Persistence and Prayer – Oct. 20, 2019

Persistence and Prayer

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 18:1-8

October 20, 2019

Main Idea:  God is persistent.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Our text for this morning is “a parable about our need to pray always and not to lose heart.” This text is so providential because this past week has been both difficult and discouraging for us.  We are bombarded by outrageous news from Washington.  We are worried about events in Syria and around the world.  We are grieving the passing of S. G. and M. S.  We are in need of encouragement and strength!

Jesus told many parables to describe and reveal the Kingdom of God.   A parable is a specific type of story which uses familiar elements in surprising ways in order to get a response from the hearer.  Parables are like jewels with many facets, each facet revealing another aspect of the truth.  Parables are also like kaleidoscopes, each time we look through them we see a different pattern created from the same materials. Parables speak to us in ways that often surprise and challenge us.  So let us hear again this parable about our need to pray always and not to lose heart.

Once upon a time in a certain city there lived a very powerful man who did not respect anyone but himself.  He never thought about God at all, he thought only of himself.  He worked for the city as a judge but his decisions were based not on fairness but on how he might personally benefit.  In this city there also lived a poor widow.  She was being oppressed and mistreated by someone more powerful than she. She had no family or friends to support or advocate for her so she herself brought her case to the judge asking, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”  But the judge just threw her case out.  He had no interest in siding with the weak against the powerful. That certainly was of no benefit to him. The widow left the courthouse but she did not go home.  She stood outside waiting for the judge to come out and when he did she spoke to him again, “Please give me justice.”  But he walked on by as if she was invisible.  The next day she was at the court house when he arrived.  This time she spoke louder, “Give me justice, please.”  He hurried past her into the building.  She was there when he left at the end of the day.  This time she shouted “Give me justice!”   Her shout was loud enough to attract the attention of those walking near by and the people gave both the widow and the judge rather dirty looks.  The following morning, as the judge approached the courthouse, he could see that the widow was already there.  As soon as she saw him, she began to shout and she did not stop.  He had to keep walking because there were important people in the courthouse with whom he had to meet.  As he reached the door, the widow was so close to him that her shouts hurt his ears and he was afraid that she would physically hit him.  The crowds that had gathered outside to watch this spectacle laughed as he flinched in passing the poor woman.  All day long he could hear her shouting outside “Give me justice!  Give me justice!”.  He said to himself, “Even though I don’t care one bit about this woman, or about what other people think, I guess I will give her what she wants just so that she will stop attacking me. I am afraid that she will give me a black eye!”  

Wow!  So what did this parable reveal to you today? Certainly both characters are familiar to us.  Selfish people in power and disgruntled protesters are in the news everyday.  Luke gives us his interpretation of this parable in v. 6-7.  If the unjust judge will give justice to the widow how much more will God give justice to those God loves?  This has led to the idea that if you just bug God enough God will answer your prayers.  Lots of people believe this but I find this idea to be problematic. Prayer is not a magic formula for getting what we want but a way of persistently attuning our lives to God and the life to which God calls us. 

For me this week, I see God as the widow. God’s love for us and call to us is persistent.  God does not stop speaking to us, even when we completely ignore God’s will for our lives.  Because God is always reaching out to us we can pray always and we do not lose heart.

Now, God often speaks through the unexpected, especially poor widows. “In addition to be vulnerable, widows also appear as prophetic, active, and faithful; certainly the widow who gives her last coins is not only vulnerable but also a model of faithful generosity.  The first widow of [Luke’s] Gospel is Anna (2:37), a prophet, who spreads the good news of Jesus’ birth.  Jesus in his inaugural sermon at Nazareth mentions the widow of Zarephath (4:25-26), who feeds Elijah from her meager supplies in a famine and whose son is returned to life by the prophet, an act Jesus replays in the raising of the only son of the widow of Nain (7:12). (Meda Stamper, In fact, the widow of today’s parable has power.  If you look in the pew Bibles at the text and verse 5 specifically you will see that there is an alternative translation as to why the judge grants her petition.  Instead of “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming” the alternative translation is “so that she might not finally come and slap me in the face”.  This widow is tough! She is persistent in her actions and her calls for justice.  It is her power and persistence which cause the unjust judge to grant her justice.

To see God in this widow is to see God as persistent, perhaps annoyingly so. God doesn’t care about our social status, nor about our own best laid plans.  God will keep bugging us until we act as God wants.  Author Anne Lamott, describes the persistence of God in this way. She wrote “I never felt like I had much choice with Jesus; he was relentless. I didn’t experience him so much as the hound of heaven, as the old description has it, as the alley cat of heaven, who seemed to believe that if it just keeps showing up , mewling outside your door, you’d eventually open up and give him a bowl of milk. Of course, as soon as you do, … the next thing you know, he’s sleeping on your bed every night, and stepping on your chest at dawn to play a little push-push.”

“I resisted as long as I could, like Sam-I-Am in “Green Eggs and Ham” — I would not, could not in a boat! I could not would not with a goat! I do not want to follow Jesus, I just want expensive cheeses. Or something. Anyway, he wore me out. He won.

I was tired and vulnerable and he won. I let him in. This is what I said at the moment of my conversion: I said, “[Fine]. Come in. I quit.” He started sleeping on my bed that night. It was not so bad. It was even pretty nice. He loved me, he didn’t shed or need to have his claws trimmed, and he never needed a flea dip. I mean, what a savior, right? Then, when I was dozing, tiny kitten that I was, he picked me up like a mother cat, by the scruff of my neck, and deposited me in a little church across from the flea market… That’s where I was when I came to. And then I came to believe.”(Anne Lamott, As a poor widow or an alley cat, in all the world, in every circumstance, God is persistent in calling us.

Now if we can see God in the persistent widow, I’m sorry to point out that we can also see ourselves in the unjust judge.  He is such a horrible character and yet he is so familiar to us.  We often act as if we have no judge but ourselves just like he does.  Many of the decisions we make everyday are made without any thought of God or others.  Our only concern is “Will this be good for me?” We often choose to ignore the needy around us.  We walk past them as if they are invisible, just like the judge.  We try to make the most of each day for ourselves and we wish that those who cry for our help would just disappear. But they won’t.  And God won’t.  God calls out to us even in our most selfish moments.  God does not stop reaching out to us and calling us to service. God’s love for us is so persistent that God will stick with us even in spite of our hardheaded selfishness.   And if we serve God, even just so God will stop bugging us, then we have at least started toward working with God and being in relationship with God.   God is persistent in calling us to justice and caring.

Jesus tells us to pray always and not to lose heart because God is with us always and this is the greatest gift we will ever receive. No matter how overwhelming our lives become, God is with us; guiding us, challenging us, calling us to service.  “Jesus invites us to be persistent in our prayers – not because God is disinclined to answer us unless we make a lot of noise – but because this is his definition of faithfulness.  If God is faithful, then shouldn’t we also be faithful? (Robert Cornwall,

The last sentence of today’s text is “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (v 8b).  In the crazy, topsy turvy world in which we live, will we be found faithful?  With the persistence of God leading us forward, we too can be persistent in our service bringing about God’s kingdom of justice and peace.

Let us pray,

Faithful God, we thank you for your unending love for us and for your unending call to serve you.  Help us to be persistent in our prayers and in our work toward bringing about your kingdom.  Amen.