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Sunday, October 27, 2019

“Your Brother Is Here…!”

A sermon based upon Luke 15: 11-32  CSB
By Rev. Charles J. Tomlin, BA, MDiv, DMin.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership, 
October 27th, 2019

"Amazing Grace" is one of America’s favorite hymns. It is an old one too. It goes back to the 18th century, written by John Newton, who was on the sea from the time he was a little boy. When he was a young man he became the captain of his own ship, a ship that brought African slaves to the colonies to work the plantations.

Back in England, between voyages, he went to hear George Whitefield preach and was converted. He realized the evil of his occupation, left it, and became a pastor in the Church of England and served the rest of his life as the rector of a little church in a town called Olney. Newton wrote a number of hymns which were printed in a collection called the "Olney Hymns," which is one of the classic collections of hymns in the Church, and "Amazing Grace" was one of them.

It is astounding, this song’s popularity. Back in the 1960's Joan Baez sang it. During one of her concerts, she held her audience captive, tears coming down the faces of so many people, as she stood there on the bare stage, in her bare feet, with the light on her, hands at her side, standing there quietly, singing all the verses of this plaintive, Appalachian tune, "Amazing Grace." For those present, it was a stunning moment.

It’s also amazing, this song’s popularity. It often appears in movies, or at public events that are not even church events.  For even people who are not members of churches, and those who do not profess faith, find something in this hymn that connects with them.  This hymn is over two hundred years old. It is uncompromisingly Christian in its language. It is evangelical in its message, reflecting John Newton's experience of being found. "I once was lost, but now am found."   Some say,  the key to this songs  popularity, is because it defines the most basic Christian understanding of our relationship with God: God seeks us.

Of course, God is experienced in different ways in different religions. In some religions God's majesty and God's sovereignty are emphasized.  In others religions it is God's righteousness that is emphasized.  In still others, it is God's hiddenness and the mystery of God's being that are emphasized.  In the Christian faith, it is God's love that is  emphasized:  “For God so loved the world….”.  Other religions also understand that God calls us to love, but what is most unique in Christianity is that God is seeking us.
As Hugh Montefiore, a Jewish biblical scholar and an Englishman, said this is what makes Christianity different from Judaism.   “Most of what Jesus taught, was taught before him by the prophets, especially in their the ethical teachings.  Much of what Christians believe is shared by people elsewhere in world, as most religious teachings are universal.  But in Christianity, the one affirmation that is most unique, is the proclamation that God seeks after us (M MARK TROTTER).

FATHER, GIVE ME….  (v. 12)
But being sought by God has it most intentional Jesus’ most famous parable, we call ‘The Prodigal Son’.   Here, Jesus not only pictures that God seeks us like a Shepherd seeking one lost sheep, or a woman frantically searching for one lost coin, but he Jesus also understands that God is like loving Father, who is waiting for his children to come back home, where they belong.  God is a waiting Father.  God is waiting, because in life, we are free, to go and to live as we please. 

Freedom is both a wonderful and dangerous thing.  Freedom is wonderful because as we grow into adulthood, we get choose to live our own lives the way we want.  We get to choose our own path, use our own talents, and make our own life out of our own decisions and hard work.  This kind of ‘freedom’ can make you glad to be alive and proud of your own accomplishments. 

But this kind freedom can also be dangerous too.  It can be dangerous because we can make bad choices in life.  We can make bad choices that take us to dead ends and leave us nowhere.  We can end up nowhere because we have listened to bad advice, or we got lost in wayward desires, or we can get devoured by forces stronger than our own.   Freedom invites to a wonderful, but also a wild world.  By ‘wild’ we mean untamed, unpredictable, and often deadly, as in a ‘dog eat dog’ world.

This is what happened to the ‘prodigal Son’.  As he grew up, he decided he would live better, if he would leave to go out on his own.  He thinks he would enjoy his life better without his current responsibilities.  He wants everything now.  Like so many who have had life ‘handed to them’, he has come to believe that ‘the grass will be greener on the other side’.  He hopes that living by his ‘own’ choices, without the burden of life’s responsibilities, would be a better choice.  He desires freedom---freedom from his father, freedom from his family, and freedom from the responsibilities that have been passed down to him.  He is ready to strike out on his own.  He wants all of life, especially the fun, now.  He decides that he doesn’t have to work and wait, but he can live lavishly and luxuriously today, living out all his wants and desires.  This is why the ‘prodigal’ goes to his Father and says, ‘give me my share of the estate I have coming to me… (v.12). His idea of life, is ‘I WANT IT NOW!’

The point that Jesus makes, is a point very much worth making in a ‘free country’ like ours.  Freedom is good, and it can be our best friend in life, but freedom can also be dangerous, and it can become our worst enemy.   Because we are free, we can become our own worst enemy.   This is at the heart of Jesus’ parable of this ‘lost son’.

Into this world where we are ‘born free’, come a God who seeks to save us.  Jesus understands God just as this ‘waiting’ and ‘worrying’, and finally ‘joyful’ Father who has compassion and full forgiveness for his wayward child who comes home. 

Again, what is most unique about Christianity is not that God saves sinners, for most all religions have a view of salvation, but the good news of the gospel is that God himself came into the world ‘to seek and to save the lost’.  God doesn’t wait for sinners to shape up before he came.   This is the gospel ‘point’ that the Apostle Paul couldn’t get over .   It stopped him in his tracks.   Paul understood, as a ‘Pharisee of the Pharisees’ that he could, by being good enough, and working hard enough, that he could find his way to God.  

But the great surprise, which was the surprise of the gospel, is that Paul finally came to realize that even his ‘good was not good enough’.  It was when he became humiliated by his own ‘lostness’ that the true God was revealed to him.  When this true, loving, seeking, and calling God came to him, Paul found his true self and his true calling in life.  So ever since Paul met the searching, seeking, and calling Jesus on the Damascus road,  this became his message to preach to the world: God has come to seek and save us; not just from the wildness of the world, or our lostness in the world, but this God has come to save us from the ‘lostness’ within ourselves.  This is the gospel. That is the good news.

