Luke 18: 1-8a
16 October 2016
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Amen
Why does coming to church matter to you? For me the answer has to do with hope.
I need to be reminded of our Christian hope here, in this community. Can you imagine a place without hope? Luke Veronis tells a story about Russian author Alexander Solzhenistsyn. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union Solzhenitsyn was held in a Siberian prison camp. His life seemed to be reduced to backbreaking labor and slow starvation. Over time he was filled with complete despair. Solzhenitsyn recalls that at one point he simply gave up. He walked out of the field, dropped his shovel, sat on a crude bench knowing that sooner or later he would be ordered him back to work. If, or when, he failed to respond he’d likely be beaten, probably to death, probably with his own shovel. He had seen in happen to others. Then, he sensed a presence. Solzhenitsyn looked up and saw a skinny old man, a fellow prisoner, squatted down facing him. The man said nothing. Instead he used a stick to scratch the sign of the cross into the dirt. Then the old man quickly stood up and went back to work. As Solzhenitsyn stared at that cross scratched into the dirt his entire perspective began to change. Here was this one old man, standing alone against the all-powerful Soviet Empire. As he looked at that rough cross in the dirt Solzhenitsyn began to realize the hope that it represented. He came to see that anything was possible through the power of the cross. He got back to his feet, picked up his shovel and went back to work. What is your experience? Do you ever lose hope? I surely do from time to time. For those of us who are human hope can be a fragile thing. According to Luke’s Gospel prayer is a gift that helps us hold onto hope by staying in relationship with God. But prayer can be hard sometimes. I remember a man I visited one time in the hospital. He had been sick for a long time and wasn’t feeling a lot of hope right then. He asked a hard question. “why pray? What good does it do?” I’m pretty sure Jesus knew how easily we get discouraged. Did you hear that at the beginning of today’s gospel lesson? “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and to not lose heart.” As a brief aside here, in Jesus’ day the heart was seen as the seat of reason and will. Jesus told this parable so that we would not lose the will to pray, so we would not lose hope. Once there was a judge, Jesus said, who didn’t fear God or respect other people. That judge was entirely self-centered, unconcerned with God’s commitment to justice, humility, kindness and love. In the same city lived a widow. Remember, please, the role that widows play in scripture. In their powerlessness and poverty they are people for whom God has a special concern. This widow went to the judge looking for justice. She then went again and again to plead her case. Evidently, in the original Greek, the judge compares the widow’s persistence to getting a black eye! In the world of this parable the judge granted the widow justice to spare himself further annoyance. Jesus goes on to say that if even this self-centered judge would grant justice certainly God will also grant justice to those who pray regularly. But what about that man I met at the hospital? He had prayed regularly, persistently. And that was the problem. He had prayed and prayed and he still continued to get sicker. Does that mean he simply was not one of God’s chosen? I don’t think so. Let’s take another look at that judge who left no room for God or God’s creative solution to life’s difficulties. Aren’t we all sort of like that judge sometimes? I, at least, now and again have real trouble believing that God just might have in mind for me better things than I can ask or imagine. How is it for you? Since that judge does have a voice inside us sometimes one purpose of persistent prayer is to wear that voice down. What about the widow? I have to say, her persistence reminds me of what I know of God. God is always and forever reaching out to us, calling us into relationship, persisting in offering us that gift of hope filled new life. I suspect that lots of people have a problem with prayer because they look at prayer as a way to talk God into doing something God might not do otherwise. Do you see the problem here? If we need to pray in order to talk God into doing what we think is best for us, what kind of cruel or thoughtless God are we praying to? Beyond that, a view of prayer that assumes that we know what we need better than God does says we think we’re more powerful than God. Let’s look at prayer in a different way. We don’t pray in order to change God, we pray so that God can begin to change us. Honest prayer leaves us open to God so we can grow in faith and then, filled with faith and hope, so that we can share our faith. To many of the situations and problems that we face in this life don’t have simple solutions. We can only learn to live with them with some degree of peace and resilience. And that is the gift of true prayer. True prayer helps us to know God’s justice more perfectly, to feel God’s compassion with fewer limits, to experience God’s love more fully. We pray so that we will have the strength and will to live with such hope that others will see God’s justice at work, know God’s compassion, and experience God’s love through us. And prayer is what church is all about. Here we pray as a community. The liturgy is our expression of faith in the ultimate goodness of God. At it’s best coming together to pray as a community helps us to be a little bit more like that old man. You remember, the one who shared his hope filled faith by scratching a cross into the dirt of a Siberian labor camp one day. Our parable ends with Jesus asking a question. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will the Son of man find faith when he comes? How will you open the way to faith and hope for someone by sharing yours this week? Amen