Taking our hopes and dreams to God
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on July 28, 2019
I’ve seen a number of social media posts recently from friends around the country the children of several friends making their Christmas wish-lists. Maybe it’s the blazing hot weather we’ve had, maybe it’s a lull in summer activities, or maybe it’s having been with other kids and seeing what they have, but something has sparked it in them to start planning early, to think ahead and provide a list now of their hearts’ deepest desires so those who will procure such items can begin to save or look for good deals. You know, it’s really not a bad idea, actually, to layout those needs and wants and begin to think about them. With some help, maybe some prioritization, maybe some “needs vs. wants” analysis, those kids will have a really happy Christmas. I know that in my house, we have MANY conversations about what’s realistic and what’s not when it comes to the birthday and Christmas list discussions. Putting it on your list doesn’t mean you’ll get it, we say, and sometimes, you say one thing, but there’s something better, something that goes beyond what you could have imagined. I’ll say, too, that for adults, having that list is an important thing. Whether it’s for our personal lives or our work lives, looking at what we need and what we want is a good practice to be in. And it’s more than ok to have two or three lists, too. At a recent stewardship conference, we were told to have a running “wish-list” for the church. Maybe things that would enhance the ministry we do but might not fit into the annual budget. I’ve been caught flat-footed on those occasions when asked if there’s something the church needs that a parishioner or a parishioner’s family might be interested in providing. Our recent Feasibility Study helped put some of that into better light and has helped us create a more prioritized catalog of needs as we care for this amazing parish and the main building in which we worship. Information went out via regular mail on Friday with some follow-up about what happens next after the Feasibility Study.
But back to those wish lists… Whether for birthdays or Christmas or our offices or our homes, they are a written form of our hopes and dreams. Often for ourselves, but often for the benefit and enjoyment of others, too. Having those wish lists, those dreams and hopes, does not make us greedy unless we add to them for the sake of adding to them. But they keep us mindful of our life and what we have and what we need and maybe, hopefully, where God is leading us.
Both our reading from Genesis and our reading from Luke’s Gospel give us examples of working with God on what is our heart’s deepest desire and what is needed and wanted. In religious terms, we call that “prayer.” And thankfully, both Jesus and Abraham give us different visions of what prayer can be. And even more thankfully, I don’t think either of them are wrong ways to pray. The official teaching of the Episcopal Church, as found in the Catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer says that “Prayer is responding to God, by thought
and by deeds, with or without words.” Abraham is responding to God’s proposal to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah. (And if you need a refresher on what their sin *actually* was, check out Ezekiel 16:49-50. It’s not what certain branches of the Jesus movement have made it out to be.) In the same way that Abraham negotiates with God about the number of righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, how many of us have negotiated with God about something? Health. Time. Test-taking. Relationships. You’ve been there. I’ve been there.
But there’s a component to Abraham’s prayer that Jesus talks about and that most of us mere mortals often forget. The opening line of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples tells us to acknowledge the sacredness of God’s name. “Hallowed be your name” means that we are first and foremost acknowledge the holiness, the sacredness, the uniqueness, the everything-ness of God. To start from any other point is putting our own selves ahead of the one to whom we are praying. Now to be sure, Abraham just starts talking here in the Genesis reading, but after that first request (“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”), he humbles himself before God with each subsequent request. He affirms that God is the one who controls the situation, and if we read further into the next chapter, we learn that God does not find 10 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, and they meet a pretty historic end. But the other thing that this episode has in common with Jesus’ teaching today is the persistence in prayer, the continuation of the conversation, of the responding to God. Prayer, especially those hopes and dreams of our heart, is never a one-time event. Jesus calls us to continued prayer, not just a “God help me now” prayer, but a prayer that is ongoing. It’s the difference between making your grocery list and deciding what you want when you get there. Which action will give you an outcome you’re more at peace with?
Prayer is not a to-do list that we give to God. It’s us looking at the world around us, whatever your world may be, and being in conversation with God about it. It’s about hearing what God has to say to us, and remember that it’s responding to God with or without words, which leaves open the possibility that God can respond to us without words, too. But with sounds and images. Maybe a song or a feeling. Responding to God isn’t just going about our daily lives and seeing what happens. It’s about being bold in going to those places that God has called us to go, both in our hearts and in person.
Jesus uses the image of the friend knocking on the door of the neighbor who is already in bed. At first glance, it can seem like a hyperbolic story about someone responding not out of neighborly love, but out of persistence. And Jesus like to give hyperbolic examples so this might not seem out of place. Many people, often myself included, see the person knocking on the door in Jesus’ example as one of us, urgently needing something from God who is represented by the person in bed with the door locked. What happens if we switch the roles… What if the person knocking on the door is God, and WE are the one who are coming up with excuses and reasons that we can’t respond. Abraham was certainly persistent with God, but are we willing to believe that God can be persistent with us, too? Are we willing to humble ourselves and acknowledge that the creator of the universe loves and trusts us enough to help carry out the divine hopes and dreams? It’s not a stretch. Abraham wasn’t always sure of this God he was following. Moses needed a little convincing. As did Mary the mother of Jesus. As did the Apostle Paul. God’s hopes and dreams are no small thing. God needs the voice and the hands and feet of humanity to respond to help make those hopes and dreams a reality.
So, let us take our hopes and dreams to God, and allow God’s hopes and dreams to come to us so that we can respond to each other and together.