(Genesis 18:20-32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6-15)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/w49SbLZUYzo)
1[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“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. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If 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!”
As I was reflecting on the texts assigned for this morning, I couldn’t help but recall the funny story about a father and son who went fishing one day. While they were out on the water, the boy suddenly became curious about things in general and started asking all sorts of questions. He asked his father, “Why does the boat float?” The father replied, “Don’t rightly know son.” A little later, the boy looked at his father and asked, “How do fish breath underwater?” Once again the father replied, “Don’t rightly know son.” A little later the boy asked his father, “Why is the sky blue?” Again, the father replied. “Don’t rightly know son.” Finally, the boy asked his father, “Dad, do you mind my asking you all of these questions?” The father replied, “Of course not…if you don’t ask questions, you never learn nothin’.”
Ah, the genius of the elderly! Such patience, such wisdom! Perhaps that father should have asked a few more questions when he was younger. He might have had something to offer his son. But anyone who’s ever raised a child knows the agony of having to endure endless questions. Children are naturally curious. They naturally want to know answers to all the mysteries that surround them. Not because they have to know them but simply because it’s fun knowing the mysteries. It’s fun knowing why boats float. It’s fun knowing how fish can breathe underwater. It’s fun knowing why the sky is blue. A child’s life doesn’t hinge on knowing answers to such questions. It’s just fun to know them. And as much fun it is to know answers to the mysteries of this world, a child also quickly learns the fun of persistently asking the question, “Why?” Why is the sky blue? If it’s reflecting the color of the water, why is the water blue? Why is there reflection? Why are we able to see? Why to do we have to see? Why do we have eyes? The questions could go on endlessly with a child! Why? Because it’s fun getting the frustrated reaction of someone older than them! It’s fun getting people frustrated…at least in the mind of a child!
But sadly children tend to lose interest in asking the “fun” questions of life, those questions that don’t necessarily ensure survival. Perhaps it’s because they lose interest in frustrating those around them and seek out the answers themselves. Perhaps it’s because they’d rather focus on asking questions that directly affect their livelihood, i.e. questions about their schooling or work environments or social life. And it isn’t as if they ever get all the “fun” questions of life answered. No one has all the answers to all the questions of this world! Only God has those answers. But children simply lose interest in asking “fun” questions over time. Children simply lose that fun sense of curiosity as they get bogged down with the worries of life. As much as we try to protect them from the worries of adulthood, we can’t protect them forever. They must grow up into responsible, self-sustaining adults. More often than not this entails carrying their own burdens and worries. To some degree, it is necessary to stop asking the “fun” questions of life in order to focus on surviving in this world. But never to stop asking. No, we are expected to keep asking questions all throughout life whether their “survival” questions or “fun” questions. Only fools stop asking questions to themselves, to those around them, and to the world in general. When we stop asking questions, life has a way of turning our worlds upside down. It’s as if life refuses to allow for our false sense of certainty. Our world is a world beset by change. We are in a constant state of change in this world. Only God is changeless. Only God and God’s word is certainty. And God wants us keep asking questions…God delights in us asking questions! Like the father in the opening story, God simply delights in the asking rather than the ability to provide answers. Sometimes God responds to questions and requests. Sometimes He doesn’t, or at least not in the way we’d expect or hope for. But we mustn’t be so concerned with God’s responses to our questions and requests. Instead we should take comfort in knowing that God hears them and loves us all the more for having asked them. Like that father from earlier, God wants us to ask for the sheer joy of asking, not for the response that we might receive.
And God hears our questions and requests. Scripture gives us many examples of God hearing the questions and requests of His beloved children. In the passage from Genesis, we heard the request that Abraham made to God to spare the faithless people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Over and over, Abraham pleads with God to spare the people in spite of their faithless. With each request, God challenges Abraham to lift up fewer and fewer righteous people who were worthy of salvation. They are interesting responses made by God because He knows Abraham can’t vouch for a single righteous person worthy of saving the two cities. But God hears Abraham and acknowledges his requests. God delights in Abraham’s willingness to ask on behalf of the faithless people of the two cities. This is because in the act of asking Abraham is in relationship with God and vice versa. The act of asking simply allows for them to interact and nothing delights God more than to interact with one of His beloved children. God is a parent, a loving parent at that. God wants to give to His beloved children. But He doesn’t like giving to those who don’t appreciate what is given. He doesn’t like giving to those who don’t acknowledge their need for what He has to give. He doesn’t like giving to those who selfishly demand and expect what He so eagerly wants to give. God wants to give us everything we could ever possibly need! We are His beloved children! But keep in mind that what we want isn’t the same as what we need. God knows what we need and is more than willing to provide for what we need. But God is like every other parent. He likes hearing us simply ask for what we need. He likes knowing that we know our needs and are grateful for what we receive. He likes that, in our time of need, we are willing to acknowledge our sheer vulnerability, not so He can crush us but rather love us. Believe it or not, love demands and expects vulnerability. One can’t ever fully know love unless they are willing to show vulnerability. Nonetheless, we know that God goes on to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah but not because Abraham wasn’t willing to ask on their behalf but rather because they were completely rotten cities worthy of God’s destruction. God’s relationship with Abraham is strengthened by Abraham’s willingness to ask and show God his vulnerability.
In the passage from Luke, we also heard Jesus’ own disciples come to him and ask him how they should pray. Jesus went on to teach them, and us, how to pray what is referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer,” something most of us are quite familiar with. Immediately following his teaching, Jesus essentially reinforces why we should pray as he taught us: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” What a powerful statement on the rewards of faith! Jesus didn’t say, “ask, and it will be considered,” or, “search, and you will get closer,” or “knock, and someone might come.” No, Jesus responds with surety! Ask/given, seek/found, knock/opened! These are bold, certain responses…responses that only God can make. We live in a world of change but God also lives in our world. God, the only truly unchangeable entity, is among us. God delights in us, so much so that He is here with us, exposing himself to us and the forces of change in this world. Not that the forces of change are a threat to Him. But it shows God’s willingness to become vulnerable to us and our world. If God is willing to be exposed to us and our world, the least we can do is acknowledge our own frailty and ask for what He has to provide. For it is in the asking that we show God our deep gratitude.
In spite of our maturity and possible lack of curiosity, God doesn’t want us to stop asking Him to provide for our needs. God welcomes our “fun” questions as well as our “survival” questions. God may or may not provide the answers we’re hoping for or expecting. But we can take comfort in knowing that God hears us and provides answers. God delights in our asking! As we continue on our journey of discipleship, let us be ever confident to…simply ask.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.