July 24, 2016

10th Sunday after Pentecost
‘MERCIFUL PRESENCE’

BIBLE READINGS
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85

Luke 11:1-13

REFLECTION

Most of you would know that I just returned from my honeymoon with my wife in Singapore and Malaysia. When we were in Singapore, we visited a Hindu temple in a place called Little India. We also went to a museum that displays the life of the early Chinese settlement in Singapore.

The interesting things that we found in both places were the gods that the Hindus and those early Chinese settlers worship. They worship a variety of gods and each god has different character and power, so one will pray to a different god each time, depending on the situation. For example, if someone is facing difficulty and looking for a solution, he/she will pray to the Monkey King. In the Chinese belief system, the Monkey King represents tenacity and agility in the face of a problem. But if people are in the middle of the ocean and they’re hoping for a safe passage, they don’t pray to the monkey king; they pray to the ocean god. And if they are looking for wisdom, they pray to the god of wisdom. In the Hindu’s belief system, this god manifests himself as a human being with an elephant head.

I can’t help but to reflect back to our own Christian belief. What kind of god is the God whom we pray to? Is God is the god of agility and tenacity, like the monkey king, or a god who operates only in certain area, like the ocean god, or a god whose main job is to grant wisdom? Well, Jesus called God as his father, so it’s obvious that he wants us to see God mainly not as the monkey king or the ocean god or the wisdom god, but as our father.

Now, a father doesn’t always have a positive image. A father can be authoritarian or even abusive. Even in Jesus’ time, a father was often seen as someone who had extensive even coercive powers over his family.[1] But, when Jesus calls God as his father, he doesn’t mean that God is like an abusive or authoritarian figure. No. For him, God is a fatherly figure who shows genuine love and care towards his children. This is the kind of father that Jesus wants us to pray to.

So, Jesus wants us to be assured that when we pray to God, our prayer is not in vain because God is like our father who genuinely cares about us. Indeed, just like what one commentator says:  “We are pushing against an open door when we pray.

In a sense, we are already inside, children tucked in for the night, not merely the friend of a friend, not even merely the friend of the Son, but sons and daughters ourselves with the same Spirit, the same love.” [2]

So, when we pray, we are no longer strangers, waiting for God to invite us to come into the house; when we pray, we are already inside the house.  Indeed, prayer reminds us of who we are: children of the living God. So, in a sense, Jesus reminds us that when we pray, we have already received what we ask for; found what we are searching for; and welcome into the house whose door we knock on.

Indeed, the prayer that Jesus taught to his followers reflects this promise. We have already received everything that Jesus asks us to pray for: God’s Kingdom, sustenance to life, forgiveness of sins, and protection from temptation. God has promised to provide all theses things to us, and our prayer is the assurance that all those things belong to us.

In our passage in Luke, Jesus further emphasizes this point by using as an example the relationship between a parent and his/her child. No parent, in his/her right mind, would give his/her child a snake instead of fish or a scorpion instead of an egg. So, if a human parent, who is far from perfect, knows about what is best for his/her child, how much more God would know what we need.

When we were in Malaysia, we visited a friend who lives in Selangor with her young family. She just had an 11-month-old baby so she quitted her well-paid job to become a full-time mother. When we had lunch together, she and her husband took turn eating their lunch so at least one of them was looking after the baby. They did the same thing when we had our afternoon tea.

Indeed, both she and her husband had lost a lot of weight even though, judging from what they ate, they do not eat anything less than usual. When we jokingly asked about their secret of staying slim without reducing the amount of food they eat, they simply said, “The baby. Looking after the baby was a hard work.” Yet, they still do it with joy in their eyes. This kind of sacrificial love is the reflection of the kind of love that God has for us. And, if my friends are ready to sacrifice their own need, career, and even health, for the sake of their son, how much more God would be prepared to give for us.

We also encounter this kind of God in our reading today from the book of Hosea. The prophecy that we hear today begins with harsh words. Israel was given three names and each name was a rebuke against them. Indeed, because of their sins, God had threatened to sever God’s relationship with them.

But this threat was not the final word and would be matched with words of hope in the final verses of our reading in Hosea. The people of Israel, whom God had called as “Not My people” would be called “Children of the living God” once again.

 

Now, there was nothing that the people of Israel had done to deserve this. They deserved to be punished, but God didn’t give what they deserved. God, once again, acted according to God’s infinite mercy. And God’s mercy did not depend on what Israel did or did not, but depends on who God is. This is pure grace.

 

We encounter the same kind of divine love in our reading from the book of Psalm. The psalmist approaches God not in fear, but in hope, knowing that God would respond to his prayer not in wrath, but in mercy. Indeed, the psalmist ends his prayer with his belief that, in the end, God’s steadfast love, faithfulness, peace, and righteousness would prevail.

So, friends, once again, the God whom we pray to and worship is not an unknown God. Jesus has introduced this God as a God of infinite grace and love. Indeed, God is our father and mother; a loving parent who knows about all our needs even before we ask for them. And our prayers to God will never be in vain because the moment we utter words to pray is the moment when we receive all the blessings that God promises to give us.

Amen.
Rev. Toby Keva

 [1] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2016 (Biblical background for July 24 2016)

[2] Meda Stamper, Commentary on Luke 11:1-13, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (July 24 2016)