Sermon for Sunday, October 20, 2013

Luke 18:1-8 

“In Prayer As In Life: Be Bold!”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ)

http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

Let me begin by first saying that I feel woefully unqualified to preach on a text that is so clearly about persistence in prayer.  Shocking as it may be, even as a pastor I struggle with my prayer life, and consistency is certainly not a shining attribute of the time I do spend “taking it to the Lord in prayer.”

Let me follow that up with a second disclaimer, and this one comes from Dr. Fred Craddock, esteemed author and self-described country preacher, who tells us that this parable and it’s companion one from later in this same chapter of Luke, upon which I will attempt to preach next week, is not really about prayer at all, but are parables about God’s character.

And thirdly, I have no business preaching on this scripture passage today for its two characters are a widow and a lawyer.  I know not a stich about law, and though I grew up in a widow’s household, as an educated white male I have no honest understanding of the struggles of a first century widow, the definitive symbol of marginalization and oppression in all of holy scripture.

Cerezo Barredo's weekly gospel illustration

Cerezo Barredo’s weekly gospel illustration

Having said this, I’m going to go ahead and, basing my words on today’s text, try to preach to you about the power of prayer and praying consistently!  How’s that for hubris!

What I can say is that I do know the power of the passion of this woman, who so desperately seeks redress for her grievances that she is willing to go to great lengths and take a few risks to get justice for her cause.  I know this because of my own pleadings, but even more so I know this because of the unrelenting struggles you, my people, have had in so many ways and for so long.  I know all too well that you have stood – and still stand – at the door of the Great Judge and pound for what seems like eternity to get your cause heard and for justice for you and for your loved ones.

There are those who wait at the bedsides of their beloveds in the hospital this very hour who have been at that divine door more times than I can bear and for whom healing and justice seem not only illusive, but painfully and purposefully withheld.  I want to, and have stood with them in prayer pleading their case before God, only to feel the great chasm of silence of what appears to be unanswered prayer.

Of course, I understand that this interpretation of prayer is dangerous, and rarely what scripture, and Jesus himself, says about prayer.  I have preached long and hard about how God isn’t a vending machine that we can simply put a prayer in and pull out an answer.  But texts like todays seem to beg another reading, a more commonly held take on prayer.  “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,” the parable unashamedly states.  One of the clearest pronouncements on this is from Matthew 7:7, also from our Savior’s own mouth: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

Kate Huey, the pastor now assigned to the beautiful Amistad Chapel at the United Church of Christ national offices in downtown Cleveland, has a particular take on today’s difficult parable that was helpful to me in finding another way of looking at it.  She focuses on the first verse that introduces the parable, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  She sees in this a call away from an understanding of God as a gift-giver that must be nagged into distributing his gifts, and more on who we are who are asking, praying, waiting, watching.  She ponders how many of us who profess Christianity are “deeply engaged” in it, persistently pursuing it, completely immersed in our faith?

"A Friend in a Need and the Widow and the Judge" by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.

“A Friend in a Need and the Widow and the Judge” by Kazakhstan Artist Nelly Bube.

She tells the story of a writer and a doctor from Myanmar, Ma Thida, who was held in solitary confinement for six years after she wrote against the abuses in the government there.  When asked later how she survived those long years of waiting and suffering, she described her spiritual life in captivity.  As a Buddhist, Ma Thida chose to meditate 18-20 hours a day.  Now that is a “deep engagement” in one’s faith! (1)

What this caused me to reflect upon was my own visceral feelings of prayer.  When I pray to God asking for what I want or need, no matter how selfless nor noble the cause, there is a certain sense that I am skimming the top, that I am taking the easier way, that I am not doing prayer justice.  But… But when I have simply allowed myself the time to be fully present with God in prayer, I have felt more at peace, more in tune with the will of God.

Now having said this, I just love the fact that Jesus’ own example, at the time of his greatest trial, shows him offering both!  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he begins by asking that God “take this cup from him,” the “cup” being the sure and certain course of events that would lead up to his trial, humiliation, crucifixion, and death on a cross.  But he then offers the words that ring through my heart and history, “but thy will be done,” and then sinks into the heart of God.  That’s why his words to the disciples, who he has to awaken, tear at our hearts.  “Could you not wait for me but one hour?”  It’s not about staying awake, as much as it is about being engaged, sticking with the relationship, simply being present.

Our boldness in prayer, if it is not just about clearly asking for that which we long for – the improved health of a loved one, the resources to stay afloat, the solution to life’s dilemma’s – then might it not also be a boldness in staying engaged in our faith.  Perhaps that means meditating and praying more, like Ma Thida did in the Myanmar prison.  More likely it means simply being more attentive to the presence of God in all of life, and simply being present with God.  It’s about deepening our relationship with God, which requires time, and a boldness, and did I mention time?  Absorbing, abiding, confident time with the One who loves us more than life itself.

Amen.

(1) http://www.ucc.org Worship, Samuel, October 20, 2013.  The Rev. Katheryn Matthews Huey “Ask Boldly, Live Justly/To Speak And Be Heard.”  Found online at: http://www.ucc.org/worship/samuel/october-20-2013.html

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