October 16, 2022
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?”
| Centering Prayer |
Our Gospel for today
Begins with praying always and not losing heart.
It takes a detour into persistence and justice.
And it concludes with a question about where faith will be found.
Undoubtedly, across the land
Pastors will deliver fine, inspiring sermons on each of these three points.
I am reminded by the wisdom of one seminary New Testament professor
who made the point that every parable
is meant to communicate Divine truth, …
at the same time,
every parable has a limit to how far it can be pushed or wrung dry.
In other words,
Keep it simple.
Seek that which God desires us to know,
but, don’t push a parable of Jesus beyond its intent.
The danger is reading into the narrative our personal agenda or biases,
which can distort the intended message.
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,
human editors have had a field day with today’s Gospel.
It has become a tangled furball,
a spray of divergent topics
that obscure the essential Divine truth hidden within.
The challenge is to clarify,
to fine tune what is presented
into a clear concise message
that can be applied to our lives today.
“Pray always,” Jesus says.
Pray without interruption,
like a widow seeking justice
who won’t give up and won’t give in.
Pray day and night.
Pray like there is no tomorrow.
Keep praying because the Son of Man is coming
and he is expecting to find us in prayer.
Consider the common nature of prayer in Luke.
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.
Pray like there is no tomorrow!
Which is to say
“Pray in this moment.”
Time for some introspection.
Close your eyes.
Consider your life,
Is everything you think, say, and do
firmly anchored to a foundation of prayer?
Persistent means always,
Do you pray while shopping;
that choices will reflect your stewardship of God’s creation?
How about praying as you shuttle your kids to and from practice or games?
Do you pray that your attitude and language will be tempered by God’s love and wisdom,
And set a good example for other parents and families?
Do you pray when facing temptation?
When facing something you know you shouldn’t do,
but want to do anyway?
Do you ask for God to help you? Give you strength?
To divert your attention to more faithful endeavors?
When confronting injustice,
Do you pray to resist,
As we vowed at our baptismal waters?
Ask for strength and direction to resist oppression,
Wherever it be found.
Ask for God to channel your passion, to give you His words, and help keep you faithful?
It’s easy to pray occasionally;
when facing crisis,
when set in routine,
or when we step foot into the sanctuary.
Praying persistently is advancing the spiritual life one step further;
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 to a foundation of 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 talk about a fund raiser,
are we asking God to work through us to bless and love
every one of our customers?
Persistent means always,
Praying as individuals and when we are gathered,
Here in the building or when we are deployed throughout the community.
Are we prayerfully supporting one another,
and through each other,
our neighbors, community, state and world?
“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.”
But when the petition is 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 a little bit more dicey.
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 the stubborn judge.
Keep faith that
is God’s time,
not our time.
We live in God’s time.
We think we live in our time,
but we don’t.
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
according to God’s will and 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:
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 prayers
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 concludes our Gospel for today
with what I believe is the perfect question:
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” – Luke 18:8
Consider numerous Gospel narratives where a multitude of people are commended for their faith:
- A centurion who believes Jesus will heal his slave, even from a distance;
- the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and loves much;
- friends of a paralyzed man 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 healed of his 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 out 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 to be found
those certain of their sinfulness.
(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
every moment of every day,
in every circumstance,
in submission to God’s power and will.
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, prejudice, and racism,
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.
This is good advice:
Don’t stretch the parable too far.
Jesus gives his followers better advice:
Pray and do not lose heart.
Be the Gospel.
Be this Good News.