Luke 11:5-8 (King James Version)
And he said unto them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him’? And he from within shall answer and say, ‘Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.’ I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.”
It’s been a long day, and you’re soooo tired. You’ve cleaned away the dinner dishes, helped the kids with their homework, fed the dog, finished up the last bit of paperwork on your laptop, and — finally — you’ve put on your pajamas and crawled into your nice, soft, warm bed. You turn out the light, and have drifted slowly away into lovely dreams.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
You startle awake, not quite sure what brought you back to consciousness. Was that a knock at the door? You look at your clock. 12:00. Midnight. No, there can’t be someone at the door. Not at this time of night. No one you know would be down there. You lay your head back down on the pillow, close your eyes, and…
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
There is someone down there! Why are they banging on the door? They’ll wake up the kids!
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!!
You run over to your window, and throw it open, looking out at the front door stoop. “Who’s there? What do you want?”
It’s a neighbor, a friend from a few houses down, and he says that he’s had a surprise visit from out-of-town friends, and his kitchen is completely bare. No food or drink to be had, and all the restaurants and grocery stores in town are closed. Would you mind going down to your kitchen and throwing together a bag of bread, cold cuts, and maybe some sodas? Nothing fancy, mind, but he’s got nothing to serve them!
You stand there, in your pajamas, in complete disbelief. It’s midnight!! And after your long hard day, this guy wants you to throw together some sandwiches for his visitors! Seriously?
You lean back into the window screen, look out again, and say in a clear, no-nonsense voice: “Umm, no. I’m not going to do that. I’m in bed. I’m tired. My kids are asleep. I was asleep until you banged on my door. Come to think of it, you should be asleep, too! Go home! Take your visitors to breakfast in a few hours. Good night.”
You shut the window, walk back to bed, and climb back under the covers, pulling them firmly under your chin. Seriously. The nerve!
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!!
No. Not possible.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!!!
You throw your covers back, say a few choice words that you wouldn’t want your kids to ever say, angrily flick on the light, and stamp down the hallway to the kitchen.
As you turn on the kitchen light you hear: KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!!
You grab a grocery bag, fling open the refrigerator door, and begin throwing random things in the bag: a package of salami, a jar of pickles, sliced cheese, a round of brie, a package of cold cuts. Next you move to the cabinet: a sleeve of crackers, a few cans of diet coke, a package of bread.
KNOCK! KNOCK!! … KNOCK!!!
Growling now, you march to the front door, and open it just as your neighbor’s fist is yet again about to make contact with the wood. He smiles at you and says, “Hi!” You thrust the bag into his outstretched hand, responding, “Good. Night!” And shut the door.
In our scripture reading for today, Jesus is teaching his followers about prayer. Like us, those hearing Jesus that day would have been able to enter into the story, identifying with the characters.
It’s important to notice that today’s passage comes right after one of the most famous prayers in scripture: Luke, chapter 11, verses 1 through 4: “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
This is the basis for “The Lord’s Prayer,” which many churches pray together each week. This beautiful pattern of prayer is followed immediately by a story of a very persistent fellow asking for bread. Jesus doesn’t do anything by accident or mistake. This story about the persistent knocker is Jesus’ direct follow-up to his explanation of HOW to pray! How are these two very different feeling passages connected?
The word describing the knocker’s behavior in Greek is anaideia, which you saw translated in the King James Version as “importunity.” Not a word we use frequently nowadays. Anaideia comes from the Greek aidós, meaning shame, and the prefix a-, which negates the noun. So anaideia means not-shame, without shame. Shameless.
So, how does a shameless, needy neighbor have anything to do with The Lord’s Prayer?
To figure this out, let’s step out of the sleepy, annoyed person’s mind, and into the person knocking at the door at midnight. Let’s consider why it is that he has taken this action.
First: he’s knocking on behalf of someone else. He didn’t come to his neighbor looking for something for himself. He is desperate to provide sustenance for others.
Second: he has nowhere else to go. That’s not stated in the text, but is an easy inference, because if there was another option, another place where he could get what was needed, he would have gone when he met with resistance! He keeps on knocking because there is no other place for him to go if this doesn’t work out.
And third: He keeps on knocking because he believes that his neighbor won’t let him down. He trusts in the relationship enough that, even when things don’t look promising, he will come through.
But there’s another interesting twist in this story. Because of the sentence structure, there is some ambiguity about who that term anaideia (shameless) refers to. Most English translations have it connected to the one doing the knocking. However, it might apply not to the knocker, but to the reluctant helper.
In the culture of Jesus’ time, it would have been unthinkable for a visitor — even an unexpected one — to not be shown generous hospitality. It would have been very troubling for a family to receive a guest without having supplies on hand to feed and care for them. Those hearing Jesus’ story would have been appalled not at the actions of the man repeatedly knocking at the door at midnight, but at the refusal of the neighbor to help out in a time of great need. Honor would have demanded that, even if it was uncomfortable and inconvenient, he would rise up from bed to help. His response of “Trouble me not” would have been seen as shameless.
So… recap so far. In the beginning of Luke, chapter 11, Jesus answers his followers’ question about how to pray by giving them the pattern of what we call The Lord’s Prayer. He then launches into a seemingly unrelated story about a man who shamelessly bangs on his friend’s door at midnight, is initially shamelessly refused assistance.
