Text: Luke 18: 1-8
You see half of us probably don’t pray as much as the other half think we do.
And most of us pray for things we really shouldn’t pray for.
And all of us have unanswered prayer.
And for everyone one of us who lives with unanswered prayer we’ve met someone who credits their pay increase at work to an act of God. Who credits the fact that their sports team won and therefore the subsequent payout on the bet they made on God. Sometimes we thank God when we aren’t selected to do something we don’t want to do. Like getting out of jury duty.
Some people have an expectation that God should give them everything they ask for: wealth, status, fame. The list goes on.
People want to believe in a God who will come down to Earth and answer prayer. Any prayer.
Of course I’m skirting around a difficult issue here aren’t I?
There are times when we pray and we really do need that prayer answered. When we are deathly ill and in need of healing. When natural disaster strikes and we seek mercy. During times of war and we seek peace.
Prayer is a real problem and I think Jesus knew it. Our gospel lesson this morning deals with a parable about prayer, the Parable of the Persistent Widow. It is eight verses long and it is loaded with imagery.
The parable is telling as it shows that Jesus may have had his doubts about the disciples, the church, about us. Consider if you will just the first and last sentence of this scripture lesson.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
I find the sentences that Jesus chooses to wrap around this parable telling. You see I think Jesus knew that prayer was hard. That at times our life of faith is difficult. That when we need answers the most is when we are least likely to receive them.
Friends I think the question we need to ask ourselves in light of prayer, in light of unanswered prayer is how does that last sentence reflect in our lives? When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Even in the face of seemingly unanswered prayer do we stop praying or do we persist? When we continue to pray to God we affirm that we believe that God is still present and at work in this world. And so prayer really does matter.
Now, the parable that Jesus tells is really rather scandalous. A widow is asking a judge for justice. The judge, who doesn’t fear God, can’t be bothered with the widow. He finally relents because she is making him look bad in public, not because he cares for her concern.
The scandal is that the widow is one of the Israelites who should have received justice first. Only the orphan gets more priority than the widow. For the judge to ignore the widow is a scandal. You can imagine as Jesus tells this story that there must have been laughter at the position presented by the judge. But eventually he relents and justice is granted.
Jesus tells the disciples God will bring about justice. And there is the key point there. Justice, God’s justice. You see this is a parable about prayer. About persistent prayer, but it is foremost about God’s justice, not answering every random prayer that is brought forward.
There is a scene in the movie Bruce Almighty. Bruce has been given God’s powers by God. And Jim Carrey who plays Bruce is tired of getting all these prayer requests. So he goes to his prayer In-Box, displayed as email and he answers all the prayers. He answers them all by saying ‘yes’.
Then he goes out for the night. As he goes on his way we catch snippets of conversation.
You look taller. Why thank you for noticing.
I won the lottery! Really, so did I!
The Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup! Ok that one isn’t in the movie but you get the point.
Not all prayer should be answered in the affirmative.
Prayer is hard. Now I want to be clear. I’m not about to propose how we should pray. Jesus does that for us in providing the Lord’s Prayer. Nor am I going to suggest there is a right and a wrong way to pray. I don’t think there is a wrong way to pray. There is no correct posture, positioning of hands or use of words that is better than anything else.
I think where we stumble in prayer is in what we pray for.
In preparing for today I took a look at my own prayer life. I realized that sometimes when I pray I ask for things. I ask God for a result. I’m looking for something to happen in my life. Maybe I want to feel healthier, to feel better rested. Perhaps I want to make it through the day unscathed. Perhaps I ask God for something material. I’m looking for a result.
What I neglect to do is to invite God on the journey with me. Instead I ask for what I think I need and I hope that God will deliver. But I don’t really engage God, I don’t invite God to participate in what I am asking for. And that’s my loss.
You see God loves to go on journeys with us. God traveled with the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. Traveled with them, provided for them, even when they didn’t want God around. We follow a God who wants to be involved in our lives. Why else send Jesus to dwell with us on Earth? If God wasn’t interested in joining us on our journey God would have found another way to provide our salvation.
God enjoys journeying with us. And it is to our own determent when we fail to invite God along.
God wants us to knock on the door and prayer. Pray persistently. Pray passionately. Pray that God walks with you in life. That through the dialogue of prayer God will be more fully revealed in life.
Pray not for what you want, but for what you need.
Theologian John Buchanan writes, “I had two good and loving parents. They did not give me everything I wanted. I asked for a horse, a dog, a two-wheeled bicycle before I was old enough to ride it. One Christmas I had my heart set on a toy drum set I found in the Sears catalogue. My requests were heard and turned down. In retrospect, I understand that I received not always what I most wanted, but what I most needed.”
God’s like that too. God gives us what we need, but God doesn’t always give us the wisdom to realize that in the moment. In Isaiah we read “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isa 55:8). We forget that sometimes, ok we probably forget that most of the time. But when we are in the middle of a crisis it is really hard to try to see things through God’s eyes, to try and glimpse at God’s plan. All we know is that we are in pain, that we are in need of help, that we are in need of seeing some aspect of God hearing and answering our prayer. And when that doesn’t happen it can be heart-wrenching.
When I think of who Luke wrote this gospel for and of the early church that first read these stories. They must have prayed. They must have prayed fiercely for things they never received. For safety. For protection from persecution and death. It took a long time for those things to come, 400 hundred years before the church was welcomed as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
The early church did not get what it prayed for. It got what it needed, the tenacity to survive. The loving attention of God that infused their spirits and allowed those early Christians to hold fast to their faith, so that we can sit here today.
Friends, this is a parable about prayer. However, it is also a prayer about justice, about God’s justice. There is one thing we can be sure about, that God will be on the side of justice. That God will be on the side of the oppressed. That God will be on the side of those with no power, influence, status or voice.
As we pray to God, I pray that we invite God to journey in our lives. That we recognize that God is interested in relationship, that God is not a static being.
Friends, we look back and we can see how God has witnessed and worked through this community of faith. As we step forward through the portal what is the prayer that is on our lips?
Are we praying to God to keep the doors open and the lights on for just a little longer so we can grow? Or are we praying that God empower us to do God’s justice in the community, wherever that might be found.
Friends, let’s invite God to journey with us. Let’s do so with passionate persistent prayer. Let’s pray, knowing that God will always hear the silent cries of our hearts. That God will answer those prayers and will provide us, the church and the world with what it needs. We have but to be faithful in the task, to be persistent in our prayer. Amen.