22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 29
October 20, 2013
Luke 18: 1-8
This story is part of the teaching and healing of Jesus, on the way to Jerusalem, as he is preparing his disciples to be on their own. I think of it as instruction in the true life of the believer. Two weeks ago we talked about faith. When the disciples asked “increase our faith,” Jesus, in essence told them that faith so tiny you can barely see it is enough to move a tree from soil to sea. He’s telling them that they have what they need, they just need to trust it. We also talked about how being part of a faith community can support you when you are not sure that your faith is enough to meet the circumstances in which you find yourself. That’s when the faith of others can hold space for you, and hold you up with their prayers.
Last week we talked about gratitude. Understanding how blessed we are can help us see beyond our immediate need to praise God for a lifetime of faithfulness. We see over and over again, how God walks with us, brings us back from the brink and makes a life for us that shines in the world of worry and fear. The story of the Samaritan Leper assures us that no one is outside God’s grace and mercy, not even those who strangers, enemies, or desperately in need. Gratitude changes your life, sends you out rejoicing and ready to share your story of hope and healing with the whole world. You want everyone to know how lucky and blessed you are.
And today we Jesus talks about prayer. All our readings talk about God’s response to our needs. Jacob, that weasel, on his way back to his homeland prepares to meet his brother by sending the women and children ahead, expecting to disarm his brother, who has vowed to kill him if they ever meet again. He wrestles in the dark with a stranger, who turns out to be God. Jacob demands a blessing from this stranger. God does bless him, names him Israel, one who strives with God. Jacob’s twelve sons become the twelve tribes of Israel, God’s people. Our Psalm reminds us that God is always our protector, never asleep, and always ready bless.
And then we have the story of the Persistent Widow. Jesus says he tells them this story so that they will pray always and not lose heart. How often have we raised our voices in longing for something so important to us, and given up because it seems that we never hear back? I keep hearing the story about Pastor Stan, who said he prayed for 30 years for a friend to find faith, before his prayer was answered. We do lose heart. We do give up. We get so lost in our own longing for things to change that we lose the big picture: God loves us and wants to give us what we need to flourish.
Here is Anne Lamott’s book, “Help Thanks Wow: the Three Essential Prayers.” She says, “I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe over the last twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keep prayer simple. Help. Thanks. Wow.” I agree. You don’t have to be an expert. When it comes to prayer we are all beginners, but it doesn’t matter. Do you need to be expert to talk to a husband or best friend to tell them what’s most important for you, or to share what touches your heart? It’s so important to remember that God is not far away. God is in your very breath and already hears your deepest desires. So asking is simply acknowledging that God hears. Saying thank you is a chance to recognize blessings that have already been given.
Jesus came to teach us that we are beloved, that God would do anything to make us thrive and blossom and fill the world with joy. He also came to show us how that love works: it can even face down death and bring us through to new life. It invites us to be part of God’s family even though we are misfits and sinners. And it asks us to pass that love on in the form of caring for the rest of the world that God loves. So prayer is the last piece of a circle: prayer asks for help and expresses our thanks, gratitude clarifies for us the blessings that surround us, and faith grows in response to the gracious answers of a loving God. It’s a circle that feeds itself, building strength in faith and courage to ask and recognition of blessings received. These are the muscles and ligaments that hold our community of faith together, as we lift up our prayers together, praise God for all the blessings we receive and share our stories of trust and faith with each other and the world. “When the Son of Man comes back, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus asks. Only you can answer that question. Only you can live the answer. Only you can share the hope and healing found in prayer that is the life of faith to which each of us, and all of us are called. I pray that you will find the comfort and hope that comes from knowing that God hears your prayers. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.