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    Persistent prayer is vital to the Christian life: but are we the widow or the judge?

    A sermon on Luke 18:1-8 October 22, 2019
    Filed Under:
    Pr. Sebastian

    1.

    In our Gospel reading this morning, 

    Jesus tells a Parable about the importance of always praying and not losing heart, about the value of being persistent in prayer. 

    It is a way of preparing for the end times: times of challenge, crisis and terrible world events. 

    Are we in those times today?, we might ask. 

    Some might point to rising income inequality, climate change and the opioid crisis, and nod their heads.

     

    So we have in today’s story a Judge, a very high state official, 

    basically just below the ruling class, and he’s incompetent, 

    bad, and corrupt. 

    He doesn’t care about the problems of people, 

    and he doesn’t fear God-

    so he has no ability to judge wisely (Proverbs 1.7)

     

    Then we also have a widow 

    (the lowest of the low, representing the needy and powerless), 

    who keeps on harassing the judge to grant her justice against her opponent: it may be some litigation concerning money: 

    perhaps an inheritance…

    She is persistent, and won’t take no for an answer. 

     

    So in the parable, the judge won’t hear the case, 

    but the widow keeps on bugging him, is a nuisance essentially, 

    as they say, the “squeaky wheel gets the oil”, 

    so he agrees to give her justice, so she won’t wear him out. 

    He seems exasperated with her incessant petitioning, 

    perhaps he’s even close to a breakdown.

     

    So the summary of the parable is an argument from lesser to greater. 

    If the judge after much delay and incessant lobbying finally grants justice, 

    and god is greater than any human judge, 

    “Will not God grant justice to those who cry to him day and night?

    Will he delay in helping? 

    No! He will grant justice to those praying and petitioning.

     

    2.

    So one way of thinking about this parable is to imagine that we are the widow.

    Symbolically, we put ourselves in the widow’s shoes.

    Just like the widow was constantly harassing the judge, 

    so we should pray constantly, bringing our concerns and worries to God.

     

    Perhaps a better current analogy is to think of the medical system. 

    Sometimes if you have a complex medical problem, 

    you have to go back again and again to your doctor, 

    sometimes getting a second opinion, 

    making sure the proper tests are requisitioned, 

    the prescriptions are filled out, 

    sometimes you have to be your own best advocate because frankly you’ll be dismissed, your concerns not taken seriously. 

    You’ve sometimes got to be the squeaky wheel with your doctors…

    to get them to pay attention to you.

    So perhaps that’s the same attitude we need with prayer to God.

     

    Pray always, and keep it up, and you’ll get your reward.

    Take it to the Lord in prayer.

    We may think of the Bible passage which states:

    “ask and it will be given to you

    knock and the door will be opened

    seek and you shall find.”

     

    It sounds promising, that God will eventually yield to our incessant demands.

     

    But the reality is a little different.

    And we’re not just talking about a delay, that prayer is not immediate: 

    that’s a given.

    Do we eventually get all we want? Probably not.

    Grant to us today our daily bread, we pray in the Lord’s prayer. 

    But some people pray and get … nothing.

    What’s up with that?

     

    How do we deal with those tricky times, 

    when prayer just doesn’t seem to work?

    Is it just a question of having the faith of a mustard seed, 

    like we heard of two weeks ago?

    Just do it? Just pray?

    Can God be worn down the more we pray?

    Does God listen more to the squeaky wheel?

     

    My perspective is that we must acknowledge that God is not like a ATM, where you press the correct button and out flies the cash.

    God is also not like a divine chess master, moving one piece so someone gets sick and then moving it back once he hears enough quality prayer time.

     

    Prayer is not about Gimme, gimme more,

    or please cure my mom’s cancer: pray it harder, faster, stronger, louder!

    I don’t believe if you’re not getting results: you need to pray more

    or if you’re not getting results: that means you’re not praying well enough, you’re not faithful enough. No.

    Prayer isn’t a magic trick, that you just need to practice enough to get perfect, and trick God into doing your bidding.

     

    So what is prayer?

     

    Well, prayer does take time

    just like how a good friendship takes time and scheduling.

    The more you pray, the more you’re likely to pray in all circumstances of life, not just when you’re desperate. 

    The more you pray, the more you realize how comforting it is to talk to the Creator of heaven and earth.

     

    Prayer is about Trust and Hope.

    Prayer is about relationship, about bringing to God what is on our hearts, and trusting that God is listening, and that God, like a good friend, is accompanying us through our tough times, 

    and also that God is a God of justice who sees what is going on.