And ever since Paul since this message came to Paul, he made it his mission in life to help people to understand not only what happened to him, but he also wanted people to know what could happen to them.  This can happen to you, especially when we realize that we have become lost, and are not worthy of God’s attention, or that God never could ever speak their name. God would never know me. This could never happen to me.  But it can, it did.  It still does.

There is a wonderful story about Maya Angelou, the great writer who ended her career teaching at Wake Forest University. She was an active member of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. She wrote that years earlier when she first came to San Francisco as a young woman she became sophisticated. She said that was what you were supposed to do when you go to San Francisco, you become sophisticated. And for that reason she said she became agnostic. She thought the two went together. She said that it wasn’t that she stopped believing in God, just that God no longer frequented the neighborhoods that she frequented.
She was taking voice lessons at the time. Her teacher gave her an exercise where she was to read out of some religious pamphlet. The reading ended with these words: “God loves me.” She finished the reading, put the pamphlet down. The teacher said, “I want you to read that last sentence again.” So she picked it up, read it again, this time somewhat sarcastically, then put it down again. The teacher said, “Read it again.” She read it again. Then she described what happened. “After about the seventh repetition I began to sense there might be some truth in this statement. That there was a possibility that God really loves me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew if God loved me, I could do wonderful things. I could do great things. I could learn anything. I could achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person, with God form a majority now.”
There are many people who are just like that. They think it is unbelievable that God would know me, that God would love me, that God would know my name. Just the grandness of it, as Maya Angelou says, that God would really love me. But that is the gospel. He seeks you until he finds you. She found that God found her, in San Francisco.
Jurgen Moltmann, a famous German theologian, was in the German army during World War II. He was captured by the British and placed in a prisoner of war camp in Scotland. It was there that God found him. It happened through two incidents. The first was in reading scripture. The chaplain of the camp gave Bibles to the prisoners. Moltmann said they were hoping to get cigarettes, but they got Bibles instead. He read the Bible, and he read the psalms. He said, “I was dumbfounded.” He was like Paul on the Damascus Road, dumbfounded, knocked down. He said, “The words of the psalms were the words of my own heart, `Hear my prayer O Lord, and give ear to my cry. Hold not thy peace at my tears, for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as my fathers before me.’”
Then he turned to the New Testament and read of the passion of our Lord, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me.” He wrote, “I knew with certainty this is someone who understands me. I began to understand Christ because I realized Christ understood me. And I began to summon up the courage to go on living.”
The second incident came when some Christians visited the prison camp. Paul was knocked down on the Damascus Road, dumfounded, then led to Damascus. There the Christians came to Paul and ministered to him. I believe it was through their love that God changed the life of Paul. So Moltmann, after being dumbfounded by grace in the scripture, was visited by Christians who asked to see the German prisoners.
They were from Holland. Moltmann said, “I was afraid to go see them because I had fought in Holland. I was there at the battle for the Arnheim Bridge.” The Dutch students said to the German prisoners, “We are here because Christ has sent us here. We will tell you that without Christ we wouldn’t even be talking to you.” Then they told of the Gestapo terror, of their homes being destroyed, of losing their Jewish friends. Then they said this. “Christ has built a bridge from us to you, and we come across it to greet you. Now you come across and confess your guilt and seek reconciliation.”
Which they did. They all embraced. Moltmann wrote, “It was a richly blessed time. We were given what we did not deserve, and received the fullness of Christ, grace upon grace.”  Amazing grace! How sweet the sound  That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.
There is so much to rejoice about in this great parable, but you’ll never fully understand this great story Jesus told, until you understand that it doesn’t have a completely happening ending.  The whole reason Jesus told his story was because ‘religious’ and ‘righteous’ people where grumbling about Jesus spending too much time ‘welcoming and eating with sinners’ (15:2).  Jesus ends his story with the grumbling, complaining elder brother, who is upset because his ‘brother’, has a ‘party’ thrown for him, while he has done all the work, and like Rodney Dangerfield, ‘gets no respect’.  Why would Jesus focus his ministry on sinners, rather than focusing on those who are doing all the work?

Here’s a question that brings this parable home to us ‘church folks’.  We think the church is about us, but God wants the church to be about them.   Jesus came for them, ‘not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’.   ‘Those who are well, don’t need a physician.  I have come to those who are ill, sick, and hurting!  These are words we read throughout the gospel of Luke, especially.  The work of Jesus is not about us, but it’s about us, caring, waiting, working, and seeking ‘them’. 

One of the major issues in church life today, is ‘how can we survive?’   It’s hard for a church to survive, when we focus on ourselves, because we are a ‘dying breed’.  But if we ever learn to focus on them, there will always be someone, somewhere, lost, in need, hurting, needing help, needing to be found, and needing to find someone who cares about them, as a person, not because of what they did or didn’t do.   Can we learn to care about ‘them’?

Evidently, Jesus believes that not only sinners can change, but Jesus believes that religious, righteous people can change too.   What will it take for someone to care about them?  Well, Jesus also taught us, that it will probably take a ‘dead body’.  When we survey what is happening around our world, with all the rising suicides, the school shootings, mass massacres, and the increase awareness of mental illness, and person pain and brokenness in our world, we see all kinds of ‘dying’, ‘hurting’ and ‘dead bodies’.  This is what it took for some Jews to finally get it, and become followers of Jesus to seek and save the lost. 

I wonder sometimes, if we’ve seen enough, to know that ‘lostness’ is right here, ready for us, not just to criticize and complain about, whether we’ve seen in these ‘dead bodies’ the same kinds of needs and hurts that Jesus saw: that the God of love is a ‘seeking’ and ‘saving’ love; and that now, in this world, in our time, and this moment, God has brought his saving mission right up to our own door step, so that we can open our hearts to love someone who has lost their way?

Our world, in it’s freedom, is increasingly losing its way.  There’s no doubt about this.  But what caused Jesus doubt, and me too, sometimes, is whether there is enough love in us religious, righteous, established types, to be the kind of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ who joins God on his mission to ‘seek and to save’ and will get excited about a lost child coming home. 

What you will feel, think, and do, can make a difference.   Sir Arthur Keith (1866-1955), of the Royal College of Surgeons, claimed that if 300 individuals were taken out of human history, we would still be living in the Stone Age. But it is also true that if you add to history a handful of people and let get what they wanted, like Hitler, or Stalin, or Osama bin Laden, we would find ourselves back living in the Stone Age.

