Becoming a Pickle

As I prepare for Sunday, and think about the Gospel Lesson, here are my thoughts.

Suppose you have a friend. Suppose you have this friend whom you go ask at midnight for 3 loaves of bread because another friend has just arrived and your pantry is empty. It’s been a long trip and you want to be a good host, you know it’d the right thing to do. Suppose you go to your friend, knock on his door and ask for bread only to have him reply: “Don’t bug me. My children are already asleep. I can’t give you anything. Good night.”

Suppose, Jesus says. Every detail in this story is carefully chosen so that you do suppose, you wonder, “Do I have a friend like that? Would that friend slam the door in my face? Could that happen to me?” But everything in this story lead you to conclude that it wouldn’t, it couldn’t. This would never happen. No friend of yours would ever behave like this. Ever. But, I’m willing to bet that some friend of yours has treated you this way. That door has been slammed in your face. You were sent away empty. And you were only trying to do the right thing. Does that mean that you should never ever ask for anything?
Surely, you have heard that wisdom. When you pray, you’ve been told, don’t ask for things. Prayer is not about things like parking spots or toys. Prayer is about seeking a relationship with God. Because in our Christian faith we believe that everything comes from God — the good, the bad and the ugly. It all comes from God. So you gotta be careful what you ask for because if you ask and you don’t get it, then…

Your friend is to blame. He didn’t give you that bread you needed. Your parent is to blame. She didn’t give you the fish or the egg that your hungry belly groaned for. But, we usually miss that part in this gospel lesson. Asking here isn’t about oh wouldn’t it be nice if I got that parking spot or that toy but oh my god I haven’t eaten in 3 days and my body is wasting away, please give me some bread, a fish or and egg so that I can continue on this journey called life. Because I’m not done yet. But, I need this from you so that I can give up.

Father, hallowed be your name. God, there is nothing we can say or do that will make you holy. I am not in control here. But, you are holy. It is what you are. Hallowed, hallowed, hallowed be your name. So, if I ask, if I ask and search and knock, maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of that holiness. Maybe I might be able to actually believe in my very flesh that I am your child. That you care about my life, that you care about this world, that you long for justice and peace to come to us all.

C’mon. You were totally
thinking about Larry too.

That’s the kinda need that I hear in this parable. That hunger to know that God is God. That God cares. That God will bring justice and peace to this world. It has always surprised me in ministry that this is what most people come to church needing to hear — that God doesn’t just love, but loves them. That challenge not to see ourselves as the parent who fails to respond to the needs of our children, but to see ourselves as the child with a need to know that we are loved. Ask, Jesus says, and it will be given to you. Ask God to love you. Ask God into your life. Ask God into your work for peace and justice. Ask God to be with you in this world. Ask, and it will be given to you. Search and you will find. Knock and the door of God’s heart will be opened to you.

Here’s what sucks about that wisdom. We expect it to happen right away. Our world is so immediate, so fast paced that we expect God to behave as quickly as our friends might respond by email. Sadly, that’s not how it works. Or at least that hasn’t been my experience. I know how to give good gifts to those I love, but I don’t do a heck of a good job inviting God into my life. I ask occasionally when I think of it. I search when I really need God and forget to look at other times, only to wonder why I can’t feel God’s presence. I forget that having a prayer life — having that kind of relationship with God is like making pickles. This is the wisdom that James Bryan Smith offers in his book The Good and Beautiful God (which I’ve admittedly never read). Prayer is slooooooow, like making pickles. In his own words:

To make a pickle we first need to get a cucumber. Then we need to create a brine and vinegar solution for soaking the cucumber. If we dip the cucumber in the solution and quickly pull it out, all we have is a baptized cucumber. In order for it to become a pickled, it needs to soak in the brine for six weeks or so. Slowly and imperceptibly the evolution works it’s way into a cucumber turning it into a pickle. 

And man, do I want to be a pickle. I want to be so soaked in God’s love that it changes who I am. That I can’t see myself apart from that love. That I can’t forget that I am God’s child and God only hopes to raise me in that love. Don’t you want that too? Ask, Jesus says, and it will be given to you. Let us dare to believe it is as Douglas John Hall concluded in Feasting on the Word: “‘Ask (Really ask! And don’t stop asking!) and it will be given to you’ — and is being given to you already in the asking.” Let this be our conclusion as well.

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