bargaining with God?

Proper 12C
Genesis 18:20-33
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15
Luke 11:1-13

I can’t help but smile when reading this passage from Genesis. Abraham certainly takes his life in his hands when he argues with God about how many righteous would be needed to save Sodom from destruction. It’s a dangerous thing to confront God — even more dangerous to question God’s actions. “Oh, do not let my lord be angry if I speak just this once more. What if ten are found there?” The story ends with God going on God’s way, and Abraham returning to his place. He had certainly gotten out of it! It’s wonderful irony.

But there is more at stake here than just Abraham chutzpah. God has just promised to Abaraham and Sarah a son, through whom Abraham will become the father of a great nation, so that all the nations will bless themselves in Abraham. God has singled Abraham out, “that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and right” (v 19). Through Abraham, the nations are to learn the way of the LORD. When Abraham argues that God should not sweep away the righteous with the unrighteous, he says to God, “Far be it from you to do such a thing. Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Abraham instructs God on God’s way.

The story would have particular poignance before and after the fall of Jerusalem. Surely Sodom must have been a wicked place, if God could not find ten righteous there. Sodom was used as a warning for Jerusalem — just as Sodom failed to guard the orphan and widow, so Jerusalem (see Isaiah 1). Jerusalem must have been wicked, if God could not save it for the sake of the righteous in it.

Abraham has been chosen by God to instruct the nations in the ways of God. Two things then are incumbent on Abraham: to instruct his posterity, and to get involved in situations of unrighteousness. God’s chosen has to argue with God about what is just and what is not. So also for us.

Then, Luke’s teaching on prayer. The Lord’s Prayer in Luke is stripped to its essentials. No Kingdom, power and glory. No “who art in heaven.” No “thy will be done.” Just, “Father, let your name be revered, let your kingdom come. Give us daily the just sufficient bread. Forgive us our sins just as we are forgiving those indebted to us. Don’t let us be put to the test.”

The wonderful little story following is truly complex. There are three actors. The man whose friend comes to him off the road. The friend who comes off the road, and the sleeper. All three are shamed. What on earth is someone doing out one the road in the middle of the night? Things can’t be good for him. He has to resort to his friend in the middle of the night. This is shame. The friend does not have what he needs to welcome his friend. This is shame. He goes to his friend and bangs on the door. The friend, even if he won’t be raised up to give what is needed because his friend (note the ambiguity about who is whose friend), yet, because of his shamelessness he will get up and give whatever is needed. Whose shamelessness? The knocker’s or the sleeper’s? The Greek translates both ways. “Because he would be ashamed not to,” or “Because he was not ashamed to ask.”

A situation has arisen in a little village in which failure to respond brings shame on all three actors. A simple response, the loan of three loafs – bread just sufficient enough for the day, will instead bring honor for all, even though it is inconvenient. Just like Abraham, the sleeper has to get involved in situations of injustice. If we are going to pray, we have to be ready to get involved as well.

The next sayings are all that some people will hear on Sunday morning. “Ask, and it will be given to you.” So patently untrue. It does, however, beg the question, “Ask for what?” If the knocker in the story had asked for a sumptuous meal, it would have brought shame all around, because no one could provide it. If we ask for a million bucks (how many people pray to win the lottery?), it brings shame, because if we don’t get it, God has failed, and if we do, we have friends emerging from the woodwork. We become inhospitable, like Sodom. And ask whom? The story shows prayer working within a little community of three. We pray in community, not in isolation.

So, refer back up to the prayer Jesus has just taught. We ask for three things. Just enough bread for the day, forgiveness so we can release from debt those who owe us, and not to be tempted (to ask for more?). If you knew that a single wish would be granted, without fail, what would you ask for? Anything beyond today’s bread gets you in trouble. These are the ways of God we are called to teach.

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