to relate to the kinds of tasks that the ordinary Corporal or Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps is trained to do, our instructors taught us the basic skills of land navigation.
We were given government-issue maps, protractors and high-level compasses. We were taught how to find the azimuths on a topographic map, how to shoot the direction with the compass, how to compensate for magnetic north, how to count our average pace over 100 meters. This was all well-and-good. Except for the fact that the first time we were asked to put these skills into practice was by locating 4 markers about 400 meters apart from each other in a very dense forest – in the dark!
They called it night navigation. We were broken into teams of 4 or 5, sent out right at dusk, and told to return in two and a half hours after we had found our 4 points on the map.
This was a complete disaster. Within fifteen minutes, everyone was completely lost. Many of the teams had lost some of their members.
While I forged ahead trying to find our first point, the rest of my team turned back, unbeknownst to me, and I could not hear them calling out my name (Ferrell, Ferrell, Ferrell), because a Blackhawk helicopter was doing training exercises at that very same hour just over the canopy of the forest.
Thankfully, I soon rendezvoused with another team who was lost. But we could not find any of their markers either.
Have you ever looked for a brown post in a dense forest in the dark of night? What a joke – it was impossible!
We did, however, make our way back to the primary trail and returned to our original starting point, collecting some other lost chaplains along the way.
Scratched and disheartened, and with some minor injuries, finally we returned to our tents close to midnight, only to be told that at 0700 – 7 am – we were going out to do the same exercise all over again. This time in the daylight, of course.
And this time, we did it! My team found all four points – by implementing a very slow, patient team strategy.
Have you ever tried to walk in a perfectly straight line with carefully measured steps while bushwhacking through dense underbrush? It took us hours to do it – with persistence and perseverance – but we did it! And we were the only team to find all four points!
Thankfully, as chaplains, we can be certain that no one will ever ask us to serve as land navigation guides in the future!
“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11.10).
The disciples ask Jesus for guidance in how to pray, and Jesus delivers. Now, please note that there are many different levels to this teaching. There is a practical, simple, direct application. In many cases, this is a simple fact of life.
Asking, seeking, knocking – over and over again, these are the things that deliver results.
No task that is worthy of our true commitment can be done quickly or easily.
And who wants to do the easy thing? It is the difficult task that is worthy of our best effort. And only those who can muster the persistence and the perseverance to keep going in spite of challenges and failures are those who win the greatest prize.
But, of course, this is not always true. Let’s be honest. It is NOT true that everyone who asks receives, that everyone who searches finds. There are some things, and some people, that are lost forever. There are times when the answer is no.
Sometimes persistence does not work out the way we want. We can ask and seek and knock, and things will still fall apart or go sideways.
Because the goal is important. It matters what we are trying to accomplish. Both the story of Abraham and the teaching of Jesus point us to the task of perseverance and persistence. Neither one are about changing God – or about changing anyone else. They are about changing ourselves and where we invest our energy.
Look again at the context of both of these readings.
God had already selected Abraham as the one through whom the works of righteousness and justice would spread throughout the earth (Genesis 18.17-19).
But Abraham had to pass this test. He asked persistently on behalf of the innocent, for the righteous. And God was not angry or displeased. Not in the least.
When teaching about prayer, Jesus tells a story about feeding travelers on a journey, about providing hospitality to surprise guests. And he continues to speak about giving gifts to our children, and about God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.
Do you see a trend here? A common theme? The work of prayer, and especially persisting and persevering in prayer, the task of asking and seeking and knocking – this is not about getting things for ourselves.
It is never about us! After all, not every task is worthy of our persistence and perseverance. Some things are better left unaccomplished.
What does it mean for you to ask, to seek, to knock? Where is God asking you to persevere, to be persistent, to not quit or give up?
Both Abraham and Jesus teach us to persevere in the work of compassion, to be persistent in protecting the innocent, in caring for the guest, in providing hospitality for travelers.
What about asking and seeking and knocking for your ego, for your own personal gain? Don’t count on an open door, or an affirmative answer.
But do justice. Show mercy. Care for those in need. Welcome the stranger. And God will make sure that your persistence is rewarded. Amen.