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Sermon for July 24, 2022 – Proper 12

Speaking Of Life 4035 | Debt Forgiveness in Christ

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life Script 4035 | Debt Forgiveness in Christ
Cara Garrity         

In The United States of America, more than 44 million people have outstanding school loan debt – amounting to more than $1.5 trillion that is currently owed. The forgiveness of school loan debt is currently one of the hot-button issues in American politics right now.

Many of the borrowers are paying thousands of dollars every year but are finding it nearly impossible to get out from underneath this mountain of debt. Those who have just recently graduated are starting to realize that they will be paying on these loans into their senior years. The prospect of having to carry that load for most of the rest of their lives seems overwhelming.

While the topic is controversial for some, debt forgiveness is not a new concept. Part of the “Year of Jubilee” we read about in the Old Testament includes debt forgiveness every 50 years. We can also see debt forgiveness in ancient Babylon in the “Hammurabi Code”. Hammurabi ruled the Babylonian empire for 42 years. During his reign, he instituted four different general debt cancellations. The writings confirm that these were designed to ensure that the poor were not exploited and oppressed by the rich and that the widows and orphans were not burdened.

We also see debt forgiveness as far back as the 8th century BC practiced by the Egyptians. When the Rosetta Stone was finally deciphered in 1822, they found the inscriptions confirming debt cancellation. You can only imagine the relief brought about by the canceling of one’s debts. But these are just physical debts.

The Apostle Paul, who was well-schooled and was most likely educated about these historical practices, wrote about a more important debt to the Colossian Church:                                             

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.
Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV)

Before Jesus came, we were all under a great mountain of debt. There was no possible way for us to get ourselves out from underneath this burden. Until Jesus, there was no debt forgiveness in sight.

You may remember Paul’s oft-quoted statement “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He said this to believers in Rome, reminding them that when Jesus went to the cross, he took all sin and all the trespasses of mankind with him. Everything was forgiven and we are now able to live free from the burden and demands of sin. We are redeemed citizens of the kingdom of God. Never again to be oppressed and ruled over by sin and death. All the charges against us have been nullified in Christ.

But the work of Christ goes so much further than just the forgiveness of sin and the release of the bondage to sin. We have been made alive with Christ, and it is through him that we are able to triumph in this life and the next.

Furthermore, unlike the ancient civilizations of Babylon and Egypt, where you could find yourself back to being in debt, we have died to that debt once and for all – we will never be under a system of spiritual debt again. 

Although, in this life, you may find yourself in debt due to buying a home or a car or taking out a school loan that you might be paying on until your grandkids are grown, just know that spiritually you are never going to be a debtor.

We are released from the oppression of sin and are living debt-free in Christ, who has freed and raised us into new life!

I am Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 85:1-13 • Hosea 1:2-10 • Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19) • Luke 11:1-13

The theme for this week is the generosity of God. In our call to worship Psalm, we see the psalmist extoling the many virtues of God, including the proclamation that the Lord will indeed give what is good. In Hosea, we see God telling the prophet that he will be generous to Judah even after Israel has turned away. In Colossians, Paul reminds us how generous God was in forgiving us of all our sins and making us alive with Christ. And in Luke 11, Jesus shows us by way of a parable how much more generous God is than our earthly fathers and friends.

How Much More is our Heavenly Father…

Luke 11:5-13

If you were a child of the ‘70s or earlier, chances are, your parents may have given you a Christmas present that could have caused grievous bodily harm to either yourself or others. Gifts that, if they were given out today, would result in calls to Child Protective Services faster than you could say, “Red Rider BB Gun” or “Lawn Jarts.”

Pocket knives and pellet guns were at the top of Santa’s list, as were the now-banned, sharp, steel-tipped lawn darts. But after far too frequent post-holiday trips to the E.R., parents began to finally wise up regarding their apocalyptic Christmas present choices.

There is someone we never have to worry about when it comes to giving, and that is our heavenly Father. He knows exactly what we need and gives generously to us out of his wise and loving care.

