How Much More?
Rev. Rachel Cornwell
Psalm 85 and Luke 11:1-11
Thank you, Foundry church for the invitation to be with you this morning. It is a joy and privilege for me to be in worship with you, and to step into this pulpit where many a powerful sermon has been preached before! And even though this is called a guest preacher series, I do not entirely feel like a guest here at Foundry because this is my Charge Conference—which in Methodist-speak means that as an ordained minister, Foundry is my church home, my connection to the Baltimore-Washington Conference. When I moved from congregational ministry to an ecumenical ministry of stewardship work with congregations and non-profit organizations two years ago, you gave me a place to call home. Thank you for that, and for being the kind of church that makes me still proud to call myself a United Methodist.
Would you please pray with me….
Imagine a warm summer day like today, and when you come to church, someone at coffee hour offers you a glass of fresh squeezed lemonade. They had just made it themselves, they assure you, handing you the full glass, ice clinking the frosty sides. Perhaps you are parched from the walk to church or from singing in worship, so you take a big swallow, only to realize that it tastes terrible. The lemonade, as it turns out, is made with salt, rather than sugar. How do you think you would react? Would you choke it down, thank them, and place the glass down as quickly, but discreetly as possible? Or would you cough, spit it back in to the cup, and let them know how it really tasted?
Now apparently, this is a classic psychological “empathy” experiment, that was recently tested out on a group of pre-schoolers on the British documentary TV show “The Secret Life of 4 and 5 Year Olds.” On the show, the children were divided into two groups by gender, and their teacher, making sure the children knew that she had made the lemonade herself, just for them, served the boys first. “Ugh, DISGUSTING!” one boy said. “I’m going to be sick!” said another.
Then they brought out the girls.
The teacher handed each one a glass, and as they sipped the salty lemonade, one girl responded, “Oooh I love it! It’s just a bit too lemony for me.” “It’s delicious,” said the second, “but could I please have some water? I am really thirsty.” The child psychology experts watching the video of the children’s reactions said that these responses were predictable. Because research shows that by the age of 3-4 months, female babies are more attuned to people’s feelings than male ones, and as they grow, girls are typically more empathetic than boys. Because the girls didn’t want to hurt their teacher’s feelings, they weren’t being truthful about how awful the lemonade was. They just swallowed it and smiled. But the boys were less inhibited and they spoke up, sharing their honest feelings, regardless of how their teacher would feel.
I find this experiment particularly fascinating, perhaps because I am the parent of three children—a daughter and two sons, and one of my sons is transgender. And it was around this same age that my transgender son started clearly expressing his gender identity. I have asked his permission to share this with you, that starting at the age of 4, Evan didn’t really care what other people thought about his short hair, refusal to wear dresses and his dream of owning a truck AND a motorcycle and marrying a girl when he grew up. And it isn’t a lack of empathy—in fact, Evan is one of the most emotionally intelligent people I have ever known—but he was clear and unapologetic about who he is. And I am thankful for that—for his consistent insistence and persistence—which allowed the rest of us in the family to learn and grow and adapt and has changed all our lives for the better.
So, naturally, I am personally curious about this “empathy” experiment and the ways in which we are socialized in a highly gendered society.
But there’s something else here that’s deeply troubling to me, and perhaps to you, too: of course it’s important for all of us to be thoughtful and considerate of others, but do we really want people, regardless of their age or their gender, to be socialized to accept something that’s not right, just to preserve someone’s feelings?
There are a lot of ways in which our culture gives the message to certain people that they should not speak up for themselves. That they should just take what comes and not make waves about it. That it’s not that important to make a fuss about. He should just be grateful for the opportunity. She should keep it to herself, because no one cares or will believe her anyway. This is the message that the culture sends in a million different ways to girls and women, to people of color, to young people and old people, to people with disabilities or recent immigrants or queer people. Just smile and drink the lemonade. After all, YOU are lucky you have anything to drink at all, right?
