Sermon for October 16, 2016 22nd After Pentecost “Persistent, Gentle Application of Pressure”
Persistence. A river cuts through rock. Water drips on a stone until there is a hole, then a split, then a canyon. This woman! what an annoyance to this judge! Like water on stone, drip, drip, drip, drip. Imagine, she kept coming and knocking on his door, day after day after day. I wonder if sometimes he pretended nobody was home. Knock knock. Nobody home! Knock knock. Who’s there? Grant me justice against my opponent! It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
It would be funny like the Youtube videos of little kids trying to persuade their parents to give them a donut, or a cupcake, trying to make a case for themselves. Mom, mom, mom, mom.
I’m hungry. Can I have a donut, please, please pleeeaaassse.
Let me try and retell the story in a more contemporary setting: there was a rich man with bad hair and in his opinion he was falsely accused by an immigrant woman. He threatened to sue her but she persisted and persisted until finally this rich man settled. And not in his favour.
I know the allusion is thin but in our context it explains the parable of Jesus. In Jesus’ day the folks laughed and said yeah right. In the same way we chuckle and find it hard to imagine the rich man with bad hair settling in my story.
What gets lost in the parable is the why of the parable. The disciples like us get so caught up in the irony of the story that the context is forgotten. Jesus is talking about prayer. And the benefit of faithful prayer. But so often we miss the point. How many of our people hammer away at God’s door, but to no apparent avail? The mother of young children is struck down by cancer, and so we pray and pray and pray, but death comes anyway. We are worn out from praying for comfort and relief in the wake of yet another natural disaster. The radio brings news of more war casualties, even though we continually pray for peace. Is this really the way it is supposed to be?
What hope is Jesus offering? He insists that God is nothing like this unjust judge. If he is pledging even speedier relief to our persistent prayers than the widow got from the unjust judge, our people are not feeling relieved. If it is a speedy return of Jesus to earth so that justice is fulfilled, the credibility gap in a twenty-first century church widens. The gathered few are weary and many have already gave up on it and are no longer expectant waiters.
We have slid into a pattern of understanding that prayer is a shopping list of wants: for us, those we love and global ideals. For Jesus pray is time in the presence of God. In the movie Bruce Almighty there is a scene where Bruce (while being God) gets fed up with prayer, so he just says ‘yes to all’. What ensues is chaos. And when God (played by Morgan Freeman) shows up, he explains that prayer is the sorting out of things that bother, challenge us or fill us with joy. God reminds us in Isaiah that ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts nor my ways your ways’ buts are hands are so clung together in anxious prayer or our hands bruised from pounding on heaven’s door that we forget that the call is to faithful prayer.
Jesus wonders “will I find faith when I return?” This is not a call to stop praying but a call to action, a call to faithful prayer. A reminder that it is Jesus that we serve and not the other way around. For Jesus faith is a verb, it is action even if it looks like the quiet solitude of prayer. Jesus was the best example of prayer as action. Before and after every encounter Jesus was found in prayer. The words were not always voiced but the action that followed was joy to the downtrodden and angered the privileged.
There is a physical reality that the gentle persistent application of even a small force will have dramatic results. Such is true for faithful praying. To quote Kim Long “when there is an active faith at work, faith that is lived as we strive toward the coming reign of God, then hope remains alive, and we can sing, even if voices falter, ‘O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come’”
Now that is something to be persistent about.