We live in the age of ‘Me’; no doubt about that.  Our world and the world markets established upon making people rich, happy, successful, so you, the individual, can have what you want.   But what we often forget, is that unless there is a “WE”, there really can’t be a “ME”.   Just as the idea of being free to live and choose as a ‘me’ is born out of the hard work of people pulling together and working hard as “WE”,  in the same way the ability to continue to live ‘free’ as we “ME”, still depends on us being ‘WE”.   Without living with the sense of “WE”, we lose the ability to be a “ME”.

Biblical faith insists on living on a two-way street, a ME/WE highway: faith is individual, but faith is also communal.  Faith is about us, but faith following Jesus requires a team of people working together.   Let me end with an example of how following Jesus to ‘seek and save’ the lost means becoming both a ME and a WE people.   This is really what the story of the Prodigal Son is about.  That lost son could have survived without the ME of those who ‘loved him back’; and that elder son, would never learn what love means, unless he learned to be someone who loved, just for the sake of loving. 

The ME/WE story I want to end with, goes back to one of the biggest one-time gifts in the history of US philanthropy: the 1.7 billion gift of Joan Kroc (1928-2003), the wife of the founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc, which was given to the Salvation Army  (This story and final idea comes from a sermon by Len Sweet). 

When Joan was a small child, her father abandoned the family and left her mother to figure out how to feed the family. In Joan’s memory, these were difficult, dark days. But she remembers one beacon of light in the midst of those difficult times. Every Friday night an officer from the downtown Salvation Army would visit their inner-city home, carrying in his arms two bags of groceries. Sometimes he would come in and play with the kids, giving them a father figure to relate to as well. Without that one Salvation Army officer showing up with those groceries, she doesn’t know how they would have made it each week.

So when it came to decide how best to invest the billions left her by her husband, she remembered that Salvation Army officer and his faithfulness to a needy family. And before she died she handed a billion dollar check to Salvation Army General Linda Bond. Today you are seeing in the poorest parts of town beautiful “Kroc Centers” going up to bring health and happiness to needy kids because of one person who was faithful to his mission.

 By the way, when that Salvation Army officer died, he had no idea what he had done. When that Salvation Army officer died, he thought he had just had an ordinary ministry and been an ordinary officer. He didn’t think he had done anything special as a Salvation Army officer.

Sometimes the greatest blessings of your life you will never know about. Sometimes the greatest impact of your life will not be revealed in your lifetime. Sometimes your faithfulness will bear fruit long after you and I are gone.

It’s not about recognition and reward. It’s only about serving Jesus as an individual ME in the context of a communal WE.  This communal kind of “ME/WE” love is what Jesus was trying to teach about in his parable.  It’s the kind of seeking love of WE that can save the ME that gets lost, for whatever reason.  But it is also the kind of seeking love can also save the ME, who is lost in his own heart, not because he did something wrong, but because he did everything right, and missed the greatest party of life, which is the party of celebrating God’s saving, seeking, love.   Surely, we don’t want to miss a party like this.  It’s a party that accepts God’s invitation,  hearing God’s call to mission with these words:  “YOUR BROTHER, or SISTER is here….”    Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019


A sermon based upon Luke 12: 13-21
By Rev. Charles J. Tomlin, BA, MDiv, DMin.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership, 
October 20th, 2019

My mother warned me not to call anyone a ‘fool’.
Jesus said ‘if anyone called their brother a fool they’d be in danger of hell fire. (Matt. 5:23). Yikes!  I’ve never called anyone a fool since.  But it’s not because I’ve haven’t wanted to. 

People can do some really stupid, foolish things. Can’t they?  An old story in Reader's Digest told of a man who flew his own plane on vacation, but got tired of the long auto trip from the airport to his country place situated on a lovely lake. So he equipped his plane with pontoons so he could land right in front of his cottage. However, on his first trip up to the country with his newly-equipped plane, he headed for a landing at the airport just as he always had done in the past.  I guess you could say, old habits are hard to break.

But just as he was going in for the landing it dawned on his wife what was happening and she hollered, "What do you think you're doing? You can't land this thing on the runway. You don't have any wheels, you've got pontoons on it!"

Fortunately, her warning shout was in time and he pulled up from his landing pattern, swung the airplane around, and headed the plane for a landing on the lake. After the plane landed safely on the lake he heaved a really big sigh of relief, turned to his wife and said, "That's about the stupidest thing I've ever done!"  And then he opened the door, stepped out and fell directly into the lake."

Haven’t you done something really stupid?  I know I have.  Who will admit it?  Come on now, I’m not the only one. 

Someone has made a list of "Politically Correct Ways of Indicating Stupidity." Perhaps you have heard some of these. They're quite creative. Speaking of someone who has done something really dumb, we might say:
He's a few clowns short of a circus . . .
A few fries short of a Happy Meal . . .
A few peas short of a casserole . . .
He doesn't have all his corn flakes in one box . . .
The wheel's spinning, but the hamster's dead . . .
His antenna doesn't pick up all the channels . . .
His belt doesn't go through all the loops . . .
The elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor . . .
He is several cards short of a full deck . . .
If he had another brain, it would be lonely . . .
Missing a few buttons on his remote control . . .
The lights are on, but nobody's home . . .
All these are just polite ways of saying that sometimes, people do really dumb things.

In our text today, which gives us Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool,  a wealthy man who does something really foolish.  It is God who calls that man a ‘fool’, or a moron, if you want to get technical about it.  Moran is simply the Greek word for fool.  Although my mother said not to call anyone a fool, God can. He’s God.  My mother told me that too.  But for God to do something he tells us not to do, must be pretty serious, don’t you think? Why on earth did God dare call a man who had everything a fool? 

One of the oldest stories about a wealthy man dying was told about Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher.  After the richest man in the world died, people where standing around talking about how much money he left behind.  One fellow, overhearing the conversation declared that he knew exactly how much money Aristotle left behind.  He said: ‘everything’.  Sobering thought.  There are no uhaul’s behind hearses.

