Is There A Bathroom on the Right?
There is a line in a well-known Credence Clearwater Revival song that I have found some people misunderstand. The band sings, "There's a bad moon on the rise;" several people I know think they're singing, "There's a bathroom on the right." Go ahead sing it yourself. "There's a bathroom on the right" does fit the tune, but that's not what's being sung. Before us today is a text people misunderstand. They think Jesus is saying we should storm heaven with our prayers until God finally gives in, and that we should pray to get the Holy Spirit. Those thoughts apparently fit the words of the text, but that's not what's being said.
Jesus is NOT saying that God is like a friend who though he won't get up and give us bread in the middle of the night because he is our friend he will do so because we boldly persist in asking. On the contrary Jesus is saying that God is more than a friend. The point is that if we will persist in asking an earthly friend who bluntly tells us he does not want to be bothered, how much more should we pray to a God who tells us He wants to be bothered?
Don't believe me that God is more than a friend? Consider the fact that God never sleeps. Psalm 121 says, "He that keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." In Isaiah 27 the Lord says that He stands guard "day and night." No matter how good of a friend you have, he or she can't be with you day and night. Sometime they must sleep. But God your Father never does. Day and night, night and day, He stands watch; He stands guard; He stands ready to hear your prayer.
Second, God cannot be inconvenienced. Your earthly friend, no matter how good they might be, can be. You can see this in the friend in the parable. He has his children piled up all around him. He would have to crawl over them to get to the door, and unbolting and opening the door was noisy and difficult. That's why the only time anyone generally closed the door in this society was at night. A closed door in this society had all the force of a do not disturb sign in our's.
But God has an open door policy. Christ, as we sing in the Te Deum, has "opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." At the Baptism of Christ, God tore open heaven for the sake of His Son. At the death of Christ, God tore open the veil between God and man in the temple showing that through the death of Christ mankind can approach God without fear. On heaven's door, there never hangs a "Do Not Disturb" sign. More than that, there hangs signs saying, "Please Knock." "Go Ahead and Ask." "Seek Help Here." There is no time of the day or night. No situation, regardless of how big or small, where you would be inconveniencing your heavenly Father.
Contrary to what many people think this parable means, God doesn't need to be convinced to help you. Jesus is not telling us that by many prayers we can eventually bother God so much that He will give in and give us what we want. What a horrible picture of a heavenly Father! What a horrible picture of an earthly father! Which one of you loving dads will tell your kids, "If you ask real hard and bother me enough, then I will answer you!"
God your heavenly Father spared not His own Son but gave Him up in your place. Having made the greatest sacrifice ever just for you, He doesn't need to be convinced to help you. Jesus contrasts what God the Father does with what the friend in the parable does. He says literally, "Because of the man's shamelessness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. But I say to you ask, seek not." Unlike the friend who said, "Stop asking, seeking and knocking." Jesus says literally, "Keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking." And Jesus does not promise the one who annoys God the most is answered, finds, and is opened to but, "Everyone who asks receives. Seekers are finders and the one who knocks always has the door opened." This is just the opposite of what the friend said and did.
Jesus wants to make sure we don't think of God as a friend who needs to be bugged to help. He wants us to think of God as more than a friend. So Jesus continues with an illustration that shows God is at least as good as an earthly father. He does this by placing before our eyes us in our wickedness. This is an extreme illustration and very powerful for that reason. Jesus doesn't say, "If you then, being a good father, know how to give good gifts to your children..." This would be an illustration from the lesser to the greater, a difference of degree. But Jesus uses an illustration which shows a difference in kind. "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..." And don't soft-pedal the word translated "evil" here. This is the strong Greek word for evil. This word teaches the total depravity of human nature. This word is used to describe Satan.
But there is a catch here which I'm sure some of you sense. There are evil fathers today who would give a child of theirs a snake instead of a fish, a scorpion instead of an egg. What you are forgetting is there have always been fathers like that. The Jews said of the King Herod who ruled when Christ was born, "Better to be Herod's pig than son." Herod practicing the Jewish faith would not kill a pig, but he did kill sons. Jesus isn't talking about that sort of father. He's talking specifically here to His disciples. He's talking to you and I who are indeed sinners, but seek to be loving parents. And He says, the heavenly Father is not just a bigger or better kind of sinful, wicked father. He is different. He is a holy Father; you know "Hallowed be Thy name."
