Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sermon on Luke 11:1-13, St Mary's at Penn, Philadelphia

(texts: Hosea 1:2-10; Colossians 2:6-15, Luke 11:1-13)

Scorpions. Really? I had to get the text about scorpions?
I hate scorpions.
Whenever they happen to show up on TV, I switch channels. If I see them online, I close my computer. My daughter delights in showing images of them for me, and I shudder each time. I really, really don't like scorpions.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I went to Morocco. It was an amazing trip, and the highlight of it was a journey out in the Saharan desert. We climbed up a sand dune (well, I tried and got a third of the way. Those things are high! He made it.), we rode camels and we slept under the stars. On thin mattresses, with thin blankets. And right as I lay down I sat up again and asked one of our bedouin guides ”Are there scorpions here?”. He looked at me and said with as much sincerety as he could muster ”Noooo, no scorpions”. Liar. I didn't sleep much that night, because every time a hand or foot strayed from that mattress onto the sand, I woke up, thinking ”Scorpions!”.

I have a really hard time thinking God would hand us scorpions.

So, here we have this image of a man knocking on his friend's door at night, being really obnoxious and waking him up, just for bread, and the guy inside is probably looking for a suitable scorpion to hand him. It would have been one thing if his friend needed a ride to the hospital or was almost murdered or something that makes this whole knocking in the middle of the night-business less annoying. But no, he wants some bread. And our sympathies are of course clearly with the poor man who's been driven out of his bed by this inconsiderate friend of his. Makes us think this friend might have been drunk, doesn't it? The kind that texts you in the middle of the night. But no. Jesus paints this picture to a crowd that knows nothing about drunk texting. For them, that man who refuses to get out of bed is the villain of this story.

Yes. He really is a distributer of scorpions, that one.

The laws of hospitality in Jesus' time were so strong that his listeners probably groaned with embarassment when they heard his sorry excuses. That kind of behavior was simply unacceptable, shameful, like giving your poor kid a scorpion. And Jesus says here, loud and clear:
God does not give you scorpions.
God is not like the selfish friend who refuses to help.
And God will not surprise you with nasty things.

There are many people who would like to tell you that bad stuff that happens is a result of God's wrath. Many so-called Christians will blame violence and hate and natural disasters on people who, in different ways, according to these Christians, deserve punishment. But in this text, Jesus puts it unusually clearly:
God will not send you a scorpion instead of an egg. God sends good.

Now, you might not get that egg. You might get Holy Spirit.

When we pray for God's name to be hallowed, we pray that it will be a name that gives life to all.

When we pray for God's kingdom to come, we pray for a world in which justice and peace and mercy reigns.

When we pray for our daily bread, we pray for that which will sustain us, body and soul. It might not be a lavish feast or that ever so desirable new Apple computer.

When we pray for forgiveness of our sins, we do so knowing they might be too many to remember, and we do so knowing it takes some soul-searching and some generosity to even dare to ask.

And when we pray for not being tried, we do so remembering all of those brothers and sisters who are tried and convicted each day, by themselves, by society, by our courts.

It's difficult to see any easy message here. Bad stuff happens. Accidents and sicknesses and disasters, they happen, but they are NOT, and let me repeat that again, NOT sent by God.

God is our loving parent, dedicated to nourishing us, to making us grow, to lift us up. God is longing for our love and our willingness to be all that we could be.
That kind of love will not keep us away from all evil. It will not protect us from everything. But it will be there when we cry. God will cry with us. God will comfort us, walk with us, stay closer than anyone else dares.

There is so much horror in this world. There always has been, as the text from Hosea shows us. But we are carried by our parent, we are the children of a living God.
We are the ones who foolishly claim life in the face of death,
hope in the face of despair,
joy in the face of sorrow.

Do not let anyone condemn you,
do not let anyone disqualify you.

Because our God is a living god,
the God of fish instead of snakes,
and eggs instead of scorpions,
and death has no power over you.

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