One of the reasons, the man is Jesus story was called “fool”, was exactly because he did not understand this; that we can leave and loose everything a lot faster than we get it, and besides that, we actually can hold on to nothing.  This man in Jesus parable didn’t seem to understand this most basic reality: that we can take nothing with us.  But, he’s just a fictional person in a story Jesus told.  The parable pointed to another foolish person in real life.  His actions motivated Jesus to tell this story in the first place.

It all happened right after Jesus had been teaching a crowd of thousands, when a man approached him seeking an answer about money.  Obviously money and the love of money was an issue in Jesus’ day just as it is in ours.   The Bible contains around 500 verses on prayer, 200 verses on faith, and about 2000 verses on money. This biblical attention on money and wealth reveals the importance of money in our lives.

But Jesus hadn’t been teaching about money, at first.  He called was warning about coming tribulations when a certain man interrupted him.   Our text says in, verse 13, “Someone from the crowd” wanted Jesus “tell (his) brother to divide the inheritance with (him).”  Jesus responded negatively to his request: “Dude, what does this have to do with me” (V.14).  Jesus then used this moment to teach about the dangers of money and acquired wealth:  Watch out and be on guard against all greed…” Like so many people, this man was so distracted by his concerns for money the he didn’t pay attention to what Jesus had been teaching.  He didn’t really come to learn from Jesus, or to do something for Jesus, but he only wanted Jesus to do something for him.   

The overarching issue Jesus addresses is human greed.  In a recently movie, entitled Wall Street, the main character, a Financial Broker, in a speech to all his partners says,  Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good!”  Here, however, Jesus sees ‘greed’ very differently.  The word Jesus uses here, means the ‘desire to have more’.  The real problem with desiring more, is that it leads to never having enough.  Jesus illustrates this with a parable: a story told beside the real story so we can see it.  This story is about this wealthy man who already had enough, but still didn’t have enough.  He built ‘bigger barns’, not because he needed money, or to keep his business going, but only because he wanted it.  He wanted to feel safe, and establish security with money.  Like the person thinks they can buy happiness, this man thought money was all he needed to be safe and secure.

The point Jesus was making is that this man was already more secure than most, but he still needed more.  The issue hear is that wealthy people struggle with greed too; just like many people do, even when they already have more than they’ll ever need. Having money doesn’t make you less greedy.  In fact, wanting more and more is seldom connected to material need, but it’s often points to a spiritual, emotional deficiency—a spiritual hurt that shows up a obsessive need and demand for more and more, so that enough is never enough.   

Jesus defined true success security by pointing out that it can’t be achieved with one’s possessions.   Jesus wants this fellow and everyone to know, that having money will not solve all your problems.  Of corse, Some money might solve a few problems, and cover up a lot a problems, but normally, money makes more problems than it solves.   

Jesus emphasized this by giving this strong warning using the phrases “Watch out” and “Be on your guard.” He did this to reveal the underlying danger of giving into greed, like this person who never has enough. The world measures a person’s worth by his wealth; God views a person’s worth very differently.

The big question in this story is not the story, but whether the man struggling with his sibling over the inheritance would see himself in the story. Jesus told parables not necessarily to make things easier, but to invite the person into the story, not just to illustrate a point; but to confront people with the truth they were too blind to see.  It was a truth that could save lives, both now and forever.  It was to keep people from being ‘stupid’ with the only life they have to live, with the people they have to live life with.

16“Then He told them a parable:  “A rich  man’s land was very productive. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? 18 I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. 19 Then I’ll say to myself, “You  have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy;  eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ’

Did you get what this guy did that was so stupid?  He said: “I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there”.   In much of the business world today, this is the right approach.  Take care of the business, look after yourself, and ‘the heck with the other guy’.   That’s competition.  That’s business.  That’s what it takes to survive in the ‘dog eat dog world’.  But what the world calls good business, Jesus called foolish.   Rather than finding ways to share his abundance to help others, he focused on hoarding more and more of the harvest only for himself.   The economy in the area depended on farmers selling or sharing their crops. His decision affected a lot of people, not just him. He only cared about his needs.  He didn’t care about the needs of others. He was only looking out for ‘numero uno’.  And he thought he could do this with money alone.

So, there are two ways money and wealth can turn us into fools.  Are you ready?
One main problem with money is that it promises to give what only God can give. In addition, love of money take the place of loving God with our lives. When money becomes a god it will lead to greed. Greed lies to us, it blinds us, and it ultimately destroys us. It is interesting to note Jesus did not give the man a name in the story. His riches defined him.   Jesus also called attention to the fact that the man’s wealth came from the ground; it was not something he could boast about, God provided his abundance. The man showed his lack of gratitude to God by wanting to keep it all for his own. The man revealed his attitude toward his blessing by repeating the words “I” and “my.” He had no sense of obligation to anyone else.

Jesus portrayed too, how the man constantly thought to himself and talked to himself. He did not consult any another person. Luke consistently used a person’s selfishness to portray that person in a negative light.  Notice how many times he uses the word, ‘I’.  Other examples of this can be found in Luke 2:35, 5:21-22; 6:8; and 9:46-47.   Only thinking for himself, and about himself, this farmer never considered that his feasting would likely lead to famine for others. All he wanted to do was take an early retirement and take life easy. That was his big plan. He had won the lottery and he depended on his windfall to make him happy. His motto was “Eat, drink, and be merry.” He forgot the part about “for tomorrow we may die.”

God called this man a fool.   ‘You fool!  This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’  “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure  for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Again, this is rare. In the Old Testament only a person who says there is no God is a fool.   Here is the only other person in Scripture named a fool by God.  Why was he called a fool?  This fool made plenty of provision for retirement, but made no provision for eternity.  He made no plans for presenting his soul to God. 

Just the other day, a man, who was still working in his 70’s, told me that all his friends who stopped working, when they retired, died.   My neighbor in, Mr. Roy Austin, stopped working at the mill at age 65 and went home only to die in a couple of days.   To die before you plan to, outer in a way you didn’t plan, happens to most everybody, doesn’t it?  And if you make plans, you will still be surprised when it happens, or when you learn it will happen. 

