Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Genesis 18:17-33 17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the LORD said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” 22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.
Chutzpah. Moxie. Intestinal fortitude. Guts.
We’d be inclined to say Abraham had a lot of these in our Old Testament Reading today. He stands there before the Judge of all the earth and bargains. “Lord, how about this deal? Okay, you like that? Let me ask for a little more. Good. But, then, how about . . . ? Settled, except, maybe, you could throw in . . . And, as long as we’re talkin’, how about . . . ? Oh, and one more thing . . .” Chutzpah.
Except that doesn’t really describe Abraham’s attitude at all. He says, “I’m nothing but dust and ashes.” So, then, where does he come off talking to the Lord like that? Well, Abraham understood—and believed—what God would have us understand and believe today, that
The Lord Has Mercifully Gifted Us with Prayer,
that it’s not about us at all, about our moxie or guts or presumption. It’s about the Lord and his mercy and the gift he’s given us in prayer.
Prayer is a merciful gift from the Lord that we often misuse and abuse. Maybe we do sometimes approach the Lord in prayer as if it’s all about chutzpah. We brazenly ask for whatever we want, not considering whether it’s in keeping with what he’s taught us in Scripture or whether it’s loving toward others. An A on the exam (though I didn’t study), permission to go out (though my parents say it’s not safe), a date with ? (though his girlfriend won’t like that at all). That new job (though my wife is afraid it’ll mean too much time away from family). For the kids to move back closer to home (though that’s really all about what I want).
The Lord is often treated like a vending machine as we pick what we want and make our demands—as if we’re the ones calling the shots. Often our “pleading” is a mask for ultimatums, that God better do as we want, or we’re through with him.
On the other hand, it’s just as much misusing God’s merciful gift of prayer if we don’t approach God at all. If we ignore praying altogether. Too busy. Too confident we can handle it on our own. Or if we don’t pray because we don’t believe God cares to hear from us. “Ah, he’s got too much going on to think about little old me.” “I don’t deserve God’s help. Look at the mess I’ve made of my life.” This is truly a sin against the first commandment.
None of these is the way Abraham understood the Lord’s invitation to pray (vv 20–21, 23–24). He knew he had no claim on God (v 27). He’s just dust and ashes. Abraham is not dictating to God what he must do. He’s not begging or pleading. But he does ask. He’s not afraid to pray and to ask for more, more, more. Why? How can dust and ashes ask, even push, almighty God? And not be reprimanded by God for doing it?
It’s because Abraham knew this: That the prayer line is open to us because of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. Abraham’s prayer didn’t begin with Abraham presuming to approach God; rather, the Lord initiated it with a gracious invitation (vv 17–18). “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” Then the Lord told Abraham what he was about to do in Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord starts the conversation, and those verses tell why. “For I have chosen him.” To say “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in” Abraham is a promise of the Messiah; all people will be blessed because one of Abraham’s great-great-great descendants would be the Christ.
Jesus would bless all nations by reconciling the world to God, bringing us back into a relationship with the heavenly Father. And get this: The Lord as he stood speaking to Abraham was none other than this Christ, long before he would become incarnate, a true human being, born in Bethlehem as Jesus of Nazareth. This Lord whom we know as Jesus, himself invited Abraham to pray to him because of the Messiah he would be.
God invites us to pray to him because of Jesus. Sometimes we ask, “Does God always answer prayer?” The answer we normally get is “Yes, but sometimes the answer is ‘No.’?” It’s then that we need to teach about prayer. Actually that’s not exactly true. That the answer to that first question is “No. God doesn’t always answer prayer.” You see, the question just said “prayer.” It didn’t say “Christian prayer.” Proper prayer, Christian prayer (which includes prayers of the Old Testament faithful people such as Abraham), is always through Jesus, the Christ. Apart from Christ, God does not answer prayer. In fact, he says outright that he does not hear the prayers of the unbelievers.
We are privileged to go to the Father through the Son. And that we can only do because Jesus’ death on the cross took away the sin that separated us from God, that would have kept God from answering any of our prayers (Col 2:12–14). Now, because those sins have been nailed to Jesus’ cross, we’re back together with God. He’s our dear Father; we’re his dear children. And the Father answers the requests of his children. We plead for mercy “in Jesus’ name” because our merciful Jesus makes not only us acceptable to the Father but our prayers as well.
See how great is God’s mercy in answering prayer! This is where Abraham’s story in our text gets really amazing (vv 23–33). Why did Abraham care about Sodom? The city was so wicked! Well, because his nephew Lot was now living there. Abraham wanted to save him. Just as we all have special, personal, family concerns. We may not think they’re a big deal to God, but look how the Lord answers. Six straight times—count them—God says yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
And the bigger picture God had already answered even more wonderfully back in v 19: “that the Lord may [the Lord will!] bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” This is our promise as well: the Lord says yes in showering his mercy and peace upon us. He allows us to address him in the faith he has given us in Baptism and which he continues to strengthen through Word and his Table. We plead our case to him, trusting in his mercy for us fragile, fallen humans, knowing his mercy is new each morning and his grace sufficient for us in all times and places. And that faith he creates and strengthens trusts firmly that his mercy always gives the best.
It’s not guts or moxie or chutzpah that lets us come before the all-knowing, all-powerful Lord. Prayer is a blessed privilege, a gift, given us from our merciful Father for the sake of his Son. That does mean, though, we can pray with the same forward boldness Abraham shows. We turn to the Lord in consistent, pleading prayer, leaning on his mercy, which always hears. Amen.