Luke 18:1-8 CEB
Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged.
He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.”
The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”
October 15-16, 2016
There are many things I don’t understand in life and we certainly won’t take time for me to list them all for you! But, recently I ran across something I had clipped out some time back that was entitled, “Things I Really Don’t Understand.” It was a list of questions for which there seems to be no clear-cut answer. Here are a few of them:
Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways?
Why do doctors and lawyers call what they do practice?
Why is the word abbreviation such a long word?
Why is it that when you are driving and looking for an address you turn down the volume on the radio?
And this one you need the benefit of age to remember…What was the best thing before sliced bread?
These are lighthearted and humorous questions that remind us that there are indeed a lot of things in life that we really do not understand.
We don’t understand why there is so much pain in the world; why accidents happen; why good people suffer; why people can’t get along; and why do honest, heartfelt prayers often seem to go unanswered?
Many are worn out from praying…praying for comfort and relief in the wake of yet more disaster; more war; more terrorism; more political wrangling; more poor choices; more division; more cancer…Is this really the way it’s supposed to be…we don’t understand.
And that brings us to our parable for today…
The parable tells about a stone-hearted judge who had no respect for God or for people. In the same town there was a widow who kept coming to him saying, “Give me justice in this case against my adversary!”
It’s important to know that widows in Jesus’ day were some of the most vulnerable citizens in their culture. They had no voice or influence or future hope. Widows were the image of those easily victimized by the powerful. Widows received little respect and had little recourse to fight the injustices they experienced in life, and were barely able to survive on their scarce resources.
Some might say that widows in the first century “didn’t have a prayer.” The only action the widow could take was to plead for justice.
For a longtime the judge in our story refuses the widow’s pleas, but the widow has the gift of persistence. She gives him no peace. She keeps coming; morning, noon and night…constantly leaving messages on his answering machine, texting him, banging on his door, and hounding him. She keeps pestering him…she won’t give up or give in. She is embarrassing him and calling into question his reputation with her persistence.
And that sets up some interesting questions about prayer. One could ask if such persistent prayer really makes a difference. Are we supposed to persist in prayer until God wears down and grants our wishes? Does God really hear prayer? How does God answer prayer? Am I really talking to God when I pray, or am I only talking to myself?
Prayer is an interesting dilemma…We could add it to our list of things we really don’t understand. Yet, as your pastor, it probably does not surprise you that I am a firm believer in prayer!
But, I also know that when prayers seem to go unanswered or not in our favor or not with an answer we hope for, we grow weary…we begin to give up.
But, in spite of our questions…in spite of our weariness…in spite of our own life experience when our fervent prayers for healing or justice or help go unanswered, I would encourage us to keep praying, not only because of the relationship our prayers will bring about with God, but for the changes prayers can work in our own hearts and minds.
Theologian Frederick Buechner has said persistence is a key, “not because you have to beat a path to God’s door before God will open it, but because until you beat the path, maybe there is no way of getting to your door.”
Jesus tells the disciples this parable to teach them something about the nature of prayer. And then, as with all the stories Jesus told, we learn something about the nature of God.
Jesus actually compares God to the unjust judge, but then puts a twist on the comparison. Jesus’ comparison suggests that if the unjust judge offers justice, how much more will our caring God offer justice to us whom God loves?
Jesus calls us to persist in prayer not to wear God down but to build us up. When we persist in prayer we are strengthening our faith and continuing to build a relationship with God. Our persistent prayers often lead us to take action to make a situation better or to serve those who have been marginalized or left with no advocates.
I believe it is true that prayer changes things…whether the thing to be changed is a situation or us. So even when the answer to prayer seems delayed, we pray boldly and cling to the encouragement of Jesus to not be discouraged. Being advised not to be discouraged was strong advice in Jesus’ day as it is in our life right now…perhaps especially right now!
So, what can we learn from this parable about praying boldly and allowing the power of prayer to guide us and wash over us and seep into life around us?
Author Kathleen Norris writes that, “…prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you cannot imagine.” She says prayer is asking, “To be made more grateful and more able to see the good in what you have been given, instead of always grieving for what might have been.” (Amazing Grace, page 60)
Praying boldly means we are persistent and we don’t give up or lose heart. The widow in our story had no other choice or options than to continually persist in whatever her claim was.
When we keep persisting in our prayers…when we keep knocking and asking and seeking; our prayers will shape us, guide us, prompt us, and help reorder our priorities.
I know when I pray…really pray…really persist with my prayers over a period of time, I’m changed; my heart is changed; something happens to me. I grow stronger and more confident; I feel less alone and more supported even when I don’t feel or see the answer to my prayer.
When we pray boldly, regardless of the answer or non-answer, we are connecting with a power that is greater and more grace-filled than ourselves. Our Gospel story lets us know that the work of prayer is hard and takes persistent discipline.
Our Methodist heritage and history was born and is steeped in the discipline of prayer. John Wesley, our founder of Methodism, was known for his prayer disciplines and as a priest in the Anglican Church of England, he continued the Jewish practice of reciting prayers at certain hours of the day and night.
Wesley passed on to us what is known in the Christian tradition as the Liturgy of the Hours or praying the Daily Office, which includes morning, midday, and evening prayer and praise to God. If you want to expand your prayer life, you can find an outline of Wesley’s Liturgy of Hours in the back of the red United Methodist hymnal or online at www.methodistprayer.org.
We learn to pray boldly from others also. We have had a group of clergy and laity from our Conference traveling for the last two weeks in South Korea with our Bishop. Sharon Cook is one of our Confirmation mentors this year and just returned from that trip. She sent a word of greeting back to our Confirmation class this week and said that every day included 5 am prayers in Korea.
She said more than a 1,000 Korean Methodists gather every day for those early morning prayers.
She said they sing a few hymns, read Scripture, listen to a ‘mini sermon,’ which takes about 30 minutes, and then for the next 30 minutes, everyone prays their own prayers…Out Loud! She said they turn out the lights and play music so everyone is focusing on their own prayers and not eavesdropping on their neighbors.
Our consistent, persistent and committed prayers may not lead to a clear understanding of prayer, but will help us discover how God is moving within us, among us and for us.
We may never know or understand why some prayers seem to be answered quickly and others are not. Still, we have a Gospel story that begins with Jesus telling about the “need to pray continually and not to be discouraged,” and then ends by asking if faithfulness will be found on earth.
As we stand on the threshold of important and faithful decisions in the life of our church; as we move toward important and faithful decisions in the life of our country; and as we make important and faithful daily decisions in our own lives, perhaps our bold and persistent prayer can be, “God, what do you want to do through me?”
In the midst of all we do not know and all we find hard to understand, may we hear the Gospel word as a call to pray boldly in trust and faith.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.