But then we come to church this morning and we hear Jesus, telling his disciples, and us, that we can ask for whatever we need. That we should seek, and ask, and knock, and if we don’t get an immediate response, we should keep it up. Keep asking—demanding, even—to be heard, to have our needs met, for the door to open for us. Because that’s the kind of God we have—a God who listens, who hears, who responds to all of us, to everyone. No exceptions.
Now it may be hard for us to believe this, given the ways of the world. But it’s true. The gospels are filled with examples: of persistent widows and loud lepers, of Canaanite women who refuse to be equated with dogs and hemorrhaging women who boldly reach out to be healed. And in all of these encounters, not only does Jesus see these people, hear them, touch them, respond to them, he praises them for their faith, for their persistence, because they refused to stay in the shadows or on the margins of society any longer.
Jesus makes it clear: God’s not offended by people who speak up. In fact, this is what God wants from us.
And so, this is what Jesus tells his disciples when they ask him to teach them how to pray.
First, he says, God is your parent—your Father, your Mother. You don’t need a temple or any religious professional to talk to your parent. Just speak. God’s ear is already inclined toward us, listening for our voice. And like children, we can ask for what we want, ask for what we need. We may not always get everything we ask for, because what we want may not be the best thing for us, but we can always, always ask.
Jesus teaches his disciples this prayer that we have come to call The Lord’s Prayer, and has been incorporated into Christian worship around the world for thousands of years. But it’s not the specific words of this prayer that are so important, it’s the pattern, the permission that Jesus give us to speak directly to God about our physical and spiritual needs. We can ask God for bread when we are hungry, for forgiveness when we have sinned, for protection when we are afraid. Because God cares for us, loves us, listens to us, and wants these things for each and every one of us.
And to further emphasize this teaching, Jesus tells his disciples a story: imagine you had a friend who had dropped in on you unexpectedly after traveling for many hours, and you had no food to offer them. The stores are all closed because it’s the middle of the night (there’s no UberEats; no 24 hour store to run to) so you go knock on your next door neighbor’s door. He’s sound asleep, his kids are asleep, the lights are out and the door is locked. He doesn’t answer, so you send him a text and he’s extremely annoyed. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?,” he writes back (in ALL CAPS), “what do you want?” You explain the situation you’re in and he responds by telling you he’s got to get up early in the morning, he’s got a big day tomorrow. But you keep asking and finally he comes to the door and gives you a loaf of bread so you can feed your guest. He doesn’t do this because he’s such a nice guy and you are such close friends. No, he does it because you won’t give up. In the New International Version, verse 8 says that it’s because of your shameless audacity, he finally responds. This, by the way, is not an analogy for God. This is not how God responds—with annoyance or irritation, finally worn down by our incessant prayers. No, this is how we would respond if a neighbor came to our door in the middle of the night. And if we would get up and help our neighbor, in spite of our own desire to stay in bed and not be bothered…if we, even though we are evil, will feed our children when they are hungry…how much more would God, our mother and father, who loves us, who can anticipate our needs, who sits up and waits for us to come knocking, how much more would God do for us?
For us, the question, “How much more?” is usually one of limitations: how much more is acceptable? How much more is possible? How much more do I dare expect or ask for, knowing that we live in a world of scarcity, where some one always has to go without.
But in God’s economy of abundant grace, how much more is just the starting point. How much more will I give you? How much more do I love you?
More than you can anticipate, or imagine, more than you can comprehend.
Our Psalm this morning reminds us that even when God seems distant, even if it appears to us that God does not hear our prayer, our needs, God is listening. This a Psalm of collective lament, one in which the writer comes to God on behalf of the community to say—where have you been? Why have you not responded to us? Sometimes it only takes one person to give voice to what many of us are feeling. And the response that the Psalmist receives is a reminder to look back and look forward to see the proof of God’s love. It is in God’s very nature to provide for us abundantly. Though we may not see it immediately, God has always been there for us and God will continue to be in the future. And in the meantime, we can come to God with our hopes and dreams, our wants and needs, and be assured that God is listening.
