GOD Genesis 18:20-32; Luke 11:1-13
Some of you may have heard this funny story which I have told before at
a baptism service. A Boston minister was about to perform the sacrament
of infant baptism. The proud parents came forward and presented their
infant daughter to the minister, who took the child in his arms, turned
toward the font, and suddenly realized he didn't know the child's name.
He turned to the father and whispered, "What is the child's name?"
The father replied in a whisper, "Spindonna." The minister thought
this was a rather unusual name, but went ahead with the ritual, saying,
"Spindonna, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost." The father became furious and the mother burst into tears.
They took their baby back and stormed out of the sanctuary. After the
service, the couple was waiting in the minister's study. The father glared
at the pastor, saying "How could you give our child such a ridiculous
name?" The pastor looked at the man in disbelief. "I didn't
make it up. You did! I asked you what her name is and you said 'Spindonna.'
" The father said, "You idiot, I told you that it's pinned on
her!" (In New England, of course, this is said, "Spindonna.")
The father then showed the minister a small note with the name Elizabeth,
pinned to the baby's baptism dress.
In a baptism service the parents and godparents make promises and one
of the things they agree to is that they will bring up their child to
walk with them in the way of faith and that also involves teaching their
child to know God is public worship and private prayer. As the service
also says, this is a demanding task for which they need the help of God.
Today’s Bible readings tell us about knowing God in prayer and so
I thought it would be good for us to spend a few minutes looking at what
we can learn from them.
The story about Abraham and God is a surprising one. In this story Abraham
is bargaining with God. He is beating God down, not on a price, but in
how many good people God needs to persuade him not to punish a bad city.
In effect Abraham is saying something which we sometimes hear our children
say: It’s not fair! He seems to be challenging God and it looks
like God is changing his mind about punishing Sodom and Gomorrah. I say
seems because it isn’t quite that straightforward when you read
all of the stories about Abraham in the book of Genesis. When you take
a broad look at all the stories about Abraham’s relationship with
God you begin to see that they are about him discovering what God really
wants. What God really wants is not necessarily what Abraham realises
at first. For example, in another story Abraham thinks that God wants
him to sacrifice his son Isaac, but at the end he discovers that is not
what God really wanted.
what this bargaining story is about is Abraham’s own attitude changing
towards a city that looked as if it ought to be punished, and as Abraham
talks honestly with God, he discovers that God is not cruel and unfair.
I think that is a very good thing for us to learn about what prayer can
really be. Prayer is about growing in our friendship with God, learning
what he is really like, especially by being honest. Maybe complaining
to God, It’s not fair! is a very good place to start. Many people
get stuck there, as if they have a go at God and then walk away. They
never stay to argue properly and, as it were, bargain with God until they
begin to see God in a different way.
teaches about prayer
Sticking with it, not giving up or letting go, is something that Jesus
encouraged his followers when they asked him about prayer. The disciples
watched Jesus praying and they wanted to learn the secret of how to pray.
It’s a very good question: How do you pray? In a way it’s
something we need to learn all our lives. We never really arrive at a
place where there isn’t something more to learn about prayer. There
are different ways of praying as we grow up and change. Sometimes we get
stuck in a way of praying which, if we’re honest, doesn’t
really work anymore and we tempted to give up. Rather like the person
who shouts at God, “It’s not fair!” and then turns away
and never stays to hear the answer. Or we try and pray like we might have
been taught as children, and of course, as a young person or an adult,
like the clothes we grow out of, that kind of prayer doesn’t fit
Jesus was only too happy to answer his disciple’s request. He gave
them two ways to learn about prayer. First he gave them a model prayer
which many Christians know of by heart: the Lord’s Prayer. It is
an example of the kinds of things to say in prayer and what sorts of things
it is important to say as we try and pray.
way Jesus taught, as he so often did, was to tell 3 short stories or parables:
the friend at midnight; the searching person; and the good parent. All
of the stories encourage us not to give up on praying. They also encourage
us that the reason not to give up is because God is good and prayer, in
one sense, is about learning just how good God is. He always wants the
best for us and for the world, and prayer is about discovering what that
might be. Often it is about us learning that what we at first thought
was best for us or the right way for things to work out, is not necessarily
right. To take the third of Jesus’ stories: a parent wouldn’t
give a child a snake to eat, even if he wanted one – fish would
be much better. Some ice cream might be nice, but a good parent doesn’t
give their child only ice cream and nothing else!
Prayer is not always easy. Although Jesus encouraged his followers in
personal prayer, it doesn’t mean that we should not ask for help
from older or wiser Christians. Like the first followers, we can ask for
help with learning or exploring prayer – many people who are serious
about it ask for help.
© Rev Paul Smith