When I was growing up in church and learning about missions in Girls in Action, my favorite time of year was Christmas (it still is!)—but my second favorite was “Christmas in July,” when our G.A. leaders would set up a Charlie-Brownish little Christmas tree, decorated in red and green baubles, in our church-basement classroom. In the heat of summer, with the a/c cranked up, we would sing Christmas songs, and eat Christmas snacks, and tell the Christmas story, and we’d wrap up donations of toothbrushes and mini shampoo bottles in festive paper. Everybody gives a lot during Christmastime, we learned; but in the middle of summer, when that generous holiday is furthest away, there were still needs we could help to meet. The Christmas story and the Christmas songs and our Christmas spirit did not have to be confined to December!
This July, maybe we too “need a little Christmas,” as the old song says. We “need a little Advent,” a little hope, peace, joy, and love. We need to sing the Spirit’s songs. We need to look for the needs we can meet even today. And we need to tell the stories of the One who was born to give us new life.
Proper 12, Sunday, July 24, 2016
“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:10)
Jesus’ disciples knew their Teacher was “different” (feel free to imagine the air quotes!). They had watched him praying, had listened to the way he spoke to—and about—God. They’d seen him fast and they’d heard him bless those who were hungry, but they’d also seen him feast and they’d seen him provide feasts beyond imagining.
They knew that John had taught his followers, in the traditional way, that fasting and prayer went hand-in-hand (Luke 5:33). As they watched Jesus pray, as they waited for him to conclude his conversation with Yahweh, were they taking mental notes, formulating a compare-and-contrast between Jesus and John? What questions were bubbling up in their minds? And just what kind of lesson did they expect Jesus to teach them?
They were eager students; it seems they could barely wait for Jesus to speak the “Amen” before they asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”
So he taught them some words to pray: “Our Father, in heaven…” Resonant words. Words of eternity and everydayness, of heaven and of bread. Words of relationship, of giving and receiving forgiveness. Words of hope, of trust in a secure future.
Maybe they thought that was the end of the lesson, that they could simply replicate this new liturgy, go out speaking the prayer Jesus taught, echoing it around Galilee and letting it trickle down through generations. Just thirty-eight words (in the NRSV of Luke, at least), it was short enough to memorize, and it’d be easy to pass it along. So maybe when Jesus paused for breath, they started slapping their notebooks closed, gathering up their backpacks.
Then he launched into the rest of the syllabus. The words of prayer were only the introduction. He still had to teach them the Way to pray.
Knock at the door, he said. Knock in the middle of the night, wake the children if you must. You are responsible for taking care of the unexpected guests who show up at your table. On their behalf, go to the One neighbor who can help. Knock until your fingers are bruised, until the porchlight finally comes on.
Seek, like a child in the park calling out “Ready or not, here I come!” Search for your name on the presents under the tree, search for reindeer hoofprints in the snow. Search for stars in the skies, for roads not taken, for buried treasures. Search as if your life depended on it; if you’re not looking, you cannot possibly find.
Ask to be fed. Ask for fish, for eggs, for daily bread. You have a loving parent who wants to feed you, not to frighten you. Ask, trusting that you will be nourished, not poisoned.
So we can pray in the words Jesus taught his disciples—taught all of us—and we can pray in the way he taught us: as a generous host and a persistent neighbor, leaving no stone unturned, asking our hallowed Parent for the simple needs of this day.
“Teach us to pray,” the disciples requested. He taught, and we are still learning. In every word we utter, in every way we walk, we learn.
This is an Advent joy, the joy of lessons and of carols, the joy of Jesus’ prayer-full words and ways! The joy of doors swinging open wide with warm welcome. The joy of discovery as we go searching, calling friends out of hiding, spying miracles in the snow; finding gifts, guidance, paths, treasures where we never before thought to look. The joy of surprise when receive even more our wish-lists can contain, when we find our heart-hungers filled by the very Spirit of God.