Today we are going to be looking at a conversation that Jesus had with his disciples. Instead of answering a simple question of theirs, in Jesus’ typical style, he turns this into an opportunity for story time. It is through this story that he communicates how much more generous is our heavenly Father to us than our earthly fathers, and how much more generous he is as a friend to us than our earthly friends. Today’s text starts off with a passage most of us are familiar with.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’” (Luke 11:1-4)

The disciples requested Jesus to teach them to pray as John the Baptist’s disciples prayed. In Luke’s telling of this, he has Jesus giving an abbreviated form of what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer. Because of its brevity, and because Jesus quickly moves on to a parable, it doesn’t appear that Luke is concerned with making sure this prayer gets cemented into a word-for-word liturgy to be passed down through the eons of church history. N.T. Wright said: “The Lord’s Prayer is not so much a command as an invitation… to share in the prayer-life of Jesus himself.”[1]

It would seem that what Jesus is communicating through this story isn’t about how, or what to pray, but more importantly, about knowing the character of the one we pray to.

What led the disciples to ask Jesus how to pray? Earlier in Luke’s Gospel (chapter 5), we have the Pharisees making comparisons between Jesus’ disciples and John’s disciples. They noted that Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast and pray like John’s did. Perhaps the disciples of Jesus felt that there was competition between the two camps.

Jesus will go on to make the point that prayer is not about performance, it’s about acknowledging God and experiencing intimacy with him. The next thing that Jesus does is tell his disciples a parable. But Jesus does something a little different. He asks them to put themselves in the story.

 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:5-10)

The disciples are asked to see themselves as having received a guest in the middle of the night. As a host, you are unprepared as you find yourself without any bread to offer your nocturnal out-of-town guest. The disciples would have recognized this as a not quite so uncommon event in their day and age. Many people travelled at night to avoid the heat of the day. They travelled when it was cooler and more comfortable. Receiving a guest late at night would not have been uncommon.

Hospitality seems to be a lost art in our society today, but back in first-century Palestine, it was taken quite seriously. If someone came to you for lodging, then you put them up. And if you put them up, then you also were responsible for feeding them. But what happens when your cupboards are bare?

The disciples were asked to picture themselves going to their next-door neighbor and having to ask them for food so they could feed their guests.

Jesus shows the likely outcome of encountering a grumpy, sleepy-eyed neighbor who just wants you to go away. Afterall, everyone is already in bed, and if that neighbor has to get up, more than likely he will be waking the entire household (animals and all). The inconvenience to that neighbor would have been no small thing.

None of what Jesus is describing here would have been far-fetched. He was using a real-world example of what would occasionally happen, and what the result was likely to be. Jesus is drawing them into his example to feel the full weight of each of the characters in this story.

The road-weary guest is probably famished, and now he may feel bad about the tough position he has just put his host in. The last thing that the host wanted to happen was to have to wake his neighbor because he was caught being a neglectful, ill-prepared host. But the greater offence would have been in allowing the guest to starve, which would bring shame to his entire family. His only recourse is to get his neighbor to comply with his desperate request. The sleeping neighbor doesn’t want to wake his entire family and whatever animals he has, as this would cause quite the scene.

Finally, we have the resolution through the sleeping neighbor granting the urgent pleas of the host. And not because they were such good buddies, but as Jesus put it, because of his shamelessness. He knows that this neighbor of his is in a tight spot, so he bails him out.

The disciples are realizing that in this story everyone is asking for something. But none of these things are being asked or answered out of pure relationship. It is all about saving face or persistence or playing on someone’s sense of ethics and expectations within their culture. None of this is describing how our heavenly Father reacts to our prayers.

