What I said last Sunday
Last week was just one of those weeks – so by the time I got around to thinking about posting my sermon it was this week! So – a week late, but here it is.
Pray always,” Jesus tells us. That isn’t easy, of course. We have all had the experience of praying without receiving the answer that we wanted. At some point, it is difficult to keep our enthusiasm when it seems that prayer has got us nothing.
That happened to Huckleberry Finn, the boy in Mark Twain’s books. Miss Watson told Huck to pray every day, promising that he would get what he asked for. Huck tried it, but it didn’t work. “Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks,” he said. “It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work.” So Huck gave up on prayer. “There ain’t nothing in it,” he concluded.
We have all been tempted to come to the conclusion that “There ain’t nothing in it.” We have prayed for things far more important than fishing hooks without result.
But Jesus told the parable that we read today to encourage us “to pray always and not to lose heart.” The parable has two principle characters – a judge and a widow. The widow has suffered injustice, and has come to the judge for help. But this was not a good judge. Jesus said that he “neither feared God nor had respect for people.” He didn’t care what anyone thought – including God.
The widow came to this judge to win justice. And the fact that she was a widow tells us a lot. For widows were totally helpless. They were not allowed to inherit their husband’s estate, so they were completely dependent on other people – and if they had so son to support them, destitute. But this judge did not fear God – and he didn’t want to help this poor woman. And so she has to keep coming back and coming back, until she begins to get on his nerves. In the end her constant badgering begins to wear him down, so he says: “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And that is the end of the parable. Then Jesus comments: “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”
Jesus contrasts the bad judge with a good God. He says that, if this bad judge will help this widow, we can be sure that our loving God will help us. That does not mean that God will give us everything that we ask. Can you imagine the chaos that would result if God gave everyone unlimited power? If God were like a genie responding to every wish, it would be a disaster! Imagine the chaos at home if parents just allowed their children to do everything they wanted! A loving parent cannot behave like that, and neither can a loving God. But Jesus promises that God will grant justice to those who cry to him day and night. That was a special promise for persecuted Christians in Luke’s day, but it is a promise to us too. God will hear us when we pray. God will help us when we pray.
But answers to prayer often come slowly – or in a form that we might not recognize. And it is difficult to keep praying when we don’t see quick results. And like Huckleberry Finn we are tempted to give up on prayer.
Martin Luther knew that. He once wrote about prayer using his god as an illustration. He spoke of seeing his dog at the dinner table, waiting expectantly for some morsel from his master. The dog would sit at attention, every fibre of his body focused on his master, hoping for a bit of food. If you have a dog, you will know the way they look at you. During dinner, you have the dog’s rapt, unwavering attention. Luther said, “Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat!” To pray with our whole attention focussed on God. It isn’t easy to do that when it seems that our prayers are not answered quickly or how we want.
Perhaps we need to think a little differently about prayer. Take Jesus as an example. Jesus knew only too well that prayer is not always answered in the way that you ask. Think about the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed that the cup of death might pass him by. That prayer wasn’t answered in the way that he asked – he had to drink that cup of death – but something else did happen. Through prayer, Jesus was strengthened, prepared for what lay ahead. His prayer was answered after all.
Perhaps we wish that prayer were like a genie in a bottle – awaiting our summons to do our will. Perhaps we think life would be so much easier if God always gave us what we wanted. But any parent knows that you cannot always give what your children want – sometimes you have to refuse, or talk things through, or give something else instead. But you do want your children to ask, to have a conversation with you.
Our prayers are precious to God, because we are precious to God. He invites us to come back again, and again, and again, because he loves to hear from us. He loves to communicate with us. He loves to have us near. He loves us. And while he might not always give us everything we want – anymore than we give our children everything they want – he promises to bless us when we call on him day and night. Make prayer a regular part of your life. Spend time with God. Then wait to see how he will bless you.