High Maintenance and the Holy SpiritA sermon for the 7th Sunday After Pentecost on Luke 11:1-13 on July 28, 2019 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

This year marks the 30th anniversary if the iconic movie, When Harry Met Sally—the first date movie that my husband, Dan and I saw together, and has been part of our relational dialog ever since.

Perhaps you remember the scene when Harry and Sally are watching the movie Casablanca, each in their own apartment while talking over the phone. Harry identifies two kinds of women, high maintenance and low maintenance with Ingrid Bergman being low maintenance. Of course, Sally asks which kind of woman she is.

“You’re the worst kind,” Harry says, coolly. “You’re high-maintenance, but you think you’re low-maintenance.”
Sally says, “I don’t see that.”
“You don’t see that? Harry replies: “Waiter, I’ll begin with the house salad, but I don’t want the regular dressing, I’ll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side, and then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. ON the side is very big with you.
“Well, I just want it the way I want it,” said Sally
“High maintenance,” confirmed Harry.

Dan knew on day one that I was high maintenance. But you know what? So is he.

Of course, the truth is that all of us are high maintenance. We all want it the way we want it. We all want life—not just our food and our salad dressing—but the big stuff too—career, relationships, children, health, finances and all of it---to work out the way we want it, the way we plan for it, the way we imagine it, the way we like it.

Which makes for an interesting conversation when it comes to prayer—the topic of our Gospel reading today.

We all know that prayer is not simply about telling God what we want God to do for us, complete with dressing on the side, as if prayer were about getting our life made to order.
But how do we pray when much of life is not what we had hoped or planned, what then? What happens when our “we just want it the way we want it” selves bump up against Jesus’ instructions on prayer?

That’s a good description of this past week for me when I have felt particularly high maintenance—probably both Dan and God would agree. I want life to be the way I want it and it just is not andI kept bumping up against this text.

• For starters, I had the stomach flu—which is so bizarre in the middle of the summer. I certainly did not want something else wrong after just recovering from surgery from last month, so that was not a part of my plan this week.
• My dad has recovered so well from his broken hip, but now has some new upcoming medical tests
• Everyone in my family is on the move, all within five days: our son, Jacob is driving by himself from St Louis to New Mexico this weekend to visit his girlfriend. He’s not the best at responding to text or saying “hey, I arrived safely—so I still do not know where he ended up last night. So I pray and rely on no news is good news.
• Our daughter, Leah, who’s been working in Prosper ISD (Independent School District) over the summer drives back to Missouri, also by herself this week, and then back to college on her own. I love being in Texas, but I hate that I cannot make these trips back and forth to college with her.
• And Daniel is moving from New York to California this Tuesday to join my brother working at his tree company in San Jose. He and his fiancé, Jasmine decided to go to the Courthouse in New York last Friday to get married before he leaves because she is staying behind to finish her master’s degree. They’ll have a bigger celebration later with family, so it was just the two of them, her sister and a friend. I am so glad they did what works for them and their life, but I am sorry I was not there.
• At the end of this week, I am so blessed to have the chance to go to Colombia, South America to attend Spanish immersion school. I am so grateful to the Council for even thinking I can do this, but I am also worried I am not going to remember it. What if my brain is too old or had too much chemo to learn a language? What if I learn it, but have trouble maintaining it? I do not want to be a disappointment. My husband, Dan—Mr. photographic-memory—is there already—he left yesterday. Gratefully, he let me know he arrived safely.

All of you have a complex of issues that weigh on your hearts as well—the stuff of life that you cannot control, that are not of your choosing and perhaps not to your liking. So how does Jesus teaching on prayer come to our aid today?

First, we have a brief version of the Lord’s Prayer, the most important aspect of which is to ground prayer in our relationship with God, our Father. This is less about God as a man with a white beard, or only a male image of God, and more an image of an intimate parent—Abba—daddy, or Imma—mommy. Jesus offers a God of love and trust and closeness—someone a child can run to for provision and protection, which the prayer then underscores by asking for daily bread and being saved from a time of trial.

