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Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Luke 18:1-8 1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to the judge and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while the judge refused; but later the judge said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not keep hitting me over the head by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to God's own elect who are crying out day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of humanity comes, will the son find faith on earth?”   ————————   Please pray with me this morning, church: Holy Wisdom, In the midst of struggle, you call us to be persistent. Make us bold in our persistence. Give us courage to wrestle and strive for justice. Continue being persistent in your pursuit of us. Help us to trust your relentless persistence in keeping your promises. Amen.   ————————   “Jesus told them this parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.” Well if that doesn’t just describe me down to a “t” I don’t know know what does. Maybe it gets a little close for you, too. Here’s a story about your need to pray always and not lose heart. Well, that’s great, Jesus, because my prayer life is feeling a little lackluster these days, and honestly, I’m feeling a little disheartened, too, so bring it on. Whatcha got? I think I love the author of Luke’s introduction to this parable precisely because it hits so close. Because who needs to be encouraged and told stories about the need to pray always and not lose heart, except those who are feeling discouraged or disheartened or like God isn’t hearing their prayers? It was true for the community to which the author of Luke was writing, and in a lot of ways it’s true for us, too.   Remain persistent…seems to come the lesson.   In case you’ve forgotten, let me tell you a little bit about persistence…particularly the persistence of young people.   You know, I really did tell myself that I did not want to be that preacher who uses their family and children as sermon illustrations, and truly, I try my best to find other descriptions that are better, but sometimes the parallels are just too closely aligned. That, and we speak to what we know, right? Right now, I know a lot of 3-year old. Let me tell you about a 3-year old’s persistence. For a good while now, we’ve been in the “why?” phase of life. “Please do this.” “Why?” “Because I asked you to.” “Why?” “Because I would like it done.” “Why?” “So we can do this other thing.” “Why…?”   “Why does this happen? Why does it do this? Why did they eat that? Why did this person say that?” You get the idea. Relentless persistence.   The widow in Jesus’ parable this morning is relentlessly persistent in her pursuit of justice. We’re not told if her cause is just. We’re not told if what she’s asking for is fair or not. We are told that the judge is unjust, that the judge neither feared nor had respect for God and didn’t respect people. Somewhat humorously, the judge even says this about himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone…” I think we are left to assume that the widow’s cause against her opponent is just, at least, when seen in contrast to the unjust-ness of the judge. That, coupled with what we know about widows in 1st century Palestine in the Roman Empire…widows had no standing in society. Along with orphans and folks with disabilities and ailments, widows occupied one of these lowest stratifications in the hierarchy of the Empire.   The widow is relentlessly persistent in her pursuit of justice.   Are we as relentlessly persistent in our prayers? Are our prayers petitions to God to grant justice? Are your prayers, church, prayers that God would bring about justice? Or are your prayers more reflective of your own concerns, your own needs, your own problems and issues? Not saying those aren’t important, just that we ought not forget that the widow’s persistence was in pursuit of justice. Certainly makes you think about the content of your own prayers.   Last week we talked a little bit about prayer, and how very often prayers and words of thanksgiving aren’t quite as near to our lips as those prayers we pray asking God for what we want or need. Be persistent, I think Jesus would say. Whether in thanksgiving or supplication, be relentlessly persistent in prayer. And pray for justice. More than a focus on your self and the things that are going on in your small circle and are consuming you and your thoughts, pray that God’s will would be done. Pray that that long moral arc that the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about would continue to and finally bend toward justice.   Be persistent. Pray through the night if you have to. Wrestle, struggle with this pursuit of justice. God’s blessing does come, and very often we’ve got the wounds and scars to show for it. Wrestling and striving with God is a holy thing, it’s biblical, even, church. And that wrestling can leave us feeling like our hip has been put out of place. That struggle for justice may last through the night, but God’s blessing arrives with the dawn.   Talking about prayer gives me the opportunity to remind you one of my favorite understandings of prayer: we don’t pray to change God’s mind. Prayer doesn’t bend God’s will toward our own. Prayer changes us, and opens us up to having our will changed to be reflective of God’s. Our prayer is not that God’s will would match ours, rather that God would grant us the understanding to shape our will to match God’s.   Be relentlessly persistent in prayer.   Most pastors and deacons and church leaders I know are finding themselves spending a lot more time in prayer these days. Things are hard and very often when we’ve exhausted all the ways we can think of to try and do it ourselves, we finally reach out to God in hopes of a little bit of divine advice. I know I’ve certainly been praying a lot these days…that God would open a way, make it clear to me what I should do, what we should do… What if I was relentlessly persistent in my prayers all the time? What if I didn’t try to do it all myself before reaching out to God? How might that persistence change me or help me see that different way more clearly?   I know Pastor Julio prays a lot all the time. For the health and safety of all the people in his communities. For an end to violence and corruption. For good weather and favorable crops so that the farmers would be able to sell what they’ve grown and so that they would have enough to live. It’s a hard thing to be so worried about your community all the time.   The good news, church, is that whether or not we are relentlessly persistent in prayer or relentlessly persistent in seeking justice, God is relentlessly persistent in pursuing after us. God is persistent in God’s pursuit of justice and in pursuing us to join God in that work. The good news is that God doesn’t stop, doesn’t grow weary, and doesn’t lose interest in that pursuit.   God promises justice. God pursues justice, and inspires us to join God in that pursuit. Even in the midst of struggle, God’s blessing does come. God promises life, and life abundant. God is relentlessly persistent in keeping God’s promises.  
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