     

    Now I want I wanted to turn my focus around a bit,

    and move a little in a different direction, and choose another lens.

    Let’s switch gears.

     

    We so often come at this parable from the perspective 

    that we are like the widow,

    but perhaps we should remember that life looks a lot different 

    if one is a Person of Colour, queer, disabled, suffering from crippling substance use, or poor,

    and acknowledge that the majority of us comfortable white middle-class Lutherans are none of the above.

     

    Perhaps we should identify more with the judge (than the widow).

     

    3.

    What would happen if we acknowledge that in some ways, from a global perspective, we the global 1%, 

    are symbolically represented by the judge of this parable?

     

    We’re pretty comfortable, and we just want to forget the uncomfortable truths of inequality, and poverty, and we’d rather not stumble over someone on our way to church.

     

    And by golly we have a rich church, our sanctuary is impressive, 

    it reminds us of “empire” and power, 

    and it looks good in a Google 360 virtual tour.

    I have personal experience of being gatekeeper to the needs of the symbolic widow,

    in a way I have been a judge like in our parable. 

    I have had people this year incessantly bugging me and other members for grocery gift cards, and I have the feeling that as soon as November rolls around and the weather truly gets cold, I will get a lot of people harassing me for help. And you know what, I don’t do much. I can’t give what they ask.

    I’ve also had requests come in for at least 4 more refugee families, 

    there are twenty to thirty lives hanging in the balance, 

    people stuck in horrid conditions in Sudan, Israel, God-knows-where, 

    and I as judge have to say “sorry, we can’t accept any more refugee sponsorships at this time . 

    I get weekly requests from various charitable organizations that want the congregation’s time and money and want to do some announcements, put up posters, be promoted to help people.

    It’s brutal in a way, but that’s my job, 

    to turn away most of these requests so we can concentrate on our priorities.

    Part of my job as pastor is to be an unfeeling judge who turns away the widow at my doorstep, sometimes literally.

     

    And so from our comfortable pew, we look as unfeeling judges, 

    as the rich 1%, down at the widows in our midst and ignore, because there’s so much suffering, where can you begin? 

    We as Canadian society for example ignore the continued cries of indigenous communities for access to clean, safe drinking water.

     

    And the people at the margins bear the burden of fighting for justice and ultimately revolution.

     

    And since this is the Gospel of Luke we’re talking about, we are in fact talking about revolution, about a complete reversal of the social order, where the paths are made straight, the lofty are struck down from their thrones and the meek and lowly are lifted up.

     

    And in a way, this story becomes a lot more radical than it first appears. 

    A radical situation calls for radical action, and this is a reality of life. 

    There are corrupt and incompetent leaders and professionals, abusive of their power, disrespectful of the powerless, and the marginalized need to take matters into their own hands, to be ship disturbers, and to do climate strikes and factory strikes and unionize and demand living wages and risk arrest in front of ICE ((Immigration and Customs Enforcement)) facilities.

     

    How long o Lord? is the cry for vindication of the oppressed.

    When will the cup of God’s wrath be full?

    When is the time for repentance, the time for change?

    The clock is ticking for the saving of our planet from climate destruction,

    and the continued global abuse of brown and black people in the production of the food on our tables and the clothes in our closets!

     

    The Canadian Council of Churches in this election cycle reminds us in their brochure

    Justice and only Justice shall you pursue”

    of the myriad concerns of the symbolic “widow” before us today:

    the plight of Refugees, the need for Nuclear disarmament, the spectre of Climate change, our delayed focus on Indigenous Reconciliation, Access to Palliative Care, Religious Freedom and enforced secularism, Sexual Exploitation and human trafficking, disintegrating Public Health Care.

    We know the topics and yet, do we listen?

     

    How do we become part of the answer to the prayers of others?,

    how do we become the judge who finally listened to the pleas of the persistent widow?

    To address the widow’s pleas of poverty and hunger,

    disasters and humanitarian crises,

    prayers for economic, racial, gender and climate justice.

     

    4.

    These are topics too great for one sermon,

    but I leave you with this:

     

    As we have experienced grace and love

    as we have spent time as a widow petitioning God 

    and being received by God’s arms of mercy and love,

    so

    we too can have the heart to change from an unfeeling unjust judge, 

    to a judge who

    listens, learns and acts on behalf of the world’s widows.

     

    “Trust then in God’s unchanging love…

    Sing, pray, and keep God’s ways unswerving, …

    and offer your service faithfully. Amen.

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