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Homily for Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

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In the story that we have heard from the book of Genesis this morning, our father in faith Abraham shows himself to be a God-botherer in no small measure. He will not let up. A bit like the character we met in the Gospel story who keeps banging on the door in the middle of the night, until you get up finally, sick to death of the banging, and give him what he wants. Abraham here is in the presence of God, we’re told, and that is quite something. Not only does he stand in the presence of God, he then approaches God, which is even bolder. Bolder still is this relentless bothering of God; “what about forty? what about twenty? what about thirty? Remember that Abraham was a very successful businessman, and there is nothing more formidable when it comes to a bargain than a middle eastern businessman. He knew what it was to do a deal; to strike a bargain, and he appears here almost as someone who is trying to strike a deal with God, haggling with him to get the price down until its acceptable to him. So there is Abraham bothering God and trying to do a bargain, and Jesus says “well why don’t you try it to?” He encourages us to follow in the footsteps of our father in faith. “Ask and it will be given to you”; “bang on the door, even in the middle of the night”. “If you ask for bread, will you be given a stone?” ; “if you ask for an egg, will you be given a scorpion?” “No”, is the reply that comes from Jesus, who encourages us as it were to bother God and to do bargains with him.

We all do it – prayers of petition and intercession. I look down the back of the Cathedral here and I see candles flickering there. You can look over my shoulder and see even more candles flickering before the statue of the Mother of Christ. Why do we light candles? It’s not just because we like it and they’re cheap. It’s a sign of our prayer and our petition to God. There’s even a book down there near the Door of Mercy. It’s worth a look and very touching. I do it occasionally. It’s where people have come in and simply written a heartfelt but very simple prayer. Almost always its a prayer of petition wanting bread or an egg as it were. Other times it can be a prayer of intercession and usually for family. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. You could say “that’s all very selfish”, wanting stuff from God as if God was a vending machine. You put in your dollar and out comes the goodies. Yet it’s not like that at all; it’s more mysterious. We’re not twisting God’s arm or doing bargains because the real God doesn’t play that kind of game. The false Gods of paganism do but the real God doesn’t strike bargains with us. Instead, he wants us to come to him and to talk to him and ask for things. Now this takes us back to the very first page of the scripture because what you see there is a God who says to the human being “come here”. “Adam – earth creature; come here. I want you to do something for me.” “See that animal I have just created; give it a name.” Now God could give that animal a name because God is very good with words but God wants the human being to do the naming. This is God’s way of saying “you’re not a slave. You’re a co-creator with me. I want you to partner with me, work with me and enter into dialogue with me.” “I want you to speak to me, I want you to listen to me.” That’s the way the real God is with the human being. Whoever would have guessed or imagined it? Yet that is the truth that erupts from the scripture this morning. You see God wants us to open our hearts in a prayer of petition and intercession; not for his sake or so that we can twist his arm or change his mind or do a bargain with him. God wants us to ask for things and to intercede with him for our own sake because in the act of petition and intercession; when we light a candle or write a prayer in a book or speak silently from our heart and our need, three things are achieved, and God knows this far better than us. First of all we recognise the truth of our radical need and dependence. We are not self-sufficient and here God is teaching us the truth of what we are. This is not to belittle us but rather that we can discover our true grandeur. The second truth that we discover more and more, as we make petition and intercede, is that if we are dependent, radically so, then God is dependable, radically so! The real God is a God who listens to the human being in ways we can scarcely imagine. The God who speaks to the human being speaks to the human heart and enters into dialogue with us. It is not one way traffic as that is not the way he wants it. This is also the God who acts. He doesn’t just sit back, look the other way or do nothing. This is a God who acts though often in a way that we don’t fully understand. The danger is that we miss what God does because we’re imprisoned by our own expectation. As they say “be careful what you pray for.”

The third thing that God teaches us more and more as we make petition and intercession is the power of faith. He strengthens that faith. Why is our faith strengthened? It is because we see what God does. I would be very surprised if you, like myself, hadn’t at some stage of your life’s journey seen the power of prayer and what God has done against all the odds. Once we see what God has done ; once we discover the dependability of God, then our faith is strengthened more and more. So to discover the truth of who we are, the truth of who God is and to have the strengthening of faith; this is the point that God makes when he calls us to make petition to him, when we open our hearts to him and to intercede for others in the way our father in faith, Abraham, did for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

So, here this morning, listening to the words of Christ, I say to you don’t stop lighting candles; don’t stop writing prayers in books; don’t stop opening your hearts individually and communally in the prayer of petition and intercession. Ask him! For your family your friends, the church and the world, as we will during the prayers of the faithful. A priestly prayer of intercession. Let us then never cease to do what God asks; to knock, knock, knock; because to our humble prayer of petition and intercession there is very much more than meets the eye. Amen.

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