A Friend at Midnight

A Sermon by Rev. Julian Duckworth

Doctrine Apocalypse Revealed 951 and Divine Providence 330

These words on asking and receiving from the Lord describe the power of those who are in the Lord. They don’t desire or seek anything except from the Lord, and whatever they desire and seek is done.

The Lord’s love is in everyone, whether good or evil. So the Lord who is Love cannot act differently with everyone than as a Father on earth with his children, and infinitely more so because Divine Love is infinite. He cannot recede from anyone because His life is in them. It appears as if He recedes from the wicked, but it is the wicked who recede, when yet He leads them from love.

Text: Luke 11:8

I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise, and give him as many as he needs.

One of the first things I learned about being in Australia is that you don’t telephone anyone after nine o’clock at night. Actually it’s more like eight thirty when the evening movies start. This came hard to me at first because obviously ministers often use the phone. In England I could happily ring virtually anyone up to ten thirty, and certain people I knew would still be up at midnight and would not mind a call even then. But here, the shutters come down conventionally at nine p.m. And yes, I’ve noticed too that for the most part, we don’t get incoming calls either, after nine. So when the Lord gave this powerful short parable about the results of persistence, He was pretty accurate in putting the time of asking a favour at midnight. No-one would want to be disturbed and everyone would be tucked up in bed for several hours. I’d imagine that in Biblical times, bedtimes would be even earlier still. As he implies, most people would understandably say, Certainly not, not at this unearthly hour. Go away and come back in the morning!

But of course the Lord isn’t really talking about social conventions. Just the opposite in fact. He is saying that there is a real place in our life for breaking the convention and going against the done thing. This is one of the features of the gospels. Jesus himself was a tremendous convention-breaker, a rebel, and we can begin to build up a picture that religion is meant to be a challenge to authority, almost subversive. It’s good to be challenged about what we take for granted or have come to do automatically. It upsets us, and why shouldn’t we be upset like that from time to time? It may be the only way of getting us to think about what we do. But I also think that Jesus’ frequent rebelliousness was more than challenge. It was never challenge for challenge’s sake. The Lord wants to keep us spiritually on our toes, up and running, expectant, and as it says in this short parable “persistent” until we get satisfaction and perhaps a few good answers to our questions. The one state the Lord wants to keep us well away from is apathy, or routine, or going through the motions, or sheer habit. Far better to be in a state of persecution where you are kept on your mettle. But don’t take that to mean we are to go around looking for trouble! What we are to do spiritually is to question, wonder, stir the pot, but within ourselves. Jesus says, Ask and it shall be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. And the key thing in those words is the fact that ask, seek, knock, should be translated keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. And this is basically the spirit of the parable of the friend who is roused at midnight.

Jesus told two parables about the place of persistence. This one we’ve heard and another about a judge who is pestered by a widow to avenge her of her adversary. She wearies him, it says, with her clamouring demand for justice, to the point where he finally does something about it. It’s very human and the danger I suppose is that we might begin to think of God as being like the judge who finally gives in from exasperation. Absolutely not. God cannot give in nor can he be exasperated. But it’s as if He wants us to believe, from our end, that it is like that so that we pester him with question after question about life, in the search to understand and get good answers. He loves that, because He loves us. Everyone who asks – who keeps on asking – receives. Someone wrote that God is mute, silent, so that we can feel He is listening to us without interrupting. And at our Thursday night meeting last week, we heard the story of the person who had a huge problem, who went to God for a solution. Someone told the man that God wasto be found in a tent over there but He wasn’t there at the moment. The man would have to go in and wait a bit. So the man went into the tent and sat down to wait, and as he waited, he started running through what he was going to say to God, how he would present the problem properly. He thought hard, and soon ideas and realisations began to come into his mind one after another. Still no God. After a few minutes, the man began to see that his difficulty was virtually sorted up and he’d got a number of new helpful angles on the problem. Then God came in just as the man was getting up to leave. “It’s OK God. I don’t need you right now. Thanks a lot anyway.”

That’s a great story with a beautiful lesson, but of course not all of our questions and difficulties will get cleared up by cogitating on our own. What about the very hard ones, the insurmountable ones, the ones that people have been asking for centuries? Or the one which deeply troubles us and doesn’t go away or lessen? This is what I think it is driving at in the parable of the man who goes to his friend at midnight to borrow three loaves. Midnight is not especially twelve o’clock; it is the middle of the night. It is the spiritual rock bottom time when nothing makes sense any more and God is just not there, we feel. One of our hymns we sing says “Our midnight is Thy smile withdrawn.” Very ill people often die around four a.m. when the body is at its lowest ebb. And spiritually many people must give up on God when their own night-time is long, cold and very dark, while others find it is the great turning-point, this darkest time of them all. So we might well ask the question, why do some people throw in the sponge and dismiss God in their midnight while others find it’s their turning-point and salvation? What’s the difference? It can only finally be in whether we stop everything or keep something going. It’s there in the last verse of the parable:

I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

We really need to appreciate what goes on in this persistence. Obviously it doesn’t mean that God will answer us after fifteen enquiries, or is it twenty five, or thirty five, but in the open-ended wish we have to keep with it at all costs, insoluble problems or not. Why? Because God can only come into something which is willing to receive Him. If there’s no avenue, there’s no access. And God may have a thousand and one other ways of coming in than the one we expect or demand. This is perhaps why the parable begins with the request for three loaves and ends with him being given as many as he needs. And the parable strongly brings out the point too that the friend does not get up and give to him because he is his friend but because he is persistent. Being a friend to God or God being a friend to us is not the deal at all. It’s too loaded with favours. It is us demanding a particular result or answer from God because we have a special relationship with Him and we’re on very friendly terms. God doesn’t deal with us like that and He many spring a few surprises if we think otherwise.

Basically, the answer is not the answer, if you follow what I mean. It’s the persistence that ushers in what we might call ‘answers’ even though more accurately they may be identified as becoming more sensitive to life, accepting that we do not know everything, growing and maturing in our own relationship with the Lord, feeling the validity of other viewpoints even though they’re not ours, wanting to go and help some suffering in the way we can, reading the Bible and allowing God to make sense of it, changing a few of those personality traits we know we have, keeping an eye on what we call our priorities, and so on indefinitely. These are just of a few of the loaves that the Lord will give at midnight, not because we are gritting our teeth but bcause we are not going to let God off the hook until we have got something worthwhile from Him. And that relentless persistence is what God loves and needs!

Amen.

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