The story in Luke this morning about bothering your neighbor until he gets up and gives you what you want is often used as a prescription for praying a lot until we have bothered God enough that we get what we want. However, there is no set way to interpret the stories that Jesus tells – he just tells the stories. There are some times when he explains the stories (like the one about sowing seed in different types of soil), but usually, he just tells the stories and lets us figure them out. So – how about interpreting this story in a different way than what is usually done. How about interpreting it as meaning that we should pray a lot so that God bothers us enough that we finally do what he wants us to do. The same can be done for the similar story about the corrupt judge and the cranky old lady – we often think of God as the judge and we as the woman wanting justice, but shouldn’t it really be the other way around? – we are corrupt (judging everything according to our own twisted standards) and God wants us to change and be just. The reality is: we need to pray a lot so that God can finally convince us to do what we ought to do, not so that we can get God to do what we want. We need to pray a lot.
The same technique of turning the usual interpretation around 180 degrees can be used in the story from Genesis this morning. Maybe God is not giving in to Abraham’s pushiness about not condemning a whole group of people because of the actions of some; maybe God is teaching Abraham that it is not right to condemn whole groups of people because of the actions of some or even most of the people in the group. Once again, it is God using our prayer time to finally make us aware of what we ought to do, not we bugging God so much that God finally gives in and gives us what we ask for. But just as Abraham had to make several petitions for that to happen, so we need to pray a lot. Of course, God did eventually wipe out all but four (three if you count Lot’s wife) of the residents of the plain, but that’s the Old Testament for ya! – it wouldn’t be the same without a good smiting here and there.
So, maybe we can also read this part from the letter to Colossae in the same way of turning the interpretation around. Paul says to not let anyone ensnare us with the need to engage in certain religious practices, and there are indeed some dangerous religious practices. But there are a whole lot of religious practices that are simply different than what we prefer or what we are used to. So we should turn the warning about dangerous practices around a little and remind ourselves not to condemn others for engaging in practices that are not dangerous, but merely different. He makes it clear in the reading that it is all about Jesus anyway; Jesus only condemned people’s religious practices when they did not follow them up with love and compassion. People are different, and everyone’s relationship with God is different, so different things will help different people. We should be thankful when we find what we need to help us grow in Christ, and we should be thankful when others find what they need.
We see a lot of people with some strange religious practices come through our doors here at the monastery. Some of them are actually dangerous. Many others are merely bothersome and disruptive in a group setting such as we have here. Other times, they are just different and we can let them bother us if we want to. But the truth of the matter is the fact that we all need to pray a lot. So let’s allow each other to do that, and let’s all do it in ways that help each other – not being pushy or flaunting our different ways. Let’s pray a lot so that God can finally convince us to do what we need to do. AMEN