Then we read these words in verses 9-13:
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, 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!”
If your beloved child asked you for a fish,
would you give them a snake?
If they asked for an egg,
would you give a poisonous insect?
Obviously, Jesus meant for us to be appalled by such a thought! These ridiculously awful ideas immediately follow the story of the knocking at midnight. Jesus is telling all those who hear this story that just as a loving parent would never do something so evil as handing a child a snake or a scorpion, in the same way, God — the most loving, perfect, grace-filled parent — would never be so shameless as to turn us away in our need. When we knock, God responds.
As I drove up to and back from Lakeland on Tuesday of this week, I listened again to an audio recording I have of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons. I especially listened several times through his message on our passage for today. I highly recommend listening to it yourself if you ever get the chance, or reading a transcript. It is, of course, brilliant and beautiful. One thing in particular that he said had me replaying that section many times:
“Although this parable is concerned with the power of persistent prayer, it may also serve as a basis for our thought concerning many contemporary problems and the role of the church in grappling with them. It is midnight in the parable; it is also midnight in our world, and the darkness.”
Midnight. It’s the time of night when, if you find yourself awake, you stare at the ceiling, thinking about all your worries and concerns. It’s a time when the quiet of the outside world makes our own inner chaos seem echoingly loud. It’s a time when colors are muted, when darkness drifts in the corners of our rooms and in our minds.
Midnight is a good, apt description of how many of you have recently reported feeling to me. Darkness. Uncertainty. Gloom. Fear. Anxiety. Even despair and depression.
And right now in our world, in our lives, I think we would all agree we have need. Deep, profound, soul-wrenching need.
At any time, but especially at the midnights in our lives, we step up to the door of prayer, and we start knocking.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!!
We’re knocking because we look around our world, and we know it is not the way it should be. We see pain and sadness. We witness violence and injustice. Daily we hear stories of people God created and loves hurting and injuring and killing other people God created and loves. We’re knocking because we are desperate for a way to bring hope and peace to our families, our community, our country, our world.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!!
We’re knocking because we have no where else to go. All of the things in which we have placed our trust have proven ineffective or insufficient in bringing healing to our world. We cannot seem to stem the rising tide of violence and fear. We are out of options, and we turn in desperation to God because there is no other viable alternative.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!!
We keeping knocking because we believe that God loves us, and desires us to know hope even in the midst of chaos and difficulty. We know that our God will not let us down. No matter what, we can trust in our relationship with God.
And so we knock — we pray — because we know there is incredible need, because we have no where better to turn, and because we believe that God is listening and cares.
But… I’ve read and heard a large number of people recently saying that they’re sick and tired of hearing Christ-followers call for prayer after a tragedy. “Stop praying, and start actually doing something!” one person wrote. Another shared: “Prayer = how to do nothing and still think you’re helping.”
If you google “stop praying,”
hundreds of thousands of hits pop up.
And, in part, they’re right! Prayer is not the end of our partnership with God. Prayers are not the totality of our commitment to the world. But prayer is the vital beginning. It is the foundation. It is the supportive framework of all that we do. It is the filigree of precious metal that runs through the rock of our faith.
Prayer is the catalyst that changes us,
the fuel that recharges us,
the force that propels us to action.
Let’s go back to verse 9 again: Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Ask, search, knock. All in the imperative tense — these are orders Jesus is giving us. You, you, you, me: ask, then search, then knock. That pattern: that’s how we can bring change and hope to our world in pain!
First, ask. We look around our lives and our world, and we see brokenness. We see injustice and cruelty and discrimination. Our hearts are powerfully moved, and we’re drawn to ask God to do something about it! When we pray, we’re coming to God as a supplicant, a petitioner. When we ask, we’re admitting that we don’t know the answer, that we need guidance, that we have reached the end of our own knowledge and wisdom, and we are opening ourselves up to hearing something new from God.
Next, seek. Search for, look for, strive for. Having asked God to guide us and show us a way forward, we use these wonderful minds that God has given us to search out new ways to reach out and to help. We experiment, trying out ideas. Some will work, some will fail. And we’ll keep on trying, keep on moving forward, keep on seeking.
And we knock.
KNOCK!! Armed with ideas and a plan, supported by our reaching out to God in prayer, we knock on the doors of the world…
KNOCK!! challenging the status quo…
KNOCK!! standing up against injustice…
KNOCK!! pushing back against hatred…
KNOCK!! actively demonstrating love and grace and forgiveness even when everything around us seems to demonstrate the opposite…
We knock and we knock and we knock…. and we knock!
And notice what happens when we knock: For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
The door will be opened.
The door will be opened because the God on the other side of that door of prayer is not a reluctant, unenthusiastic householder unwilling to give us what we need. No indeed. The door will be opened by our generous, loving parent who desires his children to know how loved they are, how cherished. A parent who wants us to live in peace, wants us to know hope.
And we, the church, can be a part of bringing that hope and knowledge that to each person we meet.
In his sermon titled A Knock at Midnight, Dr. King said this: “…if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
May it be so!
This weekend at Plantation UMC, we experimented with new video equipment. It’s still pretty rough, but if you’d like to hear & see the above message, here it is!