This sermon was preached by Helene Milena in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island on Sunday, 20 October 2013. The readings were Psalm 119:97-104, Jeremiah 31:27-34, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and Luke 18:1-8.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he gave them the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer many people use to this day. In this passage from Luke, Jesus used a parable to instruct his followers in the need to pray with persistence rather than half-heartedly.
A woman received a phone call from her child’s school, telling her that her daughter was running a high temperature. On her way to collect the daughter, the woman called at the pharmacist to buy some medicine to reduce her daughter’s temperature. In her hurry, she locked her car keys in the car. When she returned to her car and found what she had done, she didn’t know what to do. She decided to pray for help and within a short time a rather scruffy looking man came up to her and asked if he could help her. She explained the situation and asked him if he knew how to break into a car. “No problem,” he said, and he looked around for a thin piece of metal. Very soon the car door was open. The woman was understandably very grateful and relieved. “You are a very nice man, thank you so much.” “Lady, I am not a nice man at all. I’ve only been out of prison for an hour. I was in there for car theft.” The woman turned her face up to heaven and shouted, “Thank you, Lord, for sending me a professional!”
Prayer, particularly persistence in prayer, is the topic of the Gospel reading today. It’s unusual for Jesus to actually tell his listeners what a parable is about before they hear it, but perhaps he didn’t want them to miss the point.
The widow in the story needed justice. Widows were easy prey for the unscrupulous. They might not have a man to speak up for them or protect them and were likely to be overlooked by those who didn’t value women much. Apart from the disadvantages of being a woman and a widow, this person also faced the problem of a judge who was neither god-fearing nor particularly community-spirited. It seems he may only have really cared about himself. Jesus described him as unjust.
Undaunted, the widow presented her case to the judge and asked him to give her justice. We’re told that she “kept coming to him”. She obviously had a great deal of persistence as well as having nowhere else to go to fulfil her need. She could have become apathetic and resigned herself to not getting what was her right, but this woman seems to have been made of stern stuff.
It’s not difficult to understand why the persistence of the widow gradually wore the judge down. She kept bothering him and he was becoming fed up and tired. He was not interested in giving her justice but he was very much interested in having a more peaceful life for himself. In the end she got what she asked for.
Jesus pointed out to his listeners that God will respond to those who pray day and night. Unlike the unjust judge, God will quickly grant justice to those who ask him. God doesn’t need to be worn down by us, only giving in to give himself some peace. However, Jesus was teaching about persistence in prayer rather than some half-hearted effort on our part. He taught the parable so that his listeners would “pray and not lose heart”. Even though God wants to respond promptly to our requests, it may simply not be possible to receive what we ask for immediately. Rather than just saying to ourselves that prayer doesn’t work, we are to keep on praying.
If we are to persist in prayer, we need to find a way to remind ourselves to pray. John Bunyan made a valid point: ‘He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find him the rest of the day’. It may be that morning is not a good time for you to pray but the principle still holds good. If you never come into God’s presence it’s going to be quite difficult to sense him when you feel that you need him.
Each person will find their own way to create a prayer life. Several of us in this community pray together at noon and midnight SLT. Of course, those times will not suit everyone but those who do manage it find the time of prayer helpful. By building some kind of routine, even if it’s simply coming once a week, there is less need to think about it and make time to pray. We don’t necessarily have to ‘feel like’ praying. We turn up, we listen to God in his word, and we spend time in open prayer bringing before him those people and situations which are on our hearts. The suggestion in the liturgy for noon that we pray for peace has really struck a chord with many of us. Seldom does a prayer time go by without Syria and the surrounding nations being mentioned and heartfelt prayers for peace being offered. We are certainly persisting in prayer on that topic, though sadly peace is not yet established.
There are ways to pray alone of course, if you have the discipline. You might pray while travelling. I know several people who download ‘Pray as you go’ and listen to that as they travel. Some people find it easier to pray while walking. My friend prays when she takes her dog out for a walk.
For several of our community, this time of meeting for worship and prayer on a Sunday is valuable. Others regularly come and light candles or post prayer requests in our box. I know of other people who meet regularly in Skype to pray. You might choose to pray with your family. If you have children, you are modelling for them a way of life that will be valuable in the years to come.
The point is not to find the right way to pray but the way that works for you. The worst thing you can do is not to pray at all. If you are to persist, you have got to at least begin to pray.
Jesus finished his parable by posing the question: When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? One way to show we have faith is to be found praying when he returns. There are so many needs in this world, so many people facing challenges in life, so many situations that need God’s touch to turn them around. Although Luther gave good advice when he said, “Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you” sometimes our work is in fact our prayer, as there is nothing else we can do. Bringing our needs and concerns to God in prayer will make a difference. Let’s not abandon the practice of prayer.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor