20 October 2019
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’
For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Our Gospel for today
Begins with praying always and not losing heart.
It takes a pit stop into persistence and justice.
And it concludes with a question about where faith will be found.
Undoubtedly, across the land
exceptional sermons will be delivered on each of these three points.
I am reminded by the wisdom of one seminary professor
taught us that every parable
is meant to communicate Divine truth.
At the same time,
every parable has a limit,
a capacity of what can be revealed.
In other words,
search for what God desires us to know,
but, don’t push the parable beyond its capacity
such that you begin to read into the story
Jesus never meant to be included.
Across the centuries,
spanning the globe,
crossing multiple cultures,
enduring transitions from oral, to written, to printed communication techniques
as well as multiple translations from one language to another to another,
well intentioned editors have had a field day with this Gospel before us.
It has become a diverse mess,
a spray of divergent topics
that could obscure the essential Divine truth hidden within.
The challenge is to clarify;
to fine tune what is presented
into a clear concise message
we can apply to our lives today.
“Pray always,” Jesus says.
Clear. Concise. To the point.
Take home application I can implement immediately:
Even in the supermarket.
Pray without interruption,
like a persistent, stubborn widow who won’t give up and won’t give in.
Pray like there is no tomorrow.
Keep praying because the Son of Man is coming
and he is expecting to find us in prayer.
Prayer is not a new topic in Luke.
When viewed inside the larger Gospel
we know the story begins
with the whole assembly of people praying outside the temple.
Jesus prays at his baptism.
He withdraws to pray at key points throughout his ministry.
Jesus prays such that he sweats blood on the Mount of Olives.
He instructs his disciples to pray for those who abuse them.
Jesus teaches his disciples to pray when they ask for instruction.
And Jesus assures us that the Holy Spirit comes to those who ask.
As Jesus was persistently in prayer throughout his life and ministry,
as he illustrates in this parable a widow who is persistence in her petition for justice,
so, too, are we to claim
the same persistence
for our prayer life.
Time for some introspection.
Consider our life, our actions, our behaviors:
Is everything we think, say, and do
firmly anchored in persistent prayer?
Persistent means always;
Are we praying when we are shopping;
that our choices will reflect our stewardship of God’s creation?
Are we praying when we are picking our kids up from day care, school, or practice;
that our attitudes and language will be tempered by God’s love and wisdom?
Are we praying when we face temptation to do something we know we shouldn’t;
that God would steal our heart
and divert our attention to more faithful endeavors?
Are we praying when we wonder if we should stand up and speak out;
for God to channel our passion, to give us His words, and help keep us faithful?
It’s easy to pray occasionally;
when facing a personal crisis,
when set in routine,
or when we step foot into the sanctuary.
Praying persistently is advancing the spiritual life one step forward;
filling the in-between time
with our intentional effort to listen and speak with our God.
Time for some Extrospection.
Consider the life of our community of faith,
Is everything we think, say, and do
also firmly anchored in persistent prayer?
Can we let go and let God;
Give up our agenda and listen for God’s agenda to be made known to us?
When we talk finance
is it in such a way that reflects our prayerful revelation of God’s grace?
When we talk missions and outreach
is it in such a way that recognizes the fact that God is telling us to be like Jesus
reaching out to the last, the least, and the lost?
When we are pouring coffee, waiting tables, selling brownies, or mopping the floor
are we asking God to work through us to bless and love
everyone who enjoyed our turkey dinner?
Persistent means always,
whether we are gathered,
or whether we are deployed throughout the community.
Are we prayerfully supporting one another,
and through each other,
our neighbors, community, state and world?
God already knows what’s going on.
God wants us to pray to him because
Prayer changes the heart of the one doing the praying.
“Pray always,” Jesus commands,
“and not to lose heart.”
Do not lose heart.
Don’t lose heart.
Keep faith that God is in control,
today, tomorrow, and forever.
Today, most of us have the faith to pray.
We’ve come to worship after all.
