July 2013

Another Lesson in Church Math


What to Do When the Majority Is Wrong

We’ve written before about church math—how it doesn’t add up the way we expect it to.

Church leaders, with managerial mindsets, look at church statistics and conclude that it would be better use of resources to combine two  churches and sell one property with everyone joining together as one big happy family in the best-positioned location.

They go ahead and put things in motion and discover that instead of two churches with 100 members each merging to form one church of 200, they now have one church with 50.

Here’s another math problem for churches. Which is more reliable? One voice or thirty?

Imagine a controversial issue. The Church’s usual response is to form a committee of 30, choosing the best minds of people representing all sides of an issue. Finding the right committee members could take months!

Next, schedule meetings and discussion groups. Fly committee members all over the country, if necessary. Add a few more months to the process. At last, write a social statement that defines the group’s resolution. Attach a disclaimer to the end that negates everything the paper says to satisfy the minority and trust that no one will read that far.

Publish the committee’s report with fanfare. Post it on the web. Forget about it.

The issue usually remains unresolved, but at least there is something to provide to curious outside parties. They probably won’t read the whole thing.

Nobody is really happy. The most disgruntled will leave. Life will go on as if the committee had never met in the first place.

Some issues are not for group resolution. They are for us to resolve as individuals with our consciences open to God. Kudos to the founders of the ELCA in recognizing this with their constitutional “interdependence.”

The problem is they failed to provide a structure to support the goal of interdependence.

When individuals resolve issues in their own minds, their ideas take on power. Passion results and passion is high-octane fuel.

Committees have power only when there is a dynamic leader. Otherwise, they sputter along on watered-down low octane.

Sometimes the majority is wrong.

There aren’t too many examples of majority voting in the Bible.

  • The majority voted to create a Golden Calf.
  • The majority voted for King Saul.
  • The majority voted for Barabbus.

The Bible is largely a record of the power of individual faith—self-discernment. God usually spoke to individuals in the Bible. It’s mankind that strives for the validation of numbers.

Mark Schaefer tells an interesting cautionary tale in a recent post. 

This true story is about a company who routinely spends significant money on product research. focus groups and consumer surveying. They were proud of their process and product.

Then one day one person said something that made a difference.

Fortunately, he was heard and the company acted on it. It wasn’t popular. The company was making big changes based on a comment of just ONE person. There was plenty of grumbling.

Read the story. In the end, they were all thankful they had listened.

How does the church treat the lone voices out there?

Church people are like any organization. We discuss. We vote. We follow majorities. Sometimes we work toward consensus. Sometimes we follow orders. Sometimes when the numbers aren’t going our way, we look for ways to bypass our rules.

Rarely do we find a place for that lone voice that persistently says, “Wait a minute. This may not be the way we ought to go.”

Sometimes one person is right and the majority is wrong. It can be a very uncomfortable pew!

We must make room for the lone voice.

If we don’t, we are squandering resources.

Sadly, that’s usually just fine with the Church.

photo credit: tantek via photopincc

Art: The Rich Fool from Luke 12

The Rich Fool is not a favorite topic of serious artists. Many of the depictions are illustrative or blatant cartoons (not that we have anything against cartoons).

Here are two from classical art.


Rembrandt painted the rich fool surrounded by books. Books in Rembrandt’s day symbolized vanity. They were a sign of wealth as well. The rich fool is happily surrounded by his treasures, totally unaware of the darkness surrounding him. His candle is about to be snuffed out!

Here is an etching by Hans Holbein the Younger who lived in the 16th century and was active during the years of Reformation.

Holbein-The Rich Fool

Death surprises the rich man and sweeps away the riches along with the man’s life.

Our featured artist today is Jim Jannegt. We’ve featured his work before including just a few weeks ago with his Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jannegt is a contemporary artist, working on a series of paintings depicting the parables.

His painting shown below, which looks so very modern, is based on a medieval art style and careful interpretation of the scripture.

