Luke 18:1-8: Use it or lose it.
Oct 17, 2010 Westminster Presbyterian Church, Santa Fe
Use it or lose it. Doesn’t that seem to be what Jesus is talking about here. Use Prayer or Lose Hope.
Prayer. What is prayer? Jesus’ Disciples weren’t sure, so they asked that Jesus teach them to pray. What do we think of when we say, I’m praying for you? What about when a the president--the commander and Chief-- says his prayers are with the family and loved ones of the recent soldier who died in Iraq? We pray for Haitians, for the homeless, for the miners in Chile.
For those miners in Chile, prayer seemed to have meant a lot....Of the many pictures that were taken of the miners and their rescue from the San Jose mine, one was of Esteban Rojas, 44, who, after 70 days trapped, stepped out from the lift and, before he greeted anyone, knelt to pray. One miner said: “The 70 days that we fought so hard were not in vain. We had strength, we had spirit, we wanted to fight, we wanted to fight for our families, and that was the greatest thing." One miner’s wife gave birth to a baby girl while her husband was trapped...she named her, Esperanza, Hope. Prayer, Hope.
The evangelist Luke begins this parable by saying, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose hope.” Their need. Our need. What are our needs? Do we need to pray? Do we have a tendency to lose hope? How are prayer and hope related? Use it or lose it.
In this world there is so much that can cause us to lose hope. You can’t escape potential exposure to the “lose hope” disease. You can catch it watching the morning news, or reading the paper. You can catch the lose hope disease when you show up at your job that seems pointless and your boss is nagging at you. What about your family member who can’t kick a drug habit. Or age and decay begins to get the best of you or your loved one.... Or when you still can’t live up to your parents expectations no matter how much you try. Bickering do nothing politicians. Apathetic citizens. An environment on the verge of collapse. “Lose hope” disease spreads like the plague...It is quite debilitating And can lead to several reactions...You know what they are when things seem hopeless. But Jesus says, our need is to pray and not lose hope.
There’s a neighbor down the street who has two interesting pieces of Christian propoganda. A bumper Sticker: Jesus is Lord over Santa Fe. And another, a sign, like a campaign sign that you stick in the ground, that says: “Prayer Changes things” Well, life is constantly changing, tectonic plates move, kids grow up and leave home, how do we know what prayer’s role is in this?
The example Jesus uses is great: A poor widow who knows her rights, demands her rights. She’s a firecracker of a woman, that I wouldn’t want to go toe to tow with. She isn’t going to give up until the day she dies. And her case was most likely one of life and death. Widows were among the most vulnerable in 1st century Palestinian society, and since she is having to advocate for herself, she does not have a son or a father to do the dirty work for her. She is alone, she most likely has been exploited (property) in her vulnerability, and so her example is a prayer for justice. The Judge has successfully blown off most people in his career, he doesn’t fear God otherwise he would take the widow’s side as the law says, and he has no respect for people...she could be his mother, but he doesn’t care. But she’s not going to let that stop her. So she goes to him demanding JUSTICE again, and again, and again, and again and again...and again and again....and again and again....
One of the ancient manuscripts says of his change of heart: Because this woman keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face!
The example of this woman is not only inspiring but it helps to ground us in our own understanding of prayer. Prayer is not simply some bratty adolescent demanding over and over that he get what he wants; like a new car or a new video game system. Not even a sweet little 20 month year old saying: late late late, That’s Ruby Genes’ word for chocolate. Chocolate.
She learned that word quickly at the famous Cuban Chocolate Museum.
This woman’s prayer demands Justice.
So again we get deeper into what Jesus was talking about when he said that our need is to pray in the face of injustices, when we feel helpless and alone, when our world seems to be caving in on us...we Pray so that we don’t lose hope, so that we don’t give up the fight. And examples of this are the best kinds of stories.
My sister, 38 with two young kids, diagnosed with breast cancer, She asked, can you pray, and we did and she did. She didn’t want to give up hope. She is now cancer free. One day, she will die, we all do, but the important thing was that she didn’t give up hope. Pray... don’t give up hope.
Those people who march at the intersection of St Francis and Cerrillos who call for peace..an end to a senseless war, after 7 long years . They have this widow’s persistence. And Jesus says their need to pray and not give up hope. Let’s not give up hope, and keep praying these wars will come to an end! Pray, don’t give up hope
I was reading a book this week called The Prayer Tradition of Black People, (Harold a. Carter) which talks about the power and understanding of prayer in a community of people who have faced centuries of oppression and violent opposition. When Israel was in Egypt’s land, slaves under Pharaoh, they turned to the one power available, prayer. When the Black people were in bondage in the new world, they, too, turned to prayer. The hard forces of a cruel and inhuman existence force on them the necessity to pray.
