Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sermon for The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, October 21, 2007

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 24

Year C

October 21, 2007

Jeremiah 31:27-34 Psalm 119:97-104

II Timothy 3:14—4:5 St. Luke 18:1-8

Have you ever met someone you simply could not get away from? The kind of person that just can’t take a hint to leave you alone. No matter how hard you try to get away, they follow you and will simply not leave you alone. We can be irritated by people like this. This was the kind of woman we face in the story today.

Not that she did not have reason for being so persistent. As the Gospel story says repeatedly her cause is justice. And yet she has been unable to get justice. In the United States today, that might seem hard for us to grasp. We think of our justice system as fair and our judges as impartial. While that may or may not be true, the reality is that it was not true at all in her time. Judges could be unfair, unmerciful and downright dishonest back then. In fact, the only reason this woman received justice was her willingness to be that very kind of person most of us prefer to avoid.

Interestingly enough, this person, the kind most of us would try and flee from is given as the example for us to follow in the lesson from the Gospel of Luke today focusing on the need to pray. As Jesus rightly observes, we “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” That is the bottom line in the parable found in the Gospel of Luke today.

As Christian’s our lives should be focused on prayer, which when you think about it should not be all that hard of a thing to ask. Until you remember that our focus is supposed to be in the model of the person who would never give up. Sometimes I think we are too ready to give up in our prayers if they are now immediately answered. And I wonder how each of us, were we to keep a close eye on our schedule would actually be spending very much time in pray over the course of a day or a week.

Not only does Jesus tell us about our need to pray and not lose heart, he also demonstrated it in his own life, slipping off for prayers on his own. But I find the statement “to pray always and not lose heart” interesting. Why would we be warned to “not lose heart”? Perhaps it is because Jesus knew that there would be times when in our prayer life we are indeed tempted to lose heart.

The parable today tells of a woman seeking justice. In fact, the words grant justice appear four times in this parable. This woman was not asking for something out of line, she was pleading for justice. Her case had merit. And yet, she had to be persistent with the judge before she was granted her justice. Her persistence was such, that the judge, who was not really concerned about justice at all, finally granted her request just to get her off his back.

It is often easy to tell people that perhaps their prayers are not being answered because they are not asking for the right thing or because the answer from God is no. Prayers that seem selfish or self-centered are easily explained away when unanswered because the motive is wrong.

But what about the times when our prayers would seem to be quite in line with something Jesus would be asking, but are still not granted as we desire. Often we pray for justice, for the relief of poverty and famine and yet those prayers are not always answered. They are prayers for justice. They are prayers that Jesus would pray. These are the kinds of prayers we must not lose heart in praying.

I have people ask me how long it is ok to pray to God for something. They are concerned that God will be irritated by their continuing to pray for something which never seems to happen. My answer is that you keep praying for it until it is answered. I think that is clearly the lesson in the Gospel today. God will not get irritated at us for asking for justice and peace in the world until God returned which, when you think about it, will be an answer to that prayer.

I know in my own life there are some things I have been praying about for years now. But I believe in my heart that God has called me to pray for them and so I continue, faithful in the believe that I’m doing what God wants me to do.

Prayer is more than folding our hands and bowing our heads. Pray is also action. Our lives, our vocations, our work, our free time should all be acts of prayer to God. The Benedictine monastic tradition had it right in their understanding that prayer was their work and their physical work was also prayer offered to God.

In all of these ways of expressing our pray life to God the constant from this lesson remains. We are not to give up. God has called us to be people of prayer. Jesus has let us in his example of prayer. So when you think God is distant or not listening to your pray life, then is the time to continue in faith. Continue in faith knowing that God has called you to his practice in your life.

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