Jesus tells his disciples to ask, seek, and knock and that by doing so they will get what it is they are inquiring about. In fact, he seems to say the same thing in two different ways from verse 9 to verse 10. So, is this saying that anything we want from God is automatically answered? All we need to do is ask and all is ours, no questions asked? Well, we can see from real life that this is not the case. We all know people that we have prayed for, who not only didn’t get well but passed away. We prayed for broken marriages that were in trouble only to see them end up in divorce. If you haven’t done so already, pray that you win the lottery tonight, and let me know how that turns out. More on this in a moment. Let’s continue.

 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

Jesus is now asking his disciples to reflect on a human level. He describes how our deeply flawed fathers are capable of providing everything we need physically. They wouldn’t needlessly put our lives in danger. This would be unthinkable. We are under their protection and receive their provision. Fathers have a sense of obligation in these matters.

Then Jesus makes the comparison between earthly fathers and our heavenly Father. If our earthly fathers (as evil as they are) know how to give good gifts, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

This reminds me of Isaiah 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” If you read the rest of that chapter, you will see that the prophet is talking about how much greater God’s goodness is than our own.

The statement made by Jesus, “How much more…” is the punchline. It is the climax to this story – to this event that Luke records for us. It is not about teaching us a specific formula for how to pray. It is not teaching us to pray until we get our way. And it is certainly not about bringing God down to the level of our fickle expectations. Jesus is teaching us about how much greater God is as a friend than all those represented by his story. And how much greater God is as a Father than those who already protect and provide for us.

Unlike the sleeping friend, God does not try to shut us up or turn us away. God gives as a friend. A friend who never needs to be convinced of our need. He is aware of it far more than we are. Our motivations in asking do not impress him. He is already willing. We will never inconvenience him. We are in fact, told to enter into his throne room boldly. God is not reluctant and does not despise our asking. God does not hold out on us.

Unlike earthly fathers who can only provide for us physically, our heavenly Father is after far more. He is desirous of our spiritual well-being and will make sure that we are taken care of. He is what the disciples were told to ask for. It was the Holy Spirit that was to be asked for and sought after. It is through the Holy Spirit that we know the overwhelmingly generous mind and heart of God towards us and all his creation. The Holy Spirit shows us just “how much more is our Father in heaven” than anything else.

[1] https://books.google.com/books?id=MMRwL3OBI4sC&pg=PA132&dq=%22so+much+a+command+as+an+invitation%22+%22share+in+the+prayer+life%22&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj757PA4uL3AhWND0QIHRCnB8cQ6AF6BAgEEAI#v=onepage&q=%22so%20much%20a%20command%

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins W4

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July 24 – Proper 12
Luke 11:1-13 “How Much More”

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Program Transcript

Lord of the Harvest w/ Anthony Mullins—W4

The next passage is Luke 11:1-13. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 12 and Ordinary Time, which is July 24th.

He 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.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

 And 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; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And 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.’ I 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.

“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. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If 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!”

Now, who taught you to pray? And what were you taught? Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that if I bow my head, closes my eyes, clasped my hands, was good, mostly, well-behaved, and I believe it with all my heart and told God what I wanted or needed, I would get it. Any of that sound familiar?

I suspect many of us were taught at some point. Or have lived with some sort of version of that understanding of prayer. I sometimes think of that as Coke machine theology. If you put in the coins of faith and good behavior and make the right selection, you get what you want.

And I kind of like Coke machine theology. I like it a lot. In some ways it’s reassuring. It makes sense, and it’s predictable. And it works great until it doesn’t, until the machine gives you a Dr. Pepper when you want a Coke or worst yet, steals your money, then what do you do? Kick the machine, put in more money and push the button harder, walk away vowing to never drink another Coke.

God is not and never was a divine Coke machine. And prayer is not a transaction between us and God. I don’t think Jesus ever intended, “ask, search, and knock” as a blank check on God’s account. His instruction to ask, seek, knock is in relationship to what we have come to call the Lord’s prayer. We’re to be persistent in aligning our lives to the hallowing of God’s name, giving awareness to God’s kingdom in our life and relationships, opening ourselves to the gift and sufficiency of this day, freely receiving and forgiving or giving forgiveness.

