Preacher: Jeff Davidson
Scripture: Psalm 138; Genesis 18:20-32; Luke 11:1-13
Whenever I go to take a shower, I end up singing a song. Sometimes it’s something I heard on the radio or the TV before I got in the shower, sometimes it’s related to something I’ve been thinking about, and sometimes it’s just some random song that pops into my head.
Sooner or later as I’m singing my song softly to myself I’ll change the lyrics, usually to something related to cats. That used to make me smile when I did it. Lately it makes me a little sad, though, because I’m still in the habit of putting Ming’s name into the song along with Leo, and of course Ming died a couple of months ago.
This habit made me look bad a few years ago. I was at District Conference with Care, and was talking with her about inserting our cat’s names into songs. I told her to name an 80’s rock song and I’d demonstrate. She named the Kansas song “Dust in the Wind.” I thought for a minute, and then did the lamest possible job of working cats into the song. I have a couple of excuses, but they don’t matter. I just did a bad job. Care was kind not to laugh in my face.
Even though I’m often not as clever and witty about it as I think I am, and even though it sometimes makes me a little sad or wistful, I like singing a song in the shower. I like singing to myself when it’s quiet enough for me to do so, or when I’m otherwise bored or waiting on something that’s not going to happen as quickly as I want it to. Singing can help distract me. Singing can help entertain me. Singing can help set the tone for my day.
In verse 5 of our Call to Worship, Psalm 138, it says that the kings of the earth will sing of the ways of the Lord. Well, what are those ways that we can sing of?
One of the things that strike me about Genesis 18 is the bargaining that God is willing to do. God’s planning to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin. Abraham decides to try to intervene on behalf of the people of those cities, and he starts trying to negotiate with God. “Certainly you don’t want to destroy the good folks along with the wicked!” says Abraham. “I’ll tell you what. If I can find fifty good folks in Sodom and Gomorrah will you not destroy them?” And God agrees. And then of course the numbers keep going down, from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10. And through every step Abraham is building God up, flattering God, and being self-deprecating regarding himself. “Far be it from you to do such a thing!
To slay the righteous with the wicked!” “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes!”
God’s not taken in by that kind of thing. God’s smarter than that. I called this a negotiation, but really it’s not. Abraham doesn’t offer God anything. In a negotiation, I give up something, and you give up something, and I make a better offer, and you make a better offer, until finally we come to an agreement. That doesn’t happen here. Abraham says “How about 50?” And God says, “OK.” And Abraham says, “Wait – what about 45?” And God says, OK.” And then 40, and 30, and 20, and 10; God gives up nothing. God just keeps saying yes. Abraham sounds like he’s bargaining with a fury, but really he probably could have just gone straight to 10 and God would have said, “Fine. 10 it is.”
This is a merciful God. The picture of God we get from the Old Testament isn’t always so merciful, but here God is perfectly willing to lower the standards for Sodom and Gomorrah. God is absolutely fine with letting those cities slide for the flimsiest of reasons. Sadly, those cities couldn’t even meet the lowered standards.
So when we sing of the ways of the Lord, we’re singing about mercy for one thing. We’re singing about justice, leavened with compassion and tempered with mercy.
Singing the Lord’s Prayer earlier reminded me of growing up. Dad had a wonderful tenor voice, and he would sing solos in church often. At least once or twice a year he would sing The Lord’s Prayer, and of course he would practice the week before at home. I’ve heard him sing it probably a hundred times. One of the difficulties of getting older is that you know you’ll never hear certain things or see certain things again.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus talks first about how to pray. That prayer that he outlines is more or less the Lord’s prayer that we pray today, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
That prayer really does cover it all, doesn’t it. And in such a few words. It praises God, declares God’s kingdom, asks for God’s will, asks for our daily needs, asks for forgiveness only to the measure we are willing to forgive others, asks to not be tempted, asks to be saved from evil, and praises God once again.
Really, what else could there be? You could pray for such and such a person to be healed, or something like that, but that’s covered in thy will be
done. There can be different levels of specificity you could add, but in the end they would all come back to being covered by something in this prayer.
So when we sing a song of God we’re singing a song of power, of omnipotence. We’re singing a song about a God who knows all things and is over all things, from the little teeny baby to the whole world, all in his hands.
Then Jesus moves into a discussion of how God provides all kinds of good things to people who ask. There’s a story about someone who is asking for something from a friend who’s already gone to bed. There’s the famous verse Luke11:10: “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” There’s talk about how parents whose children ask for good things end up giving them good things.
There’s a degree to which these verses kind of tie together. Take Ayuba, for instance. Nate and Jenn like to bike, and I know that they take Ayuba along sometimes. Have they bought him a bicycle of his own? No. Have they bought him a tricycle? I don’t know, but probably not. He’s not ready for it yet. He’s still working on walking. There will be time for triking and biking later.
But sooner or later Ayuba will be ready for a bicycle. How will we know he’s ready? Well, one sign is that he might ask for a bike. He’s not asking for one now, because he’s not old enough to formulate the idea of what a bike is and associate it with the right word. That’s a good sign that he’s not ready for one.
Eventually, though, he’ll be able to do that. And he’ll ask for a bike. That won’t necessarily mean he’s ready for one, but it’s a sign that he’s getting there. He may want some kind of cool racing bike or mountain bike, and who knows? That might be what he asks for first.
But even if that’s what he asks for, what he’s likely to get is a small bike, maybe with a banana seat and those high handlebars and almost certainly with training wheels. When his parents judge that he’s ready, that’s what he’ll get.
We sometimes think Jesus is being literal when he talks about parents giving children a stone or a scorpion. But think about Ayuba. If the first bike Jenn and Nate get him is a $2,000 mountain bike, that’s about as good as giving him a stone, isn’t it? It would be about as practically useful to him for riding as a stone would. Less practical, really, because at least he could sit on a stone and roll around on it.
And it could be as dangerous as a scorpion. If Ayuba were to try to ride such a bike as soon as he could conceivably physically attempt it he could easily hurt himself or someone else. A bike like that, given at the wrong time, could be as useless as a stone or as dangerous as a scorpion.
So when we sing the songs of the Lord we’re singing a song of a God who knows what we need and when we need it. We’re singing a song of a God who wants to provide us with good things, things that will help us and not harm us; things that will help us grow, and not hold us back.
We’re trying to figure out how to sing of the ways of the Lord here in Washington DC. How do we sing about God ways of justice and mercy? What does it mean for us to sing of God’s way of providing good things to all who ask and seek? God has the whole world in his hands, and he has the little tiny baby in his hands. We know that’s literally a song, but how do we sing about it in the way we work and live and pray and exist here on Capitol Hill and in our everyday lives?
We’ll talk about that a little bit at our Congregational Forum in just a few minutes. In the meantime, I encourage you to think about it in your own lives. Pick a song to sing when you get up. Make it a song of the ways of the Lord, and sing it with your words and actions until you go to bed that night. Amen.
One Comment Add yours
I really appreciate reading your sermons Jeff. Always a message for the heart and mind.
Church of the Brethren always has held a special place in my heart. I wasn’t raised in it but my dear mother-in-law was a member for her whole life. I’ve always wished I could be half the Christian woman she was. She is missed every day!!