And even if you can’t plan when or how you will die, if you’re not making plans to die (before you know it), you’re being foolish too.  In the parable, this man’s life was demanded of him, whether he was ready for it or not. The word demanded means to something on loan that had to be returned.  Life is like that.  We have a life, but it’s never really ours.   Now, it was required of him to pay for a debt and he hadn’t planned on paying back.  In other words, this man had invested in the wrong stock.  Now, after telling him his time was up, and that his money or wealth wouldn’t buy even one more day, one more hour, or one more minute, or second:  God looks at all his barns, all his money and wealth and asks,.  Who gets all this, now?”  

Now, don’t misunderstand, Jesus was not condemning this man’s success or even his material possessions. He condemned the man because he invested only in his own life to the detriment of others.   Jesus doesn’t express that God has a problem with people possessing wealth, but he’s saying there’s great peril in being possessed by wealth.  
When people are defined by what they own, what they own ends up owning them.  My Dad used to tell me, “Son, it’s one thing to want something, but it’s another thing to get it, and have to take care of it.”  One way possessions can own people is by demanding our time and effort. If a person is constantly afraid to lose their possessions, that person can become obsessed defending and protecting those possessions.

Jesus closed the story by calling attention to people who are rich in possessions but who are not rich in the things of God.  The real issue here is priorities.  It is the question of what matters most.  It is a question that constantly stays with each of us, everyday, all the way down to the final stretch of our lives. 

Because we are mortal, and because our lives are full, free, but short, we can all see our own faces in this story. We all struggle between storing up treasures here on earth; doing things that matter now, verses storing treasures in heaven; doing things that make an impact on others, our families and the world after we are gone.  The only way most people to learn to deal with the dilemma of wealth, is to have something happen to us, to remind us what really matters before we die.  Fortunately, you don’t have to wait to learn what it means to be ‘smart’ with the only life you have.  The Holy Spirit is in the reality business.  To hear the Spirit, you must learn from what Jesus is saying.

One way to ‘get real’ in the Spirit, is to experience the goodness, grace and generosity of God, so that you can learn what really matters in life.   When you understand what ‘good’ really is, and that ‘good’ is more about ‘who’ than ‘what’, you are beginning to learn about what is most valuable in life.  And When you experience this kind of spiritual intelligence, the kind Jesus was teaching about, it’s becomes easier, to stop just ‘taking’ and to start becoming a ‘giver’ with you life.  Teresa told me recently about her hair dresser, a lady in her 40’s who was getting excited about going to the Prom.  Yes, you heard me.  She was going to the special prom they were having for special needs kids at Western Avenue Baptist Church, and she was taking a young special needs child, who loved to ‘dance’. He was excited too, but he said he didn’t want to have to wear a tux.  He just wanted to move, even though he could only shuffle his feet.  And what a joy, she said it would be, to get to take him to take him to the prom.

Giving to others in need, is the best, biblical way to store up treasures in heaven. John 3:16 says “For God so loved he gave . . .” This is what love does, it gives.

On the news recently, an was the author of the new book, “Happy Money.”  The writer was also a TED Talks contributor, who said that it wasn’t enough to ‘give’ generally, but that the happiest givers were those who gave specifically, who had special interests and concerns and wanted to stay in touch with who, what and where, their money helped.  That author also said, according statistics, money doesn’t make people happy, unless they are helping someone with it.  Jesus told us that in this story a long, long time who.  And it wasn’t because he was smart.  He was God in human flesh (CBS This Morning, April 26, 2019). 

Now, don’t you wonder whatever happened to the man who wanted Jesus to settle his inheritance?  I wonder if he got the message, or if he, like so many, just let it go over his head, instead of letting it sink deep into his heart?  How about you?  Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2019


A sermon based upon Luke 11: 1-13
By Rev. Charles J. Tomlin, BA, MDiv, DMin.
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership,
October 13th, 2019

One of my favorite songs is Carol King’s ‘You’ve got a friend’. James Taylor’s recording first made it popular in the 1970’s.  Most of you probably know it:
When you're down and troubled.   And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right.   Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there,  To brighten up even your darkest night
You just call out my name. And you know wherever I am
I'll come running, to see you again.    Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call.   And I'll be there.   You've got a friend.”

Jesus says that prayer is a friend like this.    But with a friend who does not always seem to answer, especially when we are in desperate need ‘at midnight’, prayer can also be a friend who is frustrating, even causing unexpected hurt and unwanted misunderstanding.  As one lady once asked me: “Why are we told to ask anything, when we know we won’t get it?’

The frustration of prayer can be the same kind of feeling once expressed in the comic strip Frank and Ernest, when one of them has a conversation with God:
"Is it true, God, that a thousand years is but a second to you?"
"And is it true that a million dollars is but a penny to you?"
"Uh, can I have a penny?"
"Certainly...wait a second."

How do we pray? How does God answer prayer? Why does God sometimes seem to ignore my prayers? Questions like these lie just beneath the surface of Luke’s unique version of Jesus discourse on prayer.

More than any other gospel, Luke stresses the importance of prayer in Jesus' life (see 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 10:21-22, 11:1, 22:41-4, 23:46).   For Luke, prayer was such a daily priority for Jesus that his disciples felt the need to ask him to teach them about prayer.  What is most noticeable, however, is that the disciples did not so much ask Jesus how to pray, but they wanted Jesus to teach them to pray --to take the practice of prayer as seriously as he took it.  They wanted Jesus to help them make prayer a priority in their daily lives.

Why and how should we make prayer a priority in our lives too?  One of my favorite episodes in the cartoon strip “Peanuts” pictures the piano-loving Schroeder and his constant admirer, Lucy. Lucy interrupts Schroeder half-way through one of his many concerts. She says, “Do you know what love is?” He quickly stops, stands, and speaks: “Love (luv), noun, to be fond of: a strong affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons.” Abruptly he sits down and resumes playing.
Stunned and puzzled, Lucy turns away and murmurs, “On paper, he’s great.”
Like Linus, ‘on paper’, we may know that we need to pray, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially in a world where we have so much to do, and such a short time to do it.  Of course, when a time of crisis occurs, people may call out a brief prayer most naturally.  Who did not cry out or say to yourself ‘Oh my God!’ or ‘My goodness!’ when you watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/11, or when you saw Notre Dame in flames?  When bad, or good things happen, even unbelieving people echo a most natural, primitive form of prayer.  Because we are religious creatures we pray.  Because we are people in need, we pray.
Anne Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies that our two best prayers are: ‘help me, help me, help me" and "thank you, thank you, thank you" (p. 82).  My late aunt’s common expression of surprise was “Goodness gracious sakes alive”.  That’s a great southern expression that derived from an old expression of prayer, but is this really praying? Or was this just cultural ways of expressing feelings, fears, hopes, or joy?
My favorite expression of surprise is simply, ‘Great day in the morning!’  And I often say this in the evening too.  When I was teaching English in Germany, a student ask me about sayings like this: ‘Do you know what that means?’  I answered ‘No, but I know how it feels.’  So much of our language, and our praying too, is not as much about the actual words we use, but the words express feelings we can and sometimes can’t express.
Prayer, at it’s core, is about expressing our deepest needs and feelings to God. Prayer isn’t just talking to ourselves, but it’s about making a daily priority to keep our hearts open to God.  The focus of prayer is to express our true heart, being honest with ourselves because we are being honest to God.