Harriet Tubman, a slave of extraordinary powers, was convinced her leadership was given to her through prayers to God. Her freedom, which she eventually won, was not for selfish purposes. This brave woman returned so often to the South, freeing slaves, that a bounty of $40,000 was placed upon her head, dead or alive.
On one occasion, she instructed a messenger: Read my letter to the old folks, and give my love to them, and tell my brothers to be always watching unto prayer, and when the good old ship of Zion comes along, to be ready to step aboard.
Someone who knew her said: For in truth I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul. She has frequently told me that she talked with God, and he talked with her every day of her life, and she has declared no more fear of being arrested by her former master, or any other person....
Her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.” Harold A. Carter, The prayer Trasdition of Black People, 100-101. 1976, Gateway Press.
Prayer is an act of Resistance, A means of wearing down the powers that be. Isn’t that how we think of it?
Prayer is the substance that defies all odds and says we can live for another day, and hope for things to come.
I saw this in the Cuban church where I served as pastor last month. After the coup de ta in 1959, many churches were left almost empty because people left the country, or because they were discouraged from going to churches. So, by 1965, the church in San Antonio de los Baños was left with 6 to 7 people. I spoke with two of the women, sisters, who were part of this small group. Consuelo who is 95 and in an wheel-chair but has the fire of the Holy Spirit in her eyes...And Caridad, who will be 90 in February, and doesn’t hold back from giving her testimony. For 25 years every Thursday, the same small group would open up the church and study the bible. For 25 years, every Sunday the same small group would open the church doors: read scripture, pray, sing hymns, and go on their way. I had seen a picture of the youth group in 1942, in which there were over 30 youth and young adults. I asked Consuelo and Caridad...what was it like to have had so many, and to then for 25 years to be so few in church? How did you keep going? Caridad without hesitating, said
“If God is for us, who can be against us;
“He promised: I will not leave you orphans.
“God works out for good in those who follow him
Sometimes, they has pressures from the outside to close the church doors for good. They refused. And one day, 25 years later, a young man, Daniel Izquierdo, shows up...and becomes their lay pastor. And slowly, with his guitar in hand, and the people still on bended knee, people start coming around. The societal pressure to not practice any religion lessens, and people start to come around. Daniel goes to seminary and then comes back, people are still coming around. There were 92 people in church my first Sunday there in San Antonio....And the church was buzzing with life and kids and young adults.
In the same building where only 25 years earlier there had been only 6 or 7. And we were participating in a pastoral exchange...!
What does this testimony say about the need for prayer so that we don’t lose hope? What does it say about the relevance and vitality possible in a community of faith that prays? What does it say about our churches (a denominational critique), where we are closing doors and not helping out other churches in our presbyteries and denomination because they have lost membership and can’t afford a pastor? What if there are a faithful few praying there.... Can we help them out?
I love Jesus reminding me, inspiring me of my need to pray, of our need to pray, so that we don’t give up hope in the face of whatever circumstances are keeping us distant from God. Prayer, even when we don’t know how to pray, says, I’m going to look beyond myself, I’m going to seek God in my life and in this world. Such a powerful story of a persistent widow up against this unjust judge.
But, to be honest, sometimes I get lazy. I get complacent. I don’t intentionally pray. Why not? I’ve heard that a pastor’s primary role is to help teach the congregation to pray. Well, I wrote Grace this week who was doing the prayers of the people, and told her that this task was not always easy for me...and how glad I was for the deacon minstry of prayer, and that she was leading the people in prayer this Sunday, teaching us to pray. I’ve been wondering, why is it that I’m not always praying...I’ve thought that I’ve needed to be more disciplined. But, why does prayer have to become a discipline rather than a need; Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray.
I don’t think it’s because we live in a utopia where there are not injustices. Are we just lulled to sleep in our relatively comfortable lives? Is it because we are intoxicated by a lust for things and power which distract us from the injustices and oppressive forces around us? Or have we have no fear of God and no respect for anyone? Maybe many of us in our society, can relate better to the judge...even thought we won’t admit it. Than we do the persistent widow.
Maybe...but there is hope...What if we can turn this parable around a bit, what if this widow is an image for God. And we, as individuals, as the church, as a society, are like the judge who don’t fear god and don’t care for people. But God, like that widow, keeps coming to us, day in day out, knocking at our door, sending us letters, making telephone calls, saying I WANT JUSTICE! YOU ARE MY PEOPLE! DO THE WORK OF THE KINGDOM FOR WHICH YOU HAVE BEEN CALLED TO DO! To the point that we might just get slapped in the face.
Maybe that would be the wake up call many of us need, to recognize our need to get back down on our knees, so that we don’t lose hope, and we can continue to fight the good fight to which we have been called. And we pray everyday, Our Father who art in Heaven. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done. Amen