Called to Belong

Published 6:27 pm Friday, July 29, 2022

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By Charles Qualls

Two co-workers and their boss were walking to lunch one day when they found an antique oil lamp. They rubbed it and a genie came out. The genie said, “I’ll give each of you just one wish.”

“Me first! Me first!” says one worker. “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a speedboat, without a care in the world.” Puff! He’s gone. “Me next! Me next!” says the other worker. “I want to be in the Swiss Alps, relaxing in a chalet with my personal masseuse, an endless supply of Champagne and fine chocolate, and the love of my life.” Puff! She’s gone.

“OK, you’re up,” the genie says to the manager. “You get the last wish.” The manager said, “I want those two back in the office by the time lunch is over.”

In our culture, many Christians have been taught to give a demure answer if someone asks them what they would do with sudden, large wealth. If we’re honest, though, most of us could probably figure out some fun ways to spend newfound wealth pretty quickly.

Which makes it so easy to misunderstand at least some of the words we hear in our scripture found in Luke 11:1-13. Because after Jesus taught his disciples to pray, that next thing he did wasn’t him promising them the world. He wasn’t just handing us a platinum credit card with no spending limit.

Why does this matter? Because for any of us who feel like we’ve ever offered up a prayer and didn’t get what we asked for, we wonder every time we hear this just what Jesus was saying. Fact is, I have long referred to verses 9-13 as “The Genie in a Bottle” scripture. Because that’s the way all too many of us seem to hear it.

Before you’re finished reading today, I am going to mention what I think he was promising us. That gift we are intended to knock and ask for, and we will receive. First, we have a “model” prayer. That’s the other name that scholars like to use, besides our more common “Lord’s Prayer.” That makes an important distinction. This version of Jesus’ Lord’s Prayer differs from the other Gospel version.

I think we do better to take the “model” approach. To let the prayer yield even greater riches by understanding it as Jesus’ answer to their question. “OK, then here are some ways you could pray.”

Then he models for us healthy subjects and ways to pray, but doesn’t intend to limit us to just those.

Suddenly, though, we move right into application. Because Jesus was pretty good at knowing that he needed to show the Disciples how to use what he taught them. Jesus rattled off a dizzying array of parables here, both normal length and several short ones!

This friend in Jesus’ story knocks at midnight. His need was evidently extreme. If you’re in a tight, a true emergency, call me at 2 a.m. I’ll be there, after I change out of my pajamas. Hospitality was of paramount importance in Jesus’ place and time. Even if unexpected, even in the middle of the night, the door must still be answered back then in that day and in that culture.

So the person who was misbehaving in this parable is not the one we think. The lesson might be that the friend eventually received his oddly timed request precisely because of his willingness to ask in the first place.

These are parables. All of them in this closing section. And, we get ready to close with them today. Because every bit of it points us toward the calling we have to belong! A call to understand that Jesus’ prayer reminded us that we have direct access to a God who longs for our companionship.

What is it that we can knock and receive? What is it we can pray for and get? God has already given it to any who believe and are willing to receive. Jesus tells us right here that the Holy Spirit will accompany us and lead us into the living of our days. The Spirit is God’s gift to those who choose to accept and to belong.

This is no genie in a bottle. This is no lottery jackpot. It’s what we need, spiritually speaking. It’s the connecting of God to a Creation that sometimes strays, sometimes misbehaves and other times just doesn’t always know what to do.