Pleasing Persistence

Text: Genesis 18:20-33
Date: Pentecost X + Proper 12 + 7/24/16

“Lord, teach us to pray” asked Jesus’ disciples. But haven’t they been praying the God-given psalms in the temple and the synagogue, at Passover and around the dinner table? Yet there is something that makes us think we haven’t been doing it right or that there is a more effective technique or maybe a secret password to get better, more immediate answers to our prayers. When the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He didn’t come up with the Rosary; not even the more ancient “Jesus Prayer,” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

“When you pray,” he said, “say: ‘Father.’” No secret password, no droning repetition, no more than simply speaking, speaking to God. Of course there are many who do not pray, who do not speak to God primarily because they doubt that God even exists or that He listens to us at all. But doubts even assail believers and we do not feel, as St. Paul said, that we pray as we ought (Rom 8:26).

But prayer begins not with us. Indeed, how can anyone whom sin has rendered spiritually dead even come to God much less speak to Him and hope to be heard? No. Prayer begins with God. It must begin with God because of our sin and spiritual weakness. God comes to us as He did to Abraham giving us new life and inviting us to pray. And not only inviting but urging, admonishing, imploring us to pray saying not once, not twice, but three times, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Prayer begins with God because God created us to pray. Prayer begins with how God has created all human beings to be in a relationship with Him unlike any other part of His creation. To man God has granted a power to the prayer of faith to which He willingly responds. God not only works on us by means of His grace but, as strange as it may seem, even allows us to work on Him by means of faith.

Abraham had faith, faith in the God who first came to him and established a relationship, a covenant relationship of promise. Solely because of Abraham’s response of faith God declared him righteous. Because of Abraham’s faith in God’s word he knew that he had a role to play in God’s plan of salvation. Therefore, he felt he was being called by God to express his part when God came to him once in the form of three men, actually the Son of God Himself and two angels, announcing first that his wife Sarah would conceive and bear a son, a son of the promise, the first in line leading to the incarnation of the Son of God Himself as Savior of the world.

Then God disclosed to Abraham his plan of judgment against sin and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Believe it! They deserved it in God’s punitive righteousness demonstrating the fate of all the ungodly. And lest you hide safely behind the deception that “ungodly” is reserved only for the other dirty fellow, we must admit with the apostle Paul that we all are ungodly. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). That’s us! May we never forget the judgment and death God owes us according to His perfect Law and our disobedience.

But Abraham, as the father of God’s people of faith, felt called to lead his descendants in the paths of righteousness, so that we might become partakers of the promised salvation, and not be overtaken by judgment against our sin.

The two men, that is angels, turned to go to Sodom. But Abraham continued standing before God who had been talking with him. He approached God with the boldness of faith to intercede for Sodom, appealing not to God’s judicial wrath but to His covenant of grace. Yet he did this first appealing to God’s justice alone with the thought that the Judge of all the earth certainly could not possibly destroy the righteous with the wicked. Upon his prayer God agreed. Upon the prayer of faith God changed or modified his plan! It might seem to be pressing his luck in his repeated diminishing prayer from for the sake of fifty righteous to forty-five to forty to thirty to twenty and finally to ten. “For the sake of ten (righteous) will you not destroy the city?” But this is what Jesus called “importunity” or “impudence” in His story of the midnight neighbor, the persistence and shamelessness of faith that doesn’t quit until it gets it’s answer.

There are two truths here. First, there wasn’t even one righteous to be found in Sodom, hence its destruction by the brimstone and fire of God. However, the other truth is more hopeful. For there is One righteous who dwells among us and for His sake diverts God’s wrath for us. That’s all it took for us to be delivered from judgment and eternal death, namely just One Righteous. As St. John wrote in his first epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

When you pray, say: Father. God has given Abraham and his children, you, His people of faith, the wonderful, amazing ability to bend His ear, to plead His grace, to intercede for others and the world, to avert His judgment and respond in grace. As St. James wrote, “the prayer of faith will save” (James 5:15). Therefore, ask, seek and knock in faith to your Father in heaven.