When Jesus teaches us about asking, searching, and knocking, he is not teaching a technique, a magic formula, an incantation, so that we can get whatever we want. I think he’s describing a certain posture, a way of standing before God exposed and responsive to a holy and life-giving Spirit. Prayers more about relationship and communion.

What do we pray for? The hallowing of God’s very name. That’s pretty cosmic, right? What do we pray for? The coming of the kingdom. Yeah. That’s pretty big too. What do we pray for? Daily bread and ongoing forgiveness. We pray to be forgiven by God, which is ours as a gift while we are also engaging in acts of forgiveness.

What do we pray for? That we’re not led into temptation. And when   is it that we don’t want to be tempted, right? Is it just for the next half hour or so, the balance of this particular day, just tomorrow? Or is temptation something we want to actively avoid forever and ever.

Let no one who hears us preach on this passage conclude that the Lord’s prayer is mostly about a list of certain requests. In a way, the two brief parabolic examples that Jesus gives, backs up this perspective on life as ongoing prayer. The “Friend at Midnight” story reminds us that prayer pops up all the time and does not wait for convenient seasons or moments. Prayer isn’t always polite. Prayer cannot be sequestered to safe corners of our lives.

Life is bumpy unpredictable. So also, will our prayers be as they occur across the whole sweep of a life such as that. And this is where we have to really think through our hermeneutic. As we look at scripture and our exegesis, our interpretation of it in that we have to be careful that we don’t become overly prescriptive.

There are times where things are prescriptive, do this and do that. This is what happens. More times than not, the passages, and this one in this case, it’s descriptive. It describes a relationship with God, what it looks like that he is for us, that he wants to give us the good things according to his will.

And he desires to be sought after in relationship, because guess what? God makes the first move. He sought after us. He went into the far country to find us in our brokenness and our sin, in our devastation. He is a seeking God. And he’s saying, that’s what relationship is. It pursues the other. And therefore, let’s pursue God in prayer.

Robert Farrar Capon says:

“In any case, the Lord’s Prayer, which is clearly a preface to the parable of the Friend at Midnight, is exceedingly odd in its content, it tis proportions and in its adequacy as a response to a request for a religious formula. It begins, simply, Father – an opening that to me speaks not of someone with whom we still have a relationship after certain pious or ethical exercises but of the One to whom we are already related by sonship. More than that, it suggests that for both the disciples and us, the sonship we have is precisely Jesus’ own – that we stand before the Father in him (in the beloved Eph 1:6) We pray, in other words, not out of our own dubious supplicative competencies but in the power of his death and resurrection. Or to put it most correctly, he (and the Spirit as well) prays in us. Prayer is not really our work at all.”

Now a brief word about the parable of the Friend at Midnight, I’ve heard this bite-sized parable preach as if the main point is persistence. Prayer gets results, almost shameless, persistent prayer. Listen, friends, loved ones. I’m for persistent prayer, but I’m against that being prescriptive. In other words, I don’t think if you nag God enough, you will eventually wear him down, and he will relent your quest and be conditioned to be good to you.

That’s how the parable is often taught. Jesus never gives credit—notice this—Jesus never gives credit to the friend’s request, as the reason he got what he wanted. This is profoundly important. God is already good. He already wants what’s best for you and for me, for humanity. We don’t have to condition God to be gracious toward us with persistent prayer.

He already is gracious to us revealed in Jesus Christ. This is again why it’s so important to look at this parable as descriptive, not prescriptive.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • If all our sin has been forgiven, why do we sometimes struggle with forgiving ourselves or maybe others?
  • What does a sin-debt-free life look like to you?
  • Name some specific ways in which God has been generous to you over the last few months.

From the Sermon

  • If we ask, seek, and knock, why don’t we always receive the answers that we want?
  • How has God’s generosity towards you changed your generosity towards others?
  • Do you think God needs to be constantly reminded about our prayers or that he rewards our insistent prayers?
  • How God has been generous with you?
  • How does the friendship of God appear in your life?

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