And when we come to worship and hear these words, when we enter the sanctuary and pray to God with one voice and collectively ask for what we need, when we have a spiritual practice of lifting our voices to boldly and with anticipation without reservation for ourselves and for the needs of the world around us here in this holy place….may this give us the hope and courage to also speak up out there, in our homes and workplaces, in our schools and streets, in the places where powerful people make decisions and where justice is meted out.
Because it’s one thing to know that we have a God who hears us, whose love is limitless and who wants us to speak up. But does that change the way in which we live out there? Can our faith in a God who tells us to speak up in prayer, give us the courage and strength, the shameless audacity, to speak up in other places in our lives as well? To tell the truth, even if it’s hard? To speak up for what we want and need? To say what we believe is right, even if it makes others uncomfortable or even angry?
There are times when what we need, what we seek, what we deserve, is not God’s to give. We must demand it from the powers of his world. We must speak up in our families, our workplace, our church, to our elected leaders. And we do this knowing that God has heard us, gives us the power to speak up, to speak out.
Like when the USWNT demands equal pay to their male counterparts, or when Serena Williams refuses to be silent about the intersections of race and gender and oppression that she has experienced first-hand.
As when LGBTQIA+ people in the UMC will not be as a problem to be solved, rather than an integral part of the Body of Christ.
Or when lawyers and journalists and human rights activists and people of faith demand that we treat the people crossing our Southern border with compassion and dignity and are even willing to be arrested to make their voices heard in the halls of Congress.
When the citizens of Puerto Rico take to the streets to force the resignation of their governor, or when community leaders and journalists out against the racist and classist attacks on our neighbors in Baltimore city.
And what about us? Where do we need to make our voices heard? Where do we need to stop being silent, accepting what has been handed to us, and speak the truth, even, as they say, even if our voice shakes?
Perhaps you have privilege or a platform you can use to speak loudly and boldly. Or maybe you just need to share your true feelings with someone close to you. Either one can feel incredibly vulnerable and scary, but we have a God who wants us to speak, to use our voices to say what we need and want. And maybe, when we speak up, the response will surprise us:
Last month, Verizon partnered with PFLAG and released a commercial last month with the tag line: It’s never too late for love to call back. The video showed LGBTQ young people calling home after many years to reconnect with family members who first rejected them when they came out. With shaking hands and quivering voices, they would pick up the phone and call. “Hi Mom…it’s me.”
These young people had found love and acceptance and pride with who they are, who God made them to be. And it gave them the courage to reach out and ask again for their family’s love and acceptance as well. Perhaps not all the conversations went well. There are some relationships that remain broken and estranged. But there were others where the response was beautiful:
One mother said to her daughter: “When you first told me, I should have told you how much I love you then.”
A brother said, “I really don’t want you to feel that I am not there for you.”
Another mom told her son, “You count in our life, in our family.”
And when one young woman hung up the phone she repeated what her mother had said to her: “She just wanted to call and tell me she’s proud to have me as her daughter.”
If can we accept God’s permission to speak up, to speak out for what we need, what we deserve, what’s right, then how much more can we ask from another person? Or from the powers and principalities of this world?
Would you please pray with me, these words of A Disciple’s Prayer by Rev. Anna Bladel:
Mother of us all,
who dwells within and beyond,
Sacred is your name.
May your holy vision for collective flourishing
come to fruition among us.
May your dreams of justice, love, compassion, and connection be enfleshed on earth.
Provide us today with what we need to be nourished in body, soul, and heart.
Forgive us for the harm we cause as we seek to forgive those who have harmed us.
Lead us away from everything that destroys and liberate us from the hands of evil.
For you are the ultimate source of hope.
Your power-with exceeds all power-over.
Your presence incites eternal wonder.
All praise to you, our comfort and strength.