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Pentecost 10 Proper 12C RCL July 24, 2016

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15,  (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

Our opening reading today comes from the first of the so called Minor Prophets, Hosea. His ministry in the Northern Kingdom took place from 743 BCE to 722 BCE  and closely followed the ministry of Amos

Hosea was married to a woman who was unfaithful to him. Obviously, this was a terribly painful experience for him. Through all this suffering, Hosea never lost his love for his wife. His own experience helped him realize that God will never stop loving us, no matter what.

We do not know exactly what problems were troubling the congregation in Colossae, but scholars look at the text and find evidence that some teachers were telling the people that they had to follow the Jewish law, meaning that they had to be circumcised and they had to follow the dietary laws. Others were introducing beliefs which were not in harmony with Christian belief. Paul writes, “See to it that no one makes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.” Then, as now, there were all kinds of philosophies circulating, and Paul is encouraging the Colossians and us to remain “Rooted and built up in [Christ] just as you were taught.”

He tells the people that they received a “spiritual circumcision,” that they have been made new in Christ and they do not have to receive a physical circumcision. At that point in the Church’s history, some people believed that a person had to literally become  a Jew before they could become a follower of Christ, and Paul is trying to help them to understand that life in Christ is a spiritual transformation, not a physical one. He says that our Lord nailed the law to the cross because he is trying to help us to understand that it is not the letter of the law but the spirit of the law and the work of the Holy Spirit that is important.

Then, as now, there were various spiritual practices which are not appropriate for the life in Christ. Some people were engaging in harsh practices of self-denial and others appeared to be engaging in having visions which were used to, as Paul says, “puff up” their egos. He ends the passage with a powerful description of our relationship with Christ. We need to remember that each of us and all of us are part of the Body of Christ. We are bound together by ligaments and muscles and arteries and veins and nerves, and we are united to each other and to our Lord.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples have left the home of Mary and Martha, where Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, learning and absorbing his presence. As they had traveled with our Lord, they had seen him go apart time after time to pray. And now, one of them asks him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And he teaches us.

The first thing is that God is our Divine Parent. We address God as Father, or Mother, or even Dad or Mom. We have an intimate relationship with God. God is as close as our breath. God is as close to each of us as our neighbor in the pew. “Hallowed be your name.” The Name of God is holy, We approach God with reverence. “Your kingdom come.” We pray that God’s shalom will come to be here on earth. “Give us each day our daily bread.” And this is a prayer, not only for us, but for the whole world, because we have just prayed “Thy kingdom come.” So we are praying, and we are committing ourselves to work for the day when everyone will have his or her  daily bread, and shelter, and clothing, and the basics of a good and fruitful life. We pray that God will forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. The attitude of forgiveness is crucial to life in Christ. But it assumes that members of a Christian community are committed to treating each other with respect and caring.

We need to make it clear that, in cases of domestic violence and terrorism and war, people need to get to a safe place and stay there, and there are times when, if someone has been abusive but does not have the capacity or the awareness to make amends, true forgiveness is not possible. The one who has escaped must preserve her or his own safety and leave the matter of forgiveness between God and the abuser.

“Do not bring us to the time of trial.” Life is full of joys and also full of challenges, some of which stretch us to the limits of our faith and endurance. Scholars tell us that the “time of trial” probably refers to an occasion of severe struggle with the forces of darkness. We pray that God will be with us and will protect us if such a time comes in our lives.

And then Jesus tells us a wonderful parable. In the world of ancient middle eastern hospitality, if a stranger comes to your door at midnight and says that someone has arrived at his house and asks for a loaf of bread, everyone in Jesus’ audience, certainly every one of the disciples, would have assumed that of course you would get up and give them a loaf of bread.

So, if all of us frail humans would get up and give our neighbor what he needs, think how much more willing God is to give us what we need. “Ask, and it will be given you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.”

Our Lord is reminding us how much we are loved and how willing God is to give us what we need for the journey. At a time when most of us are praying fervently, Jesus is encouraging us to pray even more. Our Lord is reminding us how much we are loved and how much God wants to give us help and strength.

So, please, continue to pray as you are led by the Spirit.  Prayers are powerful. They can transform us, and they can transform the world, especially if we link them with action. “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” So, let’s keep those prayers going.  Amen.

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