May 5, 2024 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Farnes

All Saints, Boise

Easter 6B

I want you to imagine a situation: a friend of yours who lives out in Payette along the Oregon border gets in touch with you. They’re flying out from the Boise Airport early in the morning next week. It’s the same day you have a morning doctor’s appointment. Your friend asks if they can stay at your place, and if you would take them to the airport at 5 that morning. You wouldn’t be able to really fall back asleep before your appointment.

Was your friend rude and inconsiderate for asking? What does your gut say? Should your friend have known – or at least asked if you were busy that day. But what if you just didn’t want to?

It’s not just about communication; it’s about culture.

There are kind of two cultural approaches that might help us understand this situation better. There are ask cultures, and guess cultures.

An “Ask” culture is one where you can ask for what you want, and it’s expected that you might hear a no. You can be direct – “Can I stay at your place, and can you take me to the airport in the morning?” and the response can be “No, I’m busy that morning, and I need my sleep before my appointment so I’m not stressed out.” It could be “You can stay, but you’ll need to get a taxi to the airport that morning.” In an ask culture, you ask for what you want, and people can say yes or no.

A different perspective comes from a “Guess” culture. In a guess culture, you only make a request if you are reasonably sure that the answer will be yes. You guess that the answer will be yes. And not just a yes, but an enthusiastic yes. In a guess culture, it’s considered rude to say no, so you have to have a really good reason for why you cannot comply with the request. So the person who wants something has to guess that the other person will be able to and will also want to say yes. Because if they can’t, then it’s going to be perceived as rude for them to say no, and it’s going to be perceived as rude to have even asked. And sometimes a guess culture goes even farther – I shouldn’t even have to ask at all, because if I ask, then any help I receive might not be fully genuine. The other person should be able to guess what I want before I even ask.

Now, there’s obviously a lot of nuance, of course. But it’s a helpful reframe because we don’t all come from the same backgrounds, and so there’s sometimes great frustration.

Let’s talk about how this might play out. And because it will quickly get confusing, I’m going to give them names: Andy is from an “ask” culture, and Greg is from a “guess” culture.

Andy goes to Greg. “Hey, can you take me to the airport?” Greg’s busy, and he feels Andy should know that. Greg’s annoyed and feels his friend is rude for asking. “I’ve got a lot going on that day, a doctor’s appointment early in the morning…” Greg doesn’t just say, “No, I can’t do that.” He tries to say no without saying no, because Greg thinks saying no is rude. And now Andy’s annoyed – a simple yes or no would have answered the question. Andy knew Greg was busy – but maybe he would be able to help out anyway.

Andy is annoyed, Greg is annoyed. No one’s really communicated at all.

And now, let’s flip it around. Greg needs to get to the airport next week early in the morning. He talks to his friend Andy. “Next week, I have to get on a plane early in the morning. I hate early morning flights. Driving all the way from Payette to Boise is a pain.” Greg is trying to guess whether Andy might be interested in helping him out. But Andy thinks his friend is venting about it, not hinting around for help. Andy replies, “Oh yeah, I hate it, too. I always feel groggy all day!” Greg doesn’t ask directly. Maybe Greg thinks that Andy isn’t as good a friend as he thought – wouldn’t a good, caring friend offer without having to be directly asked? And Andy wonders – maybe Greg doesn’t consider me a good friend since he didn’t ask for a simple favor. And later Andy is surprised that Greg was hurt by it – Greg could have asked!

Communication is hard! And now two friends are feeling hurt by the other, and neither of them did anything wrong. Assumptions were made based on each person’s expectations.

Now, I hope that the connection to our common life as a church is apparent. Culturally, Episcopalians lean toward that “guess” culture. We have to guess what others might want from us, and we have to guess whether the other person might be likely to say yes. And when someone doesn’t give us what we were hinting at, we feel hurt. And when someone doesn’t ask us, we feel hurt because we feel we don’t matter enough to ask.

I say all this because I’m a “guess” person, too. I’ve had to learn how that shows up, and I’ve learned that just asking is sometimes the better way to go.

A good example happened just at the community meal we served last Friday. Two of our guests were having a long conversation at a table as we were cleaning up. The last load was in the dishwasher, the counters had been wiped down, the last bag of trash was ready to take out. I was out there sweeping up some of the crumbs off the floor as we were finishing up, and I caught myself grumbling. “Don’t they see us cleaning up? We’re about done! Everyone’s ready to go!” and I realized, wait, what if they’re sitting there chatting, not making motions to leave because we haven’t said anything? I’m projecting on them. I’m thinking they’re inconsiderate because they haven’t guessed what I want. And so, I sweep my way over toward them and say softly, “We’re about done cleaning up.” They didn’t think it rude at all! They got up, pulled out their chairs so I could sweep, and said thanks again as they left.

Instead of grumbling that they didn’t guess, I asked.

For us who come from that “guess” background, it’s a big change. We feel sometimes that real friends, close friends should be able to guess what we want or need. If we ask for it, then we’re rude. If they don’t offer it, they don’t care – they must not really love us. It’s a recipe for miscommunication and misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

And I’m grateful Jesus is one to ask, and not leave us guessing.

He tells us what he expects of us, his friends. He communicates his commands, his requests. He asks us to follow him, to do what is good and right, to love one another, to love God and neighbor as ourselves. He doesn’t leave us guessing about what it means to be a disciple. He isn’t annoyed that we haven’t guessed what it means to follow him, to be his friend. He gives us commandments not because he’s rude or demanding – it’s because he’s direct. He wants this basic stuff to be clear for us, for us his friends. These requests are far from burdensome, and, ultimately, it is a joy to do them.

          He has given us the command to love one another. He’s asked plainly. No hinting, no suggesting, no guesswork on our part. He’s commanded us to go out and share the Gospel, to invite others into the life of the Gospel, to do works of mercy and justice. He’s given us a guide for what to do – he has given his life, he has shared his life with us.

          And this goes the other way, too. Do we ever feel anxious about asking God for what we want because, well, what if we want the wrong thing? What if God is annoyed that we asked? What if we get it wrong? What if we don’t ask in the right way? What if our prayer isn’t polished and perfect like a prayer book prayer? Do we spend time second-guessing our prayers that we leave God guessing what we want?

Sure, God is infinitely better at guessing at what we want because God isn’t really guessing – God knows. But still! We ask. We pray for it. God wants us to ask.

Christ asks us directly to follow him, to love one another, to obey the commandments of God. There is no need to guess what he’s asking – he’s told us plainly. Plus, Christ said “Ask, and you shall receive.” He didn’t say, “Guess, and you shall receive.” Amen.