Taking time to pray is, then, as the Psalmist says, to stop, to be still and quiet, so that we will  ‘know that the Lord is God.’ In true prayer we recognize who God is as we also recognize who we are not.  In prayer we face this constant, most basic truth of life: as limited and dependent human beings we constantly stand in the need.  Like the spiritual says: ‘It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.’  We are people who need God, who need others, and who need to face the truth about who we are and who we aren’t.

This need to pray is a religious need because it is a most basic human need. As Shakespeare himself understood when one of his characters said, “to thine own self be true” , we all must constantly fight with our own delusions of life.  Only in a spirit of prayerfulness, are we able to separate reality from illusion; truth from fiction, and the greatest good, from what can become the most descriptive lie.  In other words, it is through the daily kneeling of the human hearts before God that we become most fully human.  Prayer not only keeps not only from losing our hearts, but it also keeps us from losing our heads as well.  Only when we acknowledge God as truly God, will we discover our true and best self. There was a violin teacher, though not a very successful one, who had a good deal of wisdom that was refreshing. A friend called on him one day and said, “Well, what’s the good news today?” The old music teacher went over to a tuning fork suspended by a cord and struck it with a mallet. “There is the good news for today,” he said. “That, my friend, is A. It was A all day yesterday. It will be A all day tomorrow, next week, and for a thousand years. The soprano upstairs warbles off-key, the tenor next door flats his high ones, and the piano across the hall is out of tune. Noise all around me, noise; but that, my friend, is A.”
Doesn’t this story remind us why prayer is so necessary and needed today?  Without being honest and open to God’s perspective—what is always true and absolute, humans can quickly lose their own?  When those movie stars and other privileged people thought they could ‘buy’ success for their children by bribing their way into elite schools, they lost their way.  When people think it is the end of the world because they don’t get what they want, they also lose all sense of reality.  Some end up either taking their own lives or taking the lives of others.  When a young man saw the pretty young girl Jayme Closs, he killed her parents and kidnapped her.  Later when authorities asked why, his only answer was, ‘When he saw her, he knew she was the one.’  What was he thinking? What kind of explanation is that for killing her parents and kidnapping a young girl?  Was he insane or was he lost in his own mind?

Humans can become all kinds of ‘lost’ when we lose perspective.  The disciples lived in a world had lost its perspective, and we still live in that kind of world.  The world has it’s own mind, and giving into it can be destructive.   What the disciples saw in Jesus was a way back.  They witness something hopeful in Jesus’ perspective.  Jesus way of prayer and prayerfulness gave them hope.  Later, the apostle Paul saw prayer as the supreme spiritual weapon negative spiritual powers.

We should pray, but what are we to prayer about?  Even the apostle Paul wrote to the  Romans: “We do not know how to pray as we ought”(8:26).

The late conservative commentator Paul Harvey told about a 3-year-old boy who went to the grocery store with his mother. Before they entered she had certain instructions for the little tike: "Now you’re not going to get any chocolate chip cookies, so don’t even ask."

She put him in the child's seat and off they went up and down the aisles. He was doing just fine until they came to the cookie section. Seeing the chocolate chip cookies he said, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you not even to ask. You’re not going to get any at all.”

They continued down the aisles, but in their search for certain items she had to back track and they ended up in the cookie aisle again. “Mom, can I please have some chocolate chip cookies?” She said, “I told you that you can ’t have any. Now sit down and be quiet.”

Finally, they arrived at the checkout. The little boy sensed that the end was in sight, that this might be his last chance. He stood up on the seat and shouted in his loudest voice, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone in the checkout lanes laughed and applauded. Do you think the little boy got his cookies? You bet! The other shoppers moved by his daring pooled their resources. The little boy and his mother left with 23 boxes of chocolate chip cookies.

When are told to pray about everything, but prayer still has a special agenda.  When the disciples asked Jesus to ‘teach them to pray’ Jesus gave a pattern for true prayer.  The response, which Both Luke and Matthew describe, is what we call the Lord's Prayer, but it might more accurately be named ‘the disciple’s prayer’. Jesus was giving this prayer not so much as words to recite and say, but as a pattern or way for a disciples to live.
While Luke’s version shares the same basic elements of Matthew’s rendering, Luke’s  emphasis sounds more down-to-earth, placing emphasis on daily concerns of securing "bread for tomorrow" and living in a spiritual community of faith.  At the core of this prayer, however, there is only one major concern.  Each of the seven petitions made ‘flesh out’ what it means for God’s name be kept holy.  In other words,  when God’s name is hallowed and respected, the kingdom comes near.  God’s kingdom comes near when God’s will is done.  God’s will is done when there is daily bread for everyone.  When everyone has what they need,  people don’t have to have everything they want, so people desire to live in a spiritual community of forgiveness and peace.  When such a forgiving spirit prevails, people are delivered from all kinds of temptations, trials, and evils.
Can you see the pattern and the process of faithful prayer?  Daily prayer shapes daily life and invites God’s presence into our lives so that life’s priorities and human relationships are transformed.  The spiritual teacher, Brother Lawrence’s, called this daily practice “practicing the presence of God.” But like all practice, it must be regular.  A concert pianist who said, “If I miss practice for one day, I know it. If I miss two days, the critics know it. If I miss a week, everyone knows it.” Practice. Discipline. That’s essential to prayer.  Prayer is practicing a daily, constant, continual awareness of God.