Go to this website and enjoy five short videos of Jannegt describing how he created this painting.

Share the link with your congregations (on your web site before Sunday, if you can). His videos will help your congregation understand this Sunday’s lessons.

Here it is again:



Adult Object Lesson: Luke 12-The Rich Fool

arthurhughesJesus Helps Us Define True Treasures

self-storage-unitsToday’s story starts with a brother asking for his share of the inheritance.

Today’s object is a box filled with modern “stuff” and a photo of a storage shed. If you can project images use a photo (or several) like this one. Just google storage unit/images to find tons of them.

This is a parable about modern America. It is a parable about values and relationships—priorities.

Some ideas for what to put in the box: A collection of remote controls, a collection of knickknacks, t-shirts, cans from the garage, old sports equipment or toys, old trophies—the types of things we hang on to for reasons we can’t explain.

Use a collection of different things or a collection of same things. We all have multiple remote controls for equipment that died long ago. A collection of one teenager’s T-shirts can fill a dresser drawer.

As you talk about this parable, take the items out of the box. Just holding the things up may cause your congregation to smile.

The modern storage unit will resonate with your congregation. People have so much “stuff” they rent a shed to store it. Often they pay the rent for a few months and then walk away. They forget about the stuff when they have to pay to own it. After a few months, all that stuff isn’t worth the trouble to retrieve it.

On our own, we don’t think of giving it away. In the end, stuff is worthless.

We know that Jesus is asking  us to think about our values.

Today even intangible things have value. We can fight over ideas in court for years! Who thought of Facebook first? Who first used the word “muggle” as in the Harry Potter stories? Once success is obvious, we all want a piece of it. We want to transform ideas to gold.

How many of us would fight for what we believe in court?

True success is in building relationships and remembering priorities. Relationships give us something to hang on to. That’s why we make the effort to get home for Thanksgiving—to remember to phone on birthdays or holidays—to show up for worship on Sunday morning—to pray daily.

We don’t need a storage shed or a bigger house. We just need to value the blessings God gave us and show our appreciation.

Heaven is where the heart is.

The painting above by British artist, Arthur Hughes and was painted in 1881. It is called “Saying Grace, The Skipper and His Crew.”

Redeemer Revisited: Part 1

A New Look at a Tired Situation May Be Prudent

Redeemer-LocklowresThis is the first post in a series that will advocate for revisiting SEPA Synod’s involvement with member church, Redeemer Lutheran Church, East Falls in Philadelphia, Pa.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (SEPA)of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) made claims on this congregation’s property in 2008. Their actions sparked five years of litigation.

There is ample room for revisiting the actions of SEPA today.

  1. If ministry in East Falls is the goal, we are on the same side.
  2. If attaining or protecting assets is the goal, the better economic decision might be to foster ministry as opposed to shutting ministry down.

Either way, the important point is that we should be on the same side. The stewardship of ministry and/or resources should be an objective. So should loving the people who make up our synod and upon whom all hope for ministry or the funding of ministry depends.

Why revisit Redeemer now?

Eight years passed between the time when Bishop Almquist looked at Redeemer in 1997-1998 and Bishop Burkat’s revisiting his decision. Things changed during those years but SEPA never adequately examined how they had changed. That was a mistake. Let’s learn from it.

Another five and one half years have passed since the 2008 land grab was attempted. Four years have passed since the court awarded SEPA our property — not on the basis of secular law or even on Lutheran law but on the basis of separation of church and state. Courts do not want to be involved in church issues. The dissenting opinion suggested strongly that the law and the church constitutions were on Redeemer’s side.

This means that justice in the Lutheran Church is the responsibility of each Lutheran. There is no room for even benign neglect of that responsibility.

Things have changed during this time too.

To not review the actions in this long and trying relationship would be another mistake. Great potential might be missed. The mistakes made in the Redeeme debacle will be repeated—over and over.

