Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's liturgy)
Audio for homily
Have you ever prayed for something and got just what you asked for?
Or have you ever prayed for something and didn’t get what you asked for
- or worse - you got something you didn’t want at all?
Have you ever bargained back and forth with God,
(as Abraham did with the Lord in the first scripture)
hoping to sweet-talk God into doing or giving you what you want?
Abraham’s plea-bargaining ends with the Lord pledging
to spare the city for the sake of 10 innocent persons.
That’s where the 18th chapter of Genesis and our first reading end.
But you’ll remember from 19th chapter of Genesis
that 10 innocent persons were NOT found.
Only Lot and his wife and their two daughters escaped
and the city and everyone else in them were destroyed.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it…
What if Abraham had dickered the Lord down to 3 innocent people?
But the story is much more about persistent familiarity with God
than it is about getting what you want.
Jesus counsels the same in the gospel today,
urging us to petition God just as we might nag a best friend --
and to trust that God, like a good mother or father,
will never give his children anything bad or harmful
but will always give us the power of his Spirit
to help us through whatever hard times we face.
Still, as true as I know these teachings of Jesus to be,
I also know the pain (my own and others’),
the pain of praying persistently for something good
but not having that prayer answered as we had hoped,
as we had prayed, it might be.
Especially when times are tough
and what we’re praying for is something good and even selfless,
it’s hard to understand why an all-powerful God doesn’t act,
doesn’t intervene as we pray he will.
Now, I have no inside info on the mind of God,
on how and why God chooses to respond to our prayer as he does.
But there is something to be said about how we pray.
Just recently I read this short description of prayer:
Prayer is the place where we sort out our desiresOur wants, our needs, our desires are many - and we pray for them.
and where we ourselves are sorted out
by the desires we choose to follow…*
Some of our desires are very good - and others not so good.
Some desires are selfless and some are selfish.
Some desires shape our lives for the better and others - not so much.
In so many ways our lives are shaped by what we desire, what we long for,
what we believe we need and can’t do without.
It’s certainly a good and commendable practice to pray for particular needs,
and for the needs of particular persons.
But what of our prayer outside the times of need and crisis?
Do we have a way of praying that prepares us to pray in the hard times?
A way of praying that helps us face the hard times when they come?
A way of praying that helps us face the times
when God doesn't answer our prayers as we had hoped?
• What if we were to sit down with the Lord, regularly,
and ask him to help us sort out our desires, our wants,
our fantasies and dreams, our needs?
• What if we were to ask the Lord, in prayer,
to help us see how our desires and choices are shaping us and our happiness?
• What if we were to pray,
“Lord what do you ask of me? What do you seek from me?
What do you need from me? What do you desire for me?”
• Suppose, in prayer, we were to ask the Lord to help us ask only
for what will truly make us happy,
for what will shape us to be the persons he made us to be...
• Suppose, in prayer, we were to ask the Lord to help us seek only
whatever will help us grow in his love and grace...
• Suppose, in prayer, we were to ask the Lord to help us know
which doors to knock on? to seek only those doors
that open to what is truly good for us and those who depend on us?
If that’s how we regularly prayed,
then how differently might we hear Jesus when he says,
“Everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
What are we asking for?
What are we seeking?
What doors are we knocking on?
“Prayer is a place where we sort out our desires
and where we ourselves are sorted out
by the desires we choose to follow…
“Prayer enlarges our desire
until it receives God’s desire for us.
In prayer, we grow big enough to house God’s desire in us…*
And God’s desire in us is his Spirit,
the Spirit he promised to those who pray...
The place where we’ve gathered to pray is a place for “sorting out…”
Once a week we set aside our own desires and needs to come here,
to gather with our brothers and sisters in prayer.
We began by praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness,
forgiveness for the times we chose to seek and ask for the wrong things,
to knock on the wrong doors.
We listened then to God’s Word, hoping that the Lord’s wisdom
might help us sort out our own lives and the choices we make
that shape us and our happiness.
And in a few minutes we'll go to the Lord’s Table,
praying that our hearts have grown large enough
to house God’s desire dwelling within us,
in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
So let us pray...
that the Lord will help us receive what we truly need to ask for;
that he will help us seek what we truly need to find;
that he will open for us the doors that lead us deeper into his heart.
*Ann and Barry Ulanov in: Primary Speech: a Psychology of Prayer
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