Now think about your own children. Think of how even in your absolute sinfulness, you don't set out to deceive or harm them. Although we fail very often as fathers, we disciples of Christ, don't purposely deceive or harm children who look to us for food, do we? When they ask for milk, we don't give them Elmer's glue. When they ask for a tomato, we don't give them a red ball. Even your evil, wicked heart longs to give to, to help, to come to the aid of your children. Should we paint God as worse than us?
When we cry to the Lord for help, we shouldn't think He responds worse than we wicked, sinful fathers. Haven't you almost killed yourself running to a crying child in the middle of the night? And we think God our heavenly Father doesn't rush to our cries? Haven't you sacrificed so your children's needs can be met? What wouldn't you do for them? And we think the God who sacrificed His only beloved Son for the needs of His children will hold back on us now? Even in your wicked heart, can't you see love for your children burning hotly there? How much more must God's love for us His children burn?
But there is a problem. I would imagine that it is all but pulling some of you out of your pew in protest. The things we ask, seek, and knock for aren't just an egg or a fish. We don't come to God in the middle of the night for 3 lousy loaves of bread for a friend. We come to Him in the middle of the night for our friend dying on an emergency room table. We don't come just for daily bread but with problems and heartaches that make it all but impossible for us to swallow our daily bread. And you know what? Sometimes our friends die, and we choke on our daily bread. What are we to make of this?
Jesus tells us what to make of this in the last line of our text, "If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" This has long been misunderstood as a command from Jesus to pray for the Holy Spirit as if you don't have Him unless you do. I was pointed to this verse in college by Campus Crusade for Christ, and told my problem was that I needed to pray for the Holy Spirit. First, if you don't have the Holy Spirit, you can't pray. Without the Holy Spirit we are blind, dead, enemies of God who want nothing to do with praying. Second, Jesus doesn't say we're to pray for the Holy Spirit but that the Lord gives His Holy Spirit to those who ask. Just as we don't always give our children the fish or egg they want because it wouldn't be good for them, so our heavenly Father doesn't always give us what we want, but He always gives us the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the Gift of God that we always need. Whenever we pray, whatever we are praying for, what we really need is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit strengthens, protects, encourages, and helps in any and all situations. The Holy Spirit is the only One who can bring us through death and into the kingdom of life. You could be healed of this disease, you could be helped in that crises, but without the Holy Spirit you would be eternally lost. You could get all the bread, eggs, and fish you need from here to eternity, but you can't have eternity without the Holy Spirit, and your heavenly Father is the only One who can give the Holy Spirit. The best friend in the world can't do that. The most loving father in the world can't do that. Only God the Father can do that.
So let me get this straight. I pray for my friend dying in the emergency room and you say God may or may not give help to my friend, but He does give the Holy Spirit. I pray for help with the problems that knot my stomach and God may or may not give relief, but He most certainly gives the Holy Spirit. Yes, that's what this text teaches. Through Word and Sacrament every hour of every day the Lord Jesus is on the scene as we sing in A Mighty Fortress "with His good gifts and Spirit."
The Holy Spirit is the gift we need the most. As we say in the Explanation to the 3rd article of the Creed, there is no calling, gathering, enlightening or sanctifying without the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy also confesses this. Right after the sermon we sing with David in Psalm 51 for God to "renew a right spirit within us." How does He do this but through the Holy Spirit operating in Word and Sacrament? We go on to pray, "take not Thy Holy Spirit from me." Yes, let our "goods, fame, child," and life, be gone but nothing has been won as long as we have the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit is everything. That's why after Communion we pray for God, "not to forsake Thy children but evermore to rule our hearts and minds by Thy Holy Spirit." All of our prayers, hopes, wants, dreams and needs are crystallized into the gift of the Holy Spirit which Jesus says the Father gives much more readily than any father ever gave his children any good gift.
Credence Clearwater Revival didn't sing about a bathroom on the right but about a bad moon rising. Jesus doesn't speak of God as a friend who needs to be bugged but as a Father who wants to give even more than we want to get. And He doesn't command us to pray for the Holy Spirit but He assures us the Father is always giving the Holy Spirit no matter what else He may or may not give. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost X (8-12-01) Luke 11:1-13