We’ll start the discussion in the five following topics (possibly more). We will look at how decisions made today will affect various aspects of many local congregations and neighborhoods, the Church as a whole, and the mission of all Lutherans.

These are some of the areas we plan to discuss:

  • Legality
  • Viability
  • Innovation
  • Community Impact
  • Short- and Long-Term Potential

We believe that the Redeemer situation poses questions that will impact dozens of congregations in the next two decades. Redeemer’s interests are also the interests of at least 30 other congregations we have visited who may be OK for today but face a very uncertain future as aging memberships lose their ability to hold things together.

Redeemer has learned a lot in the last six years. We will share what we see in a forthright manner. We will strive to leave the buzzwords and popular leadership jargon out of the discussion. The ELCA needs a frank discussion that focuses on the interests of the congregations — not the preservation of a system and protection of the interests of church professionals but the true reasons we bond together for mission in the first place.

As one of the beleaguered American Roman Catholic nuns, Sister Pat Farrell, commented tonight on 60 Minutes— “There doesn’t seem to be a safe place to talk about issues of differences. Where do people go?”

This is true in the ELCA, too. Redeemer has found no honest and open forum within the church. In fact, great effort was made to deny or control all discussion early on—when open and sincere discussion might have prevented five years of law suits and acrimony.

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Ambassadors Celebrate

Homecoming and Coming of Age

Today was the end of our third year of Ambassador visits. We stayed home and had worship, followed by a party. (68 church visits, BTW)

It was an especially joyous day as one of members was home from nine months overseas. It was good to be reunited.

We actually saw each other several times this week, bumping into each other just like the old days. It was especially good to see our young people trying to reconnect.

SEPA Synod’s view of Redeemer was that we were a bunch of old ladies who would be dead soon enough. We wouldn’t have the energy to resist. Need money? Easy pickings in East Falls.

But Redeemer’s demographics were actually the youngest of any Lutheran church our Ambassadors have visited. It was not unusual for children to outnumber adults on Sunday morning. We had very few people who could be considered old.

A lot had changed in the eight years since Bishop Almquist nurtured that indelible impression and during which SEPA Synod ignored us.

And then another six years passed while Bishop Burkat tried to destroy Redeemer one way or another.

A funny thing happens in eight years, followed by six years (two thirds of the history of SEPA Synod). Our children grew up.

Since 2007. Redeemer’s cradle role members are now in first and second grade. Redeemer’s grade school kids are now entering high school. Redeemer’s high school youth are now entering graduate school or the work force.

Synod has been so focused on destroying the adults that they never stopped to think about how their actions in East Falls affect the children. Land and money remains their only consideration.

I’ll never forget the Sunday after Bishop Burkat followed four months of silence with a letter announcing she was closing Redeemer. Our last meeting with her had been all about working with Synod. She broke every promise made to us without a word.

Of course, when all this ugliness was going on, we did our best to protect our children. On this Sunday, following the edict (don’t believe the “mutual discernment” nonsense), two synod representatives appeared at worship. Rev. Patricia Davenport and the Rev. Lee Miller were sitting right beside the children as they gathered for the children’s sermon.

The children came forward wanting to talk. We usually let them talk during the children’s sermon. We typically asked them what was going on in their lives before we settled in for a message. This week they were upset. You see they had seen their parents crying.  “Daddy got a letter and was crying,” one six-year-old said.

They were probably surprised and confused that on this morning, when they needed to talk more than usual, their concerns were deflected.

The sight of a parent crying, especially a father, is troubling to a child. We should have talked it through with the children right then and there. But then the people responsible for the family’s pain were sitting within arms’ reach. The word “smugly” comes to mind. They seemed clueless to what they were witnessing.

Awkward moments in worship.

But today the children are older. As we talk now, we make no attempt to hide anything from the young adults. At one point, I invited them to go off and enjoy kid talk.

“Nothing doing,” one boy said. “I’ve heard bits and pieces of this over the years, but this is the first time I’ve heard all this. This is really interesting.” And so we shared our story with a new generation — now old enough to vote in the church.