In his spiritual writings, Brother Lawrence also told how he finally, "…gave up all devotions and prayers that were not required and I devoted himself exclusively to remaining always in his holy presence… The holiest, most ordinary and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It is to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him at all times, in every moment, without rule or measure, especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin."
Brother Lawrence spoke of doing everything as an act of worship--even picking up a straw off the floor--as something done for God. "I possess God as peacefully," he said, "in the commotion of my kitchen, where, often enough, several people are asking me for different things at the same time, as I do when kneeling before the (altar)." He said if we can learn to do everything we do as a conscious act for God, in the presence of God and for God's sake, perhaps it will become easier for us to cultivate an ongoing conversation, "speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him at all times."  Don’t you think this is precisely what Paul meant when he said, "Pray without ceasing."

When we don’t live in this constant awareness of God’s presence and the kingdom’s nearness, God’s peaceable kingdom remains far away, people go hungry, community remains broken, and life becomes one difficult trial after another.  Sound familiar?  What Jesus pictures here is not a community of people saying words and doing nothing, but Jesus’ prayer, the Lord’s prayer, which should also become a disciple’s prayer, maintains a perspective of God which gives shape to how they live their daily lives in this world.
Life can and will be shaped and transformed by living for God’s purposes and toward God’s promise.   This prayer calls us to literally to pray,  ‘will’, and to live God’s presence into this world.  God has created us for himself, but he also created us with the freedom to invite or reject God’s loving presence.  This very resistance toward God’s love and God’s purposes is what now shows up in Jesus’ parable about prayer, known as ‘The Friend at Midnight’.  In a world that resists God’s will, through this story that imitates life, Jesus is calling his disciples to be bold and persistent in both praying and living God’s world into reality.

To illustrate how disciples should boldly approach God in their prayers, and why God can be trusted to respond, Jesus gave this parable of the surprising need that arose in the night.

What stood behind this prayer was of paramount importance in the biblical world.  When a guest arrived -- even unexpectedly at midnight -- there was no question that hospitality must be extended. So as the host finds himself without bread for his guest, he goes to his friend and asks to borrow bread, even though he must wake up his friend’s entire household.

“Do not bother me,” the friend answers from within. “The door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything” (11:7).
We might empathize with the woken-up friend and think that the midnight caller is pushing the limits of friendship. But in that culture, it is the woken-up friend who is behaving badly. The ability of his friend to provide hospitality, and thus to save his honor, is at stake.
Jesus says that the man will eventually respond to his friend’s request, not because he is a friend, but because of his friend’s shamelessness (11:8). The Greek word is anaideia, is better translated "shamelessness" than "persistence (NRSV),". This implies a boldness that comes from familiarity and out of friendship.  It doesn’t imply that God needs convincing or manipulating by persistence, because the host only asks once.  This host is bold and  "shameless," counting on his friend's duty to be a friend, even at midnight.
Tom Long, professor of preaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, tells a wonderful story along these lines. A friend of Long’s, who is a pastor, received a disturbing telephone call one day in his church office. A part-time staff member in the church, who had been out in his neighborhood walking his dog, had been mugged, stabbed in the heart and rushed to the hospital. He was now in intensive care with virtually no prospect for survival. When the word spread among the church staff, his friend said, they gathered spontaneously to pray. Standing around the communion table, each person prayed. They prayed sincere prayers, but these prayers were mostly polite and mild petitions, prayers that spoke of comfort and hope and changed hearts, but prayers that had already faced the hard facts of almost certain death.
Then the custodian prayed. His friend reported that it was the most athletic prayer he had ever witnessed. The custodian wrestled with God, shouted at God, anguished with God. His finger jabbed the air and his body shook. “You’ve got to save him! You just can’t let him die!” this custodian practically screamed at God. “You’ve done it many times, Lord! You’ve done it for others, you’ve done it for me, now I am begging you to do it again! Do it for him! Save him, Lord!”
“It was as if he grabbed God by the lapels,” said Long’s friend, “and refused to turn God loose until God came with healing wings. When we heard that prayer, we just knew that God would indeed come to heal. In the face of that desperate cry for help, God would have been ashamed not to save the man’s life.” And so, says Tom Long, it happened. The man was healed. (Thomas G. Long, Christian Century, March 21, 2006, Vol. 123, No. 6, p. 18. Cited by The Rev. Charles Booker-Hirsch,
So, Jesus implies, that we should we take our requests boldly to God, shamelessly insisting, just we would boldly impose on a friend.  We can be so bold because God, our Father, will answer, according to his will and his love, no matter how importune the moment.  Behind this image we can feel Jesus’s complete trust in abba, his Father.  He is teaching that his disciples should also approach God as ‘our’ loving, caring, compassionate Father’ too.  When we approach prayer with such boldness, we can rest assured that God’s answer will come, like this friend who gets up at midnight.

