Continuing the series, "The Greatest Stories Ever Told"
Based on Luke 18:1-8
The Season of Pentecost Ė June 7-8, 2008
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Palatine, Illinois
Pastor John E. Glover, Jr
The sermon begins with a skit, a modern retelling of the parable of the unjust judge from Luke 18. (Skit: http://www.thewestcoast.net/bobsnook/stg/nt/unjust.htm.)
There were a few differences between the courtroom in the skit, and the one in Jesusí day. There was bribery and corruption back then. It was a free-for-all with people shouting for justice, all clamoring to be heard. Bribes were tendered to the underlings, who then granted access. Ordinarily women in the Middle East did not go to court. Court, with its shouting and pushing and shoving, was/is a manís world. In the light of this, it would follow that the widow in the parable lives alone, and has no men in an extended family to speak for her. She is a widow in a manís world, and has neither money nor powerful friends.
Dr. Kenneth Bailey tells of a story during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-6 when a Palestinian peasant woman of his acquaintance was caught in a tragedy. Her cousin disappeared and assumed to be kidnapped by one of the many armed groups fighting in the city of Beirut. The family searched in vain for him and his body. He was the only son of a widowed mother, and not a member of any paramilitary group. In desperation the family sent a delegation of three peasant women to the military leader of the leftist forces, in whose area the cousin had disappeared. The military leader was internationally known and powerful. These three women shouted their way into an audience with him, and once there, flung a torrent of hard words in his face. Bailey specifically asked, "What would happen if the men of your family had said such things to this man?" With raised eyebrows and a shake of her head the women he questioned said, "O, they would have been killed at once."
Many people would be shouting at the judge at once in the parable. How did the widow get attention? Her shouting was different from the others. In traditional Middle East society women are generally powerless in a manís world. But at the same time, they are respected and honored. Men can be mistreated in public, but not women. Women can scream at a public figure and nothing will happen to them. In the case of the Palestinian friends of Bailey, they deliberately sent the women because they could express openly their sense of hurt and betrayal in language guaranteed to evoke a response. The men could not say the same thing and stay alive. This same background is reflected in the parable.
Jesus told this parable so that His disciples should always pray and not give up. Thatís the point of Jesusí parable, and the point of the skit you just heard. I am sure you have heard that famous quote from Winston Churchill, "Never, never, never, never give up."
Jesus picked up a daring image of an unjust judge, to contrast it with God. He picked an image of a defenseless widow to describe how we feel.
Philip Yancey in his book Prayer writes, "In our prayers, we may sometimes feel like the widow: alone, powerless, a victim of unfairness, disregard, the least and the last person in line. The truth is the opposite. We have both an advocate and a direct line to a loving Father who has nothing in common with the insensitive judge in the story. When God seems slow to respond, we may suspect a lack of concern. Jesus points not to our feelings, but Godís mercy."
Generations may pass before persistent prayer receives its answer. For example, millions languished beyond the Iron Curtain once. Chinese Christians and Christians in Islamic countries still suffer imprisonment and torture. Their plea goes up, "How long?" How many abuse victims plead for healing and still wake up feeling wounded and ashamed? Addicts pray for deliverance and then rise each day to fight the same relentless battle. Parents grieve in prayer over children who seem determined to live self-destructively.
Our answer to prayer is often Jesusí way of answered prayer. Think back on the Gethsemane story. This is where Jesus confronted the problem of unanswered prayer most dramatically. In agony over the sacrifice God was asking of Him, Jesus prayed in the garden, "Is there no other way?" He interrupted this prayer for a moment and checked on His disciples, whom He had instructed to stand guard. He found them asleep. After waking them up, He returned to prayer and entreated God with the same supplication: "Is there no other way?" Again He interrupted His prayer to check on the disciples, only to find once more that they had let Him down and were slumbering. A third time He returned to His disciples to find His closest followers unable to stay awake with Him.
No, there was no other way. The salvation of the world could come in no other way but in His death and resurrection. Jesus' prayer was answered, not as He wanted it, and not where He looked for it. His prayer was answered, not with a crown, but with a cross.
So, it seems that our prayers are answered that way, even in our persistence. We have the promise in verse 7. "Shall not God make vindication for His Elect the ones crying to him day and night? Also He is slow to anger over them. I say to you that He shall make vindication for them speedily."
The elect are still sinners Ė not sinless saints. God vindicates His people because of His great "slowness to anger" over them. His grace kindles faith within people and inspires them to pray with fervor.
Some may ask, "If God already knows our requests, why bother? The philosopher Kierkegaard said, "Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays." We change in the process of storming heaven with our prayers.
Persistent prayer keeps bringing God and us together. As we pour out our souls to God, we place our burdens on Him, who can handle it better. We get to know God and learn that He has nothing in common with an unjust judge.
There was a little girl who had been sent to her room to "think things over" after some irresponsible behavior. After a while she emerged all smiles and said, "I thought and I prayed." "Fine," said her mother. "That will help you to be good." "Oh, I didn't ask God to help me to be good," the girl replied. "I asked God to help me put up with you." If you're really praying, you seldom get the answer to the prayer that you're looking for. Because true prayer causes the pray-er to make a new prayer. True prayer convinces the one who is praying that what was once desired is no longer desirable. Prayer makes a new person out of the "pray-er."
We learn to lay down our old selves and accept our new selves, which are in Christ. Our desires, our requests, our selves alter as we pray. Prayer changes prayer until we are more and more able to say, "Not my will, but thine be done."
Evil, our pain, and suffering loom like a great iron gate, the gates of hell in Jesusí imagery. "Prayer hits against it like hammer strokes. Gates donít threaten or even advance. They just stand there, awaiting the onslaught. Our prayers may seem tinny as the sound a hammer makes when it bounces off a sheet of metal, but we have Jesusí strong promise that the gates of hell will not prevail. They will surely fall, shattering into pieces." (Yancey). AMEN!