As the father told the son, I always thought that if our story were told, any reasonable person would side with Redeemer.

Lack of dialog has characterized this entire conflict. Reason has held little sway.

Redeemer is not closed. We are locked out of God’s House by SEPA Synod.

Our children still care about Redeemer. They will always know what it feels like to be shunned by their church leaders, excluded from the church that had once welcomed them in baptism, and how their parents were attacked in court for five long years.

We learned what they are doing. The young man who often helped lead Redeemer’s children’s sermons now holds a home Bible study. (Redeemer had no shortage of leaders and was grooming a new generation.) Another boy attends church with a school friend. Most remain unchurched as is typical of the membership of closed churches. Another falls back on his Quaker school upbringing. (A good number of Redeemer kids attended Quaker schools.)

Several families that were united at Redeemer are divided in exile.

Bishop Burkat was quite up front with her insistence that the memory of Redeemer be allowed to die. The church’s version of scorched earth policy. If the church was to reopen it had to have a new trendy name. The members of Redeemer could not play a leadership role in any “resurrection.” They would remain dead while SEPA searched for more compliant East Fallsers (good luck!) or shipped in outsiders.

She thought the death process would take six months. That was five years ago.

And now we know.

Redeemer’s spirit will live for another generation.

Let’s hope a resolution is reached that will restore our children’s faith in Christian community—for everyone’s sake. It’s high time.

Praise God for this special day.

Imagination: The Source of Innovation

Hold “What If?” Parties

innovatorsThe Church is looking for innovation.
Or so they say.

Innovation is usually the result of a very few innovators.

The Church tends to be unkind to innovators. Judgmental.

Result: little innovation.

Every few centuries, an innovator makes a difference. It really doesn’t happen very often. Some of them become “official” saints. Some of them just go down in history—like Martin Luther. Often their bold thinking was sparked by the times, like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Or did Dr. King spark the times?

More often, innovators go unrecognized.

In the day-to-day life of the Church, innovation has a different definition. It doesn’t mean change in a significant way. It means finding a way to stay the same, to keep the same statistics up and the bills paid as the odds grow against that kind of success.

Look at the congregations that are viewed as most successful. Their success is often in doing ministry the same way a bit longer than other churches. Worship Sunday morning. Sunday School. Same staff positions and the same list of committees. Same set of service projects. They are successful. No need to innovate!

Innovation will come from smaller churches.

True innovation is rarely pretty at first. It takes experimentation and a willingness to take significant risks. It can be life-threatening. Ask either Martin!

Church leaders encourage innovation, but they are also waiting in the wings to assess your failures. This might be OK, if their judgment resulted in collaboration and help. However, it often results in property and asset grabs and a demoralizing treatment of church leaders and members.

Have you visited a church that was scheduled to close before the grand closing rally? Have you seen the pain of the people? Have you sensed their feeling of despair, isolation and worthlessness. This will be camouflaged when you bring in the big guns for that all-important closing service, designed to make everything seem all right — when it’s not.

Innovation doesn’t happen very often. It’s just too scary. Innovation requires resources. Those resources are needed to keep doing things the same way.

Innovation is not moving the worship time forward or backward by one hour.

Innovation is not offering Holy Communion every week.

That’s just rearranging the same things that have been part of Church in one form or other since Stephen was stoned.

Innovation is doing things differently. Listening to different people. Looking for different sources of funding. Serving a different need in a different way. Structuring your government differently. Emphasizing a different passage from scripture.

What was Martin Luther’s biggest innovation? Telling the gospel story in the native language of the people. Unheard of at the time. An abomination.

Really, not such a big deal.

What was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s innovation? Believing that all races could live together in peace and equality. This was not only unheard of at the time—it was against the law in many places.

Really, not terrible. Kind of nice. Why didn’t we try this sooner?

