Jul 24, 2016 – God’s Persistent Love
A woman phoned the manager of a concert hall and demanded to know if her valuable diamond pendant, lost there the previous night, had been turned in. He asked her to hold the line. He then personally went to where she said she might have dropped it and found the precious pendant. Returning to the phone he discovered that she’d become impatient and hung up. He had no way to reach her, as she hadn’t given her name. She had no persistence, and she lost out.
Today in scripture we hear about persistence – Persistent receiving. That sounds contradictory almost. Persistent receiving. To start with, the Old Testament lesson has Abraham asking God to indulge ‘just one more’ request, which sets up the thought of being persistent. If you think about what Abraham did there it’s a wonderful lesson for us.
Now one way of looking at that whole episode is that Abraham is bargaining with God. But another viewpoint is that Abraham is finding out, through persistence, just how great the depth of God’s generosity goes. Listen again, ‘The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.’ Abraham stayed and discovered just how much mercy God was ready to show. It may even be viewed as God enticing Abraham to keep asking. The persistence in this lesson might just be that of God and not Abraham.
Think about who stopped first. It was Abraham not God. Not that Abraham was wrong to stop, I just want us to take to heart that God was persistent in responding to Abraham each time Abraham persisted in asking God to hear him.
There’s a gospel message here, in God wanting to give generously. God kept giving as long as Abraham kept asking. And notice that Abraham, at the beginning of this back-and-forth, almost accuses God of being unfair. Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.
Did you hear the gospel there? Abraham nearly accuses God of treating the righteous and the wicked the same. In fact, he says that God choosing to destroy the righteous along with the wicked would be wrong for the Judge of all the earth to do so. And yet isn’t that exactly what is it that God ultimately does? Here in the Old Testament lesson Abraham is learning how far God’s mercy extends, and in his words accusing God of being unjust by destroying the righteous along with the unrighteous of Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham speaks in a prophetic way. God does, in Jesus Christ dying on the cross, destroy His Righteous Son in order to redeem the unrighteous ones. And there is gospel for us. God does indeed sweep away the life of His only begotten Son in order that we, who are unrighteous, may be treated unfairly. We unfairly get the gift of Jesus’ righteousness as what God gives to restore our relationship with Him.
Giving is what God longs to do, and He does it so well. And for giving to be complete, there is also, receiving. Which brings us to the epistle lesson today, where Paul says ‘as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord… and you have been filled in him who is the head of all… having been buried with Him you were also raised with Him’ then in verse 13 ‘and you who were dead in your trespasses, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, nailing it to the cross.’ All of these words speak of God’s giving and our receiving. Listen to the verb phrases; you have received, you have been filled, having been buried you were also raised, made alive.
All these are things that happen to the Christian by the gift, will and act of God. These are things that are received by the Christian from the hand of the Father. This is further comfort for us that, what it is that makes us who we are in Christ does not depend on our praying to God and telling Him we’re good enough to deserve anything. We can rest, truly rest assured and confident in that what we have in Christ is given to us, not earned by us.
Again as Paul said in today’s epistle, in holy baptism we have been buried with Christ, that is, in His death on the cross and in His burial, so also our sinful nature has been crucified and buried. Paul then gives us the comfort we’ve been taking about, when he says that we were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Through faith we have resurrection to the new nature we now have received from God in Christ.
It’s in prayer that we learn to both ask and receive. And that brings us to our gospel lesson, about prayer. This gospel text is interesting in that it’s the only time that the disciples ask Jesus to teach them anything. Jesus’ teaching follows what we’ve read in the Old Testament and the epistle.
Remember we started out today by talking about persistent receiving, and in this gospel lesson Jesus ties all that together for us. First He gives us the prayer we know by heart, the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is the answer to the disciple’s plea for instruction on prayer.
