Persistent Prayer

The text of the sermon, based on Luke 18.1-8, preached with the people of Calvary Episcopal Church, Glenn Springs, SC, on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 16, 2022.

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“In a certain city, there was a judge…(and) a widow…”

Jesus tells a David and Goliath story. “David”, the powerless widow. “Goliath”, the all-powerful judge, who “neither feared God nor respected people.” His reverence? For himself. And justice? A naïve dream. Perhaps a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

The widow, too poor to buy justice, is without recourse. But as David slew Goliath with a stone and a sling,[1] the widow has a “stone,” her sense of fairness, and a “sling,” her persistence.

She “kept coming” to the judge; hounding him into submission. Catching him as he entered his judicial chamber, clamoring, “Give me justice!” Chasing him down the street, crying, “Give me justice!”

Finally, he relents. Not because he has a troubled conscience or a contrite heart. Not because he seeks forgiveness from God and the widow. But only because he desires peace. “Alright, woman, I will give you justice. Now, please, leave me alone!”

Jesus told this parable about “the need to pray and not lose heart” – not be discouraged. For if persistence compels a dishonest judge to render justice, how much more will God, the Righteous, respond to prayer?

But the idea that God answers persistent prayer, granting swift justice to the innocent and needy, hardly squares with human experience.

A nation with imperialistic ambition wages war in Ukraine, millions displaced, thousands dead, thousands more injured. People pray. Where is justice? Where is God?

A recession looms, deepening the despair of the generationally poor. People pray. Where is justice? Where is God?

Storms billow, the earth quakes, fires rage, lives are changed and destroyed. People pray. Where is God, the Just, who speedily answers?

The examples are countless. Endless. In the pages of human history. In the chapters and verses of our life’s stories. Pathos without good purpose. Pain without apparent meaning. Prayer without heavenly reply.

At times like these, those common responses (which I have heard over many years of pastoral ministry), however sincere and well-meaning, often fall short of granting solace and strength:

“We can’t know God’s will.”

This is God’s will.”

“God answered, but we had asked for the wrong things and looked in the wrong direction.”

In the face of our all-too-common human experience, the moral of this parable – “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry day and night? I tell you, God quickly will grant justice” – seems, sounds empty of promise.

But here it is. So, what do we make of it?

I pray that we, with all the courage we can muster, follow Jesus into the deepest depths of Divine Mystery. For the one who told this parable, when facing his imminent suffering, prayed to God to be released from his destiny of the cross.[2] And he was not. The one who told this parable, when dying on that cross, cried out in prayer to God who had forsaken him.[3] And heaven’s response was silence.

What mystery? The suffering of the innocent.

A mystery. Not a riddle to be resolved by human reason. Rather a reality always beyond the grasp of our fullest comprehension.

Therefore, this, I submit, is the point of prayer: To acknowledge that we are not God. To acknowledge that there are powers greater than we. To acknowledge that we do not possess all power to change adverse circumstances, to stop suffering…

And then through persistent prayer, to acknowledge repeatedly that this life requires, demands faith; that we need faith – trust, confidence in God’s existence and, come what may, God’s benevolence…

And in that trust, that confidence, to live life – all of it – as fully as we dare. The dark and fearsome moments of our lives, even in the face of our fears that they will last. The bright and joyful moments, even in the face of our fears that they won’t last…

And if, when we can arrive at this place – this frame of mind, this attitude of heart, this disposition of soul and spirit – then we will know that our prayers have been answered.

© 2022 PRA

Illustration: Parable of the Unjust Judge (1863), John Everett Millais, (1829-1896)

#prayer #thepersistenceofprayer #thepointofprayer #divinemystery #thesufferingoftheinnocent


[1] 1 Samuel 17.48-50

[2] Matthew 26.39, Mark 14.36, Luke 22.46

[3] Mark 15.34

2 thoughts on “Persistent Prayer

  1. Hi Paul!!

    I read this yesterday and when someone asked me why and how I have so much faith and I try to squeeze 25 hours worth of joy into each day I sent them the link to your sermon!!

    Here’s the part I’m focusing on this week!!

    “And then through persistent prayer, to acknowledge repeatedly that this life requires, demands faith; that we need faith – trust, confidence in God’s existence and, come what may, God’s benevolence…

    And in that trust, that confidence, to live life – all of it – as fully as we dare. The dark and fearsome moments of our lives, even in the face of our fears that they will last. The bright and joyful moments, even in the face of our fears that they won’t last…”

    I just keep going and keep praying with all my heart and whatever is going to happen will happen! I’m on a train back to DC but have a dinner this evening and event tomorrow in Georgetown so not going home but to yet another hotel. I have no idea what will happen next but I know that it will be God’s plan! I’ve experienced so much love & joy over the last few days anything else that happens is an added bonus!!

    Love

    Like

  2. These most recent days of your, as I read and reflect on your posts, have been so exceedingly grand. I rejoice with you. And, in this your comment, I sense the depth of your faith, your trust and confidence in Divine Providence. I rejoice, too, in this with you.

    Love

    Like

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