What sacred cows are we keeping in our pastures that need a bit of freedom? (I’m not going to use the faddy “resurrection” simile. It’s, frankly, offensive and has led to abusive behavior by church leaders. Churches don’t have to die to be reborn.)

Maybe you have an innovator in your community. Are you giving him or her half a chance?

Be aware: innovation often comes from unlikely places. If you think that by calling a certain pastor, you’ll achieve innovation, you are likely to be disappointed. Your innovators might be sitting in the back row. They might be coming only once every few weeks. They might be 80 years old. They might be 10. They may be “lifers.” They may not have joined—yet.

We need leaders who can imagine, who can think outside the sanctuary, who can ask the “what if” question and rally energy and resources to test new strategies and create new alliances.

What If?

Asking “What if?” is the rabbit’s foot of every creative person. Writers use it. Musicians, Visual artists. All creatives in every field.

  • What if we create a band without brass—just guitars and a drummer? The Beatles.
  • What if break up what we see into dots and strokes of various colors? Impressionism.
  • What if we hold a progressive talent contest that lasts 15 weeks instead of just a one-shot deal? What if we let the people vote? American Idol, a host of copycats and the rise of dozens of young artists.
  • What if we try a different kind of filament? The light bulb.

Host a quarterly What If? Party, where members can dream and brainstorm. Process the ideas presented. Make no decisions for two weeks, at least. Use that fallow time to let people talk, gripe, advocate, hone an idea. . . whatever they need to do.  

Create opportunities for those in opposition to work together. When people work together, they talk. When people talk, amazing things can result.

A What If? Party should have some kind of ice-breaker activities or exercises. Mix people up. Make it fun.

At Redeemer, we once divided people by birthdays. Four groups. One for each season. We had a small bowl on the table for each group. The bowl held slips of paper with a few ideas for a group activity—like tell some jokes, or write a skit about _____, or sing a song. Hey, it’s work to get a group of people to agree on the same song! In this case, the people had to agree on an activity and then take a few minutes to pull it off.

Then we’d have an impromptu talent show. Fun!

This was our ice breaker. There is power in this silliness. People break out of their comfort zones and work side by side with people they see every Sunday but don’t really know.

We’d follow the icebreaker with discussion on various topics.

This created an environment that influenced our ministry every week when we’d sit down together after worship for coffee and soup—at one big table—the “roundtable” (even though it had corners) where we were all equal.

  • What if we ran our own school in our own building?
  • What if we started a web site that reached out?
  • What if we encouraged our African members to invite their friends?
  • What if we found a pastor that spoke Swahili to facilitate this effort?
  • What if we used Swahili in our services?
  • What if we put the outreach in the hands of the African members?
  • What if a youth led the children’s sermon?
  • What if we used some of the equity in our property to expand our ministry?

Of course, getting the results takes time and hard work and you can’t always foresee the obstacles but it’s better than gathering dust or locking doors.

Try a What If? Party and see what happens.

Be prepared for failure. Failure is necessary for well-rooted success.


Just Keep At It

ask and it will be givenRedeemer Will Ask, Seek and Knock

That’s the part of the lesson Jesus taught to the disciples when they were challenged in prayer.

  • Ask. It will be given.
  • Seek. You will find.
  • Knock. The door will open.

Following biblical advice, Redeemer will just keep at it. 

We’ve been at it particularly hard for the last six years of our 122-year history.

