"Lessons From People Who Wear You Out"

Luke 18:1-8

20 September 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches

Luke 18:1-8

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?”

Prayer.

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 professor

who made the point that every parable

is meant to communicate Divine truth,

at the same time,

every parable has a limit to what it is capable of revealing.

In other words,

search for what God desires us to know,

but, don’t push it too far

such that you begin to read into the story

personal agenda

that was 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,

It’s obvious

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 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.

Pray without interruption,

without ceasing.

Pray continuously.

Pray persistently,

like a persistent 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 on a foundation of prayer?

Persistent means always,

never ceasing.

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 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 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,

our church:

Is everything we think, say, and do

also firmly anchored on 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 paying customers?

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?

“Pray always,” Jesus commands,

“and not to lose heart.”

Do not lose heart.

Keep faith.

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 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.

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 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;

keep faith

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 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,

or,

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 end our Gospel for today

with what I believe is the perfect question:

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The beginning of an answer is found in the Gospel where a number of 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 leper, 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,

but among the outsiders,

the unlovely,

the unclean,

the ones 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

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.

Which ever comes first.

It’s all good.

Don’t stretch the parable to far.

It was good advice.

Jesus gives his followers better advice:

Pray.

Pray always.

Pray and do not lose heart.

Be the Gospel.

Be this Good News.

Amen.