However, one lingering question about prayer is simply ‘what’s the hold up?  If we are told to pray boldly because God answers, why the delays?  Sometimes, at least, when it comes to getting what we pray for, God may seem like a‘friend’ who doesn’t want to get out of bed.  There is a story about H.G. Wells, that when he was a young man he prayed hard for something to happen. It didn’t, so he said, “All right for you, Mister God, I won’t bother you again.” And he didn’t. That was the end of his prayer life. The world is full of people who say, “I’ve tried prayer and it didn’t work.”
Jesus’ very different understanding of prayer is that God desires to answer our prayers, perhaps even more than we want to pray:  “So I say to you”, Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, 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” (11:9-10). How do we take such encouragement to pray when prayers go unanswered?
Again, Jesus’ encouragement to ‘ask, seek, knock’ is often thought to be another call to persistence, meaning "ask and keep asking" and so forth. It might be more helpful, though, to read Jesus' instruction as inviting us to trust, and to keep on trusting, remaining confident that we will receive God’s answer.
But again, how do we trust, when so much of our human experience contradicts the literal implications of Jesus’ words?  So often we have asked and not received; have sought and not found, or have knocked and doors did not open. In spite of our most fervent prayers for the health and safety of loved ones, we have lost them to cancer, or other illnesses and senseless accidents. In spite of the fervent prayers of people around the world, daily we hear of tragedies of violence, hunger, disease, and natural disasters.
There is no simple answer to this, though simple answers are often given. One answer given is that it only seems that God has not answered our prayers; God always answers, but sometimes says no. We do not always ask wisely, and God, to be a truly loving God, must refuse our request.  But this explanation cannot account for the many cases in which our requests must surely be in tune with God’s will. Scripture bears witness to God’s will that everyone have enough to eat and that violence and war cease. Jesus tells us to pray for daily bread and for God’s kingdom to come. Yet millions continue to go hungry and wars rage on.
Another explanation often given to the problem of unanswered prayer is that “everything happens for a reason.” This is to affirm that there is some purpose in everything that happens. No matter how bad it may seem, it is all part of God’s plan to bring about some higher good.
This is a troubling explanation, to say the least, as it holds that whatever happens must be God’s will. One would then have to say that all kinds of evil -- such as violence, torture, starvation, and premature death -- are the will of God. We dare not call the tragic results of our own sin and rebellion “God’s will.”  Of course we believe that God can bring good out of evil. Indeed, this is our only hope and the heart of our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But that is quite a different thing from saying that whatever evil thing happens is God’s will.
What then, can we say about unanswered prayer?  It is wise to be wary of saying more than we can possibly know (This the point the movie Bruce Almighty made).  We can, however, affirm what Scripture tells us: that God is all-powerful, yet God is not the only power in the world. There are other powers at work, the powers of Satan and his demons, the powers of evil and death, often manifested in human sin. Although God has won the ultimate victory through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the battle still rages on. Consequently, God’s will can be -- and often is -- thwarted.
Why bother to pray, then, if God’s will can be thwarted? Again, we affirm what Scripture tells us, and particularly what Jesus keeps on telling us in this passage: that we are invited into relationship with a loving God who wants to give us life, and who continues to work tirelessly for our redemption and that of all creation.  This is exactly what Jesus means with his outlandish example about who would give a snake or a scorpion to a child.  If no one in their right mind would do this, can’t we trust that God, our heavenly, spiritual Father, will give us all that we need,  especially the Holy Spirit---with is God giving us himself.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once told a story about a young man named James C. McCormick who was stricken years ago with the terrible disease of polio. This was before the advent of the Salk vaccine. Young James was totally paralyzed, totally helpless, and in great pain. He could not move; he could not swallow; he could not breathe; he had to stay in an iron lung. He wanted to die. He even prayed, “Lord, I’m so helpless that I can’t take my own life. Please take it for me.”
But God chose to ignore that prayer.

Then he prayed, “If I can’t die, please take away this awful pain.”

The doctors gave him drugs to ease the pain, but he was becoming dangerously dependent on them.  So he prayed, “Lord, please take away this craving for drugs.”
Gradually, the craving left him.

Then he prayed, “Please let me be able to swallow again. Let them take this tube out of my throat and these needles out of my arms. If I can just drink a little water, I’ll try not to ask for any more favors.”  And he became able to swallow, but he was not able to stop asking God for favors.

So he prayed, “Lord, let me be able to breathe a little bit on my own. Let me be able to get out of this iron lung just for a little while.” And this, too, came to pass.

After a while he prayed again, “Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful for all Your favors. Can I ask just one more? Let me be able to leave this bed just for an hour, get into a wheelchair, and see the world that lies outside this hospital room.”

This request, too, was granted. Then James McCormick asked to be given strength enough in his arms to move the wheelchair himself. And after that, he asked for the ability and the stamina to walk on crutches. And finally, after a 20-year struggle, James McCormick could walk with two canes, and he was able to marry and have children and lead a close-to-normal life. James prayers were answered, but not according to his timetable and not in the way he would have chosen. But, in retrospect, he has no doubt that God heard his prayers and God answered.  He has no doubt, that God was present with him through his terrible ordeal (Seth L. Leypoldt,

So, now we end, where Jesus’ lesson on prayer, has been going all along.  While we tend to fixate on the mechanics of prayer: how, why, when, Jesus' instructions focus on a different question: who.  The greatest purpose of prayer is revealed as Jesus invites us to stay on track by reminding ourselves that prayer is about ‘who’.   What we must never do is to make prayer only about ‘what’; making it a simple ‘hotline to God’ to get what we want.  Prayer, is not primarily about getting things from God, but prayer is rather about the relationship we have with God whom we can and must trust at all times, especially, in the midnight of our lives.

And Jesus practices what he preaches and teaches!   Praying again his own ‘midnight’ hour as he was hanging on the cross (23:46). Similarly, we are invited to make all of our needs, wants, hurts, hopes, and desires known to God. Even though God knows our needs without being asked (Mt. 6:8), we are invited to make our needs known, and to share them in the full confidence that whatever may happen, our relationship can bear hearing these things and may actually even depend upon hearing them.

Saint Augustine was a wild and profligate youth. His mother prayed for him constantly. The early chapters of the Confessions of Saint Augustine are filled with references to his mother’s earnest prayers that he might become a Christian. One day he told her he was going to Italy with some companions. She believed that if he went to that sinful city there would be no hope of his reform.

She prayed earnestly that God would not allow him to go to Italy. She did all she could to prevent it, even so far as to follow him on the early part of the journey, until he tricked her and went on with the journey. It appeared that Augustine’s mother’s prayers weren’t answered, but it was in Milan that Augustine came under the influence of Saint Ambrose and put his reluctant feet on the first step of the ladder that led to baptism, to Ordination, and to then to sainthood. His mother’s ultimate prayers for him were answered in the very place she asked God not to allow him to go.

While God may not give us everything we want, as we want it, God will, at least, like a good parent, give us his goodness, and his grace and will answer our prayers, sometimes in ways we never imagined.  The following lines might help us keep our prayers in the proper perspective, even when they aren’t answered as we wish:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do great things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but everything I had hoped for;
Despite myself, my prayers were answered. I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

We dare to be shameless in our prayers, to keep bringing our needs and hopes to our heavenly Father, because Jesus tells us to do so, trusting in God’s loving purpose for us. Not everything that happens is God’s will. But we can affirm with St. Paul, “in all things God works for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Amen