  • Early on, even before all the lawsuits, we wrote monthly letters, which our presiding bishop, bishop, and trustees steadfastly ignored.
  • One of our members writes regularly to pastors. They hold keys to the doors of the democratic nature of our church government. When they’ve responded at all,  the attitude has been like the head of the household who wants to go back to bed with his children in Jesus’ story. They want to be left alone in their congregations. 
  • We started visiting congregations — all of which voted to take our property for themselves. We know they had been fueled with inflammatory falsehoods, exaggerated tales, one-sided accounts, which influenced them to believe that taking other people’s property, and expelling men, women and children from the church was somehow the godly thing to do. 
  • Early on, we wrote letters or sent cards to the churches. Later we just published our visits on Facebook and our blog. We discovered that other churches are much the same as ours, making their hands-off attitude all the more difficult to fathom. We’ve been to 68 congregations so far. We know more about your ministries than you knew about ours when you voted to take our property.
  • We continued our ministry which led us in innovative directions that could now benefit the whole church. Redeemer’s greatest value is not its corner property in an affluent neighborhood. It is our people who have a 132-year legacy which is still growing despite efforts to pack our ministry in cardboard boxes and store them in the seminary archives. Out of sight. Out of mind.
  • After six years of tiring and expensive conflict we remain an active Christian community that grew new networks when we were excluded from the ELCA. We are obviously viable. We have something to add to the faith community which is our heritage—more now than when you took our land.

And so in the spirit of the Lord’s teaching, we will continue t0 ask, seek and knock.


Please recognize our valuable ministry. Return our property to us and partner with us as we all pledged to do 25 years ago when we agreed to be part of the interdependent ELCA.


We seek peace and reconciliation. We want to belong—not as second-class citizens with a set of rules just for Redeemer but with the same rights and privileges all member churches share.


You know where we are. We know where you are. Why can’t we talk this through?

If what is going on in East Falls is so right, why is it shrouded in hateful vindictiveness? Why is everything so hush-hush? Why are people so afraid to act?

East Falls is still OUR neighborhood. We don’t have to go to community council meetings to court neighborhood leaders. We ARE respected neighborhood leaders, already friends with other neighborhood leaders. The best people to create Lutheran ministry in East Falls are the Lutherans of East Falls.

We have a plan we would like to present to SEPA Synod Council. Our experience is that anything presented privately never sees the light of day. We’ll publish our plan for ministry here first.

Watch for it. Answer the door when we knock. Please.

photo credit: barisoffee via photopin cc

Jesus Prays in Art

jesus_gethsemane-hofmannThe subject of Jesus praying is not one of the more popular themes in art history. We’ll present just three. Two of them are among the most familiar images in Christendom.

Heinrich Hofmann, a German artist who lived in the 1800s, painted the definitive portrait of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane as shown above. This painting has been copied or reproduced more than any other single religious work of art. Most artists who followed Hofmann in history reference the work and depict Jesus in similar posture and positioning. They use slightly different colors but the root of their work is Hofmann’s portrait.

The original painting is in Riverside Church in New York City, along with a few other works by Hofmann, which include the well-known portrait of boy Jesus in the Temple.

Jesus-praying-in-Gethsemane-by-William-HoleSepia-600-px1-600x553Here’s another drawing of Jesus in Gethsemane by a contemporary of  Hofmann’s. The artist was William Brassey Hole. He lived in Scotland from 1846-1917. In this painting, Jesus is a small detail amidst an imposing garden. Is that how you sometimes feel when you talk to God? Does it make you feel part of something larger? Or does it make you feel less significant?


Last, we present the work of Albrecht Durer, a 16th century contemporary of Martin Luther. This work was also copied by other aspiring artists who idolized Durer’s draftsmanship. You can almost see the blood pulsing through the veins!

Just for fun let’s compare the hands of Christ in two of these paintings. Below is a detail of the most famous painting of Jesus praying.

Jesus' Hands


Addressing Fear in the Pew

fearful eyesHow to keep fear from crippling your congregation

Sometimes when analyzing mission and ministry it’s helpful to put ourselves in the pew—to sit figuratively next to each parishioner or visitor and ask, Why are you here?

This is a different question than the more often asked question, Why don’t people come to church?

Why do loyal church members come week after week to participate in the same rituals? What are they thinking as they wait quietly in the pew for the organ music to begin? Listen patiently for the answer. It might not be the first thing that we imagine.

Many people come to church with some form of fear.

There is nothing more humbling than fear.

