Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shameless Persistence (Luke 11:1-13)

"Shameless Persistence"
Luke 11:1-13 (and Genesis 18:20-32)
Church of the Nativity Episcopal Church
July 28, 2013

I don’t pray as often as I should. After reading passages of Scripture like this morning’s Gospel lesson, I sometimes wonder why I don’t. I suspect that my own laziness has something to do with it. Some mornings I simply do not want to get out of bed in the morning until I absolutely have to. I also think that my love of distraction keeps me away from prayer. I don’t think I fully realized this until I got a smartphone. Whenever boredom threatens, I pull out my Android to fend off the boredom monster. Whenever I start to pray, whatever might be happening on the internet, Facebook, or Youtube suddenly becomes ten times more interesting. Finally, my propensity to be a busy-body also gets in the way of me and God. I’m always in so much of a rush running out the door in the morning, that I simply don’t take the time to have a conversation with God--to be still before the Lord.  

But there also times that I’m not lazy or bored, distracted or busy, and yet I’m still unwilling to set time aside to bring myself before the Savior. Over the course of this week I’ve wondered about this. Is my limited prayer life due to an implicit lack of faith? Is it that I don’t believe in the power or the efficacy of prayer? Unfortunately, I think the answer is often yes. To put it in the words of this this morning’s lesson, sometimes I simply do not trust that if I ask, I’ll receive, that if I search, I’ll find, that if I knock, the door will be opened to me.      

Well, if you couldn’t guess it from the opening, this morning’s Gospel lesson is about prayer. It is made up of three parts: (1) a model prayer (2) a parable on prayer (3) and some sayings on prayer.  I’m going to take a brief look at all three parts and hopefully we’ll find out more about the character of our God and just what exactly is his attitude toward the prayers of his beloved, namely you and me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Cross is Sufficient (Colossians 1:15-28)

“The Cross is Sufficient”
Colossians 1:15-28
St. Thomas Memorial Episcopal Church


This morning’s lesson from the Epistle to the Colossians is dense. It’s jam-packed with what you might call theological gold. I’m only going to focus on one of its themes. In fact, I’m going to narrow it down to one verse--verse twenty-four.  In it the author of Colossians writes that in his suffering, Paul is “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”  A few years ago I heard a famous Christian public figure at a large gathering say that this passage is “almost heresy.”  The people listening to this speaker looked confused.  “How can you say it’s ‘almost heresy?’  It’s Paul. It’s the Bible.”  I was right there with them wondering the same thing.
Over the course of the two thousand year history of the Church, Christians have interpreted this passage—that Paul was “completing what is lacking in the Christ’s afflictions”—in different ways.  Some have come to the conclusion that Paul—and, therefore, we—“complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” through our good works.  Christ’s afflictions—or the Cross—gets us most of the way toward peace with God, but we—of course—have to do our part to bridge the remaining gulf.
I still hear people talk like this today.  In the hospital whenever I talk to a patient who does not have much time to live, they tell me that they hope they’ve lived a good enough life to make it to heaven when they die.  This is the way of salvation by grace plus works.  It’s not that any of these patients would deny the power of the Cross, they simply believe—to put it in the words of the text at hand—that they are “completing what is lacking in Christ’s affliction” by living a good life—by being good enough.
This morning I’d like to make it clear that being good enough is not what the author of Colossians is saying when he writes that Paul was “completing what is lacking in Christ’s affliction in his sufferings.”  And the reason why the famous Christian public figure that I mentioned earlier said that this passage of Scripture is “almost heresy” is because so many have taken it to mean that we are made right with God by doing our part.