I’ve read that by praying the Lord’s Prayer we are learning to bend our hearts toward God. I like the image of that, that our hearts are being shaped by the prayer that Jesus has taught us from His own lips. As we pray that prayer we become more and more the people God has called us to be in the cross of Christ Jesus. Think of that image as you pray this week in your devotions. Imagine your heart is bending toward God. Now, going on to another way that Jesus ties together persistent receiving for us.
He uses two illustrations, which lead us to know and plant in our hearts, trust in the Father’s persistent goodness and generosity toward us. Here again we learn persistent receiving.
In the parable of the neighbor needing bread at midnight, Jesus tells a story with the opposite outcome. Friend # 1 gets what he needs from friend # 2 so he can accommodate friend # 3 by being persistent. Jesus doesn’t tell this story so we think of God as needing to be roused from His bed to help us. It’s also not so that we think we need to be rude to God to get us what we need or want. It’s to make the point that as He says in verses 9-10 ‘And I tell you, ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.’
Notice the relationship of Jesus’ words to the action of the friend in the parable, the asking, seeking and knocking. This is talking about persistence. Jesus sets up God as more generous than friend #2. Why should we ask, seek and knock? Because God is NOT like friend #2. He is always awake. God is always right there to answer our every need. Someone has said that we’re so used to God providing everything we need that when we make a request and He says no or wait we’re startled by it. Daily He gives life, sun, bread, air, water and all we need to be sustained.
Prayer is not ‘room service’ from heaven. We should be afraid to pray if God simply answered all our requests with a yes and didn’t bother instead to do what is best for us. He loves us by giving us what we need and ask for; He also loves us by not giving us everything we ask for.
Remember we said that saying the Lord’s Prayer bends our hearts; our asking, seeking and knocking remind us we’re not demanding but receiving. Yes, we ask, seek and knock, but these are what we’re told to do so that we can be in the correct posture to receive what God determines, in His love, that is best. His persistent Love determines when to say yes and when to say no. In fact, each of these things has His promise attached to it, He will give, as we ask – He will lead us to find as we seek and He will open as we knock. All this Jesus assures us is done purely from God’s fatherly goodness and love. That’s one reason to pray persistently, God loves us.
At one particular mission station in Africa the new Christians were taught to be faithful in their daily prayers. Each person had their own special spot in the thicket surrounding the village where they would go each day for prayer. Because of daily use, the many paths to these private spots became distinctly marked; so if anyone began to neglect their prayers it soon became apparent to the others because the path would begin to become overgrown by grass. When this would happen they would kindly encourage each other with, friend, the grass is growing high on your path. Persistence in prayer, conversation with God is good to learn as Abraham and friend #2 both teach us.
The second lesson Jesus gives is a return to the generosity of the Father. In verses 11-13 Jesus says, what father among you, if his son asks for a fish will instead of a fish give him a serpent, or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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?
Jesus makes clear the truth that we have evil within us till the day we die. And yet even we take good care of our children. He goes on to point out how much more then will God care for us. The point is that God’s love toward us is persistent.
We pray to God not only because of our need but because we know God will answer us. You don’t ask for something from someone unable to give it. Jesus teaches us to ask from God the Father because God the Father is generous and supplies us with all we need and more. Again remember the posture we are put in when we pray, it’s a posture that allows us to receive.
We’re going to sing, “Blest be the tie that binds”– take note of the words “Before our Father’s Throne we pour our ardent prayers.” We don’t demand, we don’t haggle and we don’t grovel. We ask our heavenly Father. And in the Lord’s Prayer we bend our hearts toward God, and God supplies.
How does God supply? From His generous love and mercy toward us. Remember He treats us unfairly by giving us the righteousness of the blood of Christ to cover our sin. And from Him we persistently receive all we need. That’s what we come away with from today’s lessons. God’s great generosity and persistent love gives us all we need, for life today and for eternity. In Jesus name, amen.
Sermon #837 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Genesis 18:17-33
17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?”
“If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.”
29 Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?”
He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.”
30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
31 Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?”
He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.”
32 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
33 When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
Epistle Colossians 2:6-19
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Holy Gospel Luke 11:1-13
11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”