Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13
Persisting in mediation. Abraham persisted in mediation between God and the righteous people of Sodom. Christ persisted in mediation between our sins and life everlasting. The two-year-old child persisted in mediation for himself.
Christopher was age two. For most of that time, Christopher knew which behavior got results. If at first the behavior did not bring the expected results, he persisted for the needs he felt at that time. The reason the expected results did not happen immediately every time is because Christopher’s parents were trying to resist being caught in a cycle of selfish demands being rewarded. However, the child persisted until the parents could stand it no longer and found themselves granting the reward for whatever non-essential and unreasonable desire of the child.
Please know that I consider actions and attitudes of love to a child to be a necessity and more than reasonable. But sometimes, as age-2 children or age 22 or 42 or 62 or oh my 82, our personalities are a bit demanding no matter how much we are loved. We persist until we have enough money to have central air-conditioning or a trip abroad or for some of us we need to persist in working two or three jobs to keep a roof over our heads.
Persistence and mediation – do they need to be partners? If we are middle or wealthy class, we may know with whom and how to mediate – to go between, to present a proposal. People in poverty class do not usually know the best person or the best method to mediate. Their methods are usually exhausting and ineffective. Abraham knew how to negotiate and he went clear to the top. Abraham presented a proposal to God. It started with the request to God to save Sodom if there were 50 righteous people in Sodom. Abraham started with an exaggerated number of 50 knowing that there were not 50 righteous people in Sodom. God answered Abraham with a “Yes, I will save Sodom if we can find 50.” Then in Abraham’s persistence, it moved to 45, then 40 and gradually to 10. The Lord actually promised to save Sodom if 10 righteous people could be found.
If you are a technical person, you are probably hungering to know what qualifies as “righteousness.” One definition says that it is being without sin, being perfect. It is an attribute of God. Another definition in a secular dictionary is not so demanding: being morally justifiable. My own understanding of Abraham’s use of the term righteous is that residents of Sodom who at least have their faces turned to God, instead of their backs, could be counted as righteous. For us in our day, I think that “righteous” means we have “being without sin” as our goal, having our faces turned toward God in everything we do – at work, at recreation, what we wear, how we use our money, being kind and fair in all we do and say.
Have you ever mediated for someone other than yourself? Were you in the middle? Did you like being in the middle? Were you there because you truly felt that the other person needed your assistance as you happened to be more capable than he or she? Were you in the middle because you knew that “wrong” was being done, that injustice was having the upper hand? Were you called to be a witness of a crime and even if you were not required by law to testify, you would have felt compelled to lose work and sleep and comfort to tell what you saw. Telling the truth, you were a mediator between the judge and/or jury and the person.
Where is God if you are mediating between the law process and the accused person? Abraham was mediating directly with God. Do we need God in a court or police station? We need God everywhere at every time. The truth is that, no matter where we go, God is with us. How can we tell? We can tell that God is with us by what he does for us. It works better if we realize this at all times. We develop relationship with God. It becomes a habit. Dialogue happens. So when we are mediating for someone, it is not us alone in the middle. The picture is God within us, God around us, God around everyone involved. God is everywhere. We can ignore this fact or we can accept God’s presence.
As I write, I am also listening to a discussion about the immigration problem. We can talk right and left, conservative and liberal, English language and non-English language, firmness with kindness and fairness, firmness without kindness and fairness. What matters is what God wants. We need to be in open discussion between the individual immigrants and our lawmakers and God! We need to be persistent in mediation by listening. Listening is not negative action. Listening is part of the process – listening to people whose opinions are different than our own, listening to the immigrants, the employers. Looking at the total picture with an open mind.
We could choose to ride this debate without involvement. How long can we last without forming an opinion? We can choose to hide from national and world problems because our little world is still rotating; still spinning enough essentials and a few pleasantries into our laps. I can go on and on about how God helps me personally every day. But, I need to take this beyond myself. I need to be the stone tossed into the water and I need to be persistent so that the widest ripples are as strong as the first small ripple. Of course, it is God who will make the ripples strong enough but it is myself who needs to be persistent.
Jesus spent his three adult years on earth teaching and teaching and teaching. Who was he teaching? His disciples were being coached. The next generation was coached by the first generation of disciples. The teaching moved through the coming generations somewhat like ripples. We are the beneficiaries of the ripples. The teachings of Jesus were so holy, so all-encompassing, that they were designed for forever. We don’t have a clue where our generation
falls in the timeline between the ascension of Jesus and His coming again. The idea is that these teachings of Jesus are intended to be applicable until the final ripple before Jesus appears in all of his glory.
We can take these teachings to our town council, to Harrisburg, to Washington and to the United Nations. We can even take them to the World Council of Churches where holy things are supposed to be shaped. Do we have a local Council of Churches where leadership decisions can be made? A good community Council of Churches can have a great holy and fair influence in the fabric of a community. You may be thinking that the teachings of Jesus may get lost if the Council of Churches includes the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith and Hindu and on and on.
Well, it is very interesting that the very basis of the teachings of Jesus is found in most religions of the world. Jesus boldly stated that we shall love neighbors as ourselves. We have from the gospels, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We can find this Golden Rule at Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.
In our very gospel lesson today we have Jesus exclaiming that we shall do the best for our children; we need to make wise choices. We shall do the best in our mediating and persisting for our friends. We shall give to our children a fish and not a snake; an egg instead of a scorpion. We shall stand between our children and unkindness. We shall be persistent in surrounding our children with kindness. We shall be persistent in mediating between the world and our children. What is the best way to accomplish this goal?
The way is prayer – from the beginning, in the middle, and at the end in thanksgiving. How many of us have adult children who are not in a worship service this morning? Let us not give up. Instead of verbally nagging or some stronger overt action, we shall be faithful – be persistent – in prayer. We are mediating between our adult children and our Creator and Sustainer.
The man who came to his neighbor late at night kept knocking until the neighbor finally relented and opened the door to hand the man some bread for an unexpected guest. This is where Jesus proceeded to tell us, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Have you found this to be true in your life or are you still knocking and searching and facing a closed door? Be persistent.
The Lord’s Prayer is a great example of persistence and mediation. Think that we have been saying this prayer for more than two thousand years. That is a great deal of persistence. Have there been blessings for each person who has prayed this prayer? First we need to have our senses in motion, lest we miss some outcomes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Well, if I can get to the grocery store and if I have money, there is bread, much bread, many varieties of bread. Did you notice the “us” in the Lord’s Prayer? Who is “us?” Is it only the people who have cars and can drive and have money? Does “us” mean only Americans? Does “us” mean only those of us who were born in the United States? Or, does “us” include the people in the world who need help to get the bread?” “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Our world is not separated into heaven and earth with a bold line on the horizon. God’s kingdom is with us now! It is not complete! It is not perfect! God is waiting for something. Maybe, just maybe, God is waiting for our persistence and mediation on behalf of the people who do not have.
Oh God, help us! Help us to be persistent and to become good at mediation so that your kingdom will come in all of its fullness. Oh, what about our sins and those who sin against us. I hear you saying again and again, “Be persistent. Be generous in forgiveness. The world will be ready for the second coming when the world is alive with forgiveness. Alive, yes, alive with forgiveness. Amen