Then Jesus tells a somewhat an odd parable about a man receiving guests at midnight and not having any food to offer. We have talked before of the social expectation and necessity of showing hospitality to travelers in the first century. This man would be dishonored if he failed to offer hospitality to a guest. The parable makes it sound like the sleeping neighbor—an odd image for God—gets up and gives his friend bread, not because he wants to, but because of his loud persistence.

But a better translation instead of “persistence” would be, “shamelessness.” The man with guests and no bread is waking up the neighborhood to make sure he can honor his guest with appropriate hospitality. Because he is willing to be so shameless in his appeal, the sleeping neighbor restores his honor, and peace to the neighborhood by sharing his bread.

Rather than an image of God who’s door we have to pound with persistence to wake up and hear us with persuasive and loud requests, Jesus’ offers an invitation for us to come into the intimacy of God –our Abba or Imma—daddy or mommy—with bold, audacious, shameless, petitions, at all hours of the night—and the God who hears our cries, honors us with a response, restoring peace and dignity.

God’s response may not always be the response we want, it may not always be in the time we want, it most definitely will not always fit our high maintenance desires or plans, but God has promised an abiding relationship with us. And this God loves us shamelessly like a parent who wants to give us an abiding presence in the Holy Spirit and wants a relationship with us at all times, and not just at the midnight crises—so seek, ask, knock at all times.

This past Thursday morning, I took a walk with all of the concerns I mentioned weighing on my heart—everyone traveling, my dad’s health, learning Spanish, missing out with Leah’s college transition, not able to attend Daniel’s wedding. I would normally go to the fitness center, but having just gotten over the flu, a short walk was all I was going to muster. I was having a conversation with God in my mind about it all—for that is what prayer is for me throughout most of the day—this on-going conversation with God— but I was not really getting any answers. I was just putting it all out there.

I turned around at the corner and headed back toward the house. I just happened to look up, and there in front and above me was an enormous white egret, flying low and coasting gracefully right across my path: “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” It almost took my breath away.

That was the answer to my prayers and worries. It could not have been clearer: God will give me the Holy Spirit, and I would receive what I needed—not all I want, perhaps not most of what I want. But yes, I would receive the Holy Spirit.

The next day, Friday, Leah came down to Richardson and we had a late lunch at I Love You a Latte coffee shop up on Campbell Rd.

As we were talking, the emotional impact of all these family transitions started to hit me. The day before they were thoughts and ponderings, but as we sat talking, I started to feel so sad that she was leaving to go back to school. Then our phones beeped, and we received the first picture of Daniel and Jasmine on the courthouse steps after they got married. It was so beautiful, and they looked so happy.

Then, Leah looked at me like, “oh, no, mom’s going to start crying in the coffee shop!” Yup, I did—I was quiet about it—but it was still a shoulder-shaking, messy cry. Leah got up and she stood behind me and put her hands on my shoulders until I was done.

And then she sat down and said, “Don’t worry mom, I’ll have a big wedding and spend and all your money!” And we just cracked up. She told me to clean off my face and then we got up and went to off to our next task, but not before I thought about that white egret.

God promised the Holy Spirit and she showed up in my daughter.

• I needed a moment to feel sad and love to embrace me in it;
• I needed laughter to pull me back into the big picture of life,
• and I needed a push forward—

I received all of what I needed. It wasn’t when or where or how I expected, but it was there—“how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those ask him.”

Prayer is not a formula or a set of magic words, it’s a relationship that an intimate God wants with your high maintenance, messy self in the middle of your complicated life, and God is waiting and hoping you will bring your needs and desires with shameless abandon, all of the time in daily conversation.

You are not always going to get what you want, but no real relationship offers that anyway. You will receive the blessing of God’s constant and abiding presence in the Holy Spirit, which means that you will receive an egret, a butterfly, a pink sunset, or another sign; and you will receive love, laughter, strength, comfort or whatever you need from someone, somehow, somewhere, when you need most.

More than that, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit means that you are a “Leah” and will be a “Leah” for someone else.

So, if you do not know what to pray for, you can always pray for the Holy Spirit and know that you are covered in all you need! 

Image from cazort.net copyrighted by Alex Zorach

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