Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You're Asking For It...

The lyrics of a song by one of my favorite musical artists, Bebo Norman, rang in my head as I read our texts for this week (as well-written songs often do when I read scripture!). In his song "Pull Me Out," Norman asks God a simple question about what is going on, then follows that question up by singing the following line about the way he perceives God's reaction to his question: "And what about the way I said that made you turn around and shake your head like I don't even know what I'm asking for?"

Our scripture lessons for this week (Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, and Luke 11:1-13) all involve the act of asking--requests, demands, questions. But when it comes to asking, how often do we make God turn around and shake God's head like we don't even know what we're asking for?

Somehow, I think we inspire this reaction in God at least once a week in our congregation, in that moment where voices join together out of the quiet following our sharing of joys and concerns to pray together a variation on those words that Jesus taught his disciples when they boldly asked him, "Lord, teach us to pray." The disciples likely had no idea what they were asking for...they thought they were doing what any good disciples did, what John's disciples did when they asked him for a form of prayer that could be uniquely theirs and identify them as their Master's followers. They thought they were following disciple protocol...and maybe, as a bonus, if Jesus taught them to pray, they could be as connected to God as Jesus was in those frequent moments when he communed with the Almighty.

In Luke's rendition of this teachable moment, Jesus gives the disciples an even more stripped down prayer than the one the disciples are given in a similar scene in Matthew (a text that is closer to what we actually pray when we say the Lord's Prayer together--see Matthew 6:9-13). Yet these few simple lines are stunning in their asking. First, look at how Jesus tells them to approach the Creator of the Universe--they are to call him Abba. This is not the formal "Father" of what we pray, but the informal, intimate name of "Daddy." Then they are to ask of him five things--five things that, if granted, could completely change the world. It's interesting how little this prayer has in common with many of the things we offer up for prayer during our joys and concerns time--it's a prayer that focuses much less on our local and individual needs of healing and strength and comfort and offering thanks, and more on God acting to transform the entire cosmos. Hallow your name, God--reveal Yourself in the fullness of who You are. Your kingdom come--make this earth reflect Your nature and Your priorities. Give us this day our daily bread--each and every one of us relies upon you. Forgive us as we forgive others...let your forgiveness and ours mirror one another. And don't let us be tempted by anything that would take our eyes off of you.

What are we asking for here? It's kind of insane, actually. We're asking for a whole new where God is seen to be who God is, in all God's holiness and intimacy, in all God's judgment and mercy. We're asking not for the ways of our own kingdoms, but of God's. We're asking for bread to be provided for all people, regardless of the cost. We're asking not just for God's forgiveness, but that we might set the standard of gracious forgiveness, being as forgiving of others as we hope God will be of us. We're asking to have our backs turned on the things that turn us from God and our lives wholly refocused on this One.

Congregations around the world say these words together each week just falling unconsciously into their rhythm, into their comfort, into the beauty of voices joined into one...but do we even know what we're asking for? Furthermore, if we really believed God would respond to what we ask, would we be so quick to do so?

Asking is central to what we do when we worship God--we ask for guidance, ask for God's blessing, ask for healing, ask for wisdom, ask for courage to be God's people. But if Jesus' response to the disciples' inquiry is any indication, we'd better be careful what we're asking for...because if we serve a faithful God, we just might get it.

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