  • Fear of inadequacy.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of authority.
  • Fear of consequences.
  • Fear of loneliness.
  • Fear of not fitting in.
  • Fear of pain or discomfort.
  • Fear of death.
  • Fear of loss.
  • Fear of the unknown.
  • Fear that dreams will never be achieved.
  • Fear that nightmares will never end.

And so we seek relationship with God. But how do we build relationships when we are so afraid?

This is the crisis that brought the disciples to Jesus with this week’s Gospel plea.

Lord, teach us to pray. 

Prayer, we hope, will relieve our fears. Prayer will show us a path through the maze of uncertainties. Prayer will be there when all else fails.

But what happens when prayer fails us.

The temptation is to drop away from Church—distance ourselves from God—fill every minute with activity to avoid facing our deepest concerns—hide like Jonah in the belly of a ship headed far away from our problems.

This happens to us as individuals and collectively as church leaders.

How do we nurture the relationship we already have with God? How do we use that relationship to build relationship among God’s people?

A congregation, its members or leaders, cannot serve when cowed.

We all know the first answer Jesus gave to the disciples. The opening words to the Lord’s Prayer used every week in every church.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus adds important advice.

Keep at it. Just keep at it.

The people who are in church are heeding Jesus advice. Do we take them for granted? Do we overlook their problems and fears as we seek to solve bigger, more selfish, church problems?

The church that actively addresses the fears of the people who enter a sanctuary week after week (no matter how few or how old) will be ready to recognize the fears brought through their doors by their next visitors.

We all come with baggage.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

Adult Object Lesson: Luke 11:1-13

medium_4359212372Lord, teach us to pray.

Today’s object is a door or perhaps a knocker. You’ll want to be able to physically knock in some way or other as you teach today’s object lesson.

The subject today is prayer.

Prayer or conversation with God is foundational to faith. Yet so many people feel inadequate when it comes to prayer.

Today’s gospel starts with this inadequacy. “Lord, teach us to pray.”

The disciples plead with Jesus for help in talking to God. There was no door between them and God. They could reach out and touch him. Yet, they felt inadequate.

Jesus gives them a brief example of prayer using the words that have come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. However, Jesus knows that the problem is not the words but the attitude we have when we stand at the door and knock. He quickly moves on by telling a story.

Knocking on a door, as any salesperson knows, is frightening. You don’t know what might happen or whom you might encounter. You might be turned away—rejected. There is no worse feeling. It’s feels a bit safer when we know who is behind the door.

Jesus knows our fear.

He tells the story about the man who was embarrassed that he was ill-prepared to welcome a guest. The man didn’t let his shortcomings stop him from trying. It may help to remind your learners that in biblical times it was a true embarrassment to be unable to meet the needs of a stranger asking for hospitality. Modern hearers of this word will be tempted to side with the neighbor who was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night.

The man in Jesus’ story was humiliated when he went to a neighbor at the most inopportune time. When the neighbor tried to turn him away, he persisted. He was willing to risk his honor, pride and reputation to knock again and again on the neighbor’s door until his plea was answered. Jesus wants us to have that same need to knock on His door no matter what our state.

Today’s passage ends with a promise from Jesus. It’s still all about knocking on the door.

Have your learners repeat the passage once or twice. Some will know it by memory.

“Ask, and it will be given to 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”

It’s not a bad passage to memorize. It will come in handy when we reach out with all our feelings of inadequacy to knock on God’s door. We don’t know what will happen when the door opens. But we DO know who is waiting to open the door! We knock with God’s permission and promise — and that’s half the battle. He has already helped us. He gave us the words to use. And we need to nurture our faith to be able to receive the answer.

Here is another visual help. Most of us pass this reminder every day in our neighborhoods and perhaps even our own homes. We see it on TV in every manner of home — Christian and non-Christian.

f0208-03It’s a standard door design dating to colonial America—the cross and Bible door. The pattern forms the cross on top and open Bible below. Your adult learners can think of this passage when they see this door—and before they knock on it!

Opening photo credit: JohnnyEnglish via photopin cc