Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
Prayer and Healing.
Trinity 9 - Sunday 24th July 2016
Go together like love and marriage – or like chalk and cheese?
Depends on your experience. There are many who say that prayer does not work, just as there are many who believe it does work. The problem, of course, is that prayer does not work in the way that we always want it to work.
In the context of healing, for example – how many have prayed that a loved one will be healed, but they are not and you are faced with the loss and the feeling of betrayal? The glib answer that God’s healing can include being healed in heaven does not always bring the comfort that it should. But we know that God does answer, so what does the answer to prayer mean?
We have heard read to us today, two very different prayers, in content and in form. God answers, so we need to look carefully at the answers to those prayers to help our understanding
Let’s start with Abraham’s negotiation with God. I have to tell you that Mike loves this passage, seeing it as a very Jewish bartering, bargaining event. And to some extent it is. But it has a purpose and an end point.
God has heard the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, their sin is so great and grievous, and God knows he has to intervene. Incidentally, don’t get carried along with the idea that this is an argument against homosexuality. Haggadic traditions offer other possibilities; inhospitality; greed; theft; deception; disregard of the poor and the orphan; inhumanity; and perhaps the pinnacle of Sodom’s depravity is mercilessness. Ezekiel records them as arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, not helping the poor and the needy, haughty and doing detestable things. These towns were notorious and so evil, that even God can scarcely comprehend their sin. He needs to go there and see for himself (or at least send his own special messengers).
Abraham has a special privilege, to stand before God and question him, and Abraham knows this – He describes himself as bold, and hopes the Lord will not be angry with him. God is not angry, as we see.
I am not a Hebrew scholar, but I have been researching this. The negotiation starts with a Hebrew interrogative ?ap, which means the sense of the translation is “indeed,” or “really,” suggesting that Abraham is incredulous at the possibility. Will God really do such a thing? Indeed, could God do such a thing? So the question is: “surely you won’t destroy it if…?” Surely not? Aren’t you merciful and just? You are, aren’t you?
Later, Abraham words have the interrogative ?ûlay, the sense of this translation is: “perhaps.” Perhaps there will be a certain number of righteous people in the city. Perhaps God will be merciful. It also occurs in Jonah 1:6 when the sailors say in the middle of the storm, “Perhaps God will take notice of us and we will not die.” “Perhaps” can express hope, or it can express fear or doubt. It does not express certainty.
And what of the righteous? Are they perhaps collateral damage? That does not sound very merciful or just, does it, if God destroys them regardless. What would be the point of righteousness, in that case?
The Hebrew text helps us again - the repetition of the participle, ?abur, means “for the sake of,” and affirms that God is a God who acts for the sake of, on behalf of others. This word occurs in verses 26, 29, and 32, when God says that God will not destroy (or, “I will not do it”) for the sake of the forty, the twenty or the ten righteous. Based on God’s own words, we can say with certainty that God does not operate in a vacuum but out of concern and care for the sake of the righteous.
Do the righteous in an evil community (and let’s face it their lives could not have been easy) do they have a function? Are the righteous there so that God can be merciful? Is their job to not only show the ways of righteousness, but to allow God to give everyone a chance to repent and be forgiven? The passage changes if you think in that way. And it gives more hope to Christians living in the middle of evil regimes where they are persecuted for His names sake. Imagine, living in Syria, or Pakistan right now as a Christian. You must wonder where God is. But your job suddenly becomes so very very vital. The presence of just 10 righteous people can open the door for God to show his mercy, his forgiveness to anyone who repents of their sin. Because of this passage, Jewish tradition holds 10 people are needed to start a synagogue; we could extrapolate from that -10 righteous people in a church can save a nation.
Now, let’s look again at the teaching that is recorded in Luke’s gospel.
The disciples ask to be taught how to pray. This was a common practice of followers of rabbis. The disciples ask him to teach them “as John taught his disciples”. The prayer serves as a model for them to use, but it is not the only form of prayer. Prayer was always important in Jesus’ life; he didn’t just repeat these words over and over again. His prayer life with God was constant, day after day; everything that he did was taken to God his Father in prayer. Right up to the minute of his death, when he asks forgiveness for his persecutors.
We can still say the prayer, which we call the Lord’s Prayer. It is easy to learn and to repeat often. But if you do know it ‘by heart’ then take time frequently to be sure you still understand the words. Learning by rote can obliterate the depth of those words. I have a booklet that you can use as a starting point of your meditations. It is not an exhaustive interpretation, but it might be a helpful start. And you can use every word that you know to converse regularly with God – not just these. You might notice that this version in Luke’s gospel is slightly shorter that the one in Matthew’s. There is nothing sinister in this, but Luke’s version does not refer to will being done on earth as in heaven, nor does it include the petition to deliver us from the evil one. Luke follows with a teaching on asking God – interceding (intercessions) – emphasising the sharing nature of true faith.
Jesus gives his followers some examples of God’s goodness in answering prayers. God does not give something horrible when you ask for something nice. But prayer is not primarily about getting things from God but rather about the relationship we have with God. Hence, after a life and ministry of prayer, Jesus prays yet again while hanging on the cross (23:46), not for something nice “get me out of here”; but for forgiveness and acknowledging the God’s will has to be done.
We are invited to make all of our needs, wants, hurts, hopes, and desires known to God. The second part of Luke’s passage is so often interpreted as a simple black and white – ask for it and you get it. That sounds like the indulgence of spoiled children, rather than the conversations of adults with a loving father. And, of course, it leads to the disappointment of the spoilt child not getting the sweeties or toys that they want.
God wants you to have what you need. But look carefully at the passage. The giving of bread, fish and eggs instead of stones, snakes and scorpions is the human response. Even humans know how to give good gifts. God’s gift is greater. He is not promising to just give anything and everything to those who ask. He is promising his Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
Our relationship with God is through our prayers. We have to live the life that God has given us, where he has put us and we have to live that life to the fullness of God’s will. Not carping and complaining, but safe in the knowledge that God’s plan is bigger, he will take care of us. We can, and should, bring to God in prayer all that is in our hearts. Ask for what we want, secure that he loves us and will give us what we need. You can negotiate with God, but you need to approach a negotiation with clear logic which is pleasing to God.
Your demand should not be selfish – Abraham did not demand that his family be saved – he asked that the righteous be saved.
Be sure that your request will honour God. Abraham asked that God would be merciful and just.
Don’t be afraid to persist in the prayer, but know when to stop.
Abraham recognised all that. “You won’t destroy them all if there are some righteous people there, will you?” How many are sufficient to ensure your will is done? He stops at 10. When you take your prayer requests to God, don’t despair if the answer is not the one you wanted. God’s promise is the Holy Spirit, not bread, fish or eggs. But don’t stop asking.
Prayer and Healing do go together like love and marriage; and like love and marriage, it takes time and patience and confidence. Continue to pray for all your needs, including healing.
Remember - The best prayers are “Help me” and “thank you”.
 The Haggadah – the illustrative part of the authoritative book of Jewish civil and religious law and tradition, the Talmud.