In the spur of the moment
just about every Christian is able to muster up an
“Our Father, who art in heaven,”
“Now I lay me down to sleep,”
or “God is good, God is great.”
When the petition becomes a little bit more personal
– like a plea –
and when the petition is made not just one day,
but for a succession of days,
it becomes an intimate, ongoing conversation,
placing ourselves in the hands and arms of the one who created and loves us.
Do not lose heart, Jesus injects his confidence directly into our souls.
In the short term,
the persistent widow’s prayers for justice were not answered,
yet, she came back day after day,
knocking at the door of stubbornness.
Keep faith that
God’s time is God’s time,
not our time.
We live in God’s time.
We think we live in our time,
but it isn’t true.
“With the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like one day.”
– Apostle Peter, 2nd Letter to the Church in Greece, Turkey, and Asia, 2 Peter 3:8
When one talks resurrection and salvation
all talk is eternal.
All talk is God’s time.
It is according to God’s schedule that God responds.
Be there no misunderstanding;
God responds to every prayer.
Our job is to pray without ceasing,
with mustard seed sized faith,
and to keep knocking on God’s door.
Be assured, Jesus tells us,
persistent prayers are answered
always according to God’s time.
Do not lose heart;
that every answered prayer,
that comes from God,
comes to us
from the one characteristic of God
that remains eternal and unchanging:
God’s everlasting love.
When Jesus says,
“Ask anything and God will grant it,”
we conveniently leave off that part “according to his will.”
“And this is the boldness we have in him,
that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14
God’s will and motivation has always been for our personal and communal benefit.
Only a God who loved the world would send a son
to forgive us of the sins we’ve committed against Him and each other.
Only a God who loved the world would send His son
to win victory over death with a gift of eternal life.
When our persistent prayer
are according to God’s will to love us,
then, yes, every petition is granted.
When we believe our petitions haven’t been granted,
either it is because
what we’ve been asking for has been contrary to the will of God,
what we’ve been asking for has yet to be revealed by God’s greater, long term plan.
Eventually, the persistent widow
was granted her petition.
She asked for justice and she got it.
Of course, justice is consistent with the love and will of God.
Why wouldn’t it be granted?
The point is
she was persistent in her petitions; and so should we.
She didn’t lose heart, she didn’t lose faith, and neither should we.
Jesus ends our Gospel for today
with what I believe is the perfect question:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (18:8)
The beginning of an answer is found in the Gospel
where numerous people are commended for their faith:
- the centurion who believes Jesus will heal his slave, even from a distance;
- the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much;
- friends of the paralytic who are willing to cut a hole through a perfectly good roof;
- the bleeding, unclean woman who touches Jesus’ clothes in the crowd and is healed;
- the Samaritan with leprosy, whose gratitude turns him back to Jesus where he falls at his feet in thanksgiving;
- and the blind beggar later in this chapter who sees Jesus for who he is and calls to him.
Yes, the Son of Man will find faith,
but Luke suggests that it may be in unexpected places,
not among the religious professionals
or the ones certain of their own righteousness.
Faith is found among
the ones who are certain of their sinfulness.
Faith isn’t found within; it’s found outside, in the community, among those in greatest need.
(Thanks to: Meda Stamper, pastor, Anstey United Reformed Church, Leicestershire, England, as found at workingpreacher.org)
Signs of faith today
are people and communities persistently praying
in everything that is said and done.
Signs of faith today are evident
when culture is wrapped so tightly in persistent prayer
that peace replaces violence
God’s love drowns out hatred and prejudice,
and grace leads to life lived completely in the Spirit.
Signs of faith today
can be seen
in people and communities who persistently pray
and who do not lose heart,
who keep coming back
and coming back
and coming back
until the prayer is answered in God’s time,
or, until the Son of Man returns.
Whichever comes first.
It’s all good.
Don’t stretch the parable too far.
It was good advice.
Jesus gives his followers better advice:
Pray and do not lose heart.
Be the Gospel.
Be the Good News of Jesus.